Chapter 8


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Survival

The failure of Owain's dream of an independent Wales was a crushing disappointment. For the first time since the Anglo-Saxon conquests, the old prophecies, for a period of about ten years, had seemed to be near fulfillment. Yet, despite the failure of the rebellion, so recent in their memory, and so glorious in its early days, the struggle was not over; many Welshmen continued to hope that one day they would regain their lost sovereignty.

Because of the hopes raised by Owain Glyndwr, a spirit lived on with the people of Wales. The rebellion had been no mere peasant uprising, but a general uniting of feeling and action. Gwynfor Evans, a 20th century Welsh leader and author describes it as a "genuine War of Independence that ... was the first in a series of extraordinary events to which the nation, which was to be incorporated in imperial England in the next century, owes her almost miraculous survival through the next six hundred years."

It is in this very late part of the twentieth century, perhaps, that the work of Owain Glyndwr will see its ultimate fulfillment. We cannot overestimate the continuing mystery and power exerted by this most enigmatic figure in Welsh history. There is a spirit alive today that has fostered a renewed interest in Welsh language, culture, social institutions and politics.

There have been more than four centuries of history between Owain's time and ours, centuries in which Welsh affairs were inseparably bound up with those of England, and centuries in which only the activities of a stalwart few kept the dream of Wales alive. When, in the year 1431, 1433, and 1447 the English Parliament continued to reaffirm the Penal Code that was based upon anti-Welsh sentiments, it was inevitable that the bitterness of the oppressed found expression in poetry.

Professor John Davies believes that the Welsh literature of the century after 1415 is considered to be more nationalistic than that of any other period. He writes that Welsh literature of the period shows the ambiguity of a people fully aware of their defeat but anxious to make the best of a bad situation. That may be over-simplification, but there certainly was a revival of prophetic poetry, in which the tradition called for an overthrow of the Saxon overlords in favor of a Welsh monarch to rule all Britain and restore the rights and privileges of his people.

It is certainly true that the major Welsh poets who wrote following Glyndwr's rebellion gave expression to the people's grievances. Both Guto'r Glyn and Lewis Glyn Cothi longed for the expulsion of English officeholders from their beloved country, in which the poets considered themselves no better than slaves. An even more radical poet was Sion Cent.

Sion Cent's work had a lasting and profound influence upon his contemporaries and upon later poets. He also despaired of what was happening to his native Wales, but in addition, he wrote powerful poetic sermons on the mortality and vanity of all earthly things; through satire, he hoped to show Man in his true nature - the magic and color of this world were all illusory. A few lines translated from "Hud a Lliw y Byd" (The Illusion of this World ) will give some idea of his power of description, his biting wit and his outlook toward the everyday things and experiences of this world:
Where's all the world: It has only deceived us. Where are the worthies of old Wales, and the householders? Where is reverence which I had as a youth? No credible messenger, no herald of the wind knows where. The same dance, I hear it come, We gather riches, a fool's errand; magic and color, all to no avail. magic and color, our work is of no use.
Around the time of Sion Cent's death, the Acts of Union brought profound changes in the relationship of Wales to England. It also brought, eventually, the translation into Welsh of the most influential book in both countries, the Holy Bible. For the practice of religion in Wales, the results were incalculable, as they were for the language and the literature. Far more than any heroic leader or skillful poet, the Welsh Bible became the instrument for the very survival of Wales itself. It is time to return to the political scene to determine how these results came about.

Chapter 9: Union with England
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