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Courtly Life

The courts of the Welsh princes were a civilisation in themselves.

"In Wales, no one begs" so wrote Gerald of Wales because guests were always welcome and a stranger could soon become a guest if he acted appropriately.

The penteulu was in charge of the prince's close followers and was usually a relation

Manuscript illustration from Ms Peniarth28. © National Library of Wales

The steward or distain was in charge of military matters and also served his prince at mealtimes.

Manuscript illustration from Ms Peniarth28. © National Library of Wales

Each welsh prince had his own court with its officers: the ynad who ran the court, the distain (steward) who organised the meals, the gwas ystafell who looked after the bed chamber and the prince's wardrobe, the bardd teulu who was the prince's in house poet and the pencerdd (the chief poet) who travelled more widely. Court life had rules governing who sat where at mealtimes and on how to behave. Meals were a time to reward followers with gifts and plunder and a time to reaffirm communal bonds. The court moved with the prince on his travels. A prince had to be seen. An invisible ruler soon became an irrelevant figurehead. While on his cylch (journey) the prince could ensure each locality would stay loyal in times of trouble.

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The court had a vibrant cultural side. The pencerdd was not a court jester, but an important figure. Trained for many years, the poet would sing the praises of the prince, his warriors and their predecessors as an example to follow. They were rooted in a rich tradition going back to the 9th century poet Taliesin. Owain Cyfeiliog, a 12th century prince of Powys was a poet in his own right and author of 'The Long Blue Drinking Horn.'

Welsh literature grew in confidence in the 12th century. The language had survived the Norman invasion and gained new links with Europe. Wales started to export its literary tradition, most notably the stories of King Arthur and his knights. Arthur had long inspired the princes and warriors of Wales. Geoffrey of Monmouth by giving Arthur so much space in his Historia Regum Britanniae, made the Arthurian legends the most fashionable stories of Mediaeval Europe.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's book Historia Regum Britanniae made Arthur famous throughout western Europe

Manuscript illustration from Roy.20 A II, f.4. © British Library