Falaise castle

After the Norman conquest

The Anglo-Norman conquerors brought with them continental influences. Under the patronage of Anglo-Norman nobles and Welsh landed officials, the Poets of the Aristocracy thrived.

The Conquest of Wales was a traumatic event. When Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was killed in 1282 in a skirmish with the Anglo-Norman army at Cilmeri, near Builth Wells, one chronicler wrote that the whole of Wales was thrown to the ground.

The independent princes of Wales had been the main patrons of the poets known as Y Gogynfeirdd and Llywelyn's death caused an anguished response. After almost a thousand years, the political independence of the Welsh came to an end and the culture and customs of the country faced annihilation.

Llywelyn's court poet, Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Goch, wrote one of the greatest Welsh poems in his elegy Marwnad Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. In his intense grief he asks "Why, O my God, does the sea not cover the land? Why are we left to linger?"

Other poets felt the chill wind of conquest too, yet within some 60 years the finest poet of the language would appear. Dafydd ap Gwilym was a master of the old bardic traditions dating back to Aneirin and Taliesin, yet he was confident enough to be an innovator of both form and content. How did this happen?

The translator Tony Conran suggests that the conquest itself may have acted to shed a burden. After all, the Welsh had been fighting the Normans with their backs to the sea for over 200 years. And while the Normans were the conquerors, most of the day-to-day officials were Welsh. Poets soon found new patrons among this class of Welsh nobility who held lands and offices in the new Wales.

That the Beirdd yr Uchelwyr (Poets of the Aristocracy) also found patrons among gentry families of Norman and English origin, such as the Stradlings of Glamorgan and the Salesburys of north-east Wales, indicates the degree to which the Anglo-Norman nobility were assimilated into Welsh-language culture.

They brought with them continental influences which rubbed off on poets like Dafydd ap Gwilym and helped spark a literary revival. The Welsh people and culture adapted and thrived under the new circumstances.

Though the conquerors imposed an English criminal law code, the old civil laws of Hywel Dda continued, enabling Welsh to carry on as an official language in certain legal and religious matters.

However, the 14th and 15th centuries saw English increasingly being used for official purposes, a development which would threaten the status of Welsh.


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