Sunday, December 29, 2013

Go West

Like any right-thinking Cymro I'm sure that America was named after the Bristol merchant Richard Amerike, a descendant of Hywel ap Meurig - who may have been a quisling, but at least was our very own Radnorian quisling.
Another early explorer of the North Atlantic was the Bristol customs officer Thomas Croft, whose ships sailed in 1481 - reportedly in search of the mythical Isle of Brasil.   Since his two vessels contained a cargo of salt it's more likely they intended to exploit the rich, and secret, Newfoundland fishing banks.  Whatever his intentions Croft could boast of a far more illustrious Welsh pedigree than Amerike since his great grandfather was none other than Owain Glyndwr.  As we know Glyndwr married-off his daughters to the leading lights in the strategic Central March - a Mortimer, a Scudamore and a Croft.  Thomas Croft's grandmother was Glyndwr's daughter Sioned.

It's sometimes said that in the aftermath of Glyndwr's war no-one in Wales wanted to be reminded of the great patriot.  This is clearly not the case in respect of his daughter Gwenllian of Cenarth, St Harmon - all the bardic poetry to her family boasts of the connection.  It's not even true of the Herefordshire Crofts.  When Thomas's great niece Margaret married Ieuan Gwyn of Llangynllo and Clun, a bard was on hand to remind the audience of the bride's ancestry:

Crofft, Glyndwr, milwr moliant

Of course an earlier Atlantic sea-farer was Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd, whose story and subsequent myth are told in a marvellous book by Gwyn Alf Williams.  Although Gwyn mentions the reference to Madoc in the poetry of the 15C bard Maredudd ap Rhys, even he - and most everyone else - miss another reference to the seafarer in the work of another 15C bard Deio ab Ieuan Du:

Fal Madog, marchog medd
Baun gwyn, ab Owain Gwynedd.
Y gwr, siwrneio a gai
Ar foroedd, yr arferai.

Clearly Madoc's exploits were common knowledge to the bards of the 15C and, no doubt, to the patrons they rubbed shoulders with.  Who knows if men like Croft and the Welsh captain John Lloyd ("the most expert shipmaster in all England") were inspired by such tales.  Certainly Wales - and Radnorshire for that matter - has never been a backwater.


Tarian said...

OT but do you know how long the Welsh language held on in the Clun area? One of my ancestors moved from Clun to Merthyr in the mid 19c and married another 'incomer' from west Wales. They both spoke Welsh (and this persists in the family until today) but we are unable to determine if he was 'assimilated' by Welsh Merthyr or if he had some knowledge of Welsh from his early life on the border as a farm labourer. I know Welsh persisted in Ergyng (Archenfield) at this time but I know little of the situation around Clun.

radnorian said...

I would think that the Welsh language had disappeared from the Clun district by the early 18C. Certainly the Welsh parishes to the west of the district like Kerry and Beguildy were amongst the first to experience language shift, with exclusively English language Anglican services by the 1730s.

Still I'm only guessing and wish I knew more about this interesting area

Anonymous said...

But, of course, as this blog has emphasised in the past, exclusively English language Anglican services only really means that the local vicar reckons that the locals are sufficiently bilingual that he can get away with only using the thin language.
Sometimes this was a mistake (witness the famous Glascwm letter), often it was met with a shrug of the shoulders and maybe a few defections to non-conformism. We should be confident that Welsh continued as a kitchen language long after it disappeared from the local established church.

radnorian said...

An excellent point - thank you for paying attention!