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21.08.19 Guy et al. (eds.), The Chronicles of Medieval Wales and the March

21.08.19 Guy et al. (eds.), The Chronicles of Medieval Wales and the March

The medieval chronicles written in Wales, mainly in Cistercian abbeys, are among the glories of Welsh Latin and vernacular literatures and yet significantly under-researched compared to more famous secular works in Welsh such as the tales known as The Mabinogion. This collection of essays is therefore timely and welcome in bringing a selection of the chronicles to wider attention.

There are eleven essays in the collection, most of them originating as conference papers presented by the Welsh Chronicles Research Group based at Bangor University in north Wales. Such origins are obvious in the somewhat disparate nature of the essays, which range from wide surveys to detailed studies and editions of single texts, and in the intended audience or readership, which is generally assumed to be well versed in the history and context of the chronicles. The focus of the volume is on the technical and codicological aspects of chronicle production--certainly an important area--rather than on their value as literary and historical sources.

Perhaps the most useful essay for non-specialists is the first one, by Huw Pryce, which provides an overview of chronicle production in medieval Wales, with reference to the better-known ones, especially Brut y Tywysogyon, Brut y Brenhinedd, and Brenhinedd y Saesson, and their relationship to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae (referred to throughout as De gestis Britonum). Ben Guy's chapter on the history of modern scholarship on the chronicles from the nineteenth century to the present also has some very enlightening discussions of key chronicles, including Annales Cambriae, which will benefit newcomers and chronicle specialists alike. While the chapter cannot resist a few cheap shots at scholars of previous generations, as the title phrase 'dishonest charlatans' suggests, it nonetheless reveals the range of lesser-known chronicles, including unedited texts, and points towards some fruitful work for the future.

Slightly more technical but still very readable is Barry J. Lewis's chapter about an interpolation intoBonedd y Saint (genealogies of Welsh saints) that has been taken from Brenhinedd y Saesson. Since the latter text was created at the abbey of Valle Crucis, in north-east Wales, Lewis concludes that Bonedd y Saint is likely to have been compiled at the same abbey. He argues very convincingly for a continuity of tradition between the earlier clas churches in Wales and the new Cistercian abbeys from the twelfth century. Rather than making a complete break from the older churches, the Cistercians, Lewis suggests, built their libraries from the earlier foundations, a new and important insight into medieval Welsh book production and transmission.

Valle Crucis, one of the most important sites of Welsh manuscript production, also features in David Stephenson's illuminating essay about one particular chronicle, the continuation (from 1282-1332) of Brut y Tywysogyon in National Library of Wales MS Peniarth 20. Stephenson brings out the political dimension in the commissioning of such chronicles, showing that the entries in this continuation were based on political information supplied by Madog ap Llywelyn of Maelor Cymraeg, the region around Valle Crucis. Madog was in service to the English crown and thus well-placed to supply details for the chronicle. Significantly, he died in 1332, the final year of the chronicle entries.

Five of the chapters present very detailed, even forensic, studies and editions of individual chronicles, and although these chapters tend to assume a high level of knowledge about the Welsh chronicle and manuscript tradition they succeed in bringing to light a range of intriguing additions to the chronicle corpus. Owain Wyn Jones edits a short chronicle known by its first line, O Oes Gwrtheyrn, "From the age of Vortigern," which Jones traces to the Cistercian monastery at Aberconwy in Gwynedd. Very unusually, this was a "born Welsh" chronicle, written originally in Welsh rather than adapted from an earlier Latin chronicle like most of the vernacular chronicles, and it was compiled in the second decade of the thirteenth century. Not only does it contain a unique record of one or two events, such as the death of the last Viking raider, the Norwegian Erlendr píkr (Herlant Pic), in 1209, but it also begins with references to Arthur, Badon, and Camlan, suggesting the continued importance of the "historical" Arthur. Although Jones does not elaborate on this, it is especially interesting as a comparison with the prose tale Breuddwyd Rhonabwy("Rhonabwy's Dream"), another original Welsh composition from much the same date which satirizes the very glorification of Arthur as a historical figure that this chronicle records.

In his edition of Brut Ieuan Brechfa, a later chronicle from about 1500, Ben Guy returns to his "dishonest charlatans" theme to excise from the text all trace of Iolo Morganwg, the famous eighteenth-century forger and embellisher. This brut was one of six vernacular chronicles published in the Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (1801), one of which, Brut Aberpergwm, was a complete fabrication by Iolo. Guy argues that the text of Brut Ieuan Brechfa printed in the Myvyrian Archaiology, while not a complete forgery, did contain interpolations by Iolo, and Guy's edition strips those out to reveal a fine Tudor chronicle, based largely on Brut y Tywysogyon from the Red Book of Hergest (Oxford, Jesus College MS 111). Considering the date of this chronicle, compiled after the accession of the Tudor monarchy, a momentous event for the Welsh nation, some comparison between this brut and earlier ones might be rewarding in terms of the purpose and audience of the chronicle.

Rebecca Try provides the first edition and translation of a chronology of events from Adam to 1321. While the text is found in the Red Book of Hergest and in National Library of Wales Peniarth MS 50 (early fifteenth century), Try's edition comes from a manuscript known as "Y Casgliad Brith" (NLW MS 5267B), dated to c.1438. The rationale for choosing this text, carefully established by a study of variant readings from all three manuscripts, is that "despite not being the oldest copy, the copy in [Casgliad Brith] shows the fewest signs of scribal interference and as a result is probably closer to the archetype" (358). The name of the scribe is known, Siancyn ap Dafydd ap Gruffudd, who was working in the region of Cwm Tawe (the Swansea valley), and although Try does not dwell on this context, it is clear that Siancyn was part of a rich tradition of manuscript copying and production in the region of Glamorgan in the early fifteenth century, a tradition which also produced Peniarth 50 at around the same time.

The two editions of Latin chronicles, Georgia Henley's "Cardiff Chronicle" from the early fourteenth century and Joshua Bryon Smith's "Chronicle of Gregory of Caerwent" from the late thirteenth century, can be regarded as examples of 'Marcher' texts from south-east Wales very close to the border with England. As such, the choice of language--Latin rather than Welsh--is significant, indicating the dominant medium of the English tradition of chronicle writing and a lack of familiarity with Welsh typical of this region. It is also significant, perhaps, that the Cardiff chronicle was written in a Benedictine, rather than Cistercian, priory located in Cardiff and under the patronage of the de Clare family, the great Marcher lords of the region. Though the chronicle itself is not without interest--it was used as a source for another Marcher chronicle in the Breviate of Domesday from Neath Abbey--some discussion of whether or not this is actually a "Welsh" chronicle would have been instructive. In its provenance, language, and preoccupation with the English king and his magnates, the chronicle is an English Marcher production with an agenda quite different from that of the Welsh-language chronicles--an agenda clearly indicated by its attitude to the Welsh as the "enemy".

Joshua Byron Smith also presents the first edition and translation of a Latin Marcher chronicle, that of Gregory of Caerwent, whose chronicle from 681 to his own day was written at St Peter's Abbey in Gloucester between 1237 and 1290. Much of the chronicle concerns local affairs, including the early history of St Peter's and battles between Welsh and Normans throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, culminating in the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, princeps Walliae, in 1282. Though the point of view is that of the Norman Marcher community, Smith rightly highlights the lack of "anti-Welsh rhetoric" (295) compared to other chronicles. A close comparison between the chronicles edited in these two chapters (Henley and Smith) would yield some interesting insights into the Marcher mentality from both sides of the border.

Other Latin chronicles from Wales which display a definitively Welsh viewpoint are the subject of Henry Gough-Cooper's chapter on the Latin chronicles compiled in Cistercian monasteries. This chapter, perhaps more than any other in the book, is for manuscript specialists, containing highly technical studies of scribal hands, sources, provenance, comparative tables of contents, and other details. In an impressive display of forensic textual scholarship, Gough-Cooper reconstructs the original source chronicle behind the "B" and "C" versions of the Annales Cambriae, both dating from the late thirteenth century. While both texts are final recensions of earlier Latin chronicles, mainly from St Davids, Gough-Cooper shows that, in making their selections from existing chronicles, the 'B' version prioritises items of Welsh interest while the "C" version focuses more on items of English interest. Again, thoughts as to the purpose and audience of the two versions would have brought them to life.

While each chapter has manifest virtues, it is hard to get a sense of the volume's contribution as a totality. What is perhaps missing is the "why" of the chronicles: why were they written, who was the audience, what was their purpose--these kinds of questions are best answered in an introduction, which is missing from this volume. The very short Preface states that the volume is divided into three parts, Part I, "Synopses", Part II, "Detailed Studies", and Part III, "Editions", which would provide an organising principle for the book, but these sections are not marked in the list of contents or anywhere else in the volume.

Most of all, and crucially for anyone who is not completely familiar with the Welsh chronicle tradition, very little context or background is provided in which individual chronicles can be located. The whole volume rests on a rather high platform of assumed knowledge which gives it an air of exclusivity, again perhaps the product of the specialist conferences which produced the papers. Björn Weiler's chapter on the general tradition of chronicle writing in Europe is an excellent survey, but it barely mentions the Welsh tradition or the extent to which Welsh chroniclers were drawing on, or diverging from, the wider European tradition. There is also surprisingly little said about the choice of language made by the various chronicle-writers, given that some use Latin and some use Welsh. Wales was unusual in producing so many vernacular chronicles, but there is very little discussion of language or multilingualism which are key to understanding medieval Wales and the March.

Taken individually, each of the eleven chapters comprising The Chronicles of Medieval Wales and the March makes an extremely important contribution to the field. Each presents original and rigorous scholarship of an exceptionally high standard which significantly expands our knowledge of the corpus of chronicles from Wales and how they were compiled and transmitted. Aimed at the specialist rather than the curious, this set of essays provides enduring points of scholarly reference.