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A SONG FOR OWAIN - poems in praise of Owain Glyndŵr

Y Lolfa

Author: Various Authors - edited by Rhys Parry





(I use the capital LL for Llywelyn as LL is a single consonant in the language)

Of these five poems, Rebirth, written for a book of poems on Glyndŵr, is the key. All Welsh symbols, such as the crown of Arthur and the crowns of the Welsh princes have been deliberately destroyed. The symbol of Wales, by which it is known, is not a flower or vegetable or plume of Lichtenstein feathers, but instead the greatest density of castles in the world, mainly built by our neighbour. However, a nation needs more symbols than a daffodil, a leek, a borrowed emblem or an ancient language still fighting for its existence and hundreds of crumbling castles. Embassy Glyndŵr  commissioned a superb sword to commemorate the last Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr, and I was asked to write a poem for the ceremonies surrounding it – ‘On the Dedication of the Sword of State for Cymru’. This was read at the unveiling of the sword at Cardiff Castle, and the presentation of it in Machynlleth, the site of Glyndŵr’s Parliament House or Senedd in 2001. ‘The Dagger into Cymru’ followed, inscribed on a shield presented to Corwen Council in 2004. ‘The Shield of State for Cymru’ naturally represents another lost symbol, and Coron Glyndŵr  was written for the presentation of the replica Crown at Cefn Caer, Pennal in 2007.

It is strange reading poetry, because writing it is intensely personal. You feel that you are giving away your secrets, as many of us find it far easier to express our feelings in poetry than prose. Writing distances one from revelation, in many ways – it masks feelings but still expresses them. I began rewriting poetry after a ten-year break, because of Rhys Parry’s request in his compilation of a book of poems on Glyndŵr. I had come to think of it as a senseless, pointless occupation, but was then commissioned to write poems on the Sword of State for Wales, on Glyndŵr causing a Rebirth of nationalism, and one on ‘the dagger’.

I did not suffer from any kind of writer’s block – I have written 24 books in the previous 10 years, while having a (more than) full-time job – but just needed some stimulus. Just as much comedic talent comes from broken individuals, it seems that often one has to have some sort of depression to attempt writing poems. I think that the stimulus of a younger person’s interest, plus my pessimism about the situation of Wales in the modern world, have helped me to start again.

Another reason for my stopping writing was that poetry is not seen as necessary in today’s world. But without poetry Wales would have nothing – we have been a nation of poets for over 1500 years. Oral poetry has given us our history, culture, and heritage, as almost all records have been destroyed by scores of successive waves of invaders. Without our oral culture we would not be a nation today.

Our bards have always been prized by us and killed by the invaders – the thinking is that if you kill the history, you kill the nation. So modern poets can tell a story of Wales that does not accord with what the English textbooks tell us – remember that history is always written by the conquerors, and always in their favour. Our last mab darogan, son of prophecy, the great continental warrior Owain LLawgoch, was assassinated on the orders of the English crown – but no one knows of him – a warrior once famed all over Europe. Our last prince, LLywelyn II was murdered in a trap set by the Mortimers, not killed almost by accident as according to current textbooks. Owain Glyndŵr was voted the 7th most influential person in the Millennium by a panel of distinguished political leaders, scientists and eminent people across the world – placed above Churchill, Bill Gates, Einstein – but only recently has anyone thought to celebrate him. It has been a long, hard road for patriots to stimulate interest across Wales in our national hero. Patriots, not nationalists, thought it worthwhile to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the War of the last Prince of Wales (1400-1415) and its achievements. No politician or broadcaster or any media reporter attended anything. A love of, and celebration of, history from a Welsh perspective seems to be equated with Irish Nationalism – indeed the BBC told a news reporter and the late Ray Gravelle not to attend, or they would be ignored by programme makers in the future. At the last minute the French Ambassador attended to present the replica of Glyndŵr’s sword at the place of one of his Parliaments, Machynlleth.

Poetry can give us pride. We can put the bare facts down, and then surround them with our feelings. And to strip out the bare facts from centuries of propaganda, takes some doing. Glyndŵr was not a ‘rebel’, he was the Prince of Wales – and it was not a ‘rebellion’, it was a war of independence against overwhelming odds. It takes nerve to be a poet – and Wales needs every one of its people to take up the old craft and keep it going. Poetry can give us strength as a nation – we must not lose it…


This poem was an unpaid commission by Rhys Parry for A Song for Owain - Poems in Praise of Owain Glyndŵr and first read during the launch of the book at MOMA, Machynlleth, June 19th 2004.

Driven from unnatural duty

By the evil shade of grey

From moated mansion at Sycharth

And plas at Glyndyfrdwy

Owain regained the nationhood –

Our candle of battle

In spring the blood-poured lions of Gwynedd roared

In summer the men of Cymru unsheathed their swords

In Autumn the invasions became stronger

And winter fell upon the nation

6 centuries of loss

20 generations of despair

60 decades of Trywerin

600 years of Aberfan

The invisible immortal

The defender of our nation

Never betrayed -

Still shelters his blasted people

Ever present but unseen

Born in Spring

Gave our Summer

Died in Autumn

Without Winter

As yet

There is no Spring


This poem was first read at Cardiff Castle upon May 6th 2004 when the Sword was unveiled for the first time. It was next read at Machynlleth upon June 20th 2004, as part of the Glyndŵr celebrations of 18th-21st June. The poem was also inscribed upon a shield and given to the Mayor of Machynlleth after he had received the sword.

The Royal Standard of England bears:

St George’s Flag of England,

St Andrew’s Flag of Scotland,

And St Patrick’s Flag of Ireland.

St David’s Flag of Wales

Has never been included.

Our Welsh Flag,

The Flag of Cadwaladr,

Y Ddraig Goch

Is the oldest national flag in the world.

A Nation has its own flag.

The Royal Coat of Arms bears:

The three lions of England,

The lion of Scotland,

And the harp of Ireland

Glyndŵr’s Coat of Arms

Is the four lions rampant

Of the House of Gwynedd –

The oldest royal house in Britain.

A Nation has its own Coat of Arms.

The Royal Coat of Arms

Bears the symbols of:

The rose of England

The thistle of Scotland,

And the shamrock of Ireland.

The British have their older symbols:

St Peter’s leek, the daffodil of spring,

St David’s leek of victory over the Saxon,

And the dragon of Cadwaladr.

A Nation has its own symbols.

The Great Sword of State

Carries the motifs of:

The portcullis of Westminster,

The rose of England,

The fleur de lys of France,

The thistle of Scotland

And the harp of Ireland.

Why deny a nation’s symbols?

There is no symbol

Of Power

Or Authority

Over Wales,

The British precursor of England.

The First Nation wants

The symbol of authority

Of its Great Sword of State.

A Nation needs its own sword.

The trinity of sword, flag and coat of arms

Is now complete.

A Nation, not a principality.

Cymru, not Wales.

Comrades not foreigners.

Cymraeg not Welsh.

The British People,

The First Nation,

Was moving…

But no more


The poem was an unpaid commission for the Corwen Glyndŵr Festival of September 18th-19th 2004, read upon the 18th, and inscribed upon a wooden shield presented to Gerallt Tudor, Chair of Corwen Council.

‘There is no pain greater than this, not the cut of a jagged-edged dagger nor the fire of a dagger’s breath. Nothing burns in your heart like the emptiness of losing something, someone, before you have truly learned of its value.’

R.A. Salvatore, ‘Homeland’

Carnwennan was the dagger of Arthur;

And the scabbard of his sword Caledfwlch

Could prevent the blood of the wounds

Of this haemorrhaging country.

How do we now want our death?

Through the eye and into the mind?

We understand but do not want to see.

How do we now want our death?

Through the ribs and into the heart?

Where is the heart of Wales?

How do we now want our death?

Through the throat and into the windpipe?

Shall we lose the language?

The dagger casts the shadow of extinction

And when the language goes

The nation will follow.

We Welsh use daggers to make lovespoons

But this is not the twca cam

With long handle and crooked blade

But a straight, savage, mortal device.

Defy the drawn dagger

Daggers do not deal death in the rain

They do not sweep/slice the air

Daggers take you through the brain

Slip into heart and throat

Through the armoured coat

A dagger moves slowly through the mind

Dead voices, daggers of desire

Stop us every day

And their points seek

The weakest vital.

It slides-slithers-clanks

Through the interstitial crevices

Of the iron-cocooned

Worm of authority and power

Poking easily through the armour of state

Emerging slimy-hot with blood.

Is it mercy to kill

A nation on all fours

Via the misericord

Leaving a carcass for chewing historians?

Does the heart pity

A country’s despoil -

This core of misery,

And pierce a tongue

For the sake of orthodoxy?

Are we mortally wounded?

Should we welcome the knife?

The design of a dagger

Is to assassinate

Not to fight.

What do we fear?

Who do you warn?

How do you defend

Against the unseen?

After the murder of LLywelyn the Last,

LLawgoch suffered the dawn-drawn dagger -

Red throat from assassin’s red hand.

Glyndŵr was our next son of prophecy

But escaped the traitorous arrow of Hywel Sele

And the cloaked intent of Dafydd Gam.

Did Glyndŵr then feel the horrors of guilt?

His heart was pierced to the hilt

His family was lost.

Wales was wasted.

Owain regained the murdered nationhood

By virtue of warm blood.

But our earls have flown.

Wales is wasted.

Did you put your heart into the dagger?

Did it end almost like this?

Do you lie under blades of bright grass

In Corwen churchyard?

And is your dagger in its church door,

Hurled from Cadair Glyndŵr?

Or does Monnington hold your heart?

You were never backstabbed

No one wants to find your grave

Bones represent our failure.

Nothing is united in death

And you never died.

Carnwennan was the dagger of Arthur;

And the scabbard of his sword Caledfwlch

Could prevent the blood of the wounds

Of this haemorrhaging country.


‘The English fight for power; the Welsh for liberty; the one to procure gain, the other to avoid loss. The English hirelings for money; the Welsh patriots for their country’ – Giraldus Cambrensis

We have had our shields of legend –

The shield of Joseph of Arimathea

With its blooded cross;

The shield of Afalach,

Galahad’s shield and


The Honour of the Evening -

The enchanted shield of Arthur

Which accompanied


The Hard Notch hated by the Saxon.

We had our shield of history -

Tarian Glyndŵr united the arms of Gwynedd -

The passant lions

On scarlet and gold -

With the arms of Powys

The rampant lion

On silver and scarlet.

He transmuted silver to gold,

And the passive lion

Into the four roaring lions

Of Hywel Gwynedd

Rhys Gethin

Rhys Ddu

And Rhys Tudor

He held Tarian Glyndŵr above

As shield-bearer to Richard II1

- Sir Owen de Glendore -

And owed nothing to the traitorous Bolingbroke

He had his English shields at his side

The shields of love

The border Scudamores2

Who married his daughters

He had his shield of Marged

His wife the best of wives!
Happy am I in her wine and mead.
Eminent dame of knightly lineage,
Honourable, beneficent, noble!
Her children came in pairs,

A beautiful nest of chieftains!3

Why go to war?

The Welsh habit of revolt against the English is a long-standing madness . . . and this is the reason. The Welsh, formerly called the Britons, were once noble, crowned with the whole realm of England; but they were expelled by the Saxons and lost both name and a kingdom ...But from the sayings of the prophet Merlin they still hope to recover England. Hence it is they frequently rebel. 4

Six invasions of mercenaries led by the English kings

Destroying our abbeys and churches and burning our manuscripts.5

What care we for barefoot Welsh peasants? 6

Reaping grim fortune and reward

Slashing, turning, burning, torturing, raping, kidnapping and retreating

Before the mounted war bands of Glyndŵr

"My nation has been trodden underfoot by the fury of the barbarous Saxons." 7

not for you defeat

and the disgrace of the upturned shield

and not for you death

and the shield to carry your body off the field

Owain had the shield of faith

The armour of God

As the Elect of Sain Derfel Gadarn.

We are losing our shield of language

Now our sole protection is Tarian Glyndŵr

Thrown into a cauldron of rebirth

Ceridwen’s cauldron of inspiration

Becoming our last shield of legend

And fact


1 ‘His name in Welsh was Owain ap Gruffydd ap Fychan, which is simply Owen son of Griffith son of Vaughan. He turned courtier in the train of the Earl of Arundel. For his valour, or his genial parts, he became a favourite with Richard II, and was made that unhappy monarch's shield-bearer. He was with Richard in many battles, in France, in Ireland, and in the Wars of the Roses. The king knighted him, and he was called Sir Owen de Glendore. In 1399 Richard II was deposed, Henry Bolingbroke usurped the English throne, and Owen Glendower went into retirement in Wales. He now became noted for a magnificent and lavish hospitality. His place, called Sycharth, was in the vale of the Dee, where he had some forty miles square of Vendotia's most picturesque and fertile soil. Here he literally kept open house, there being neither locks nor bolts on his’… (from Wirt Sykes)

2 Scudamore in Old French literally means ‘shield of love’

3 From Iolo Goch, Glyndŵr’s court poet.

4 An unknown English scribe -Vita Edwardi Secundi, c. l330

5 It was said that animals grazed for years in Llanrwst churchyard, because of the English sacking of the churches. Sir John Wynn in his ‘History of the Gwydir Family’ describes these years - ‘beginning in Anno 1400, continued fifteen years which brought such a desolation, that green grass grew on the market place in Llanrwst.........and the deer fled in the churchyard’

6 King Richard II’s abduction and murder in 1399 ruined Glyndŵr’s idyllic existence after just one year of retirement. His income from his estates was around two hundred pounds a year, but in 1399 Reginald Grey, Lord of Ruthin, stole some of his Glyndyfwrdwy lands. Glyndŵr  was legally trained and decided to fight Grey with a lawsuit in the English Parliament. A proud and loyal man, of royal blood, extremely tall for his times, he wore his hair down to his shoulders against the prevailing fashion of cropped hair in London. His case was dismissed with the comment ‘What care we for barefoot Welsh dogs!’

7 In a letter from Glyndŵr to Charles VI of France - naturally he called the oppressors Saxons, rather than the French/Normans that they really were. The Saxons took over England as far as the Welsh Borders and there were halted.

Coron Glyndŵr was an unpaid commission for the presentation of the crown of Glyndŵr donated by Tony Lewis via Gethin Grifiths and Sian Ifans of Embassy Glyndŵr to Elfyn Rowlands of Cefn Caer, Pennal. The poem was read after the ceremony on the Senedd Green outside the Parliament House in Machynlleth, upon June 21st, 2007. Cefn Caer is a 13th-century Hall House, where Glyndŵr drafted and signed the Pennal Letter, probably the document that has most defined Wales as a nation. The Pennal Policy and its accompanying letter were sent to Charles VI of France and Pope Benedict XIII upon Mardch 31st, 1406, delivered by Glyndŵr’s envoys Maurice Kerry and Hugh Eddouyer. The crown will be held in perpetuity for the people of Wales at Cefn Caer, an important centre of bardic patronage for centuries.


Dedicated to the late Anthony Lewis, silversmith and patriot

Our leaders fear symbols in Cymru

Our leaders fear their leaders

Their leaders fear knowledge

And consequent loss of power

Because symbols represent

A higher kind of power

Than that of economics

Or coercion

A power over people

A force from history…

The nationalism

That derives from culture

Not aggression

Our symbols were destroyed

Burnt, broken and sold

Along with our minerals

And our manuscripts

And our land.

Nothing survived

A millennium of invasion

Nothing is left…

Except the language

And an imposed mask

Over our past

And a dissolving memory

Of what is lost

But symbols restore history

They restore our glory

Symbols reinforce

The nation

And the language

Symbols give us fortitude

And foresight

And force

And recognition

But our symbols were destroyed

Our nation’s history traduced

And obliterated by the wars

Of the Saxons, Danes, Normans, Angevins, Plantagenets, York and Lancaster

So what of our Owains?

Their story was altered

The new version of history is silent

But what should WE know?

Owain I, Owain ap Gruffudd ap Cynan, Owain Gwynedd

Undefeated in his long reign

Against invasion after invasion

The victor at Crug Mawr and Coleshill and Crogen in Dyffryn Ceiriog

Who led the alliance of all the princes of Cymru

The Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, Owain Cyfeiliog of Powys,

And the men of Gwent

To turn back Henry II at Corwen

From the brow of Caerdrewyn.

Two of Owain’ sons, Rhys and Cadwaladr hostages,

Were blinded personally by Henry II in his rage,

Along with Cynwrig and Maredudd, the sons of the Lord Rhys

But they did not seek vengeance

As vengeance would have hurt Cymru

Owain II, Owain ap Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fawr

His father killed escaping from the Tower

His brother Llywelyn lured by Mortimer promises

Trapped, betrayed and beheaded

His surrendered army of 3000

And his cavalry

All slaughtered

English losses from the massacre at Aberedw?

Not one man…

His lieutenants Almafan, lord of Lampadevar

And Llywelyn Fychan of Bromfield were murdered

Along with his seneschal, Rhys ap Gruffudd.

And Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd?

Dragged through the streets of Shrewsbury –

Edward I gloriously invented this four-fold death

The first time in history the world witnessed

Hanging, drawing, quartering and displaying the remnants

North, South, East and West

At York, Winchester, Northampton and Bristol…

His head went alongside his brother’s at the Tower

Where their father had died

And the House of Gwynedd was systematically exterminated

Men, women and all the children,

All except Rhodri

Rhodri’s grandson, Owain III, Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri, Owain LLawgoch, Yvain de Galles

Our son of prophecy, our Mab Darogan

The flower of French chivalry, the greatest of warlords

Feared from Switzerland to Spain…

Unarmed, assassinated from behind, at Mortagne-sur-Mer

On the direct orders of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III

The single survivor of the House of Gwynedd

He had to die

Witness the terrible extinction

Of the line of Cunedda

After a millennium of glory

Owain IV, Lord of Deeside and Sycharth, Owain ap Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd, Another son of prophecy – Glyndŵr!

A loyal, cultured gentle man

Forced by Grey’s lies to face the pretender Henry IV,

The traitorous Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt

In 1400 Glyndŵr took his lion rampant of Powys

And displaced the four passant lions of Gwynedd

And on Dydd Glyndŵr September 16th 1400

He raised our new Royal Standard

Four rampant lions, gold and scarlet

No longer supine

And in the 4th year of 1400

The Iron Ring was broken

The mighty bastions of Aberystwyth, Harlech, Cricieth, and Beaumaris fell

And in the South – Caerffili, Cardiff and all the castles of the Bro were taken.

The Bishops of Bangor and Saint Asaf joined the Liberation Army

Shropshire, Hereford and Cheshire bent their heads

Ambassadors went to the court of Charles VI of France

Our first Parliament at Machynlleth had ambassadors from Castile, Scotland and France

The Treaty of Alliance was ratified with France

And Owain’s Great Seal was struck

Showing his orb, sceptre, sword and crown

His four-pointed gold crown represents Cymru

It shines with the symbols that support our language

What does it sing?

It rings the four oldest bishoprics in the Isles of the Britons

Bangor of the Ordovices and the House of Gwynedd

Saint Asaf of the Deceangli and the House of Powys

Llanddewi of the Demetae and the House of Deheubarth

Llandaf of the Silures and the House of Glywyssing

Our crown sings the four quarters of the body of Wales

Four tribes Four cathedrals Four princedoms Four lions

It completes our quartet of symbols

Cleddyf, Tarian, Dagr a Choron

Sword, Shield, Dagger and Crown

The unity of four princedoms

Under one king

Anointed with this crown on Dydd y Senedd

Midsummer Day, 1404

And a force has at last broken through four seasons

To now return to spring

Our symbols of Glyndŵr’s sword

And his golden crown

Return us foresight

And force

And recognition

Of our nation –

Cymru am Byth!

Notes on Coron Glyndŵr:

To remember the sacrifice of Glyndŵr, he lost his brother and five of his six sons in the war. His wife and his daughter Catrin were taken into captivity where they died. Catrin’s husband Edmund Mortimer had been killed at Harlech. Glyndŵr’s only grandson, the child of Catrin and Edmund, also was killed, as having a better claim to the throne than Bolingbroke, via the Mortimer line.

Gruffudd, Owain's eldest son was captured at Usk and taken to the Tower where he died. Madog, Dafydd, Thomas and Sion also died. Only one of his six sons, Maredudd survived the war. Of his five other daughters: Isabel ‘Ddwn’ married Adam ap Iorwerth; Joan married Sir John Croft; Alice married Sir John Skidmore; Ann married Sir Richard Monnington; and the possibly illegitimate Margaret/Marged married Philip ap Rhys of Cenarth.

We should also know that the House of Gwynedd had been systematically exterminated – almost every single descendant. The assassination of Owain LLawgoch by John of Gaunt's man completed the task. Glyndŵr, upon becoming acknowledged Prince of Wales, changed the Gwynedd flag. His personal clan flag was the red lion rampant on silver and black stripes. He took the four lions passant of the extinct House of Gwynedd, kept the scarlet and gold colours, but made them rampant like his lion, standing up, not passive, and symbolic of what he was trying to do for Wales.

You can see in the poem the unending treachery of a line of Franco-Norman kings of England towards the Welsh, from Henry II through Edward I, to John of Gaunt and his son, the pretender to the crown, Bolingbroke (Henry IV).  Please also remember that any history written by the conqueror is effectively propaganda – you read and hear what the conqueror wants. Coron Glyndŵr completes the set of sword, dagger, shield and crown that the people of Glyndŵr have commissioned for the people of Wales.

[‘Lampadevar’ is in Montgomeryshire, and Llywelyn Fychan’s brother Madog had married Llywelyn’s sister, Margaret/Marged. There was a Rhys ap Gruffudd of the commote of Endeligion, which included Caerleon in Gwent, who was born in 1238.]

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