Welsh Poetry and the War of the Roses
Helen Fulton (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York)
This is a brief summary of a paper on Welsh poetry, patronage and politics. It was given at the Celtic Studies Association of North America Annual Conference at the University of Toronto April 18 – 21, 2013.
Political poetry was instrumental in putting Henry Tudor on the throne. These two poets, Dafydd Llwyd and Guto’r Glyn, responded differently to the drama going on before them. Both were supporters of opposing sides. The Welsh attitude was shaped by their earlier experience of the Glyn Dwr revolt in 1400. The Welsh poets urged their patrons not to allow this to happen again. Edward Mortimer and Henry Tudor both had ties to Wales. Edward was descended from Marcher lords and, ‘Henry Tudor had even more impressive Welsh credentials’, i.e., his grandfather had married into Wales which brought him well into the Welsh realm. Henry was made a ward in Wales and had a welsh speaking nanny. The Welsh considered Henry Tudor and the people rejoiced to see him win the throne in 1495.
Dafydd Llwyd was a staunch supporter of the Lancastrian cause. Hatred of the saxons and Tudors are prominent in his poetry, as in this following passage on Jasper Tudor:
“Woe to the black host beside the wave if the misfortune of strangers should strike. Jasper will rear a dragon for us, the fortunate blood of Brutus is he. The lesson of the angel will not be kept secret, they are the ones who will own the towers of the land. A bull of Anglesey will suffice – he is the hope of our nation. Great is the gift of Jasper’s birth, a pure spear of Cadwaladr’s line…”
Gwaith Dafydd Llwyd o Fathafarn, ed. W. Leslie Richards, no. 33, lines 29 – 48.
Guto’r Glyn was a Yorkist supporter. He wrote a lot of poetry for the Herberts. The following passage addresses William Herbert directly in an appeal to William to restore Welsh unity.
“Take now the men of Wales, constable from Barnstaple to Anglesey. Take Glamorgan and Gwynedd, make them into one from Conwy to Neath. If England and its dukes are angry, Wales will turn to you in need”
Guto’r Glyn Project, no. 21, ed., Barry Lewis, lines 65-70
Although a Yorkist, Guto’rs’ primary concern was the unity of Wales and he made himself available for hire by either side of the political spectrum. He wrote for some Lancastrian supporters – he wasn’t of a factional mind and initially opposed Owein Glyn Dwr but switched allegiance later in the century.
Fulton gave examples of several passages in their poetry that related to unifying Wales. The poetic tradition played a significant role in putting Henry on the throne through political commentary and media. Both composed poetry to many of the same patrons and came together after the war in unity.