1789 and the Gwyneddigion Eisteddfodau

Silver gorget awarded at the Corwen eisteddfod, 1789
Silver gorget awarded to Gwallter Mechain at an eisteddfod in Corwen in 1789, which marked the renaissance of the eisteddfodic movement in Wales.

Gwyneddigion medal won by Gwallter Mechain at Corwen, 1789 (obverse)
This medal was made in Chester, having been commissioned by the Gwyneddigion Society as a prize at the Corwen Eisteddfod in 1789. It was awarded for extemporare verse, and won by Gwallter Mechain. Dr David Samwell was so incensed that his favourite, Twm o'r Nant, had not won that he threatened one of Gwallter Mechain's supporters to a duel. However, no blood was spilled and Samwell gave Twm a silver pen as a consolation prize.

A silver pen given to Twm o'r Nant by Dr David Samwell
A silver pen given to Twm o'r Nant by Dr David Samwell, surgeon to Captain Cook, as a consolation prize for having been supposedly unfairly beaten by Gwallter Mechain at an eisteddfod in Corwen, 1789.

The year 1789 is a vital one in the Eisteddfod's history - the beginning of the modern period for the Eisteddfod. In simple terms, what happened is this: Thomas Jones of Corwen, an assize-man who took a great interest in the little eisteddfodau then being held in the taverns, asked the Gwyneddigion, a society of Welsh exiles in London, to sponsor the Eisteddfod in Wales. It seems that Wales needed a national institution which could restore some measure of quality and dignity to Welsh-language culture. And the Gwyneddigion agreed.

But of course, they also insisted on the right to lay down the law. If they were going to sponsor the Eisteddfod, they wanted to be assured that definite rules had been laid down - for example, the judge would be chosen by them, so would the main poetic subjects, and the poets would be expected to compete under pseudonyms. In a way they were drawing up a blueprint of the kind of modern competitive Eisteddfod so familiar to us today. Well, Thomas Jones of Corwen, rather disingenuously, said that the Gwyneddigion were sponsoring the Eisteddfod in Corwen in May 1789. In fact they were doing no such thing. But in September of the same year, in Bala, the Gwyneddigion did sponsor an Eisteddfod. At that Eisteddfod, the subject for the chair was A Reflection on the Life of Man.

Listen to a video narrative in Welsh by Hywel Teifi Edwards (requires QuickTime player):

Modem [673KB]:

Broadband [2.32MB]:


  • National Museum Cardiff

    National Museum Cardiff

    Discover art, natural history and geology. With a busy programme of exhibitions and events, we have something to amaze everyone, whatever your interest – and admission is free!

  • St Fagans National History Museum

    St Fagans

    St Fagans is one of Europe's foremost open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction.

  • Big Pit National Coal Museum

    Big Pit

    Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain's leading mining museums. With facilities to educate and entertain all ages, Big Pit is an exciting and informative day out.

  • National Wool Museum

    National Wool Museum

    Located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, the Museum is a special place with a spellbinding story to tell.

  • National Roman Legion Museum

    National Roman Legion Museum

    In AD 75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. Today at the National Roman Legion Museum you can learn what made the Romans a formidable force and how life wouldn't be the same without them.

  • National Slate Museum

    National Slate Museum

    The National Slate Museum offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

  • National Waterfront Museum

    National Waterfront Museum

    The National Waterfront Museum at Swansea tells the story of industry and innovation in Wales, now and over the last 300 years.

  • Rhagor: Explore our collections

    Rhagor (Welsh for ‘more’) offers unprecedented access to the amazing stories that lie behind our collections.