Summary and interpretation by Arfon Goodman-Jones from an article ‘Eisteddfod Caerwys 1567’ by Enid Roberts. Thanks to Geraint Wyn Hughes for the loan of the book ‘Cymdeithas Hanes Sir Ddinbych (Cyfrol 16, 1967)’ . Geraint Wyn Hughes is a direct descendant of William Byrkinshaw, one of the main bards in 1567.
So this was the first Eisteddfod in Wales ?
- No, this was not the very first eisteddfod. We know of eisteddfodau in Aberteifi Castle in 1176 and in Carmarthen in 1451.
Ok, so this was the first one in Caerwys ?
- Nope… there was an eisteddfod in Caerwys in 1523. It is also suggested that there could have been an Eisteddfod in the region of Caerwys before 1137, but we have no definitive evidence.
- The reason the 1567-68 Eisteddfod is so recognized is perhaps because this is the first eisteddfod that was recognized and granted permission by The English government and the royal family – if that is a measure of importance?
What was the motivation behind this Eisteddfod ?
- The bards and the musicians wandered the country and were paid for their art, usually by the wealthier families i.e. those in manor houses, estates and richer families in the Welsh regions.
- There had been a significant increase in the number of bards, at least in the number that claimed to be bards. Therefore a mechanism was needed to grade the bards and ensure that those who were unworthy were no longer permitted to wander the estates of the country.
Why did Elizabeth I get involved and want to influence Welsh bards and musicians?
- Much as the media today, bards and minstrels spread news from one region to another. Whilst they had the ability to convey the factual events, they could also apply their own interpretation, and of course, their opinions came through in the poetic verse.
- With the bards having some of the deepest Welsh roots, it is likely that some, may have portrayed any events or current affairs from a somewhat Welsh, as opposed to English, bias.
- In order to have some form of regulation, the royal family and its councils were keen to separate the true practitioners from the ‘vagabonds’ in the hope that this would minimize any anti-English propaganda.
- It is likely some of the local gentry offered to host an Eisteddfod to set standards for the bards and musicians and that they had asked the Queen for her blessing and permission.
- Official permission was received in October 1567 (but perhaps this had been delayed for much longer than was anticipated?)
Was is it an Eisteddfod of competitions as it is these days ?
- It is likely that the Eisteddfod was more of an adjudication process with graduation ceremonies for those that reached certain standards. There are recorded lists of bards that were promoted or that graduated. So it wasn’t so much standing performances but rather sitting down assessments (which may account for the term, the Welsh word for sitting is “eistedd” 😉
Why was the Eisteddfod held in Caerwys ?
- Tradition: A statute was established by Gruffudd ap Cynan, G.ap.C, (~ 1137) which contained all the rules for the community of bards and musicians, and for the poetic order. It is believed that G.ap.C’s wife came from the Caerwys area. Even though there is no hard evidence, it is possible that G.ap.C held an Eisteddfod in ‘Caerwys, within the region of Aberffro’ to publish or proclaim the statute. An updated version of the same statute was definitely proclaimed as the “Conffyrmiad” (Confirmation) in the 1523 Caerwys Eisteddfod.
- Standing: Municipal Charter of Caerwys 1290 (Edward I), the 1408 Charter (Henry IV), even though Caerwys was not the main town it is likely, that at this time, it was the only market town in the county.
- Welshness: Unlike other boroughs such as Flint, Rhuddlan, Denbigh, Conwy, Caernarfon – no castle was raised, no garrison was established, and the town was not run by an English hierarchy of administrators. Caerwys remained Welsh in the hands of local officials and gentry from the area’s high-standing families. Congregating a crowd of poets and musicians in Caerwys, rather than other towns, avoided any risk of confrontation with the English settlements. It was also recognized that in the 16th century the region known today as Clwyd was the stronghold of Welsh Literature throughout Wales.
- Mostyn Family: It is clear that the Mostyn family, under the leadership of the patriarch, organized and governed both Eisteddfodau.
- 1523: The hierarchy on the ‘Rhôl’ in 1523 was Rhisiart ap Hywel. Rh.ap.H, (Mostyn patriarch), Syr William Gruffudd (his daughter Sian married Thomas Mostyn – son of Rh.ap.H) , Sir Roger Salisbury (nephew to Catrin Salisbury, the wife of Rh.ap.H), Gruffudd ab Ieuan ap Llywelyn Fychan (husband to the daughter of Rh.ap.H, Sioned)etc.
- 1567: Twelve men adjudicated the bards and musicians including William Mostyn, the patriarch by then, and the grandson of Rh.ap.H. Except for one man, Elis Prys PhD, all the others were either directly or through marriage related to William Mostyn – including the esteemed family of Coed-y-Mynydd (near Moel y Parc today)
- It is likely that the Mostyn family adopted or were officially bestowed with the rights to control bards and musicians, as their acquaintances, the Dutton family, had done so with the ‘minstrels’ in nearby Chester.
- By 1506 the Mostyn family had acquired ‘half a burage with a building standing thereon’ in the middle of Caerwys. It is likely that the Eisteddfod was held in this building and on this land.
Was the Eisteddfod held in 1567 or 1568 ?
- One would need many more pages to cover this debate in detail. The following is my opinion based upon my readings and having considered the facts:
- 1568? – The main reason to support this is a COPY of the Proclamation from Elizabeth I:
- Signed on October 23 in 1567
- But requiring ‘a yeares warning at the least’ and to be held on ‘the monday next after the feast of the blessed Trynitee in the year of our Lorde god 1568’
- But there is inconsistency between requiring a year’s notice and then holding the Eisteddfod within 8-9 months
- The copy heralds 21 Lords & Gentry from North Wales – but only 12 men are referenced and recorded in every other piece of evidence.
- 1567? – Many separate sources agree or indicate 1567:
- Two of the original poems refer in words to the year ’67 (e.e. “…A thrigain a saith rhagor” – Huw Pennant translates to “..and three twenty and seven more”)
- A copy of the bardic licence granted to Simwnt Fychan recorded “mil a hanner a saith a thrugain” (translates to “a thousand and a half and seven and three twenty”)
- According to multiple hand scripts the Eisteddfod was held on May 26. Also with references to the first Monday after the Festival of Trinity. A festival that moves within the calendar – in ’67 this fell on the 26th May – however in ’68 this fell on the 14th
- By 1886 somewhat dubious historical notes have mis-written one of the original bards, Huw Ceiriog, as Huw Eurorog and the same notes present an altered verse (‘englyn’) with the year changed to “…A thrigain a wyth rhagor” (translates to “..and threetwenty and eight more”). It would appear that there may have been ‘adjustments’ to the original work.
- Having studied the texts in more detail, I’m personally convinced that the Eisteddfod was held in 1567. There may be an error in the copy of the Proclamation or perhaps easier to empathize with the following theory …
- It’s conceivable that the organizers, the twelve gentry, had written, perhaps in 1566, asking the government and the Queen for their blessing and permission to hold the Eisteddfod.
- Having waited for a protracted period without response, perhaps they decided to host the Eisteddfod according to tradition on the first Monday after the Festival of Trinity, which would have been Monday 26th, 1967. Proactively setting standards and taking control on the travelling bards and musicians was sure to please the royal family.
- It might have been quite embarrassing to then receive an official response and the permission in October 1567 – 5 months after the event! Prudent perhaps to contain the issue and, where there were subsequent opportunities, adapt historical notes to align with the Proclamation.