Blog - Story of Wales

Posted - 15-03-2019

Story of Wales

The extraordinary life of Cranogwen: From mariner to poet and so much more …


Celebrating Women’s Achievements

It seems that March has become the ultimate month to broadcast the achievements of women, of today and yesterday. Even though International Women’s Day has come and gone this year, March continues to hold the official status of Women’s History Month.

It should come as no surprise that we continue our Story of Wales series with a summary of a truly remarkable woman’s life – Cranogwen. Rest assured however; we will continue to evaluate the story of the women of Wales throughout the series, as should be done of course all year round!


A woman before her time

Sarah Jane Rees (b. 1839), known by her bardic name Cranogwen, was an innovator in many fields. A tall, striking and confident woman, she defied many of the notorious restrictions famously associated with the Victorian era and followed a career packed with extremely diverse experiences and achievements.

It’s no wonder that historian Professor Deirdre Beddoe referred to Cranogwen as ‘the most outstanding Welsh women of the nineteenth century’.



Master Mariner

Cranogwen first came to prominence as a master mariner.

Having been raised in the coastal village of Llangrannog; having to bid her ship captain father farewell many a time as a child, it seems that Cranogwen was also destined for life on the sea. To her parents’ disappointment, she began a career in the nautical field and worked as a sailor on cargo ships for two years, sailing between Wales and France, before returning to London and Liverpool for study.

Cranogwen would go on to gain a master mariner’s qualification, allowing her to command ships all over the world.

However, in 1860 at the age of 21 she would return home as an educated young women and thus was appointed to the role of head teacher at her local school.


Cranogwen the poet

It would seem that Cranogwen’s grasp of the Welsh language was as impressive as her handling of a ship’s helm!

She became the first ever women to win a poetry prize at the National Eisteddfod. Her success at the Aberystwyth festival of 1865 gave Cranogwen a public platform and in a way made her an overnight celebrity in Wales!

Writing under the bardic name Cranogwen, Sarah Jane Rees’s poem ‘Y Fodrwy Briodasol’ – The Wedding Ring – was a somewhat humorous and sarcastic response to the married woman’s destiny.


It only took Rees five years to become a published poet and her popular collection ‘Caniadau Cranogwen’ appeared in 1870.



A Welsh Magazine for the Women of Wales

Cranogwen is remembered as the first women to attempt many goals within the literary field in Wales.

Among her greatest achievements was the success of ‘Y Frythones’; the only second Welsh magazine to be dedicated to women’s issues, and the first to be edited by a female.



Cranogwen’s vision, as editor, would drive and shape the magazine’s content from 1879 to 1889. The publication included many interesting features including short stories and poems, campaigns, problem pages and advisory columns. As a general rule, every issue would also contain an article dedicated to the life and work of a respected woman, set as an example to the reader.



Cranogwen also championed the works of other female writers in ‘Y Frythones’ and gave many a platform to develop and showcase their voices.

Dedicated Activist and Preacher

It seems that Cranogwen’s talents were endless! She was an effective public speaker and travelled to America twice in order to address audiences and lecture on various subjects.

Among her many passions was the issue of Temperance and she was a key figure in the Movement. In her view, alcohol was extremely destructive to the family unit. In 1901 she founded the South Wales Women’s Temperance Union, which had developed over 140 branches by 1916.



Elen Hâf Jones
Written as part of the Europeana ‘Rise of Literacy’ project

Posted - 01-03-2019

Collections / Story of Wales

What do we know about Saint David?

This post is the first of a new series called Wales’ Story. We will be looking at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. A post will be published fortnightly on Fridays, and you can follow it all by clicking on Wales’ Story on the right.



It’s over a thousand years since the birth of Sulien. He was twice Bishop of St. David’s, but his main contribution was the establishment of a centre of education at Llanbadarn Fawr, on a site now lying in the shadow of the National Library.

Some of our earliest manuscripts were created at Llanbadarn, these being the work of two of Sulien’s sons, Ieuan and Rhigyfarch (?1056-99). Rhigyfarch’s Psalter (created c. 1079) is now kept in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, but his most famous creative work was the Vita Davidis, a Latin biography of Saint David created c. 1094 to promote the status and independence of St. David’s bishopric.

Most of what we believe we know about David, the saint from the sixth century, is based on Rhigyfarch’s account, written five centuries later. In the Vita we find the story of his education by Peulin, his victory over Boia, the founding of the monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, and the sermon at the senate in Llandewibrefi. This work was translated and edited into Welsh during the first half of the fourteenth century by an unknown monk. One of the earliest versions of Buchedd Dewi is this text in The Red Book of Talgarth (Llanstephan MS 27), written by Hywel Fychan about 1400 for his patron, the nobleman Rhys ap Thomas.

Generations of Welsh children will be able to repeat the saint’s famous last words, spoken before his death on the first of March: ‘Arglwyddi, frodyr a chwiorydd, byddwch lawen a chedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch ac a welsoch gennyf i,’ which translates as ‘Lords, brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard from me.’

Strangely, the ‘little things’ do not appear in Rhigyfarch’s original Latin work, so we must congratulate the later Welsh translator on creating such a memorable sentence!

Maredudd ap Huw

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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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