Skip to main content

HYWEL DDA: ANGLOPHIL? IT IS only natural that the historian should turn to the writings of Sir John Edward Lloyd for the standard account of Hywel Dda ('the Good'), king of the west Welsh, as the Saxons called him.1 'One prince only, among the many who bore rule in Wales in the Middle Ages, was honoured by posterity with the title of "Good" wrote Lloyd, 'a circumstance which in itself imparts a peculiar interest to the reign of Hywel Dda.'2 A circumstance which imparts a peculiar character to Hywel's reign is that, in Sir John's view, 'All that is known of Hywel points him out as a warm admirer, not only of Alfred, but also of English civilisation', a man whose policy it was 'to advocate peace and friendship with the English' and for whom Alfred was 'his guiding star and embodiment of the princely ideal'.3 These facets are indeed so peculiar as to verge on the incredible. Welsh kings indeed did not habitually earn the epithet 'Good', and though not all Welsh princes of this period were necessarily con- genitally anti-English in every respect, Hywel's presumed excessive pro-Saxon outlook could hardly have commended itself to all his subjects. In fact, Sir John's review of the reign of Hywel did not inhibit Sir Ifor Williams from concluding that the prophetic poem, Armes Prydein, which he located in south Wales (there is an obvious link with St. Davids) and dated to c.930 (in the reign of Hywel), bore witness to the poet's 'enthusiastic spirit as a Welshman, and to the bitterness of his disappointment in the king'.4 The 'anglophil' image of Hywel has survived for many years: it may not be in- appropriate now to consider the grounds for attempting a reassess- ment or reinterpretation of the king which may set him in a rather more credible light. There is probably one matter about which we can be certain at the outset, namely, that any Welsh ruler in this period who survived A paper read at the Fifth International Celtic Congress, April 1975. I appreciate and am grateful for the many useful comments made in the subsequent discussion by other scholars. 1 ASC A, s.a. 927. J. E. Lloyd, A History of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian Conquest (3rd edition, London, 1939), I, 333. J. E. Lloyd's Hywel Dda, 928-1928 (Cardiff, 1928), is peculiarly eulogistic about 'our hero'. Lloyd, History of Wales, I, 336, 348, 338. 4 Armes Prydein: The Prophecy of Britain, ed. Sir Ifor Williams; English version by Rachel Bromwich (Medieval and Modem Welsh Series, VI, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1972), p. xxvi.