Our digitisation work has continued behind the scenes and a number of new items and collections are now available to view from home on the Library’s website and/or the catalogue. Find out what’s new in our blog.
The work on digitising a series of meteorological registers of thermometer, barometer and rain gauge readings in ‘The Chain’ has been completed. They will be available on ‘Torf’ in due course: C 2/6: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/6/1-40, 1901, Jan. 1-1906, July 7 C 2/7: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/7/1-73, 1906, July 1-1911, July 1 C 2/10: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/10/1-9, 1918, Dec. 29-1923, Feb. 3 C 2/11: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/11/1-6, 1923, Feb. 4-1927, Feb. 12 C 2/12: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/12/1-13, 1927, Feb. 13-1931, Feb. 21 C 2/13: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/13/1-69, 1931, Feb. 22-1935, March 2 C 2/14: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/14/1-32, 1935, March 3-1939, March 11 C 2/15: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/15/1-26, 1939, March 12-1943, March 20 C 2/16: Meteorological register. Including enclosures C 2/16/1-78. The meteorological readings continue to 29 Dec. 1945 only, 1943, March 21-1947, Feb. 8
The Digital Preservation Awards are presented by the Digital Preservation Coalition every two years to celebrate the most significant achievements by individuals and organisations in ensuring the sustainability of digital content. Following a rigorous assessment process, the winners were announced at a glittering presentation ceremony in Glasgow, attended by a organisations and practitioners of digital preservation from around the world. The Library was delighted to win the Dutch Digital Heritage Network Award for Teaching and Communications for its project: Learning through doing: building digital preservation skills in Wales, https://www.dpconline.org/news/dpa2022-winners.
Learning through doing was a programme of interactive training delivered by Library staff on the Teams platform to extend digital preservation skills and increase capacity for staff working in organisations across Wales. Resources to support the training are available on the Archives Wales website at https://archives.wales/staff-toolkit/saving-the-bits-programme/.
The Library also contributed to winning another prestigious award. The Archives and Records Assocation’s award for the New Professional of the Year was won by Gemma Evans. Gemma was employed by the Library to lead the Records at Risk project for the Archives and Records Council Wales. The project was funded by The National Archives Covid-19 Archives Fund, which was established to support archives to secure records which were in danger of being lost as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic which threatened the continuing operation of businesses, charities and organisations, acrossWales. Gemma developed a Records at Risk Toolkit to enable the identification and preservation of at risk records, which is available for download on the Archives Wales website at https://archives.wales/records-at-risk/.
Are you already missing the summer holidays? Then let’s go on a tour of Wales with the Traveller’s Instructive Guide through England and Wales as our trusty companion. Dating from around 1820, and measuring only 13 x 9 cm, the Guide intends to provide all the information the inquisitive traveller might need, including market towns and days, fairs, local members of Parliament, banks and bankers, seats of the gentry, distance from London, and mail coach routes and prices. Information on each county is compressed on to a single page, with a coloured map on the facing page. The introduction promises that ‘to all classes of persons, the merchant, the trader, the farmer, but especially the traveller, from its portable size will be found of infinite service’.
I’ve left the spellings of place names as they appear in the guide. Monmouthshire is missing from the Welsh guide, listed instead with the English counties, which are not included in this volume. This is common in guides and on maps dating from the 16th to the 20th century, and results from long-running legal ambiguity about whether Monmouthshire was part of Wales, with different pieces of legislation treating the county differently. The situation was clarified legally only in the Local Government Act of 1972.
Beginning in Anglesea, we’ll be sure to seek out the ‘many rude vestiges’ of Druidic temples, not to forget the ‘neat and handsome town’ of Beaumaris, and popping to Newborough for ‘ropes and mats made of seaweed’.
Next-door Carnarvonshire ‘contains that stupendous mountain Snowdon, with its summit…lost to human view amidst the clouds of heaven’. Carnarvonshire seems a good place for a snack, as the county produces excellent beef and ‘the cows are remarkable for yielding great quantities of milk’. To ease our aching feet, we’ll make a stop in Carnarvon for the ‘fine salt water baths’. According to the Guide, Bangor is only a single street a mile long, so we’ll proceed swiftly on to Conway, a ‘remarkable pleasant town’, boasting both a Gothic cathedral and an ancient castle ‘in a high state of preservation’. The MP for Caernarvon Boroughs is Sir Charles Paget. He succeeded his brother Edward in the same seat, and never made a single contribution to a parliamentary debate, despite serving for 24 years!
Heading east, the Guide calls central Denbighshire ‘one of the most delightful spots in Europe’ and notes that ‘the vale of Clwyd has been justly made the theme of literary eulogium’. Be sure to pack a notebook so you can jot down any lines of poetry that occur to you while admiring the Denbighshire views.
After the delights of Denbighshire, the Guide seems not to have been impressed by Flintshire. Flint is ‘irregularly built’ and ‘although it sends one member to parliament, has no market’, while St Asaph is ‘a very insignificant place’.
Heading south into Montgomeryshire, we are in the home of ‘luxuriant crops of corn’ and pastures filled with black cattle and horses. If you are in the market for livestock, head to Llanfair and (a very oddly spelt) Llansdiloes for cattle. Or best of all, Welchpool for horses, cattle and hogs.
Hop back north-west into Merionethshire for a ‘picturesque and beautiful romantic appearance’ and a wide array of textiles: excellent flannels from Dolgelly, druggets (a type of coarse fabric that was used to protect carpets in large houses) and ‘coarse woollen cloths’. If you’d like to accessorise, head up to Bala, for gloves and Welch wigs.
Now, onwards to Cardiganshire, which gets a mixed review: ‘the air in some parts is beautifully serene, in other parts it is bleak and piercing’. Be sure to stop by Llampeter, which holds a fair on the first Saturday in August, and Llanbadarnvawr for its ‘fine church, built in the form of a Greek Cross’.
East again to Radnorshire, where the air is ‘highly favourable to health and longevity’, despite the ‘rather indifferent’ soil, and the county town, Radnor, containing ‘nothing worthy of notice’.
All this traipsing may have worn holes in our socks, so it’s time for a trip to Brecknockshire, famous for manufacturing stockings. Builth in particular has a ‘great trade in coarse stockings’. The text and the map disagree on the correct spelling, with the text plumping for ‘Burlth’, while the map shows ‘Bualt’. Neither includes ‘Wells’, which was appended to the name only in the 19th century after chalybeate springs were discovered in the town and began to be marketed to tourists.
Veering back west, we reach Carmarthenshire, ‘situate[d] in the most beautiful part of South Wales’. Carmarthen itself is worth a visit, for its ‘fine bridge’ over the Teifi and its market selling black cattle and horses.
West from Carmarthenshire into Pembrokeshire, for some ‘salubrious’ air, despite the soil in some parts of the county being ‘barren and sterile’. Of course, no visit to Pembrokeshire would be complete without a trip to St David’s, ‘an episcopal city of great antiquity’, with an estimated population of just 200. Unfortunately St David’s offers neither market nor fair. So our souvenir shopping will have to wait until we reach Glamorganshire.
Swansea is ‘a town of great commercial business’ and there are ‘extensive manufactories of copper, brass, &c.’, as well as a fine harbour. At this time, Llandaff and Swansea are the principal towns of Glamorganshire, not Cardiff. In the north of the county, the air is ‘excessive bleak and keen’, but there are also ‘rich mines of lead and coal’.
If you want to send a postcard home, you’re out of luck, as the first picture postcards weren’t produced until the 1870s, but if you’ve sat down to write a letter detailing your adventure (or perhaps to show off your Denbighshire-inspired poem), you’ll find a handy list of postage prices at the back of the volume, and each map highlights the mail coach road in bright red.
Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665) was from a British Catholic family and his father was convicted of treason for being linked to the Gunpowder plot of 1605. He was consequently sentenced to death, and was hung, drawn and quartered in January 1606. This undoubtedly shaped Digby’s life and made him suspicious of authority and willing to take risks. An example of this was when he embarked on a privateering expedition to the Mediterranean with the purpose of attacking and plundering ships that came within sight of his position. After returning from this adventure, his life took another dark turn when his wife, Venetia Stanley, died unexpectedly. He reacted to this event, by immersing himself in scientific and quasi-scientific experiments.
Digby was a polymath, and had a thirst for knowledge that few other people of his time could match. His areas of expertise included philosophy, science, alchemy and cookery. The books featured in this blog encompass his interests in cooking recipes and chemistry. Science at the time was not recorded in any disciplined way, and though Digby was one of the founders of the Royal Society, his research ranged from chemistry and medicine on the one hand, to alchemy and astrology on the other.
There is strong evidence that the Library’s copy of The Great Bible (1539) comes from Sir Kenelm Digby’s library. The Bible is referred to in a number of volumes that were among the manuscripts of William Watkin Edward Wynne of Peniarth. There is evidence that these manuscripts were in Digby’s possession, including Digby’s diary in his own handwriting of his trip to the Mediterranean (see B. Schofield’s article in the National Library of Wales Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2, 1939). The Library recently bought two books of his works.
The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digbie focuses on the recipes that he had discovered on his travels to Europe. It is a valuable historical document of the food and recipes of the 17th Century. As an extensive traveller, he was able to write about the exotic foods that he encountered and was enthusiastic in writing the recipes in great detail to his friends in Europe. They include how to make cider, metheglin and cherry-wine. It is interesting to note that Digby invented the modern wine bottle by manufacturing it from super strong, coloured glass in around 1633. Before this, wine bottles were thin and weak. This was fine for short term storage, but it meant that the wine would be oxidised much quicker. Therefore, the invention of the wine bottle meant that fine wine, champagne and vintage port could be used and marketed.
A Choice Collection of rare Chymical secrets and Experiments in Philosophy by George Hartman. This book outlines Digby’s credentials as a Chemist. It also shows how he believed the products of his experiments could be used as medicines to cure ailments and chronic illnesses such as gout, Dropsie, Palsy, French-Pox, Plague, Leprosie, Small-pox and Measles. The methodology and technique of the experiments are shown through scientific diagrams which were typical of early scientific writings. Though one of Digby’s main aims was to show the power of mechanistic science, much of the book alludes to alchemy and astrology.
The Library has a copy of A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby by Joe Moshenska (Heinemann 2016). Moshenska noted that his hero, Sir Kenelm Digby, lived between the Renaissance world of Shakespeare, and the modern world of Milton and Newton. He studies Digby’s adventures, strong character and wide interests – a truly remarkable man.
Digby, K. (1669) The closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. opened whereby is discovered several ways for making metheglin, sider, chery-wine, &c. : together with excellent directions for cookery, as also for preserving, conserving, candying, &c., London: Printed for H. Brome, at the Star in Little Britain.
Hartman, G. (1682) A Choice Collection of rare Chymical Secrets and experiments in Philosophy as also rare and unheard-of Medicines, Menmstruums and Alkahests; with the true secret of Volatilizing the fixt salt of Tartar Collected and experimented by the Honourable and truly Learned Sir Kenelm Digby, Kt. Chancellour to Her Majesty the Queen-Mother. Hitherto kept secret since his decease, but now published for the good and benefit of the Publick. London : Printed for the Publisher, and are to be sold by the book-sellers of London, and his own house in Hewes Court in Black-Fryers.
August is the month of Pride Cymru and an excellent opportunity to celebrate all things LGBTQ+ in Wales. The Library holds a wealth of collections which reflect the contribution of LGBTQ+ people to Wales. One of the first collections that I catalogued was that of Emlyn Williams, the writer and actor, whose stellar career is documented in eight huge scrapbooks, which are crammed with correspondence from stars in the theatrical and creative spheres. Emlyn Williams wrote about his bisexuality in his two published autobiographies, George (1961) and Emlyn (1973), which provide a context to the archive.
There are many other collections in the Library which record the contribution of LGBTQ+ people and also the impact of movements which have not been widely studied/considered in an LGBTQ+ context. To celebrate some of these, Mair Jones, writer and researcher from Ceredigion, will be holding two workshops on 25 August (one in English and one in Welsh) for young people who will be encouraged to explore the themes discussed in the workshops and create new works.
Tickets are available on Ticketsource for the free workshops, which will also include refreshments provided by our fantastic café. We are planning other events for September, which are also funded through the Welsh Government’s Summer of Fun grant scheme. I am also grateful to Josh Littleford @jltoyphotography for creating this amazing Lego library in rainbow colours.
Sally McInnes (she/her), Chair of the NLW Gender and LGBTQ+ Forum
You can watch a record of this eisteddfod in a silent film which includes some prominent people such as T. H. Parry-Williams and Elfed.
Eisteddfod crown, 1952
Cardigan and district, 1976
This was a very memorable eisteddfod for several reasons – the celebration of the Eisteddfod’s 800th anniversary, the heatwave, the saga of the two ‘Spring’ odes and the great number of people who flocked there and broke a record.
Alan Llwyd won the crown for a sequence of around fifty verses on ‘Life’s Trials’ and the chair for his ode ‘Spring’.
The Royal Mail published commemorative stamps to note the anniversary.
Official programmes for the 1916, 1952 and 1976 eisteddfodau
Lampeter and district, 1984
John Roderick Rees won the crown for his ode in free metre ‘Eyes’ about the decline of the countryside and a second crown the following year in Rhyl. He was a Welsh teacher at Tregaron Secondary School and some of the pupils had the privilege of seeing the crown on his visit to the school.
Both chairs were presented to Ceredigion Museum, Aberystwyth, after his death. They were designed by Kathleen Makinson.
J. Gruffydd (‘Elerydd’) was the Archdruid, one of a number of poets from Ffair Rhos.
Ceredigion, Aberystwyth, 1992
Gelli Angharad [Lovesgrove] near Aberystwyth was the location of the festival.
The present Archdruid Myrddin ap Dafydd was one of the adjudicators for the ode competition. Idris Reynolds was the chaired bard.
Owen and Prys Edwards donated the crown.
The Archdruid was ‘Ap Llysor’ (W. R. P. George), nephew of Lloyd George.
Robin Llywelyn (Portmeirion), a former student at The Welsh Department, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, was awarded the prose medal for his novel Seren wen ar gefndir gwyn. The novel was translated by him as White star in 2004.
The Youth Tent was called ‘GigioDigion’.
The children’s pageant was ‘Sethgwenwyn a’r Gwyrddedigion’.
‘Tic Toc’ was the rock opera.
‘The Eisteddfod’s big night’, ‘Llais y lli’, was held with former students Dyfan Roberts, Geraint Lövgreen, Mynediad am ddim and Myrddin ap Dafydd entertaining.
‘The Gorsedd, the Eisteddfod and the Library’ was our exhibition.
Ceredigion, Tregaron, 2022
After a long period of uncertainty the Eisteddfod is back. Visit us at our stand on the Eisteddfod field to learn more about the history and culture of Tregaron.
I wonder what highlights and interesting stories will be a part of this long awaited eisteddfod?
We look forward to sharing more of the Forum’s work in the future. Thanks to Llinos Evans of the Education Service for sharing their experience of working recently at the Urdd National Eisteddfod and the importance of pronouns.
I’m non-binary, which means that I don’t identify with the sex I was assigned at birth. Because my gender identity doesn’t relate to the traditional binary choice of ‘man’ or ‘woman’, I use the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’. If you identify with the sex assigned to you at birth, you are cisgender.
The culture now that everyone – cisgender and trans people – includes pronouns on, for example, emails or badges is becoming increasingly common and is to be applauded. In doing so, it normalises discussions about gender, and ensures that trans and non-binary communities are in safe spaces.
The Education Service attended the Urdd Eisteddfod this year but, for the first time, with badges stating which pronouns we prefer using when referring to ourselves (he/him, she/her, they/them). This is something simple and important that demonstrates our attempts to create a workplace, and a society more generally, that is more inclusive. A workplace that says no to transphobia.
From personal experience, it makes a difference knowing that I can be open about who I am in all aspects of my life. Whether you believe that pronouns are significant or not – remember, they are important and do make a difference.
Sex: people are assigned a sex based on the basic characteristics of sex
Gender: different to sex, gender is assigned through culture
Non-binary: people who do not see themselves fitting in to the choice of ‘man’ and ‘woman’
Trans: an umbrella term that represents people whose gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth (non-binary/genderqueer/transgender).
Since the advent of Devolution in 1997, Sustainable Development has played a central and increasing role in the way Wales is governed and, as a result, the way that we live. In recognizing this importance, we have been archiving websites on Sustainable Development and the Environment since 2004. The collection now exceeds 700 websites and our next step will be making this valuable collection of websites accessible by creating a special collection on this most important field within the UK Web Archive
A complex blend of determinants contribute to the principle of Sustainable Development across Wales. For instance, our web archiving, and therefore the Collection, will focus on Conservation and protection and the work done conserving Wales’s ecosystems; Natural Resources and Energy and the focus on Renewable energy and Energy efficiency; Environmental protection and the work done on Waste management, Recycling, and Active travel. We will also cover ‘Environmentalism’, ‘Global Citizenship’ and ‘Climate change’ and list the plethora of websites showcasing Wales becoming a far more global responsible nation.
Wales became one of the first nations to have a constitutional duty on sustainable development. The websites that we archive show progress made in the deployment of renewable energy; energy efficiency; reducing fuel poverty; and transforming Wales into one of the top three recycling nations in the world. However, many websites from our past are no longer viewable on the live web but are accessible within the UK Web Archive. Our work also involves capturing current websites addressing Sustainable Development therefore ensuring this work is also captured for future generations.
As Wales is at the global forefront on legislation on sustainable development, we have many firsts. We became the World’s first Fair Trade Nation in 2008; we were the first Parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency in 2019. On top of that, a significant milestone was the passing of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 resulting in the Commissioner for Future Generations, a world’s first with statutory powers.
There is still much more to do to create a better future for our planet and far too much to list in a blog! However, a future ‘Greener Wales’ will see further cuts in carbon emissions; more active travel; ban on single use plastics; addressing diversity loss by creating a national forest; investing in the circular economy; establish world-leading renewable industries such as developing the marine energy sector in Wales. There’s also the legacy of Wales’ past; our disused coal tips will be made safer and our Agriculture sector will be supported to become more environmentally friendly.
It is a journey that we can be proud of and the landscape has been fast changing. Thankfully, our web archiving ensures this all-important journey and its ambitious programme is being documented and made accessible.
We are also reaching out. We will be seeking permission from website publishers to make their content more widely available. The UK Legal Deposit Libraries have been archiving UK websites with the caveat that this material is only available to view on Library premises. We will also contact interested parties to help us select websites for preservation to add to our expanded list of resources being preserved for the nation. You are most welcome to do this through the ‘Nominate a website’ page.
The ‘beta’ collection we are building is viewable from here. An additional blog will appear showcasing the progress we have made with the collection! In the meantime, here is a snapshot of ‘Recycle for Wales’, one of the first websites archived back in 2006!
The 20-22 June 2022 saw the official launch of a remarkable volume – Daniel Huws’ ‘A Repertory of Welsh Manuscripts and Scribes c.800-c.1800’. As the most comprehensive and significant study of Welsh manuscripts for over a century, the volume was celebrated with a three day conference held at The National Library of Wales, ‘Welsh Manuscripts c.800-c.1800’.
Daniel Huws came to work at NLW in 1961 as an archivist and developed a keen interest in medieval manuscripts and scribes. He retired in 1992 and began working on the Repertory in 1996, with the project supported by The National Library of Wales and the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. Now, as Daniel celebrates his 90th birthday, the magnum opus has finally been published. Along the way the work saw the input of several Welsh manuscript experts and scholars, including NLW’s Curator of Manuscripts, Dr Maredudd ap Huw, and Professor Ann Parry Owen of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies; but not least Gruffudd Antur, who contributed significantly to the volume.
L-R Maredudd ap Huw; Ann Parry Owen; Gruffudd Antur
During the opening ceremony, which saw a copy of the Repertory presented to First Minister Mark Drakeford, Daniel mentioned that Gruffudd’s input had proved invaluable to the point where he had become Daniel’s apprentice and co-author, even pointing out that Gruffudd’s nickname is now ‘Daniel bach’! Speeches acknowledging Daniel and Gruffudd’s amazing achievement were also given by NLW’s Chief Executive and Librarian, Pedr ap Llwyd; Elin Haf Gruffudd Jones, Director of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies; and the Library’s President, Ashok Ahir.
A copy of the Repertory being presented to First Minister Mark Drakeford
The Repertory will no doubt prove invaluable to the study of Welsh manuscripts and manuscripts connected to Wales, and their provenance, history, construction, and contents. Daniel has estimated that the volume includes the details of 3,000-4,000 manuscripts, many of which were of course featured and discussed throughout the three day conference. Papers encouraged a wide variety of discussion, with topics ranging from palaeography and codicology to linguistics and digitisation; and featuring medieval Welsh law, chronicles, poetry, miscellanies, genealogies, grammars, charms, psalters, chronologies, letters, and lists of place-names. Our three plenary speakers gave thought-provoking and interesting lectures, with Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan on medieval religious images; Bernard Meehan on the medieval Irish psalter; and Paul Russell on the works of Gerald of Wales.
Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan (pictured with Maredudd ap Huw) speaking on ‘Religious Images in Medieval Welsh Manuscripts’
Bernard Meehan, speaking on ‘Revealing the Psalter in Early Medieval Ireland’
Paul Russell giving the final lecture of the conference, ‘In the Penumbra of the Repertory: Medieval Manuscripts from Wales’
The conference closed with a presentation of the Cymmrodorion Medal to Daniel Huws, a high honour so well deserved.
The Cymmrodorion medal ceremony
The Repertory has opened up the field of Welsh manuscript studies like never before, providing an unprecedented source for researchers. In the words of our final plenary speaker Paul Russell: the Repertory is not the end, it is just the beginning!
Amongst the many printed works associated with William Williams Pantycelyn held by the National Library is a 1779 Welsh translation of A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince, as related by Himself originally published in English under the auspices of Selina Hastings, Lady Huntingdon in 1772. Gronniosaw’s Narrative is an important work, especially in terms of the development of early black biography. It was the first autobiography by a black author published in Britain and one of the earliest known examples of a slave narrative.
At first glance, that it was Williams Pantycelyn that was responsible for the translation and publication of Berr Hanes o’r Pethau Mwyfa Hynod ym Mywyd James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw makes sense. Williams Pantycelyn after all was responsible for the first printed condemnation of the slave trade in Welsh in the first volume of his Pantheologia, published in 1762. However, as a number of academics, most notably the African American literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., have noted there is no condemnation of slavery in Gronniosaw’s text, unlike later 19th century slave narratives. Indeed, according to Gates Jr.’s reading of the text one of the key threads throughout is Gronniosaw’s abandonment of his African heritage and his blackness as he seeks to become more European in order to gain acceptance in 18th century Anglo-American society.
Other readings argue that the text presents slavery in a generally positive, paternalistic light playing down its brutal reality. Gronniosaw’s initial enslavement is portrayed as saving him from being murdered; the horrors of the Middle Passage are absent, with only a reference to a mild bout of sea-sickness; it is through slavery that Gronniosaw is brought to a Christian country from a ‘pagan’ Africa; it is through slavery, and specifically through his final ‘dear kind master’ that Gronniosaw is converted to Calvinism. There is no explicit condemnation of the slavery as an institution, no meditation on the condition of being in bondage or on the morality of slaveholding. Indeed, the text can also be seen as making an implicit case for slavery as a path to conversion, an argument made by its editor Walter Shirley, Lady Huntingdon’s cousin, in the Narrative’s preface.
How then do we reconcile Williams Pantycelyn’s avowedly anti-slavery principles with the publication of a text which at best was ambivalent in its attitude to slavery? The same can, of course, be asked with regards to Gronniosaw, as a former slave responsible for the authorship the text. Recent academic work by the academic Ryan Hanley, focused on the religious, social and cultural milieu behind the original publication of the Narrative, may shed some light on these contradictions. As Hanley has argued the depiction of slavery in the Narrative was profoundly influenced by Gronniosaw’s relationship to evangelical Calvinism and its social networks. Hanley identifies a number of key factors that help explain the way slavery is depicted in the Narrative.
First, while the text is commonly read as a slave narrative today, on publication the Narrative’s function was primarily as a piece of devotional literature, forming part of a sharp, and by now obscure, theological debate on predestination and slavery conducted by pamphlet between the Calvinists and the John Wesley’s Arminian Methodists. The central focus of the Narrative is on Gronniosaw’s path to Calvinism, his conversion, his engagement with Calvinist circles and the comfort provided by his religious faith during his extremely challenging circumstances post-slavery. The Calvinist belief that a person’s fate in the afterlife was pre-ordained meant that their freedom in the physical world was of little importance in terms of their eventual salvation, which had significant implications for their views on slavery at this time. For proslavery Calvinists such as George Whitfield and Lady Huntingdon, as long as the gospel was being preached to their slaves they saw no obstacle to owning slaves, their spiritual wellbeing being of more importance than their physical freedom.
Second, there are issues related to Gronniosaw’s authorial agency, especially in relation to the texts’ muted depiction of slavery. A number of actors stood between Gronniosaw, the narrator, and the published text: an amanuensis, an editor and perhaps most significantly a patron, the slave owning Lady Huntingdon. An alternative reading by Jennifer Harris, however, makes the case for a higher degree of authorial agency, with Gronniosaw omitting key facts, such as his probable Islamic background in contrast to the depiction of a ‘pagan’ Africa, as a means of playing on European sympathies and prejudices.
Third, many of the people in this Calvinist social network, on whom Gronniosaw was, crucially, financially dependent upon at different times, were involved in the slave trade, including key figures such as George Whitfield and Lady Huntingdon. Indeed, Lady Huntingdon, the patron of Trefeca College, is key here with all the actors involved in the Narrative’s production, as Hanley points out, doing their upmost to please her. Williams Pantycelyn was also well acquainted with Lady Huntingdon, writing many of his English hymns at her behest and in relation to her influential role as the benefactor of Trefeca College
The religious, social and cultural environment in which Gronniosaw’s Narrative was produced provides important context in relation to its depiction of slavery. The primacy given to theological concerns and the role of Lady Huntingdon also provides similar context for Williams Pantycelyn’s role in the translation and publication of the Berr Hanes. However, questions remain in reconciling its muted depiction of slavery and Williams’ opposition to the slave trade and how these relate to the proslavery views of many in that periods Calvinist social network.
Dr. Douglas Jones
Printed Collections Projects Manager
Evans, Chris – Slave Wales: the Welsh and American Slavery, 2010.
Gates Jr., Henry Louis – The Signifying Monkey, 2011.
Gronniosaw, James Albert Ukawsaw – Berr hanes o’r pethau mwyaf hynod ym mywyd James Albert Ukawsaw Groniosaw, tywysog o Affrica: fel yr adroddwyd ganddo ef ei hun, 1779.
Hanley, Ryan – ‘Calvinism, Proslavery and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw’, Slavery and Abolition 35 (2), 2015.
Hanley, Ryan – Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British writing, c.1770-1830, 2018.
Harris, Jennifer – ‘Seeing the Light: Re-reading James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, English Language Notes 42 (4), 2005.
James, E. Wyn – ‘Blessed Jubil!: Slavery Mission and the Millennial Dawn in the work of William Williams Pantycelyn’ in Cultures of Radicalism in Britain and Ireland, 2013.
James, E. Wyn – ‘Welsh Ballads and American Slavery’, Welsh Journal of Religious History 2, 2007.
James, E. Wyn – ‘Caethwasanaeth a’r Beirdd’, Taliesin 119, 2003.
Potkay, Adam and Sandra Burr – Black Atlantic Writers of the 18th Century: Living the New Exodus in England and the Americas, 1995.
Schlenther, Boyd Stanley – Queen of the Methodists: The Countess of Huntingdon and the Eighteenth-century Crisis of Faith and Society, 1997.
Tyson, John R. – ‘Lady Huntingdon, Religion and Race’, Methodist History 50 (1), 2011.
Welch, Edwin – Spiritual Pilgrim: A Reassessment of the Life of the Countess of Huntingdon, 1995.
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.