Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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ROBERT , GRUFFYDD ( c. 1522 - c. 1610 ), priest, grammarian, and poet .

We do not know where he was born, although recent research seems to incline towards proving that he was a Caernarvonshire man. Nor do we know where he was educated; we cannot be certain that he was the ‘ Griffin Roberts ’ who was a student at Christ Church , Oxford , between 1550 and 1555 . Nevertheless, he is described as ‘ Griffin Roberts , clerk , M.A. ’, which suggests that he went to either Oxford or Cambridge . In 1558 he was appointed archdeacon of Anglesey , but as queen Mary died about a month afterwards it can be surmised that his stay there was but short. He refused to acknowledge the authority of queen Elizabeth in spiritual matters, and went to the Continent with Morys Clynnog . The latter stayed in Brussels and Louvain , and perhaps Gruffydd Robert did likewise, although one might conclude from what appears at the beginning of his Welsh grammar (see below) that he travelled through several countries in Europe . However, both men were chaplains in the English Hospital , Rome , in 1564 . There Gruffydd Robert gained the notice of cardinal Carlo Borromeo , and when the cardinal was made archbishop of Milan , Gruffydd Robert went with him, and he was appointed as one of the archbishop's confessors and a divinity canon in the cathedral . There are references to him in the cardinal 's biography and details are given in letters written by his friend, Owen Lewis , now in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana , Milan , of the duties which he performed. About Nov. 1582 Borromeo wanted him to relinquish his position as divinity canon because he could not speak Italian sufficiently fluently. We do not know what happened, but he stayed at Milan , and was there in 1596-7 when he sent a letter to Rosier Smyth . Nor do we know when he died, or where he was buried. His contemporaries spoke of him as ‘ doctor ’ but where or when he received the doctorate is not related.

It is possible that Gruffydd Robert published a small book of poems c. 1560-3 . Then, in 1567 , appeared the first part of his grammar, Dosparth Byrr ar y rhan gyntaf i ramadeg cymraeg , printed at Milan . The second part, which treats of the parts of speech, did not appear before c. 1584 , and it may be surmised that the third part (on the cynganeddion ) and the fourth part (on the metres) appeared before 1594 . Two other small works, which contain a collection of Welsh poems and the beginning of a translation of Cicero 's De Senectute , may be regarded as supplements to the grammar. He was the first to attempt to analyse the Welsh language . The most important fact which emerges is the attempt to make the Welsh a ‘language of scholarship,’ a fit instrument for use by anyone who wished to treat all the subjects which received attention from the humanists. And when he shows how the vocabulary of the language can be enriched, he deals with the Latin element in Welsh . His knowledge of the bardic measures was not thorough, yet the sections dealing with cynghanedd and the metres show that he had great gifts as a literary critic . His grammar is one of the most important works of the period of the Renaissance . It is also important in the history of Welsh prose. Mr. Saunders Lewis has shown that Gruffydd Robert is the first Welsh master, and the greatest, of the special style of the Revival of Learning, the Ciceronian style.

It was he who published Athravaeth Gristnogavl for Morys Clynnog at Milan in 1568 . Y Drych Cristianogawl , 1585 , has been attributed to him, and his name appears at the end of the introduction, but there is considerable doubt about this.


  • D. Rhys Phillips , Dr. Griffith Roberts Canon of Milan a great Welsh grammarian (1917) ;
  • Gruffydd Robert , Gramadeg Cymraeg yn ôl yr argraffiad y dechreuwyd ei gyhoeddi ym Milan yn 1567 (Cardiff, 1939) .


Emeritus Professor Griffith John Williams, M.A., (1892-1963), Gwaelod-y-garth, Cardiff

Published date: 1959