The Poets of the Princes

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Last updated: 20 October 2009

The Poets of the Welsh Princes, or Beirdd y Tywysogion, is the general name given to Welsh poets who flourished between the 12th and early 14th centuries.

The poets are also known as Y Gogynfeirdd - the Fairly Early Poets, in comparison to Y Cynfeirdd - the Early Poets.

The Poets or Bards of the Princes were writing in the period of Welsh independence, which ended in 1282 following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

The majority were poets by profession; they would write praise poetry for their patrons who were often courtly princes or kings using the similar panegyric style implemented by the Cynfeirdd poets such as Taliesin. They would write celebration poetry, for example, praising their patrons' military endeavours and achievements.

Most poetry of this period survives in four manuscripts: the Black Book of Carmarthen, the Book of Taliesin, the Red Book of Hergest and the Hendregadredd Manuscript - an anthology of poetry, now kept at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, which is likely to have been brought together at the Cistercian Strata Florida Abbey in Ceredigion sometime after 1282.

Although the subject matter, the praising of patrons, would have been somewhat restrictive, themes that are often present in the Poets of the Welsh Princes are nature, love, war and religion.

Scholars have noted 57 poets of the medieval period, the earliest whose work is still existant being Meilyr Brydydd - a poet to Gruffudd ap Cynan, a king of Gwynedd - who flourished approximately between 1100 and 1137.

Other prominent poets of this era in Welsh literature include Gwalchmai (ap Meilyr), Meilyr's son; poet prince Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd; Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr, 'the Great Poet'; Llywarch ap Llywelyn; Dafydd Benfras; Bleddyn Fardd; Elidir and friar Madog ap Gwallter.

The most famous elegy to come from the Gogynfeirdd was for the last native prince Llewelyn, from a poet named Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch. In the poem, Marwnad Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, he expresses great emotion and sorrow for the death of the Prince of Wales, an occasion which ultimately signalled the end of Welsh independence.

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