A Gorsedd Who's Who

The Archdruid

An oil painting of Archdruid Hwfa Môn by Christopher Williams.
An oil painting of Archdruid Hwfa Môn by Christopher Williams.

The Archdruid in their splendid regalia is the focal point of all the Gorsedd rites and presides over all its ceremonies. They are the supreme authority of all the other Gorseddau and chairs the Gorsedd Board.

Iolo Morganwg, the father of the Gorsedd of the Bards, did not call himself an 'Archdruid'. In his first Gorsedd in 1792 he was the 'Chief Bard' and in the Carmarthen Gorsedd of 1819 he was the 'Official Bard'.

Before long, however, the presidents of the provincial eisteddfodau's gorseddau began to call themselves 'archdruids', but Clwydfardd is considered to be the first official Archdruid. He claimed:

'I was appointed Archdruid ... in the year 1860; but it was in the Wrexham Eisteddfod in the year 1876 that I was licensed as the Archdruid of the Gorsedd... of the Bards of the Isle of Britain.'

He held office for the rest of his life.

The number of visual images of his successor, Hwfa Môn, (Rowland Williams) (2002-2005), testify to his role as a national icon. Since 1936 an Archdruid serves for a term of three years only, except during the Second World War, when Crwys (W.Crwys Williams), was Archdruid for eight years. Only one Archdruid, Cynan (1950-54; 1963-6) has served for more than one term. As Tilsli has said of Cynan 'to many people he embodied the Gorsedd of the Bards' and it was Cynan who made the rites of the Gorsedd 'credible and colourful'. It was Cynan's influence, in Fishguard in 1936, which brought order to the ceremony of installing a new Archdruid, when they are invested with the crown, breastplate, sceptre and ring of office.

In 1932 it was stipulated that an Archdruid has to be a chaired or crowned bard. By the beginning of the twenty-first century Prose Medal winners were included in this élite band and the first to be elected under this ruling was Robyn Llŷn (Robyn Léwis) (2002-05). About this time too the voting procedure was changed with all members of the Gorsedd, not only the Gorsedd Board, now entitled to vote.

The Recorder

Eifionydd (John Thomas) - Gorsedd Recorder, 1881-1922.
Eifionydd (John Thomas) - Gorsedd Recorder, 1881-1922.

The Recorder of the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain is the Secretary of the Gorsedd Board and its supervisor. He/she is one of the main officers in the Gorsedd Circle and he/she is responsible for organising the ceremonies on the Eisteddfod stage. He/she proclaims the Eisteddfod and Gorsedd a year and a day in advance. It seems that Gwynfe (Recorder -1922-27)'s library, including the Gorsedd Minute Book for 1888-1921, was sold to the USA and this important historical document is now in the Library of Havard University, while the National Library of Wales has a copy of it. Without doubt Cynan (1935-50; 1954-63; 1966-70) was the most influential twentieth-century Recorder. Ernest Roberts maintained that he changed the Gorsedd 'from being some sort of ministers' pantomime into a dignified pageantry'; 'from being the butt of derision and mockery into an institution which attracted Welsh scholars and professional men from several fields to accept its honours and to support its aims.' Since Cynan's time succeeding Recorders have managed to maintain these high standards.

The Herald Bard

T.H.Thomas leading the Proclamation procession, Llangollen 1907.
T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn, Herald Bard (1895-1915) leading the Proclamation procession, Llangollen 1907.

The Herald Bard looks after the Gorsedd furniture and regalia. They are responsible for the Gorsedd's Processions and helps the Recorder to direct its ceremonies. He/she, in turn, is supported by other officials: the Examinations' Organiser; the Mistress of the Robes and his/her own appointments - the Marshalls.

The Herald Bard was a post which evolved during the nineteenth century. Without doubt, T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn, during his term of office, 1895-1915, was the most influential Herald Bard. Through his innate artistic flair he reformed and transformed the Gorsedd robes and regalia and the Gorsedd Circle. Sieffre o Gyfarthfa, (Captain Geoffrey Crawshay), Herald Bard 1925-1947, led the Gorsedd processions, very dramatically, on horseback and in splendid riding gear. He published several pamphlets during his term of office dealing with Gorsedd 'membership', and 'the installation ceremony'. When he resigned in 1947 he presented a staff for the use of the Herald Bard.

Dilwyn Cemais (Dillwyn Miles), Herald Bard 1966-1996, published an invaluable volume on the history of the Gorsedd of the Bards, The Secret of the Bards of the Isle of Britain (Dinefwr Press, 1992) and also a book of his memoirs, Atgofion Hen Arwyddfardd in 1997.

The Mistress of the Robes

Winifred Coombe Tennant, Mistress of the Gorsedd Robes c.1923-34.
Winifred Coombe Tennant, 'Mam o Nedd' (Mother from Neath); Mistress of the Robes c.1923-34.

In her bright blue-green robe the Mistress of the Robes stands apart from the other members and officers of the Gorsedd. She supervises the condition of the robes at every Gorsedd ceremony throughout the year and she invests the poets and prose medal winners with their robes before escorting them from the body of the pavilion onto the stage for their respective ceremonies.

Such an officer was essential once the Gorsedd had introduced official robes c.1900 and Mair Taliesin (Gwenddydd Morgan) was the first to fulfil the role.

She was succeeded c.1923 by Mam o Nedd - Winifred Coombe-Tennant (1874-1956), a native of Cambridgeshire, who had married Charles Tennant of Cadoxton Lodge, Cadoxton, Glamorganshire in 1895. She had been Chair of the Neath National Eisteddfod's Arts and Crafts Committee in 1918 and had severely criticised the lack of dignity and untidiness of the Gorsedd Procession during the 1917 Proclamation ceremony. Mam o Nedd left £5,000 in her will towards the repair and refurbishment of Gorsedd robes and regalia.

Siân Aman (Jean Huw Jones), the Mistress of the Robes, (1983 onwards)'s annual reports to the Gorsedd Board illustrate the nature of this responsible post; not only the need to renew robes every year but also the constant demand upon her to talk to cultural societies around Wales about her role.

The Bearer of the Grand Sword

Bearing the Grand Sword
Bearing the Grand Sword during the Chairing Ceremony, 2009.

The Bearer of the Grand Sword's role is to look after the Gorsedd Sword during processions and during the Gorsedd ceremonies. He carries the Sword before the Archdruid in all Gorsedd processions, always by its blade, not by its hilt. This was the first officer to be named from among the Gorseddogion, because in 1819 it was noted that Gwilym Morganwg (Thomas Williams) was the 'Sword Bearer' in the important provincial eisteddfod in Carmarthen. Since then the office has been held by many prominent Welshmen, most notably the late Ray Gravell.

Women and the Gorsedd

Women ironing gorseddogion robes, Dolgellau, 1949.
Women ironing gorseddogion robes, Dolgellau, 1949.

Until now no woman has held any of the main Gorsedd offices, except as Mistresses of the Robes and, since 2004, when Mererid Hopwood was appointed as the Celtic Relations Officer.

However from the very first, and especially bearing in mind Iolo Morganwg's belief in the principle of equality, women have been welcomed into the ranks of the Gorsedd of the Bards. When the first Gorsedd was held in London in June 1792, Sarah Elizabeth Owen was admitted into the Order of Ovates, unfortunately, it seems, not because she was an accomplished poet or prose writer, but because she was the wife of William Owen (Pughe) of the Gwyneddigion Society.

The first woman to be admitted to the Gorsedd in Wales, in Carmarthen in 1819, was Elizabeth Jones, Eos Bele, but once more not for her poetic talents but because the organiser wanted to marry her! In 1821 three other women, Angharad Llwyd, an able antiquarian from Caerwys; Hester Cotton, a Welsh learner and antiquarian and Mair Richards, a harpist from Darowen, were admitted in the Powys provincial eisteddfod. Reports from the provincial eisteddfodau and gorseddau during the next decades note women among the ranks of the Gorseddogion and the same pattern was followed after the establishment of the National Eisteddfodau. As a result women / girls have served as singers, harpists, presenters of the Hirlas Horn and the berthged / Blodeuged, as patrons, Mistresses of the Robes, and floral dancers in the ceremonies and rites of the Gorsedd of the Bards.

Article Date: 25 July 2010

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