Blog - Collections

Posted - 14-05-2019

#LoveMaps / Collections

A forty year old mystery solved

This is a bit of a detective story. In 1979 the Library received a photocopy of a small map of Breconshire; the owner knew nothing about the map and asked if the Library could identify it. Despite the best efforts of the Library staff who even enlisted the help of the British Library’s map curators the item could not be identified. The photocopy was added to the collection with a note to the effect that should the map ever be identified the owner was to be informed.

 

Fast forward to spring 2019 and a Pembrokeshire map dealer called Berian Williams contacted me sending a scan of a small map of Breconshire and asking if I could identify it for him. At first I was stumped, it didn’t match any of the county maps I’d seen before. According to Mr Williams the previous owner had suggested that it might come from “The Pocket Tourist & English Atlas” by Orlando Hodgson published in 1820; however, that atlas did not contain county maps of Wales, though the style of the maps did look similar. Mr Williams also mentioned an article about a pack of playing cards by John Allen upon which Hodgson’s maps were based, but again this had no Welsh counties.

It was at this point that I came across the photocopy from 1979, it appeared to be the same map and on closer examination it turned out to be exactly the same copy (several stains and marks on the scanned image matched the photocopy). Having looked through all my printed references I was stuck and wrote back to Mr Williams saying so and telling him that it might take some time to track it down, if indeed that were possible.

And there this story might have ended; but I started thinking about the similarity with the Allen playing cards, was there a connection between the Breconshire map and the maps in Allen’s pack of cards? I decided to check the literature to see if Allen might have produced another set of cards with the Welsh counties, however there was no record of such a set. The article about the Allen cards also mentioned an imprint by Robert Rowe the engraver so I decided to look into him also. One of my reference works told me that Rowe had engraved another set of playing cards for a John Fairburn in 1798, could this be the source of the card?

I decided to see if there were any references to this set of cards online as they were not recorded in any of the reference works I checked. Eventually I came across a reference to Fairburn’s playing cards of 1798, this stated that the set included Welsh counties and more importantly had images of some of the cards – which matched the map we had. Finally the mystery was solved.

But this detective story ends with a surprise twist. After informing Mr Williams about my discovery I decided to enquire whether the map was going to be put on sale, with a view to purchasing it for the collection. To my complete astonishment Mr Williams replied that he had decided to donate it to the Library. This is an incredibly generous donation and we are most grateful to Mr Williams for his kind gift. This map has now joined the 1.5 million maps which form the National Map Collection here at the Library as part of Wales’s cartographic cultural history.

Huw Thomas
Map Curator

Posted - 08-05-2019

Collections

Tales from the solicitor’s office

Dusty old deeds and documents? Dull and tedious? You must be kidding! Yes, the outer wrappers are very grubby but the documents inside are pristine, barely touched for a century or more. These are files from the Longueville solicitors’ office in Oswestry.

 

They derive from routine work carried out for the Brogyntyn estate which was one of their major clients. They deal with sales and purchases of property, family wills and settlements, and the work of those who acted as trustees for the family of Ormsby Gore, Barons Harlech.

 

Several items of interest have emerged, including the wonderful inventory of Glyn Cywarch, 1876 (see previous blog). There are details of a property at 12, Grosvenor Crescent, London, leased to William Richard Ormsby Gore by the builder, Robert John Waller, with full specifications of the painter’s works and fixtures for the house, 1871. There are interesting sale catalogues which record the dispersal of the Brogyntyn holdings in North Wales in 1911. The properties included the pilot houses and several desirable building plots in Borth-y-gest, Caernarfonshire, so you can trace developments there since that date.

 

 

Above all, there are hundreds of deeds, mainly for the purchases of houses, farms and lands near Oswestry. One massive parcel contained 9 packets holding 99 ‘old deeds’ dated 1607-1894, recording purchases by the Peate family of Pentreclawdd Farm in Selatyn, sold to William Richard Ormsby Gore, second Baron Harlech, in 1899. Another large bundle relates to the Pentrepant estate, which was purchased by Brogyntyn for £29,000 from Ethel Mary Ttrollope of Crowcombe Court, Somerset, in 1894. Many deeds record transactions of the Payne family of the Brick Kilns and the Jones family of the Forest. Among the latter was discovered the death certificate of poor William Jones who committed suicide ‘during a fit of temporary insanity’ at Wenlock Borough Lunatic Asylum, Bicton Heath, aged 36. Yet another intriguing tale has been unearthed from the dusty depths of the solicitor’s office.

Hilary Peters
Assistant Archivist

 

Posted - 29-04-2019

Collections / Day in the life

Two weeks at the National Library: exploring, digitising and cataloguing

A few weeks ago, the Library welcomed Myra Booth-Cockcroft, a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, to the Archives and Manuscripts Department for two weeks of work experience. The Library would like to thank Myra for contributing this blog of her time with us and for her work cataloguing some of the inscribed Strata Florida slates.

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During the past two weeks, I have been in the Archives and Manuscript Department of the National Library of Wales, getting some experience in the variety of work that goes on there. I met with staff from several different areas of the Department who provided an introduction to their working day, showing me the processes for (to name but a few!): cataloguing manuscripts; cataloguing large archives; manuscript digitisation; conservation, restoration and quarantine; early printed books; creating facsimiles; electronic archives and digital conservation. I also spent a morning observing the work of the staff at the South Reading Room desk, who answer enquiries and facilitate readers’ access to the Library’s collections.  I particularly enjoyed having a go at preparing Peniarth MS 6 for digitisation (and getting to see the handwritten notes of J. Gwenogvryn Evans inside!) and photographing another of the Peniarth manuscripts with the staff working on the ongoing project of digitising the entire Peniarth collection. I was also privileged to be able to spend a day working alongside Dr Daniel Huws, Dr Ann Parry Owen, Dr Maredudd ap Huw and Gruffudd Antur, preparing Volume 3 of the forthcoming publication A Repertory of Welsh Manuscripts and Scribes.

 

I gained experience in cataloguing a variety of items: a collection of letters by the Welsh poet and artist David Jones to the French Professor of English Literature Louis Bonnerot; a genealogical roll of Francis Vaughan, dating to 1591, from workshop of renowned Welsh genealogist, Twm Sion Cati; a collection of the papers of the 19th century Welsh antiquary, Owen Williams (Owain Gwyrfai); a stray leaf from a late-13th century manuscript containing the Latin text of Psalm 87 from the Vulgate Bible; and another stray leaf from an early-13th century manuscript, which has survived due to being repurposed as a pastedown for a later manuscript. Perhaps my favourite task of the fortnight, however, was cataloguing the 15th century Strata Florida Slates.

 

 

This collection of 35 inscribed slates have been at the Library since 1946, when they were discovered at the site of the Strata Florida Monastery. It was extremely exciting to be able to examine the slates, which have inscriptions in Welsh, Latin, and English, and feature drawings depicting both humans and animals, as well as geometric patterns. The slates are totally unique in a Welsh context, however we find parallels for them in the inscribed slates of a similar date found in Smarmore, County Louth, Ireland, in 1959 and at Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, Scotland in 1991. The Strata Florida Slates provide a glimpse into life at the Monastery in the 15th century: one of the slates gives a list of tenants of the Hafodwen Grange and records how many truggs of oats each tenant had to pay as rent for his land (SF1); three are inscribed with poetry in the cyhydedd nawban and cywydd metres (SF2, SF3 and SF4); three appear to have been used as practice for gravestone inscriptions (SF11, SF12 and SF13); and several others portray animals and people, perhaps partly depicting hunting scenes. While examining the slates, I discovered that two of them (SF23 and SF25) are in fact two halves of what was one slate at the time of inscription, revealing a full-length portrait of a bald man in a tunic – perhaps one of the Strata Florida monks? No doubt there is much more to say about these fascinating inscribed slates and I look forward to further research into them being carried out!

 

I would like to thank the National Library of Wales for a truly fantastic couple of weeks. In particular, thanks to Maredudd ap Huw for organising such a varied and interesting programme of work for me, to all of the staff of the Archives and Manuscripts Department for giving up some of their valuable time to show me their work and for being so welcoming. I am grateful also to the AHRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Celtic Languages for providing the funding for my time at the Library.

Myra Booth-Cockcroft
PhD candidate, University of Glasgow

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Posted - 22-04-2019

Collections / Digitisation

Gladstone and Ottoman Armenians (1896-1897) in the Gladstone’s Pamphlet Collection at the National Library of Wales and in the Gladstone’s Library Historical Collections, Hawarden

In September-October 2018, Dr Stéphanie Prévost, Senior Lecturer in 19th-century British History at Paris Diderot University, spent some time in the UK, both here at the National Library of Wales and in Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, undertaking research into the Gladstone’s Pamphlet Collection on the Gladstones and the Eastern Question, including former Premier William E. Gladstone’s response to the Armenian massacres of the 1890s.

This blog appears on the 2019 anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

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‘To serve Armenia is to serve Europe’ was British Liberal Premier W.E. Gladstone’s mot d’ordre to former French Ambassador in London on his last visit to the Grand Old Man, most probably in the winter of 1896-1897. Estimates now indicate that the three waves of the Armenian massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1896, possibly at Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s explicit behest (hence their being referred to as ‘Hamidian massacres’), killed some 200,000 to 300,000 Ottoman Armenians, not to mention other forms of violence. Gladstone’s long-lasting interest in Ottoman Christians, which is traditionally associated with his fiery defence of Ottoman Bulgarians in 1876, was again revived when news of massacres, this time against Ottoman Armenians, first appeared in the British press in late 1894.

Regarding Gladstone’s reading on the Armenian massacres, the Gladstone’s Pamphlet collection at the National Library of Wales, but also at the Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden where the volumes once owned by the Liberal Premier are also now held, partly make up for the silence of the last volume of the Gladstone’s Diaries. His long-standing public interest in the fate of Ottoman Christians, his speech at Chester in 1895 in defence of Ottoman Armenians immediately after the Liberal General Election defeat and his international status as the ‘defender of the oppressed’ account for the inflow of material (foreign or else) published about the Armenian massacres. As such, not only did Father Charmetant, Director of the French Works of Catholic Schools in the East, send him a copy of his original pamphlet Martyrologe arménien: Tableau officiel des massacres d’Arménie (1896), in which he produced an estimate of victims of the Armenian massacres across the Ottoman Empire, but he also made sure that ‘the Grand Old Man’ could read the English version en avant première. That he did shows through the many annotations, absent from the French text.

Deeply stirred by the Armenian massacres, Gladstone translated in his own words Charmetant’s ‘final appeal to dying Armenia of Christian Europe’ in his own forthcoming pamphlet. Penned in Southern France where he was staying at Lord Stuart Rendel’s to restore his declining health, The Eastern Crisis: A Letter to the Duke of Westminster eventually appeared in March 1897 and proposed an assessment of Turkish policy vis-à-vis Ottoman Christians since the 1856 Treaty of Paris, by which European powers protected Ottoman territorial integrity and independence against the promise that reforms (especially regarding the equality and protection of Ottoman non-Muslims) would be fulfilled. Gladstone cited another foreign authority on the Armenian Massacres, this time German missionary in Armenia Dr Lepsius, for his assessment of casualties as evidence of Ottoman misconduct. The copy of the English translation of Dr Lepsius’s Armenia & Europe: An Indictment (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1897) at the Gladstone’s Library is replete with notice lines of different colours and marginal marks, which all give a sense of the intense outrage reading in that case created.

 

 

Stéphanie Prévost

Paris Diderot University

April 2019.

Posted - 15-04-2019

Collections

Missionaries to China: The Letters of Timothy and Mary Richard

This year is the centenary of the death of the Baptist missionary Dr Timothy Richard. Born in Ffaldybrenin, Carmarthenshire, Richard has been described as ‘one of the greatest missionaries whom any branch of the Church has ever sent to China’. He was appointed Secretary of what became the Christian Literature Society for China, he was Chancellor of what was later Shanxi University, he was conferred the rank of Mandarin of the Highest Grade by the Chinese Government and was awarded the Order of the Double Dragon. Such was his influence that it has been claimed that ‘he enjoyed greater power than any Welshman in history, apart from David Lloyd George’ and that the name of  ‘Li Timotai’ was known and respected throughout China.

 

 

The National Library of Wales marks the centenary by presenting a collection of 32 letters that Timothy and his wife, Mary, wrote to his mother, Eleanor, in Ffaldybrenin, near Llandeilo. The letter have been specially digitised and are now available to read online for the first time.

 

Timothy Richard was the youngest of nine children born to Eleanor and Timothy Richard of Tanyresgair, Ffaldybrenin. He was baptized in 1859, when he was about 14 years old, and became a member of Caeo Baptist Church. He entered Haverfordwest Baptist College in 1865 and was sent as a missionary to China by the Baptist Missionary Society in 1869.

 

It is the extent of Richard’s later influence that gives particular significance to these documents, but they also serve as a record of his personal experiences as a missionary, and of challenges that would have been faced by the many other missionaries and their families who travelled to distant parts of the world during the 19th century.

 

Written between February 1878 and May 1884, the first nine letters belong to the early period of his mission to China. In the eight years between his arrival at Shanghai and the earliest of the letters, Shandong and Shanxi, the provinces where he was based, had suffered widespread famine which had claimed millions of lives. Richard’s response was to organise relief for the victims, and he succeeded in raising thousands of pounds towards the cause.

 

 

Timothy writes to his mother in Welsh (the following excerpts are my own translations of the text) and, in a letter dated 20 October 1882, he tries to convey the geographical scale of China and the challenge that he faced as one of the few Christian missionaries there.

 

Think of Wales.’  he wrote. ‘There are many who have never been beyond the county where they were born. The whole of Wales is hardly a small place. Think of Wales tenfold, now Wales a hundred-fold, now three hundred-fold, one after the other, that’s how it is with the vast land of China. How many missionaries are there in the whole land? There aren’t enough people to place one missionary in an area the size of Wales. Imagine there were only one preacher in the whole of Wales and you can comprehend how few are the labourers in this vast land. Keep praying for us – we are often in danger.  Yet thank God for his great mercies in delivering us since we arrived here.’

 

The letters demonstrate clearly his conviction and commitment to the mission, the sacrifices made and the dangers that they faced as a family. He spent long periods away from his wife Mary and their daughters, visiting the disparate churches which had been formed and distributing Christian literature. When writing the letter dated 17 May 1884, he had received news of the birth of his fourth daughter and notes that this was the third time that he had to leave home when expecting a new arrival. Three months later, he mentions that Mary was not recovered from the birth, that the baby was also unwell, and that he expected to return home in three weeks.

 

The collection of letters includes two that were written by Mary Richard to her mother-in-law (written in English). Mary (née Martin) had travelled to China with the United Presbyterian Mission, and it there that she and Timothy met. They married in 1878. In her letters, Mary also shares her conviction, her support for Timothy, but also her longing for family and friends:

 

… it is now 7 years since I said goodbye to all the dear home friends. I often wish I could see you to tell you how happy your son Timothy has made me. God is very good to us. We and our children enjoy very good health. Out little girls are a great joy to us. Ella & Mary still pray in Chinese not knowing enough English. They always remember grandma in Wales.’

 

In the spring of 1885, Timothy Richard and his family made the journey back to Wales. 23 of the letters were written between April 1885 and May 1886. They were sent from various towns and cities  in England, Scotland and Wales as Timothy travelled widely to give talks to churches and at colleges about the missionary work in China. They family was to return to China to continue the work in the autumn of 1886.

 

View the letters online using the Library’s Collections Viewer 

 

Dr Dafydd Tudur

Head of the Digital Access Section

 

Posted - 12-04-2019

#LoveArt / Collections / Exhibitions / Story of Wales

Collecting Contemporary: Art from the National Collection

‘Hel Llwch’ by Valériane Leblond, 2018 (Copyright: Valériane Leblond)

 

The National Library of Wales is home to an important collection of contemporary Welsh art. On display in the Library’s recently launched ‘Collecting Contemporary’ exhibition (6.4.19 – 21.3.20) are examples of works recently acquired by the Library, which vary from Paul Peter Piech’s dynamic linocut, to Charles Byrd’s cubist work.

 

‘Abstraction’ by Charles Byrd, 1964 (Copyright: Charles Byrd Estate)

 

An important gift which recently came into the Library’s possession was the Roese Collection, a valuable and comprehensive collection of contemporary Welsh art. This is one of the most important collections of contemporary art to enter the Library’s collections, and a number of the works by artists such as Charles Byrd, Ernest Zobole, Ceri Richards, Mary Lloyd Jones, Ivor Davies, Glenys Cour, Charles Byrd and Iwan Bala can be viewed within this exhibition.

 

‘View through a window’ by Ivor Davies (Copyright: Ivor Davies)

 

This year we were also fortunate to acquire nine iconic works by the Glyn Neath based pop artist Ken Elias into our collections.

 

‘Check’ by Ken Elias, ca.2008-2009 (Copyright: Ken Elias)

 

The Library prides itself in collecting works from artists who are currently attracting attention in this field, such as the London based artist Seren Morgan Jones, and the locally based artist Teresa Jenellen in Machynlleth. The theme of women is central to their works. Another local artist whose work is exhibited here is Valériane Le Blond, and her imaginative paintings portray a Welsh countryside which is familiar to us all, whilst Sarah Carvell’s expressionistic landscapes and Lisa Eurgain Taylor and Elfyn Lewis’ abstract works show the eternal inspiration of the Welsh landscape.

 

‘Blue Gloves, Orange Chair’ by Seren Morgan Jones, 2016 (Copyright: Seren Morgan Jones)

 

Our collection is increasing in strength with ongoing purchases and donations from generous benefactors.

 

Morfudd Bevan, Art Curator at the National Library of Wales

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Posted - 04-04-2019

Collections / Uncategorized

Tuberculosis Eradication in Wales: 1912 – 1948

International Tuberculosis Day was on March 24. It was a day to raise awareness of the devastating impact of the disease on health, society and economy. This blog looks at the campaign to eradicate tuberculosis in Wales by the Welsh National Memorial Association of King Edward VII, WNMA.

 

 

Tuberculosis (TB) was a major problem in Wales in 1900. In 1910, seven of the fifteen worst affected counties in Wales and England were in Wales and the five counties with the highest mortality rates were also in Wales. A plan was needed to deal with the disease and with the vision of one man, David Davies, MP (1880-1944) the WNMA began.

 

On 30 September 1910, in a meeting in Shrewsbury, a decision was made to commemorate King Edward VII by creating a campaign to eradicate TB in Wales and Monmouthshire.  Some years earlier, King Edward VII referred to the need to prevent TB: ‘If preventable, why not prevented?’ The sum of £300,000 was needed – half this amount was donated by David Davies. He became the first president of the WNMA, which was incorporated on 17 May 1912. The Campaign had four main aims:

 

  • Funding pharmacies across Wales
  • Providing residential establishments including sanatoria at Sully Hospital, Cardiff and Craig-y-Nos in Breconshire
  • Creating an educational department to publish educational material and host anti-tuberculosis lectures.
  • Funding a research department at the Welsh National School of Medicine, including the David Davies Tuberculosis Chair.

 

A Newtown office was established and an advisory committee of 6 medical experts were appointed to work in education, disease detection, treatment, post treatment, and research. David Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, provided funding for sanatoria for the whole population through the 1911 National Insurance Act. By the Public Health Act (Tuberculosis) in 1921, all Welsh local authorities had transferred funding to the WNMA. Now, one national body existed with overall responsibility for the treatment and management of tuberculosis in Wales.

 

The educational campaign concentrated on training individuals to avoid TB. Between October 1911 and March 1913, 80 touring exhibitions took place. The Campaign’s caravan, bought to facilitate traveling to rural Welsh schools, made it possible to educate and lecture 11,500 children on ‘The Laws of Health and the Prevention of Tuberculosis’. Topics included: sleep, fresh air at night, home lighting, healthy food, tooth hygiene, clothing, body and hair hygiene, and the link between milk and saliva and the spread of TB.

 

 

The Campaign built two new hospitals and bought several hospitals and country mansions (such as Craig-y-Nos, Swansea). Over the next twenty years a network of pharmacies and hospitals had been created:

 

  • 5 Sanitoria (Menai Bridge, Denbigh, Talgarth, Llanybydder and Llandrindod Wells)
  • 12 Hospitals (total 1,600 beds)
  • 14 Pharmacies
  • 85 Visiting Stations
  • 22 X-ray Stations.

 

In early 1930s there were 11,000 new cases a year. Nurses and health visitors visited 40,000 homes annually. The King Edward VII National Memorial Association had become one of the most comprehensive plans to deal with tuberculosis. The results of the campaign were evident at an early stage with steady reductions in mortality rates from tuberculosis. Author Glynne R. Jones says:

 

‘There are few families in Wales without reason for gratitude to the WNMA, which had grown to be the foremost anti-tuberculosis organisation in the British Empire, if not the world – a fitting memorial to a king, which has ensured the WNMA a place of honour in Welsh History.’

 

NLW holds a complete collection of WNMA annual reports and minute books which form an important part of the Medical Printed Collection. The ‘Medicine and Health in Wales before the NHS’  project will digitise these collections and they will be displayed online later this year.

 

For further information, contact Branwen Rhys.

branwen.rhys(at)llgc.org.uk

01970 632996

Twitter @NLWPrintandMore    #MedHistWales

 

Posted - 03-04-2019

Collections / Day in the life

A day in the life of… a Trainee Conservation Assistant

Over the next few months, we will be hearing from various members of Library staff about their work to give you an idea of what goes on beyond the Reading Room desks. This week, we will be hearing from Julian Evans, Trainee Conservation Assistant…

I spent the month of February in Hawarden to do my book binding module with Mark Allen, conservator at Flintshire Record Office. It was an intense month but I learned a lot about the history of different bindings and how they work. We started with simple bindings such as a single section binding and then moved on to create a variety of other bindings, such as case binding, library style binding and flexible style binding. The type of binding used depends on a number of factors, for example, the importance of the book, budget and time. Briefly, a case binding is usually much quicker to create and cheaper. A library style binding focuses on strength to ensure that the book can withstand daily use. Lastly, a flexible binding focuses on the overall presentation of the book. Some examples of these bindings can be seen below: from left to right, case binding, library style and flexible style bindings.

I learned how to make a number of different elements relating to book binding, including sewing a book using different techniques, creating different types of end-papers, pairing leather, covering a book with leather and gold tooling. Examples of the different stitches that can be used on books can be seen below: 1) Knotted tie down  2) French Sewing  3) All along sewing (the most common)  4) Raised Cord  5) Double Raised Cord  6) Recessed Cord  7) Kettle stitch (the method in tying one section to another)

 

 

I bound every book using a needle and thread. This is time consuming but it makes the book much stronger. As you can see in the image below, this is the piece of equipment we use to sew the binding. It holds the tapes/cords tightly while you sew around them. See below also for an example of what a library style binding looks like. Notice the use of the knotted tie down in the three sections at the beginning and the end. The first and last sections tend to be the first to break if the book is used frequently, therefore this strengthens the structure of the binding.

 

 

I spent the first week learning about the history of different papers and books, and how Mark cares for the environmental conditions at the Record Office and the collections. It took the following two weeks to create examples of the different bindings.  During my final week, I visited Denbighshire Record Office and also worked on some books from the Flint Record Office collections. Below is an example of a relatively simple task where the spine of the book had become loose and the joint had been damaged. I lifted the spine from the book and attached new material to strengthen it, before using new cloth to attach the two boards to the spine to strengthen the joints.

 

Julian Evans
Trainee Conservation Assistant

Posted - 29-03-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

Pennal Letter: Wales’ important role in European politics

This is a guest post as part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.


The Pennal Letter is one of the most striking documents produced in Wales during the Middle Ages. It reveals a confident Wales that played an important part in European politics at the beginning of the fifteenth century.

By March 1406, when the letter was written, Glyndŵr had experienced incredible success. After a disappointing start in 1400 the rebellion had swept throughout the country winning military victories, capturing a number of Edward I’s main castles and attracting support from the French king. Glyndŵr was crowned prince of Wales and he held a parliament with representatives from every corner of the country. He had succeeded in creating a Welsh principality that was free from the control of the king of England.

But by 1406 the tide had begun to turn against the rebellion. In the months before the letter was written Glyndŵr lost battles, his brother was killed, his son was captured and some parts of the country began to waver in their support. He had therefore to regain momentum by ensuring further support from France.

At the time of the rebellion major events were happening in Europe’s history. European kings were divided by the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, and the Church was split in two by the Papal Schism when two popes were elected in opposition to one another. France supported the Avignon pope while the Roman pope was supported by England. The purpose of the letter was to strengthen the alliance between Wales and France by transferring Wales’ allegiance from the Roman pope to the Avignon pope. The letter made Wales an independent player in Europe’s political games and placed the nation at the centre of the greatest events of the day.

What we also see in the letter is Glyndŵr, as in many other aspects of the rebellion, following a policy that was at the same time both traditional and radical.

An alliance with France made political sense, but Glyndwr was also following in the footsteps of other important Welsh rulers. In the 1160s an alliance existed between Owain Gwynedd and Louis VII while in 1212 a similar relationship developed between Llywelyn the Great and Philip Augustus. Only a few decades before the Glyndŵr Rebellion the king of France had supported Owain Lawgoch, a descendant of the princes of Gwynedd, in his attempt to become prince of Wales.

What was new about the letter is the comprehensive vision that it includes. While supporting the Avignon pope Glyndŵr outlines his plans for the country:

  • a Welsh Church free from the authority of Canterbury, under an archbishop of St David’s;
  • two universities, one in the north and another in the south, to train the clergy;
  • clergy should be able to speak Welsh, rather than the non-Welsh-speakers from England often appointed to the highest positions in the Church;
  • the revenue of the Church in Wales should stay in Wales rather than, as often happened, going over the border to England.

This vision wasn’t fulfilled in Glyndŵr’s day, but modern-day Wales – with its parliament, universities, national institutions and emphasis on the importance of the Welsh language – in many ways resembles the vision outlined by Glyndŵr in the Pennal Letter.

Dr Rhun Emlyn

Medieval Historian

University of Aberystwyth

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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.

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