Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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LLYWARCH ap LLYWELYN (‘ Prydydd y Moch ’; fl. 1173-1220 ); the most prominent court-poet of Gwynedd

from the death of Owain Gwynedd to the rise of Llywelyn the Great to the height of his power. He addresses Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd as lord of Aberffraw ; this must have been between 1173 and 1175 . Fratricidal strife between the princes was the curse of Wales at that time, and the reference to Cain and Abel in the ode to Rhodri is very much to the point. The solution advocated by Llywarch was the upholding of the authority of Aberffraw . Dafydd , as lord of that court, was ‘ inherent chief ruler ,’ but the poet held that he would have to assert his leadership by force and not through affection. Aberffraw was afterwards held, successively, by Rhodri and Gruffydd , his nephew, but in spite of their weakness, Llywarch persisted in maintaining the ‘inherent right’ of that court over all the Welsh from Anglesey to Monmouth . His delight at the rise of Llywelyn the Great can, therefore, be well understood. Nine poems to his hero written at different stages in that prince 's career are extant, and he became his chief court poet . The ‘ Longer Poem ’ was apparently occasioned by Llywelyn 's advance towards Powys , and the poet appeals to the men of that province as a Welshman , pleading that it is better for them to receive a Welsh leader than to be subject to a foreigner. Moreover, he refers in several poems to Llywelyn 's descent from the Powysian royal line as well as from that of Gwynedd . In the ‘ Shorter Poem ’ Llywarch revels in the fulfilment of all his dreams; he sings the growth of Llywelyn 's power throughout Wales up to the victories of 1220 , following which the preeminence of Aberffraw is the pride, the unity, and the success of Wales .

Llywarch also sang the praises of several princes subordinate to Llywelyn in Gwynedd and Powys , and likewise to Rhys Gryg in the South. The references to Wiston , Narberth , and Haverfordwest in the poem to Rhys suggest 1220 rather than 1215 . As a result of the newly-found Welsh unity the poet finds a fresh delight in stringing together place-names from all parts of Wales in his verses.

He also sang a complimentary poem to ‘ Gwenllian the Fair .’ In the ‘ Ode to the Hot Iron ,’ which refers to a trial by ordeal, he denies having killed a certain Madawg . In the Hendregadredd MS. , ‘ poetry to God ’ is ascribed to Llywarch , but according to the ‘ Red Book ’ and the Myv. Arch. this is the work of Cynddelw , and the sentiments expressed on the aggression of princes are more in keeping with the views of the latter.

Llywarch 's nickname is not easy to explain; possibly his reference to swine in Myv. Arch. 204 a, 26 may account for it. There is some reason for supposing that he was displeased by the favours granted to his fellow-poet, Gwilym Ryfel , at the court of Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd ( Myv. Arch. 201a, 58). Dafydd Benfras , his successor at the court of Llywelyn , may have been his son, and if so, he was his only son ( Myv. Arch. 255 b 5).


  • Llywarch's poetry in The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales , Llawysgrif Hendregadredd (N.L.W. MS. 6680) , and The Poetry in the Red Book of Hergest , 1911 ;
  • see also Hen Gerddi Crefyddol , Cardiff, 1931 (ed. Henry Lewis ), and J. Lloyd-Jones , The Court Poets of the Welsh Princes .


David Myrddin Lloyd, M.A., (1909-81), Aberystwyth / Scotland

Published date: 1959