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Dafydd ab Edmwndlocked

(fl. 1450–1497)
  • Dafydd Johnston

Dafydd ab Edmwnd (fl. 1450–1497), poet, belonged on his father's side to a branch of the Hanmer family of Maelor in Flintshire, descendants of Thomas of Macclesfield, one of Edward I's officers in north-east Wales. He possessed considerable lands in Maelor, including the principal estate of the Hanmers, yr Owredd, but he lived on his mother's inheritance at Pwll Gwepra in the parish of Northop (Llaneurgain), by the bank of the River Dee on the site of the modern Connah's Quay. He was a bardic pupil of Maredudd ap Rhys, and in his turn he was teacher to two of the finest poets of the later fifteenth century, Gutun Owain and Tudur Aled, both of whom composed elegies on his death acknowledging their debt to him. Tudur Aled's reference to Dafydd as his 'uncle by blood' has not been satisfactorily explained, but it may be that both were connected to the Coedymynydd family.

Dafydd ab Edmwnd first came to prominence when he won the silver chair for poetry at the eisteddfod held under the auspices of Gruffudd ap Nicolas at Carmarthen about 1451. The most substantial surviving account of that eisteddfod, written in 1636, attributes a variety of poetic feats to Dafydd, demonstrating his superiority over all the other bards of Wales; but it should be borne in mind that the author was also a Flintshire man. It is certain, however, that Dafydd was responsible for revising the rules of Welsh poetics at that eisteddfod by virtue of the status which his victory conferred on him. He deleted two simple kinds of englyn from the 24 metres, and to replace them he devised two arguably unnecessarily complex new metres, gorchest y beirdd (literally ‘the poets' feat’—a title which reveals a great deal about Dafydd's attitude towards the craft of poetry) and cadwynfyr. Other metres were tightened up, making full use of cynghanedd obligatory and the rules of cynghanedd itself were made more strict by proscribing former laxities. It is also likely that it was Dafydd who translated the new Latin grammar into Welsh, a translation which from that time on became part of the Welsh bardic grammars. These changes were embodied in the copy of the bardic grammar made by his pupil Gutun Owain, who was with him at the Carmarthen eisteddfod. They reflect the new virtuosity at the beginning of the golden age of classical Welsh poetry, and were no doubt intended to make it more difficult for unqualified minstrels to encroach upon the domain of the highly trained bards.

Since Dafydd ab Edmwnd was a gentleman poet, he did not depend on patronage for his livelihood, and was therefore able to indulge his delight in love poetry in the tradition of Dafydd ap Gwilym, though, as Saunders Lewis observes, these poems suggest that his true love was the cywydd metre, not the girl. Love poems comprise the majority of the seventy-seven items in the only available collection of his work. Dafydd also delighted in elaborate bardic flytings, which would have been undertaken for the amusement of audiences and as a test of his poetic skill. Two such poetic exchanges have survived between Dafydd and Guto'r Glyn (who refers to him familiarly as Deio), one of which consists of grotesque descriptions of each other's genitalia. The few poems that Dafydd did address to noblemen are free of any obligation to pander to their interests, and display great independence of mind, such as that urging Rhys Wyn of Anglesey not to marry an Englishwoman, and in particular his best-known poem, an elegy on the death of the harpist Siôn Eos, which is a protest against the barbaric practice of capital punishment for murder under the newly established English law, as opposed to the custom of compensation under the old Welsh law. Dafydd's latest poem can be dated no earlier than 1497, since it contains a reference to Sir Thomas Salesbury, who was knighted for his part in the battle of Blackheath in that year. According to Gutun Owain's elegy on Dafydd's death, he was buried in St Chad's church at Hanmer.

Sources

  • T. Roberts, ed., Gwaith Dafydd ab Edmwnd (1914)
  • D. J. Bowen, ‘Dafydd ab Edmwnt ac Eisteddfod Caerfyrddin’, Barn, 133–55 (1973–5), 441–8