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An English Owain prophecy: the influence of Welsh prophetic material in Oxford, All Souls College, MS 33.

I print here a new transcription of a unique witness of a late-medieval political prophecy found in Oxford, All Souls College, MS 33:
   Cadwalladyr sail Owan call
   and walys sail busk yaim for to ryse
   And allbayn sail to yaim fall          Scotland
   and kyndyll bale apon yair wyse
   yan ryse vnro tyll alyens all          trouble
   Owen grondyn glayus gers yaim gryse    sharpened spears, makes them
                                          fearful
   and Bretons chullys yaim als a ball    kick
   and setts to yaim ouer sary assyse     harsh judgement


The prophecy appears in a late-fourteenth-century hand on the final parchment folio of a twelfth-century copy of William of Malmesbury s Gesta regum anglorum with other Latin chronicle material. (1) The text is in a typical late-fourteenth-century Anglicana script, with descending rs, double-compartment gs, and barred double Is, and employs the same graph for y and p. Although it was once understood to be a fragment lifted from the fifteenth-century Metrical Chronicle of John Harding, in 1980 Clifford Peterson put forward the hypothesis that the prophecy is an independent derivative of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini. (1) The question of the All Souls prophecy has since remained unconsidered, and it has yet to be oriented within the broader historical milieu in which we can locate All Souls MS 33.

As far as we can trace the late-medieval provenance of the manuscript, its earliest owner appears to have been the Cistercian abbey of Merevale in Warwickshire; folio 136r has an ex libris of the house recoverable under ultraviolet light. (3) The origin of the text itself, however, cannot be located in the West Midlands. On such a slight sample it is difficult to position the dialect with any precision, but it is consistent with features that the Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English locates in northern England and Scotland ("sail" for shall, "yaim" for them). (4) The circulation of northern English or Scottish prophetic material in the West Midlands is by no means unprecedented. There are important examples of northern prophecies extant only in West Midland witnesses, for example, Thomas of Erceldoune's prophecy as it is found in British Library, Harley MS 2253 (ca. 1336-1340). (5) However, the All Souls prophecy indicates not simply one geographical movement but two. A number of allusions in the prophecy strongly suggest the acquaintance of its author with Welsh prophetic material mediated through sources other than Geoffrey of Monmouth.

The eight-line prophecy details the marshaling of a British (Welsh and potentially Breton) and Scottish army. A Cambro-Scottish alliance is figured by the joining of Cadwaladr, a familiar hero of Welsh political prophecy generally held to be representative of the northern Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd, with Alban, a conventional figure representing Scotland in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century northern English and Scottish political prophecy. This alliance is derived indirectly from the anti-English confederation that appears as a long-lived theme of Welsh political prophecy. The best-known and oldest datable articulation of this is the British, Scottish, and Norse anti-Saxon confederation led by Cadwaladr and his Breton counterpart Cynan in the tenth-century Amies Prydein Vawr ("Great Prophecy of Britain"), a prophecy preserved in the fourteenth-century Book of Taliesin (National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 2) envisaging Saxon slaughter and the exile of survivors from the British Isles. (6)

In England and Scotland for the greater part of the Middle Ages, the primary source for this material was Geoffrey of Monmouth's reworking of this Welsh theme in Prophetiae 110: "Cadualadrus Conanum uocabit et Albaniam in societatem accipiet" ("Cadualadrus will summon Conanus and make Scotland his ally"), (7) As we find it in All Souls 33, this formulation bears a strong resemblance to an immensely popular English vernacular reimagining of Prophetiae 110 originally of Scottish origin, in circulation on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border roughly contemporary to the All Souls prophecy "When Rome Is Removyd," dated to the 1380s. (8) As it appears in the fifteenth-century Anglo-Scottish border witness Cambridge University Library, MS Kk. 1.5, the A-text of "When Rome Is Removyd" prophesies:
   Tatcalders sail call on Carioun the noyus
   And than sail worthe up Wallys and wrethe othir
   landis
   And erth on tyll Albany, if thai may wyne. (11. 23-25) (9)


Although the text presents a corruption of the heroes' names (Cadwaladr and Cynan, or the Galfridian Cadualadrus and Conanus), the reference to the Cambro-Scottish alliance is preserved here. The All Souls prophecy can be understood as a variation on the A-text in which Owain is substituted for Cynan. Lines 1 to 3 rework this passage; and the allusion to "bale" that follows in line 4 very plausibly draws on the assertion in the fourth line of the "When Rome" A-text that "Mekyll baret ande bale shall fall in Brutis lande." Similarly, the movement of this Cambro-Scottish force against "alyens" (the English), echoes not only the meaning but the terms of line 26 of the A-text: "Herme wnto alienys, anever thai sail wakyne." The All Souls prophecy is almost certainly descended from this northern derivative of Prophetiae 110 rather than the Prophetiae directly. However, the replacement of Cynan with Owain presents an important innovation. To my knowledge, this is the earliest recorded English vernacular example of an Owain prophecy, suggestive ofthe direct transmission of Welsh material to northern England or Scotland or to a northern English or Scottish scribe working in the West Midlands, incorporating Welsh elements that could not possibly have been taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Owain appears as a national deliverer, analogous to Cynan or Cadwaladr, in pre- and non-Galfridian Welsh political prophecy and is also a hero of Welsh prose tales and poetry. (10) A figure of the legendary British Old North, he was identified as Ewein ap Urien, son of Urien Rheged, who appears in the Historia Brittonum as a northern king engaged in the late-sixth-century British defense against the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia. (11) In Wales a number of tales grew up around Ewein or Owain, the son of Urien, who was said to have fought the Saxons alongside his father. This reputation almost certainly formed the basis for the national deliverer Owain as he appears in Welsh prophecy. This is precisely the context in which we must understand the use of his name in the All Souls prophecy, a feature that depends on some level of acquaintance with Welsh prophecy.

This use of Owain could not have been mediated through Geoffrey of Monmouth, in whose writings Owain (named only in a single, oblique allusion in the Historia) is never identified as a prophetic hero. (12) Although Owain's name may have plausibly been known in English and Scottish clerical culture through his brief appearance in the Vita Kentigerni produced for Herbert Bishop of Glasgow around 1147 to 1164 (extant only in fragmentary form), where Ewein ap Urien is identified as the father of the British Saint Kentigern, this stands outside a network of prophetic meaning, and Ewein's conduct is decidedly unheroic (he enters the scene for the rape of Kentigern's mother, Thaney). (13) Indeed, if the name Owain meant anything in England it would have been through the French romance by Chretien de Troyes, Yvain, but again the most important innovations in this material, for the purposes of understanding the All Souls prophecy, occur in a Welsh context.

In Chretiens tale Yvain is given a "lance," (14) described as a spear in the Welsh prose version of the same: Chwedl larllesy Ffynawn ("The Story of the Lady of the Fountain"), where Owain defends the fountain "o waew a chledyf" ("with spear and sword"). (15) Owain's association with the spear (among other weapons) assumed a long life in Welsh literary-political culture. In his poem "Iarll y Cawg" ("Earl of the Basin"), addressed to Sir Rhys ap Thomas (a reputed descendant of Owain ap Urien), the sixteenth-century Denbighshire poet Tudur Aled wrote: "Owain oedd, ni a wyddym, / A chawg a llech a gwayw llym" ("Owain, we know, had a basin and a stone and a keen spear"). (16) Owain's prowess with a spear is also notable in texts firmly outside the romance tradition. In the elegy to Owein ap Urien in the Book of Taliesin, "Marwnat Owein" ("Owein's Elegy"), we read of the hero's work on the battlefield: "escyll gawr gwaywawr llifeit" ("[like] the rays of dawn the whetted spears," 1. 6), referring to spears wielded against a number of enemies including the English. (17)

This broader cultural context almost certainly stands behind Owain's activities in the All Souls prophecy with his spears, which induce terror in his enemies. However, in the All Souls prophecy (as we find in a Welsh prophetic context), the name Owain, like Cadwaladr, signifies not simply a historical individual but a British army, and notably the spear functions as a weapon of choice in a number of Welsh prophecies of British restoration (two important examples are given below). The All Souls prophecy presents material fundamentally consistent with Owain's place in Welsh romance and elegiac traditions alongside broader prophetic commonplaces. This combination of material most plausibly entered northern English or Scottish circulation through Welsh lines of influence that associated Owain's spear, or rather the spears of Owain's army, with an act of British restoration.

Another very strong claim to a Welsh influence is found in the enigmatic seventh line of the prophecy: "and Bretons chullys yaim als a ball" ("the Britons [or Bretons] kick them like a ball"). The "yaim" in question here can only be the "alyens," that is, the Saxons--the English. This allusion corre sponds very closely to a figure preserved in the Book of Taliesin in a prophecy beginning "Rydyrchafwy Duw ar plwyff Brython" ("May God rise up over the people of the Britons"). (18) The prophecy stages an anti-English alliance between the Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys, and envisages Welsh forces around Chester exacting a bloody vengeance on the English for the death of Gwynedd ruler Idwal Foel in 942. In a scene that Marged Haycock, the most recent editor and translator of the prophecy, notes as "bringing to mind the split heads and heaving corpses in the more savage lines of Armes Prydein," we read of the Welsh cavalry, "gware pelre a phen Saesson" ("playing ball with the heads of the Saxons"). (19)

The allusion appears to have been a stock one. It is also found in the prophecy "Yr Afallennau" ("The Apple Tree Verses") as it is preserved in the Black Book of Carmarthen (NLW, Peniarth MS 1, compiled ca.1250), where in a description of the carnage of a battle at a location identified as Cyminawd, we read of "Aer o saesson ar onn verev / A guarwyaur pelre ac ev pennev" ("the slaughter of Saxons on ashen spears / and players of a ballgame with their heads"). (20)

It makes little difference to the meaning of this phrase in the All Souls prophecy whether the "Bretons" to whom this activity is ascribed are the Welsh or the Bretons of Brittany. The Bretons are conventionally participants in the confederation against the English, as we find in Armes Prydein. In this context the Bretons are the British diaspora returning from exile in mainland Europe. In Welsh prophecy the Breton contingent is generally understood to be signified by the presence of Cynan, commonly identified as Cynan ap Eudaf, or Meiriadoc, a figure associated with the British settlement of Brittany in the fourth century--a legend reworked by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia. (21) This position is implied by Geoffrey in Prophetiae 110, and made explicit in his later reworking of this material in his Vita Merlini, where Conanus's return from Brittany is prophesied. (22) Importantly, the macabre ball game of the Britons appears in "Yr Afallennau" as part of a trajectory that concludes with the return of Cynan and Cadwaladr and the establishment of British rule. Read in the similar context of the All Souls prophecy as a whole and with this background tradition in mind, whether British or Breton, this field of allusion frames a powerful statement of opposition to English claims to insular hegemony, grounded in a long-lived Welsh political prophetic discourse.

During the last quarter of the fourteenth century, the name Owain became the focus of fresh nationalist ambitions in Wales. Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri (d. 1378), also known as Owen of Wales or Owain Lawgoch (Owain of the Red Hand), (23) a great-nephew of Llywelyn ap Grufffydd and a soldier in the French wars against the English, became a new focus for hopes for Welsh independence. (24) The All Souls prophecy potentially belongs to the period of Owain's claims to independent Welsh sovereignty, declared in May 1372. The attack Owain launched upon Britain from France with the help of the French fleet was ultimately unsuccessful, foundering at Guernsey. It is possible that if we can regard the "Bretons" of the prophecy as of Brittany, potentially we see a conflation of the French supporters of Owain with the returning Bretons of Welsh political prophecy. However, this connection remains purely speculative. The last living heir to the kingdom of Gwynedd, Owain became the object of Welsh political expectations both at home and for the Welshmen who accompanied him into exile. His assassination by the English agent John Lambe in Poitou in 1378 left a vacuum into which Owain Glyn Dwr stepped in the early years of the fifteenth century: another heroic Owain lauded by the Welsh bards. (25)

The age of the revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr was also a period of renewed prophetic expectation in Scotland, and it has been argued that the early 1400s saw the direct transmission of prophetic materials from Wales to Scotland as the old prophetic motif of an anti-English confederation came to assume a new political utility in both places. (26) We might even attempt to press the All Souls prophecy into the early fifteenth century, but this remains uncertain (the scribal hand does not show any obvious fifteenth-century features). Yet, certainly, the appeal in Scotland of an anti-English Cambro-Scottish union, and its English circulation as we find in the A-text of "When Rome is Removyd," can be observed as early as the final decades of the fourteenth century.

Whether Scottish or English in its extant form, the All Souls prophecy must not be understood as a translation from Welsh: other than the heroes' names, there is no obvious trace of Welsh linguistic influence. Rather it is an English language composition influenced by Welsh themes. The only way to explain this phenomenon is to isolate a point at which Welsh material might have become familiar to a northern English or Scottish scribe. The broader Cistercian milieu provides a persuasive context for the meeting of these insular elements. In the centuries following Edward I's conquest of Wales, Cistercian houses (already well integrated into the native milieu) continued to play an important part in the preservation of Welsh culture and manuscript production, and by the mid-fourteenth century, Cistercian abbots were patrons of politically minded Welsh poets. (27) The Cistercian foundation at Whitland was particularly active in its prophetic interests; this was a movement that reached its apex during the revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr but may well have been in place earlier. (28) It has been suggested as the site of the compilation of the Black Book of Carmarthen, one of the earliest surviving Welsh prophetic manuscripts. (29) Another candidate for the collection and dissemination of prophetic material is the Cistercian house of Cwm-hir in Maelienydd, where, it has been suggested, the Book of Taliesin was produced. (30)

The manuscript circumstances of the All Souls prophecy suggest that during the late fourteenth century Welsh prophetic material, or at the very least fragments of Welsh prophetic themes, circulated between Cistercian houses across the Welsh border. Whether the prophecy traveled in a complete form from the north to Warwickshire as a movement supplementary to an earlier northward transmission of Welsh prophetic material, or whether we find a northern scribe with access to Welsh prophetic materials working in Warwickshire, remains uncertain. In either case the movement of Welsh material through pan-insular Cistercian networks presents the most plausible hypothesis for this English-language reuse of Welsh prophetic motifs, particularly in a dialect localized so far from the Anglo-Welsh border. We might understand this as a movement analogous to the better-noted involvement of Franciscan monasteries across the British Isles in the circulation of anti-Lancastrian rumors and prophecies during the reign of Henry IV. (31) Although almost certainly not a statement of political intent or affiliation in the same sense as we find in Franciscan anti-Lancastrianism, the All Souls prophecy is representative of a literary interest in anti-English prophetic material within a Cistercian context, resting on a similar cross-border network.

Acknowledgments

With thanks to the librarians and staff of the Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford, and Helen Fulton for her comments and suggestions.

Australian National University

NOTES

(1.) Oxford, All Soul's College, MS 33, fol. 136v (my transcription). The contents of the manuscript are catalogued in Andrew G. Watson, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts of All Souls College (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 65-67.

(2.) Clifford Peterson, "John Hardyng and Geoffrey of Monmouth: Two Unrecorded Poems and a Manuscript," Notes and Queries 27.3 (1980): 202-204.

(3.) Watson, Descriptive Catalogue, 66-67.

(4.) Andrew McIntosh, M. L. Samuels, Michael Benskin, Michael Laing, and Keith Williams, A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, 4 vols. (Aberdeen, Scotland: Aberdeen University Press, 1986).

(5.) For the most recent scholarship on British Library, Harley MS 2253, see Susanna Fein, ed., Studies in the Harley Manuscript: The Scribe, Contents, and Social Contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253 (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000). For a discussion of the provenance of Thomas of Erceldoune's prophecy, see Victoria Flood, "Imperfect Apocalypse: Thomas of Erceldoune's Reply to the Countess of Dunbar in MS Harley 2253 "Marginalia 11 (2010): 11-27.

(6.) I. Williams, ed., Armes Pry dein, trans. Rachel Bromwich (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1972). For the most recent dating of the poem, see T. M. Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons, 130-1064 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 519-535. For a discussion of the antiquity of the prophecy's Cynan-Cadwaladr material, see David Dumville, "Brittany and Armes Pry dein Vawr," Etudes CeltiqueslO (1983): 145-159. For another recent translation of the poem, see G. R. Isaac, "Armes Prydein Fawr' and St David," in St David of Wales: Cult, Church and Nation, ed. J. Wyn Evans and Jonathan M. Wooding (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2007), 161-181. For the most recent discussion of material from the Book of Taliesin and the manuscript's provenance, see Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin (Aberystwyth, Wales: CMCS, 2007); Marged Haycock, Prophecies from the Book of Taliesin (Aberystwyth, Wales: CMCS, 2013).

(7.) Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain: An Edition and Translation of De gestis Britonum (Historia regum Britanniae), ed. Michael D. Reeve and trans. Neil Wright. Arthurian Studies 69 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2007), vii.

(8.) For an overview of the manuscripts, see DIMEV no. 6398, The DIMEV: An Open-Access, Digital Edition of the Index of Middle English Verse, http:// www.dimev.net. Peterson, "John Harding," 204, also briefly suggests this as an analogue to the All Souls prophecy.

(9.) Printed in Reinhard Haferkorn, ed., When Rome Is Removed into England (Leipzig, Germany: Verlag von Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1932), 92-103; J. Rawson Lumby, ed., Bernardus de Cura Rei Famuliaris with Some Early Scottish Prophecies (London: Oxford University Press, 1870), 32-34; Rossell Hope Robbins, ed., Historical Poems of the XIV and XV Centuries (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), 118-120; James M. Dean, ed., Medieval English Political Writings (Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS, 1996), 13-15.

(10.) M. E. Griffiths, Early Vaticination in Welsh with English Parallels (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1937), 93, 99-100; Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006), 467-472.

(11.) Historia Brittonum, in Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, ed. and trans. John Morris (London: Philimore, 1980), [section]63; Bromwich, Trioedd, 479-483; J. Macqueen, "Yvain, Ewein, and Owain ap Urien," Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society 33 (1956): 107-131.

(12.) Geoffrey of Monmouth, History, xi, 23-25.

(13.) Printed in Alexander Penrose Forbes, ed., Lives of Saint Ninian and Saint Kentigern (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874), 243-252,245; Macqueen, "Yvain, Ewein," 122-128.

(14.) "Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion," in Chretien de Troyes, CEuvres completes, ed. Daniel Poirion, et al. (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1994), 340-503. For recent discussion of the relationship between the French and the Welsh versions, see Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, "Migrating Narratives: Peredur, Owain, and Geraint," in A Companion to Welsh Arthurian Literature, ed. Helen Fulton (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 128-141.

(15.) Owein or Chwedyl Iarlles y Ffynnawn, ed. R. L. Thomson (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Four Courts Press, 1968), 450.

(16.) Bromwich, Trioedd, 471.

(17.) Ifor Williams, ed., The Poems of Taliesin (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968), 12,114-115.

(18.) Haycock, Prophecies, 109-125.

(19.) Ibid., 13,1. 22.

(20.) A. O. H. Jarman, Llyfr du Caerfyrddin (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1982), 26-28,11.9-10.

(21.) Bromwich, Trioedd, 316-318,292-293; Bromwich, Armes Prydein, 46; Rachel Bromwich, "Cynon fab Clydno," in Astudiaethau aryr Hengerdd: Studies in Old Welsh Poetry, ed. Rachel Bromwich and R. Brynley Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978), 151-164. The last article is an argument against M. E. Griffiths's hypothesis that the prophesied Cynan was not originally associated with Brittany but was Cynan, son of Clydno Eiddyn, whom she regards as the only survivor of the northern British battle of Gododdin, for which see Griffiths, Early Vaticination, 110-118. Geoffrey of Monmouth, History, v, 310-330.

(22.) Basil Clarke, ed. and trans., Geoffrey of Monmouth: The Life of Merlin (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1973), 967.

(23.) E. Owen, "Owain Lawgoch / Yeuain de Galles: Some Facts and Suggestions," Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1899-1900): 6-105; A. D. Carr, Owen of Wales: The End of the House of Gwynedd (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991); "Owain of Wales," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), http: // www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/20983?docPos=1 (accessed February 9, 2014).

(24.) R. R. Davies, The Age of Conquest: Wales 1063-1415 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 438, discusses the possibility of Owain Lawgoch as a Welsh messianic mab darogan.

(25.) Ibid., 448.

(26.) Juliette Wood, "Where Does Britain End? The Reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth in Scotland and Wales," in The Scots and Medieval Arthurian Legend, ed. R. Purdie and N. Royan (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005), 9-24, 19-20; G. W. S. Barrow, "Wales and Scotland in the Middle Ages," Welsh History Review 10 (1981): 302-319, 316-318.

(27.) Daniel Huws, Medieval Welsh Manuscripts (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), 12, 29, 52-53.

(28.) Davies, Age of Conquest, 197; Glanmor Williams, The Welsh Church from Conquest to Reformation (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1976), 19-20, 242.

(29.) Jarman, Llyfr du Caerfyrddin, li. However, an originally Augustinian site of composition is also suggested in Huws, Medieval Welsh Manuscripts, 72.

(30.) Haycock, Prophecies, 1; Huws, Medieval Welsh Manuscripts, 79.

(31.) L. D. Duls, Richard II in the Early Chronicles (The Hague, Holland: Mouton & Co, 1975), 192-193; Peter McNiven, Heresy and Politics in the Reign of Henry TV (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 1987), 95-96, 99; Peter McNiven, "Rebellion, Sedition, and the Legend of Richard II's Survival," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 76 (1994): 93-117, 95-96; Ralph Griffiths, "Some Secret Supporters of Owain Glyn Dwr?," Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 37 (1964): 77-100, 79, 86; Davies, Age of Conquest, 450-451. Franciscan uses of anti-Lancastrian prophecy are recorded in Frank Scott Haydon, ed., Eulogium historiarum sive temporis: Chronicon ah orbe condito usque ad annum domini M.CCC.LXVI, a monacho quodam Malmeburiensi exaratum, 3 vols. Rolls Series 9 (London: Longman, 1858-1863), 3:389-394.
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Title Annotation:Nota Bene: Brief Notes on Manuscripts and Early Printed Books: Highlighting Little-known or Recently Uncovered Items or Related Issues
Author:Flood, Victoria
Publication:The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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