Sunday, June 15, 2008

Booze in Fifteenth Century Radnorshire

The feast was symbolic of the bardic world view. The man of power, the foundation stone of the civilised society, gives food and drink to his followers, and they repay his generosity with loyalty. Traditionally this drink was mead, and Lewis Glyn Cothi's poetry shows that this was still being drunk in Fifteenth Century Radnorshire. It is interesting to look at those men who served mead; Phelpod ap Rhys of Brilley was a cyfarwydd - a storyteller, Dafydd ap Rhys of New Radnor owned the Book of Taliesin and was able to discuss its archaic language. Ieuan ap Llywelyn Fychan of Llanfihangel Nant Melan enjoyed reading the tenth century poem Armes Prydain. These men were intellectuals, did Lewis trim his language to suit them, or were they traditionalists in terms of drink as well as literary taste?

The favoured drink of most of Lewis Glyn Cothi's poorer local patrons was ale, especially that produced in the nearby English towns of Ludlow and Weobley. Weobley, the more widely drunk of the two, must have been dark in colour as Lewis describes two dark milk cows, requested as a gift from two ladies of Aberedw, as being darker than the Weobley ale.

While ale and mead were native drinks, wine had to be imported. A common practice was for a local nobleman to buy a shipload of wine direct from the Continent, keeping some for his own consumption and selling the rest from a gwindy or winehouse. Lewis Glyn Cothi was born in the north Carmarthenshire parish of Caio. In the 1390s, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of that parish was importing 16 tuns of wine per annum from Bordeaux through the port of Carmarthen, 55 bottles for every day of the year!

Less wine may have been drunk in Radnorshire than in some other parts of Wales, probably because of the distance from the sea. Thomas ap Rhys of Llangynllo is described as sending a wagon to Weobley to bring back barrels of ale. He also served bragget - a mixture of beer and honey and an unnamed spirit. His wine was Y Gien - either from the town of Gien on the Loire or Guyenne, the Bordeaux region. Morgan ap Hywel of Llanbister seems to have been an importer of wine. He bought Gwin Borgwin - Burgendy wine, which is dispensed from tunellau and pibau. A tun was a barrel containing 252 gallons, a pipe contained 105 gallons. Sioned vz Rhys of New Radnor had been given orange and claret since birth, she and her husband drank dwsed - doucet, a sweet wine. In Cefnllys Ieuan ap Philip served wine from the pipe and Gwin o Roeg ynys - a wine from a Greek island.

Lewis Glyn Cothi's poetry is full of the names of the wines his patrons served from France, Italy and Spain and even individual villages in France are singled out such as Sant Miliwn - St Emilion. All this goes to show that Fifteenth Century Wales and the districts that later became Radnorshire were far from being rural backwaters - they were part and parcel of a Europe wide economic and cultural order. A bard like Glyn Cothi, visiting the home of Rhys ap Phelpod and his wife Mallt in Llansantffraid yn Elfael, was charged with caring for his patrons mazer-cup, kissing the rim of the sparkling glass six hundred times during the feast. Nice work if you could get it.

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