Saturday, September 29, 2012

Who was Rhys Gethin?

On not much evidence Rhys Gethin is said to have been Owain Glyndwr's leading general, and historians from Sir John Lloyd to Sir Rees Davies have identified him as being Rhys Gethin of Nantconwy.

Cledwyn Fychan makes an entirely convincing case that the Rhys Gethin of the contemporary historical record wasn't Rhys Gethin of Nantconwy at all, he comes up with a far more likely candidate.

The handful of reviews I've read agree that if you want to know who Rhys Gethin is, then you should read this little book.  The advice seems to defeat the object of the essay, which was to make the real Rhys Gethin better known.  It's not the easiest work to get hold of and you may end up, like me, getting a version with a perfect cover and binding but with contents consisting of a different essay altogether.  One of the drawbacks, I guess, of getting a Welsh language book printed in Italy.

Anyway the Rhys Gethin of the historical record was Rhys Gethin of Llwyngwychwyr, Llanwrtyd, of that there can be little doubt.  There are only two mentions of Rhys Gethin in connection with Owain Glyndwr in contemporary records - there was the Rhys Gethin who captured Carmarthen in the company of others, including kinsmen of Rhys of Llwyngwychwyr; and there was the Rhys Gethin who Prince Hal mentions, in a letter to his father King Henry IV, as having raised an army in Buallt with the intention of invading Herefordshire.  English nationalists should note that this letter was written in French.

As early as 1401 Rhys Gethin's father, unnamed sons and various kinsmen were "deprived" of their lands in Buallt because they had risen in insurrection with Owen Glyndourdy.  As for the family's military prowess, that leading military commander in the 15C French wars Sir Richard Gethin of Builth was the son of Rhys of Llwyngwychwyr.

Some points of Radnorshire interests: Was Rhys Gethin the Rees a Gytch who an English chronicler says was involved in the Battle of Pilleth?  It's impossible to say.  There were certainly kinship links between Rhys Gethin's family and Philip ap Rhys of St Harmon, Glyndwr's son-in-law.  As so often, the contribution of East Central Wales - in this case to Glyndwr's war - is underestimated.  This elegant little book goes some way to illuminating one aspect of that contribution.  If only it were better known.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Radnorshire Mormon from Nantmel

The parishes east of Presteigne seem to provide fertile ground for the more radical religious movements of the day.  After all the Lollard John Oldcastle was from Almeley and Ffransis Payne has some interesting things to say about the Quakers of the area, who "in comparison to whom the driest and least joyful members of our most narrow puritan sects would appear like cheerful pagans."

It was to this district that a young fellow from the Ysfa, Llewellyn Mantle of Crugnant, made his way in the 1820s.  Here he found work as a waggoner and in 1835 married a local girl, Kitty Watkins, in Byton parish church.  In 1842 the couple were converted by the latest missionaries to invade the district and quickly determined to join their prophet Joseph Smith and his Latter-Day Saints in Nauvoo Illinois.  You can read about Llewellyn's subsequent adventures here.  The Mantles were in Nauvoo when Smith was murdered, they migrated west, crossing the frozen Mississippi into Iowa. Having lost his sight in 1848 Llewellyn walked the thousand miles to Salt Lake City, arriving there in the autumn of 1851.  He died in Utah in 1901, aged 83.

Its easy to forget just how radical a group the Mormons were, with their polygamy - Llewellyn took a second wife in 1870, a Swiss woman called Margaret Egg - and violent confrontations with their neighbours such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857.  Indeed the Mantles' daughter Sarah married the son of the legendary gunfighter Porter Rockwell, Mormondom's "destroying angel."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Radnorshire Pioneers in Wisconsin

The migration of Radnorshire Quakers and Baptists, and indeed Anglicans, to Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 1680s is well-known.  Perhaps the biggest Welsh, and no doubt Radnorian, contribution to the American gene-pool is less remarked upon - the migration of individuals as indentured servants to the Carolinas and other southern states.  For example in the 1790s more than 10% of the free population of the Carolinas had typically Welsh surnames.  It's why a name like Wynette Pugh (AKA Tammy Wynette) raises no eyebrows in Mississippi.

An even less familiar migration is that of families from North Radnorshire (mainly the parishes of Llanbadarn Fynydd, Llananno, Bugeildy and Llanbister) to Green County in Wisconsin - an area better known today for its Swiss cheesemakers.  Together with neighbours from Kerry and Llandinam in Montgomeryshire and Betws-y-Crwyn in Shropshire, this migration, which commenced in 1844 and lasted until 1881, was centered around what is rather inaccurately called the English Settlement in the township of Albany.

A local historian from Wisconsin has done a great deal to rescue the history of these Welsh pioneers, publishing articles and booklets, organizing a reunion and seeing the settlement recognized as an official historic site.  Mrs Bagley estimates that the 77 Welsh families who moved to Green County would have comprised more than 700 individuals in the first generation.  These settlers, in addition to those with the usual Welsh surnames, had names familiar to Mid-Walians - Ingram, Bubb, Hamer, Layton, Bufton, Gravenor, Smout, Sheen, Kinsey, Jarman and a good many Swancutts*.  Having initially bought land - it had been taken by the US governemt from the Ho-Chunk tribe - at $1.25 an acre, by the 1870s the Welsh families owned over 6000 acres, around half the farmland in the township of Albany.  Large families were the order of the day, Margaret Davies had nine children, Kezia Hughes eleven, Mary Ann Hamer nine, Mary Swancutt nine and Mary Jarman fourteen.  You can find photographs of some of these early settlers and their offspring here.

Here are a selection Radnorshire weddings in Green County:  Willaim Hope and Mary Lloyd (1846); Edward Price and Elizabeth Swancutt (1848); James Trow and Caroline Price (1850); Aaron Jones and Eliza Edmonds (1852); Ellen Griffith and Moses Ingram (1854);  Jane Gravenor and George Jones (1856); William Francis and Jane Swancutt (1857); John Swancutt and Ann Lloyd (1858); Thomas Lewis and Margaret Jones (1860); Benjamin Swancutt and Emma Francis (1860); Evan Layton and Eliza Francis (1864);  James Francis and Sarah Griffith (1864); John Jones and Emma Pryce (1868); Thomas Bufton and Ellen Jones (1870); Richard Williams and Mary Kinsey (1878)

* According to Mr Howse cider was called swancut in the Radnorshire argot.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Keep Digging

You know this new Britishness agenda is in full-swing when the archaeologists solve the mystery of Stonehenge. Seemingly it's a unification monument, "a monument to unify the peoples of Britain, after a long period of conflict and regional difference." 

It only seems the other day that the BBC were telling us that Stonehenge was a healing centre, the Lourdes of prehistoric Europe.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Not a Book Review

It's a bit daunting when someone expresses the view that they miss my book reviews.  Do people actually make or avoid a purchase on my recommendation?  Good heavens, sometimes a book has been reviewed here even before it's been read.  It's often an excuse to upload something visual on to the blog.  Like this:

There are books that you want and procrastinate over buying and then there are books like this that are bought on a whim and leave one reflecting "why?"

Not that it isn't a fascinating book, even if it does include one of the daftest maps ever published by an academic press.  This map, purporting to be of post-1284 Wales, shows the future county of Monmouthshire in England and Tintern located somewhere west of Newport.  Thankfully the map is so small that you need a magnifying glass to spot its stupidity.

As the title suggests, the book deals with towns in medieval Wales and consists of a dozen chapters each written by a different author covering topics such as townswomen, fairs and feast days, entertainment, bardic poetry and the Welsh element in towns across the border such as Bristol and Hereford.  The multiple authorship does lead to repetition, for example Gruffudd ab Adda's poem to the maypole in Llanidloes turns up in three of the chapters.

Radnorshire towns get mentioned in passing but as is often the case my interest is piqued by the footnotes more than anything - the bard Bedo Brwynllys' presence in Knighton for example.  I didn't know that and I'd like to know more.  Perhaps my suggestion that he was from the township of Brwynllys in Maelienydd rather than Bronllys in Breconshire has some substance.  I do hope so.

Stop Thief!

We've done our best to combat Breconshire's depredations.  Of course they've won the big prizes - like convincing the world that the Royal Welsh Show is held in Builth, but we've had some small victories.  We've reclaimed Caesar Jenkyns for the county of his birth and shown that the first Welsh novelist wasn't a Breconian.  There are more, here for example, it's thankless work but someone has to do it.

Yet still the thefts continue, aided and abetted by the likes of the Welsh Books Council.  Here they describe the painter Thomas Jones as a Breconshire landowner.  Maybe he was, but do a couple of fields count for more than his Radnorshire birthplace or his Radnorshire home?   And while we're at it, why do none of these people use paypal?  Don't they want to sell books?  It's not as if I'm willing to hand over my card details to every Tom, Dick and Cardi!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Musical Interlude

Bettye Lavette, defining soul music.

Bad for Business?

Now I've always been told that mixing politics and business was a bad idea, you might alienate those customers who don't share one's point of view.  Clearly this wasn't the case with the Radnorshire non-conformists who eagerly refused to pay the education rate levied as a result of the 1902 Education Act.  The point at issue, why should chapel-goers subsidise Church schools.

More than a hundred Radnorians were subjected to the depredations of the bailiffs and in Llandrindod we find some of the leading hoteliers in the town being dragged through the courts for non-payment.  These included Jeffrey Jones - we've met him before - proprietor of the Brynawel (now the Glen Usk), Edward Thomas of the Gwalia, Thomas Owen at Baveno and William Lewis Harper at the Manor and his father Job Harper at Southend House.

Bad for business?  Well if you catered for a mainly non-conformist clientele, maybe not.

A Process not an Event

The election of December 1910 might have been the last time that the undiluted voice of  the Radnorian voter was heard on the parliamentary level, but the Sunday Closing votes of the 1960s also saw the old county treated as a single constituency.  At the time these votes were regarded as referendums on "welshness" or at least welshness as it was defined by the upholders of the non-conformist tradition.  In urban Wales that tradition took one hell of a beating, while the three thousand (42%) Radnorians who voted in 1961 to maintain the ban on Sunday drinking were not enough to hold back the brewers, whose Welsh campaign was headed by Mr Baird Murray of Llandrindod.  This and subsequent votes buried that particular version of Welshness and today sobriety is one of the last virtues one associates with Wales.  It went the way of patronyms and partible inheritance as a marker of Welsh identity.

The 1960s were also when the geographer E G Bowen came up with his two Wales model, the theory that the country could be divided into an Inner Wales - a Welsh speaking heartland if you like - and an Outer, less Welsh area encompassing the borderlands and the industrial districts.  These two cultural regions some believed had a distinct identity stretching back for centuries.  The gloriously cockney singer Adele put it more succinctly when she said she was Welsh but not "proper Welsh" like her Nefyn raised and welsh-speaking rival Duffy.

Now Bowen's theory, and modifications such as the Three Wales model, have had a real influence on opinion in Wales.  It is treated as if Inner Wales is a reality rather than the "product of day dreaming over a map."   Take that vote on booze.  Yes, there was a clear division between a dry Inner Wales and the boozy remainder back in the Sixties, but today Duffy can just as easily enjoy a Sunday snifter in the Nanhoran Arms as can Adele in Penarth's Railway Hotel.  The maps might show a coincidence between the Sunday closing vote of 1961, the Welsh speaking districts of that year's census and the medieval principality of Edward the First, but that is what they were - a coincidence.

A map records a moment in time, it's out of date even before it leaves the printers.  What the geographers identified as markers of an Inner Wales were processes, they were misled by their maps.

It's a reproach to Welsh historians that when Radnorians want to learn about their district in the medieval period, they might as well turn to the work of the UKIP parliamentary candidate for the Cheshire seat of Weaver Vale.

We may not accept Mr Remfry's promotion of the name Cynllibiwg to describe the Middle March - although Rhwng Gwy a Hafren sounds more like a geographical description than an actual placename - but he is right when he criticises the mainstream for ignoring Maelienydd and Elfael - the heart of the future county of Radnorshire.

Maelienydd and Elfael play havoc with the Inner/Outer Wales cultural model.  Right up to the death of Llywelyn and even afterwards these districts were an area of contention: between Gwynedd, Deheubarth, the Normans and the greatly underestimated (today) strength of the local rulers themselves.  This was far more Pura Wallia than Marchia Wallia, for although the Normans might, temporarily, occupy a castle or two, their real power like that of the British Army in Helmand Province was limited.  Yet neither of these two cantons proved to be lasting strongholds of the Welsh language as the Two Wales model should predict.

Move on a couple of centuries and the bards of the 15C did not seem to be aware of any great cultural divide between Inner and Outer Wales.  For example over 60 of the surviving poems of Lewis Glyn Cothi were composed for Radnorshire patrons, more than for patrons in any other of the future 13 counties of Wales.

Of course the Inner/Outer Wales model is correct when it says that the east of Wales is more open to new ideas spreading in from England than is the west. That is a geographical reality.  Where it goes astray is to look at moments in time and accord them some great significance, while failing to recognize that what is at work is a process which eventually overwhelms the west as much as the east - the adoption of surnames would be an example.  The Two Wales and the Three Wales models only serve to artificially divide a country with a common past and a common future, whatever that might be.