Gwyn Griffiths reviews Glyndwr: To Arms by Moelwyn Jones
Glyndwr: To Arms by Moelwyn Jones (Y Lolfa £7.99)
THIS is the second in Moelwyn Jones’s trilogy of novels on the life of celebrated Welsh hero, military genius and guerilla warrior Owain Glyndwr, whose military techniques, it’s been claimed, were a model for Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
The narrative is seen through the eyes of Glyndwr’s court poet Gruffudd ap Caradog, protege of Iolo Goch, one of Wales’s finest bards in the late medieval period. While closely following the historical evidence, Jones gives an admirable portrayal of the importance of the poet in Welsh court society as entertainer, confidante and PR man, a role similar to that of poets in Ireland and Iceland and the troubadours of southern France.
Indeed, his exploration of the relationship between Gruffudd and Mared, wife of Glyndwr, is a reminder of the complex relationships between the troubadours and the ladies in the “courts of love.”
While most of the characters are historically authentic the narrator, to the best of my knowledge, comes from the author’s imagination. But he fits the pattern of a time when poets were often expected to know how to use arms and Caradog proves himself an adept wielder of that most terrible weapon of medieval combat, the battleaxe.
This part of the trilogy ends with the battle of Hyddgen in the Pumlumon range. There Glyndwr and his army, in one last desperate effort after a long siege, broke out and through inspired use of the elements and military skill, massacred a numerically far superior English army.
Glyndwr, who had learnt those skills in the armies of Richard II, where he had acquitted himself with distinction, was no stranger to diplomacy either. He had lived and studied in London and, as the novel draws to a close, he contemplates alliances with the other Celtic nations, France and the church.
His vision of an independent Wales, with one university in the north and one in the south, is a reason for Glyndwr’s name still being remembered fondly in Wales today.
It will be interesting to see how Jones deals with the ensuing years of Glyndwr’s success, followed by his decline and the mystery of what eventually happened to him. His death is still a subject that intrigues Welsh historians, amateur and professional, to this day.