Blog - Collections

LGBT+ History Month: A Queer Bawdy Ballad

Collections - Posted 09-02-2022

In my book A History of Women in Men’s Clothes: from cross-dressing to empowerment (Pen and Sword Books, 2021) I outlined how women have defied social dictates for centuries by cross-dressing, cross-working, and cross-living. After delivering a talk on the book, I was contacted by Nia Mai Daniel (Welsh Music Archive, National Library Wales) alerting me to a Welsh language ballad, Can Newydd, about some cross-dressing women. Unable to read Welsh, I asked Mair Jones (Queer Welsh Stories) if she could do a preliminary translation to assess the content and Welsh poet Grug Muse then provided a more contemporary version.

Can Newydd was written by a rather eccentric one-eyed balladeer Abel Jones, (Bardd Crwst) who, according to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, is ‘the last of the “great” balladists’ and it was set to the tune of Mae Robin yn swil. A song Prof. E Wyn James, Cardiff University points out as ‘more suitable for the tavern than for singing at respectable concerts and eisteddfodau.’ Adding Bardd Crwst’s words made it even more risqué.

Can Newydd

(Domesticated translation, by Grug Muse, with reference to literal translation by Mair Jones)

The tale of two young women from this region who dressed themselves in men’s clothes, and went courting to a country house to seduce two young women, who were strangers to them.

Sung to “Robin is Shy”

Well men of Gwalia/Wales what do you think of this-
See women in clothes, but isn’t it something surprising?
So rare are the tender men in our region/vale
That some women are out of their mind with wanting love.
But isn’t it surprising to see women like this
Knocking at the the maidends of Plas uchaf and Glyn &c

Some light evening in the middle of May,
Went two young women like irreproachable young men
To knock at a Manor house (Plasdy) where there were two young women
Starving for a lover to put on him their love &c  

They beat the glass until the two arose
And soon asked, my dear, O! Who?
Well two wonderful young men- very pretty ones
You will know them the moment the door is opened.

They opened in a minute without any delay
After a few words to bed they went quickly;
Embracing, kissing, a sweet thing is man,
But four young women starving each one
(i.e. in need/wanting (still) each one)

They tired of kissing, nature was strong
and Siani felt something, I won’t name where
She understood this wasn’t a cockerel she had here
Or it was one very strange and odd &c

Lusi and her companion were in a bed nearby
Diligently loving without a single alarm
And she said to her love that the beauty of a son is
to do if he can of her displeasure or pleasure, &c

Lust is a great thing in a rooster or hen,

greater still in a young woman yearning earnestly;
And says an old saying “without a cockerel there’s no chick,”
And strange was the loving between Sian and Cit Puw &c

I pray you young men to come in a hurry,
The women are foolish so much is their lust;
Their troubles worry them, they are gay in lust,
Their passions will be tamed when they have children, &c.

The fashion is starting for the women to come
Pursuing young men, but isn’t it something od?
Isn’t it something surprising to see women like this,
Wearing trousers on them so tight.

Farewell to every bustle and crinoline there was
The women are for trousers to wear instead;
They give some sign in every country and town,
To show the men that they have a plea.

But isn’t it something surprising to see women like this
Knocking at the maidens of Plas uchaf a’r Glyn.

Dating the ballad is difficult as Prof. James explained, the absence of a printer’s name makes it difficult to pin down. However, Prof. James notes the first item on the sheet is a poem about a Baptist minister missing a Dowlais train. As the minister was in Dowlais from 1865-1872, it can be calculated that the leaflet was probably printed during that period. Copies in other collections such as Bangor University and Archifdy Ceredigion Archives shed no further light on the dating.

The content of Can Newydd concerns two women who cross-dress as men to visit a country house and have sex with two women. One reading appears to be a criticism of men who have left these women in want of male attention:

A’i prinion yw’r meibion rhai mwynion ein bro
Nes ydyw rhai merched am gariad o’u co.

(So rare are the tender men in our region/vale
That some women are out of their mind with wanting love.)

However, the ballad also draws attention to the growing number of women who were cross-dressing, something I cover in my book. The mid-late 19th century was a time when women in their thousands were ‘masquerading’ and many of these were individuals whom we would today identify as lesbians or trans.
The ballad is to be performed (perhaps for the first time since the 19th century) at Aberration on the 26th March as part of LGBTQ+ History Month 2022 – so you can judge for yourselves what it’s all about.

Norena Shopland
Draig Enfys
Promoting LGBT+ history and Welsh heritage
Twitter: @NorenaShopland

Abergavenny, intrigue and murder: ‘bad king John’ and the power of the English Crown in Wales

Collections - Posted 31-01-2022

There are many charters in the Library’s collections, but nothing quite like the one we purchased at auction just before Christmas, which will become NLW Deed 1962. On the face of it, it is just another grant of land in the Welsh borders, but it is much more significant than that, both historically and in the context of our collections. It also takes us into the colourful and unsavoury world of medieval politics – a real-life ‘game of thrones’, complete with individuals who have (perhaps unfairly) become synonymous with villainy in the popular imagination.



On 5 December 1209, while king John was spending a couple of days near the Welsh border at his castle at St Briavels in the Forest of Dean, he had a charter issued confirming the gift of a nearby estate called Dunwallesland by the marcher lord William de Braose to a certain Philip, son of Wastellion. In return, Philip gave his homage and agreed to provide one knight to keep guard at Abergavenny castle. The charter was issued on John’s behalf by Robert de Vieuxpont, who is a plausible prototype for the fictional Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood stories – he had been John’s sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests from 1203 until 1208, and in 1212 he hanged a 6-year old Welsh hostage at Shrewsbury while John had another 28 young Welsh hostages executed at Nottingham. The agreement was witnessed by a number of John’s other advisers and barons, and it was recorded in Latin on a single sheet of vellum by a professional Chancery clerk; experts can identify the individual scribe. The royal seal was attached at the bottom, but has since been lost. John – using his full title ‘by grace of god King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou‘ – was making a very clear and powerful statement, not only to the recipient of the charter but also to William de Braose and the Welsh population of Gwent.

The name Dunwallesland does not mean much to us now, but it would have meant a lot to the people of Gwent in 1209. It refers to the land of Dyfnwal ap Caradog, the native Welsh ruler of Gwent Uwch Coed in the middle of the twelfth century. His son, Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, killed a member of the De Braose family, and at Christmas 1175 William de Braose took his treacherous and brutal revenge by inviting Seisyll and his eldest son to a feast at Abergavenny castle, massacring them and their followers, hunting down and killing Seisyll’s younger son, annexing the family’s land and destroying their chief residence at Castell Arnallt near Llanofer. Hywel ap Iorwerth of Caerleon retaliated by burning Abergavenny castle in 1182, but Dyfnwal’s family never recovered. In granting ‘Dyfnwal’s land’ to a man who had received it from the very same William de Braose, king John’s charter was explicitly confirming the ruthless dispossession of a Welsh dynasty, and the requirement for the grantee to help defend Abergavenny castle was there for a good practical reason.



The king was also bringing a marcher lord to heel. By the early 1200s, William de Braose was one of John’s favourites, serving him in France and holding land in Abergavenny, Builth, Radnor, Brecon, Gower, Sussex, Devon, Herefordshire and Limerick, but he suffered a spectacular fall from grace after 1207 and his English and Welsh lands were seized by the Crown. This was ostensibly because of financial debts, but William’s downfall was too quick and complete for that to be the only reason. At Mirebeau in 1202 he had captured John’s nephew and greatest surviving rival for the throne, Arthur of Brittany, and it was while in William’s custody at Rouen that Arthur had mysteriously disappeared in the following year. It is likely that William was involved, or at least knew what had happened, and John himself was widely suspected, not least by William’s wife, Maud, who openly accused the king of murdering Arthur. Whatever the truth was, it seems that John turned on William because of this dirty secret. By the time the 1209 charter was issued, William had fled to Ireland; indeed, the charter throws some rare light on this crucial and poorly documented period in his relationship with John. When John made further moves against him in 1210, William allied with Llywelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd and then fled to France disguised as a beggar. John captured Maud and the eldest De Braose son, also called William, and they were reportedly starved to death at Corfe castle amid rumours of cannibalism. Once again, the deaths were shrouded in mystery which did nothing to help the worsening reputation of a man who would be caricatured after his death as ‘bad king John’. One thing was clear, however: John was stamping his royal authority on the De Braose lordships, including those in the marches of Wales, and this charter is direct evidence of that. John emphasised the point by visiting the forfeited Abergavenny castle in person in 1211, a few months before William de Braose died as an exile in France.

This document also provides a very rare insight into the Crown’s relations with one of the few native Welsh dynasties that had managed to survive the Norman conquest of south Wales, because the witness list includes Cadwallon, one of the sons of Ifor ap Meurig (Ifor Bach) of Senghennydd. Furthermore, the charter belongs to a relatively scantily documented period during the papal Interdict on the kingdom of England.

It is also unique. Thirteenth-century manuscripts of Welsh interest are rare, as are extant charters issued by the king of England in that period, especially ones with a native Welsh ruler in the witness list, so items like this are highly prized by modern archivists and collectors. By 1209, however, it was standard practice for copies of English royal charters to be kept and enrolled by the king’s clerks, so we would expect there to be a copy in The National Archives. But these copies are missing for some of John’s reign, including December 1209. We know that copies were probably made because the missing records belong to three exact regnal years, but they have long since disappeared; Thomas Duffus Hardy noted their absence when he calendared the Patent Rolls and Charter Rolls for the nascent Public Record Office in the 1830s. They could have been mislaid at any time during the political and administrative upheavals of the preceding centuries, possibly even in 1216 when king John’s baggage train – containing administrative records as well as his crown jewels – was famously lost in the Wash in Norfolk.



This charter’s greatest significance for the Library and for Welsh historiography, however, lies in the fact that it is unparallelled in our collections as an example of the early legal and political developments that eventually led to the situation today where every level of government and law in Wales derives its authority from the English Crown. Both native Welsh rulers and Anglo-Norman marcher lords relied on native Welsh institutions to try to keep the power of the king of England at arm’s length, but ultimately Edward I’s conquest of the principality of Wales and Henry VIII’s Acts of Union meant that they all failed. The headline dates of 1282 and 1536 were catalysts in a very long process during which the power of the Crown in Wales was imposed incrementally, as much by legal instrument as by force or treachery. That is why this charter is important to the Library. Our collections contain no other original charters from the English Crown to any lay person in Wales until 1284, so this document is an earlier, clearer and more direct record of the English Crown’s direct lordship over secular rulers in Wales before 1282 than anything else in the Library.

The fact that it was issued by king John is also significant. The idea that the king of England could dispose of land and claim lordship and overlordship in Wales was not new, and neither was the fact that this was often recorded in writing, but it was only from 1199 onwards – coinciding with the start of John’s reign – that copies were kept routinely and systematically; it is ironic in this case that those copies are now lost. This process of defining and imposing the power of the Crown directly by written legal instruments was a feature of Norman and Angevin rule, and it accelerated in John’s reign, especially after the loss of Normandy in 1204 forced the king to focus his attention more on England and Wales – indeed the tightening of obligations was another reason why John became unpopular, and the severing of cross-channel connections would also encourage English national sentiment in the long term. These developments were crucial in the formalisation and intensification of the Crown’s relations with native Welsh rulers and the marcher lords – the process that led to 1282 and 1536 – and John’s 1209 Abergavenny charter is a fine example of how they occurred in practice.

This recent acquisition fills a very significant gap in the Library’s collections, and it is also a beautiful artefact that opens up a world of medieval intrigue.

Dr David Moore (Archivist)

William’s grandson, another William de Braose (or Gwilym Brewys), was hanged by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1230 after being caught with the prince’s wife, Joan or Siwan.

Adventures of a Welsh Sailor

Collections - Posted 17-01-2022

In 2019 the National Library of Wales purchased at auction the first manuscript volume of the memoirs of the naval officer Captain William Owen (1732?-1778) of Montgomeryshire, a very early example of a memoir written by a Welshman.


Owen is best known for owning and settling Campobello Island, New Brunswick, which he was granted in 1767 (hence his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography). That period of his life was recounted by him in the second volume of his memoirs (now at the National Maritime Museum), parts of which were published in 1942.

Our manuscript, consisting of nearly six hundred pages, concerns the early, and arguably more incident packed, period of his naval career from 1750 to 1761, starting as a midshipman and ending up a lieutenant, serving aboard various ships, including HMS Tyger and the ill-fated HMS Sunderland.

In his first years he sailed the Atlantic and Mediterranean. He endured a fraught voyage to the Caribbean in 1753 during which sickness and appalling weather took the lives of eighty crewmates. From 1754 to 1761 he was in India, where he participated in the battle of Vijaydurg in 1756, Robert Clive’s expedition to retake Calcutta and the battle of Chandernagore, 1756-1757, and the naval battles against the French off Cuddalore, Negapatam and Pondicherry, 1758-1759.

On the night of 6 October 1760, during the blockade of the French port of Pondicherry, he took part in an action to board a French ship but lost his right arm to a cannonball (this accounts for the different handwriting in his contemporary log books and the later memoir!). He narrowly survived, was sent to Madras to recuperate and arrived back at Pondicherry just in time to witness from the shore the cyclone that sank the Sunderland with the loss of almost all hands.

He presents himself as unfailingly heroic and stoic during these events but was not above recounting various scrapes and escapades he found himself in, including various fights and drunkenness, the theft of a bullock at Calcutta and an ill-fated shooting expedition in Ceylon.

While Owen undoubtedly made use of (and freely copied from!) various printed works in compiling the narrative, his main sources were his own meticulous log books, journals, diaries and other papers and manuscripts. These survived his adventures and misadventures and so were available to him as he sat down one day in 1774 at his home in Shrewsbury to begin the memoir.

After his death the papers in due course came to Glansevern, the Montgomeryshire estate of his nephew, and in 1936 they were deposited at the National Library among the Glansevern Estate Records. The memoir itself seem to have remained in the possession of Owen’s direct descendants; it and its source materials are now reunited under the same roof for the first time in more than two centuries, an invaluable resource for researchers.


After a few delays (for reasons which surely need no elaboration!) the volume has now been repaired, boxed and fully catalogued as NLW MS 24132E. It is available to be consulted in the Library’s Reading Room.

Rhys Jones
Assistant Manuscript Curator

Thomas Jones the Almanacist

Collections / Digitisation / Uncategorized - Posted 27-12-2021

Another new year is on the horizon! Let us reflect on the Library’s collection of almanacs and how they were used in the past. These almanacs included dates of fairs and agricultural shows which would be of interest to country folk when planning their year.



Thomas Jones (1648?-1713) was one of the most prominent figures responsible for publishing and writing almanacs. He was born in Merionethshire, the son of a tailor. After moving to London as a young man to start his training there, he changed his career and became a printer and publisher. By 1693, he had moved to Shrewsbury and had established the first Welsh printing press. The main work of the press was to publish books, but it became famous throughout Wales for publishing almanacs. Thomas Jones won a royal patent for the press in 1679 to publish yearly Welsh almanacs, and he did so from 1680 to the year of his death in 1713. The almanacs were very popular in much the same way as we use calendars and year planners today.

In the example shown of Thomas Jones’s almanac, as well as a calendar, we have a short description of typical weather on each day of every month. Thomas Jones, it appears, wanted to warn, and entertain his readers at the same time. Some of the days in January are described as windy, others as frosty, others as rainy. Obviously, these are fruits of the imagination rather than a scientific analysis of the climate! But Thomas Jones also included cloudy prophecies in the almanacs with references to complex conditions he himself suffered (he was said to be a hypochondriac!).

His readers were delighted to read the almanacs for practical purposes, but the contents also proved to be a welcome escape from the harsh reality of their lives.


Hywel Lloyd

Assistant Librarian.

From Östersund to Kiruna: Impressions of Lappland in the 1930s

Collections - Posted 20-12-2021

The National Library of Wales is home to the papers of the travel writer Dorothy May Fraser (1902-1980), who wrote prolifically under the pen-name of Maxwell Fraser. Born in London, Dorothy Fraser travelled all over the world for her books, but also wrote several volumes of Welsh interest following her marriage to Edgar Phillips of Pontllan-fraith, Monmouthshire, also known as the poet ‘Trefin’ and Archdruid of Wales.

Fraser’s papers provide a unique insight into travelling around the world from the 1920s to the 1960s, but it is her personal letters sent whilst journeying that are the most intriguing. In particular, her letters that were sent home during her travels through Norway, Sweden and north to Lappland in the 1930s can’t help but evoke a bit of Christmas spirit.

Travelling from Stockholm, Sweden to Östersund in 1937, she notes the ‘beautiful food and very kind people’ (Maxwell Fraser Papers, O/43), before continuing on to Skellefteå. Here Fraser recounts a comical story of taking the post-boat to the island of Ulnô (O/51), where the engine of the boat set on fire (maybe reindeer are more reliable?).

Sweedinsh stamps on letter O/65

Apparently this incident did not deter Fraser from her travels, as after meeting her guide, a Mr Holmquist and his dog Ludde (O/55) in Lappland, she returned in 1938 to explore the area further. A letter dated the 12th January (O/73) describes a fairytale reindeer sleigh ride at Jörn, Sweden, for her birthday, noting that ‘the country looks like fairyland’ with ‘heaps of snow’.

Coloured picture of reindeer pulling sleighs

After staying in Örnsköldsvik, Fraser travelled further north to Gällivare where she encountered ‘snow 3 or 4 feet deep and no shops within a hundred miles’ (O/74) before continuing to Trondheim, Norway. In June 1938, Fraser again returned to Stockholm where she described a traditional woodcarver, Erik Elenius, who presented her with a woodcutting and Lappish carving, before carrying on a long journey up to Kiruna in the far north of Swedish Lappland. Kiruna provided Fraser with what appears to have one of her favourite experiences – canoeing with Ludde the dog on an Arctic lake ‘just like glass… & a most beautiful shade of blue’ (O/86).

Fairytales, snow, reindeer…. it certainly evokes a little Christmas magic.

Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

Collecting pieces of the puzzle: Searching for a lost Welsh manuscript

Collections - Posted 14-12-2021

Archival collections and the preservation of historical documents play a vital role in helping us to understand the past. But perhaps just as importantly, these collections can also provide links to those things that may have otherwise been irretrievably lost.

The medieval manor of Hergest Court sits near the village of Kington, Hereford, facing the vast common of Hergest Ridge and the Offa’s Dyke Path on the English/Welsh border. Built around 1267, Hergest Court was occupied for centuries by the Vaughan family, and is synonymous with one of the most well-known medieval Welsh manuscripts, the late 14th     /early 15th-century Red Book of Hergest. Containing copies of, among other texts, the Welsh prose tales of the Mabinogi and the poetry of the Gogynfeirdd, the Red Book has a deserved reputation as one of the most important (and the largest) surviving medieval Welsh manuscripts.

But the Red Book was not the only great medieval Welsh tome associated with Hergest. It was also home to another volume, its geographical cousin, the White Book of Hergest. Commissioned by Watcyn Fychan of Hergest Court, and probably written sometime between c.1469 and c.1483, the White Book was destroyed in a bookbinders’ fire in London c.1810, and its original contents lost. Fortunately, however, numerous copies of its texts were made between the 16th and 19th centuries, enabling aspects of both its provenance and its contents to be recovered.

Peniarth 49 f.49 recto

NLW Peniarth MS 49, Barddoniaeth Dafydd ap Gwilym [16th cent., second ½ – 17th cent., first ½], including a note referencing transcriptions from the White Book of Hergest (f. 49r)


By surveying collections of manuscripts at NLW associated with some of the great historic Welsh estates, including those of Hengwrt, Wynnstay, Panton, and Llanstephan, a collection of transcriptions from the White Book could be gathered and compared. In total, thirteen manuscripts were surveyed, dating from the 1550s to the early 19th century. Altogether the transcriptions surveyed yielded a total of forty-six known texts apparently included in the White Book, consisting of text from the Laws of Hywel Dda, and the Statute of Rhuddlan; a large number of religious tracts (some 48% of the total transcriptions); prognostications and prophecies; genealogies and pedigrees; heraldry; several historical accounts, including that of Ifor Bach and the seizure of Cardiff Castle; as well as a significant amount of poetry by the medieval Welsh bards Lewys Glyn Cothi and Dafydd ap Gwilym. Notably, of the forty-six texts identified in transcriptions from the White Book, only three had been copied in English only, confirming that Welsh was the manuscript’s primary original language.

NLW Peniarth MS 225, Bucheddau’r Saint ([1594×1610]), which contains a transcription from the White Book of Hergest, pp. 107-118

Each transcribed text was indexed in detail based on manuscript, language, folio/page numbers, and titles (where possible). By indexing the transcriptions, a picture could be built of the original size and layout of the manuscript despite its loss. The survey indicated that the White Book in places contained more than one text on a single leaf, suggesting its size may have been similar to that of the Red Book. With the white leather covers after which it took its name, it would have been a large and impressive volume.

By studying the surviving transcriptions, elements of the White Book’s history could also be brought to light. We know that it may (at least in part) have been the work of Lewys Glyn Cothi, as three of the transcriptions surveyed repeated a note apparently inserted into the original manuscript by Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt identifying it as Lewys’ work. The transcripts from the White Book also had one text in common with the Red Book – ‘Cymydau a chantrefoedd Cymru’ (‘The commotes and hundreds of Wales’), and copies of the Welsh Laws, which apparently also featured in the White Book, had been copied decades earlier by scribes of the Red Book including Hywel Fychan. The Vaughans of Hergest came into possession of the Red Book after they received the forfeited library of Hopcyn ap Rhys, grandson of Hywel’s patron Hopcyn ap Tomas, following his uprising against Edward IV in 1465. Therefore conceivably several of the White Book’s exemplars could have come from Hopcyn’s library.

Above all, the transcribed contents of the White Book gave a valuable insight into the copying of texts and manuscript production during the turbulent period of the Wars of the Roses, and demonstrated the value of archival collections in ensuring the survival of even a lost manuscript.


Lucie Hobson
Assistant Archivist

*This blog is based on Lucie Hobson, ‘Recovering the White Book of Hergest: A Survey of Manuscripts in Estate Collections at the National Library of Wales’ (MA Thesis, Aberystwyth University, 2020).

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St James Park Press

Collections - Posted 06-12-2021

Over the years the Library has built a comprehensive collection of the publications of private presses, which produce beautiful books in limited editions, using traditional hand-printing methods.  Sadly several private presses in Wales have ceased functioning in recent years: the Gregynog Press near Newtown, the Red Hen Press in Breconshire and the Old Stile Press in Monmouthshire, leaving only the Gwydir Press in Llanrwst as far as I know.  Several in England have come to an end as well.

So it was heartening to discover a new private press recently.  The St. James Park Press was established in London by James Freemantle in 2015, and I had the pleasure of visiting it this year.  The Library has bought a copy of a book published by the press in 2020, an edition of Arthurian stories.  The book was published in a limited edition of 65 copies on an Albion press, using hand-made paper.  It includes striking wood engravings to accompany the text.



We have also purchased a copy of a book published by the press in 2018, On the Birmingham School of Art, 1940 by Eric Gill.  Eric Gill was a printer and sculptor who established a workshop in Capel-y-ffin, Powys, in 1924.  He designed several typefaces, and was a significant influence on a number of private presses.  This edition of Gill’s report on the Birmingham School of Art is limited to 100 copies, in a bamboo binding with an illustration by Eric Gill engraved on the cover.

The press is about to publish its most ambitious book yet, an edition of George Orwell’s 1984.  The Library has received a prospectus of the book for its collections.  It is to be hoped that the St. James Park Press will continue to flourish.  It would be good to see private presses established in Wales once again to continue this tradition.

Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

Romans at Rhiwarthen

Collections - Posted 29-11-2021

Until the founding of Ceredigion Museum the National Library of Wales had become the natural repository for interesting items found locally. Subsequently many of these items found their way to more relevant institutions. Working in the most interesting department of the Library and having insatiable curiosity can have its advantages, especially with regard to overlooked brown boxes containing shards of terracotta and numerous small coins covered in verdigris.

A note inside this particular box reads “List of coins in National Library of Wales from hoard found at Aberystwyth 1890.” Further use of Library resources found no trace of such a discovery but at some point a Mr. D T Harris presented the remains of a coin hoard to the Library. This was originally found at Rhiwarthen Isaf, nr Capel Bangor in 1881 and referred to in Archaeologica Cambrensis as comprising thousands of coins. It passed through the hands of a Mrs Morgan who made jewellery and bracelets out of, presumably, the better condition coins. This is the most likely source of our hoard, which fortunately was closely examined by ‘A.S.R.’ in 1948 who meticulously identified many of the 900 or so coins remaining.

Tetricus and Galienus may, depending on your bent, sound like Premiership football players or pharmaceutical products for uncomfortable intestinal problems. In fact they are third century Roman Emperors who post-humously have through their coinage reached the inner sanctum of the National Library of Wales. Other coins are from the reigns of Postunus, Victorinus and Claudius II. All reigned during the 260s and 270s A.D. suggesting the hoard was buried around 280 A.D. to be discovered some 1600 years later.

Wil Troughton
Photograph Curator


Lady Charlotte Guest and the culture of the Orient

Collections / Uncategorized - Posted 15-11-2021

A few weeks ago the Library bought a copy of the first edition of “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” by Muhammad ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, one of the most historical and noteworthy books from the classical Arab world according to the Encyclopedia Iranica. The main reason for purchasing the book was the inclusion of a presentation sheet for Lady Charlotte Guest from the Oriental Translation Fund, which was attached to one of the first pages of the book. This illustrates the respect and admiration which scholars of the eastern languages had for Guest.



Lady Charlotte Guest married Josiah John Guest, the Merthyr Tydfil M.P. and the Master of Dowlais Ironworks. The iron works flourished and quickly increased in size to employ seven thousand people, the largest iron works in the world. Lady Charlotte took great interest in the day to day running of the business, including publishing a pamphlet explaining the technicalities of the use of a hot blast. She travelled widely with her husband within Britain and Europe and contributed to meetings with scientists such as Charles Babbage. She also had her own room in the company’s London office. After her husband’s death she became responsible for the business.

After learning middle Welsh and studying medieval Welsh history under the Reverends Evan Jenkin, Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc) and John Jones (“Tegid Jones”), Lady Charlotte became famous for copying and translating eleven books from the Red Book of Hergest. These were the four tales of the Mabinogi, three Arthurian Romances and four other tales. She also translated the “The book of Taliessin”, a middle Welsh manuscript. She was inspired by studying works of the Romantic revelation and the works of William Owen Pughe. By researching, she noticed the influences and the mythological ideas which were woven into the Mabinogi.

It is a sign of Charlotte Guest’s ability that she succeeded to teach herself Arabic, Hebrew and Persian without the help of a teacher to guide her. The period written about in “Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk” spans from the creation of the world to the period of the Prophet Shu’ayb in the Quran. It is quite possible that she drew from these writings while translating the Mabinogi. This is one of the first works published by The Oriental Translation Fund, whose admiration for the work of Lady Charlotte is clearly shown in the presentation sheet.



1. John, A., Parry-Williams, T. Guest (Schreiber), Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertrie (1812-1895), translator, businesswoman and collector. Available at

2. Bromwich, R. The Mabinogion and Lady Charlotte GuestThe Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1986, 127-41

3. John, A. Schreiber [néeBertie; other married name Guest], Lady Charlotte Elizabeth. Available at (Accessed 16 October 2021)


Hywel Lloyd,

Assistant Librarian.

Le Roman de la Rose

Collections - Posted

In 1922 the Library purchased over 6,000 books and 150 manuscripts which had been collected by Francis William Bourdillon (1852-1921), poet, scholar and bibliographer from Midhurst in Sussex. The collection includes many mediaeval French texts and early illustrated books. One of the highlights of the collection is 23 editions of Le Roman de la Rose published before 1550. This is an allegorical poem about romantic love, begun in about 1230 by Guillaume de Lorris and completed around half a century later by Jean de Meun.

The editions include beautiful wood engravings. In one of the Library’s copies, printed in 1531, they have all been coloured by hand.

The Library continues to add to this collection, and recently purchased an edition of Le Roman de la Rose which we did not already hold. The edition was published in Paris in 1538. The copy is bound in two volumes, and in gold on the covers are the arms of Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), member of the French Court and mistress of King Louis XV. The volumes contain extensive manuscript notes, possibly in Madame de Pompadour’s own hand, suggesting that she read the text in detail.

Timothy Cutts
Rare Books Librarian


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