The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

Promoting the language, literature, arts and science of Wales

Selected Articles 1873-2023

home > Selected Articles 1873-2023

Shakespeare backtracks on Wales

How well did Shakespeare know Wales and Welsh people, its history and culture? And how sympathetic and indeed accurate are his representations of the Welsh characters he chose to include in his dramas?Merionethshire-born, Cambridge-educated barrister Arthur Hughes set out to answer one of the puzzles surrounding one of the three main Welsh figures in the canon – Owen Glendower – in a learned critique that appeared in The Transactions towards the end of World War One. If, as is convincingly claimed, Shakespeare portrayed characters with a high degree of consistency as he sought to represent their essential natures, why did he create a bifurcated Glendower, barely recognisable in the latter half of Henry IV, Part I from the character that has preceded: a gentleman and scholar in the later stages, an uncouth rebel of repute at the play’s beginning? Read more…

Remote Radnorshire, Britain’s Rural Last Refuge

They worried about it then and we are still fretting today. More than 100 years ago in Pre-Reformation Survivals in Rural Radnorshire in the 1910-11 edition of the Transactions the Rev. D. Edmondes Owen, Vicar of Llandovery, declared that Radnorshire and surrounding districts were the scene of “the final struggle in this country” (whether Wales or Britain is not clear) for existence of many birds and mammals. It was a retreat he saw not just in the animal kingdom, however. It had been paralleled, too, he argued, by the loss of interesting local rural customs, and quaint old forms of speech and idiom.

Wolves, (a species some would indeed like to re-introduce), had fallen back much earlier, he tells us to this most rural part of Wales, the last being killed on the hills overlooking the River Edw in the late Tudor period. White British cattle, today only found on the Chillingham Estate in Northumberland, clung on in just this part of mid-Wales into the vicar’s time, as too did pole martens, dreaded by farmers for their predatory ravages. Read more…

The holy men and women of Wales, still with us

Consult the index of any map of the British Isles and the longest entry is sure to be for Welsh towns beginning with “llan”, scores of places named after Welsh holy men and women, and more often than not unique to a particular location. It is a pattern that differs markedly from England (or indeed Continental countries) where towns are much more likely to be named after geographical features, and churches dedicated to a much thinner palette of Biblical saints and church martyrs.

How did this come about, and why are so many Welsh “llans” established in areas that seem to have been remote not just now but in earlier times, too? The Rev. J. Fisher, vicar of Cefn in the diocese of St. Asaph gave what must still be the most thorough exegesis on this subject in the 1906-07 Transactions, illuminating for readers the legacy in Wales of the 5th century Age of Saints and restoring to modern comprehension the names of individuals long since buried in later corrupted versions of their names in both Welsh and English town, village and hamlet names. Read more…

1915-1916: A Record Office for Wales

In a paper delivered at the National Eisteddfod in Aberystwyth for the Cymmrodorion on 15 August 1916, only months after completion of the transfer of the initial collections to the new National Library building, R. Arthur Roberts FRHistS made the case for a Record Office for Wales. It was an important stage in a national conversation and was amplified through publication in the Transactions.  Roberts’ voice carried great weight. Not only was he a member of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, but he was also the Secretary of the Public Record Office (“the PRO”).

Roberts recognised that the question of whether Wales should have a Record Office was “disputable,” even if the preservation of records as a general proposition was generally accepted. His argument was premised on that fact there was a Welsh nation distinct from the English nation, and that there were distinctive Welsh national objects. Although nearly 30 years had passed since the notorious 1888 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry “WALES, See ENGLAND”, this was still a striking notion. Roberts looked at matters concerning Wales in a broad context. Not merely did he make comparisons with Scotland and Ireland, but he also referred to Brussels, the Hague, Paris, and Vienna. He also noted that Canada and Australia were building Record Offices at great expense. Wales, he implied, deserved the mark of nationhood that a Record Office represented in the same way as other distinct nations did. Read more…

1901-1902: A Nomenclatural Nightmare – The Dearth of Welsh Surnames

It has been a long-standing problem in Wales – too many Joneses, Davieses, Wiliamses and Evanses, causing confusion and encouraging a resort to not-very-Welsh double-barrelled names. Today it may no longer be as big an issue, as populations mix, but 120 years ago it exercised Dr T. E. Morris, a contributor to the Transactions, the Society’s historic journal already in its 25th year of publication in 1901-1902.

“The total number of surnames in use in Wales,” he asserted, “even including English surnames is small and ridiculously out of proportion to the population as compared with other countries.” And he went on to add that it was causing “inconvenience, annoyance and even suffering.” It had become necessary to add further descriptors to names, such as “Robert Jones, the butcher” or “Capt. Roberts” or add the name of the mother (in practice her father’s name) to the surname. Read more…

The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion reach a venerable 150 years in 2023 and throughout the year we will be publishing articles on the website that have appeared during the decades. Many deal with issues that have since ceased to be important, but others still have a strong contemporary resonance.

Look out on the website for regular new uploads of this fascinating material. Or you can read all the articles by visiting the National Library website where you will find the material at