IoIo Morgannwg


Edward Williams, 1747-1826, is better known as Iolo Morgannwg, a colourful figure in the revival period. He affected, and to some extent assisted in moulding the concept of Druidry during the late 18th and early 19th Century. The influence he had is explored here, together with the unravelling of a very interesting figure.

Edward Williams is a controversy figure within Welsh History. Today he is perhaps better known for his miss-endeavors within the literature world, and a contributor for reinventing tradition. For two centuries, his words have held both enchantments and traps. Academic research undertaken by G.J. Williams has revealed forgeries within some of his life work are apparent. However, within the course to unravel 'fact from the fiction,' a respectful acknowledgement of his abilities was nurtured. Alternatively scholars considers he created a tradition within Wales. Yet, there is an awareness of a complex figure to unravel, where his literature and patriotism is concerned. Moreover, his life was rather erratic which followed a variety of practical avenues. Additionally there are many contributing factors which moulded and influenced Williams throughout his life. The people he meet and associated with all contributed. Yet although forgeries were indeed highlighted, it's continue historical allure still draws a continual interest towards Wales. He has indeed contributed to its history and literature, while his cultural interest attempted to elevate Wales standing, within a larger world perspective. Yet, to truly analyse and explain his career it should incorporate a chronological biography.

Edward Williams was the youngest member of a family of three, who became named after his father Edward, a stonemason from Llandough near Cardiff. His mother Ann Mathew, claimed to be remotely connected to the Mathew of Llandaff and Radyr. The whole family moved from Llancarfan during the years of 1751-55, to Fleminston. G. Williams point out he was educated at home, while Prys Morgan further adds he was probably taught by his Mother. She too could have contributed towards becoming a major driving force of his imagination and yearnings. While claiming decent from Rhys Brydydd the 15th Century Glamorgan Poet; influences that would no doubt have some baring on his secular education. Indeed there was others too, John Bradford (1706-1785). Where Edward Lloyd comments he had originally derived from Bradford on Avon, England. He took a lively interest in the local poetic tradition. Not only did Bradford collect manuscripts; he also became involved in the religious disputes of the period. Edward Williams was further influenced through Thomas Richards of Coychurch, who had a passion for collecting manuscripts. In addition,associations with John Walters of Llandough who produced a dictionary in which new words were generated, such as giriadur - dictionary still in use today. This influence could of well-instigated Edwards interest in linguistics. Ceri Lewis points out the level of his skill which still probably confounds some scholars through IoIo linguistic explanations. Alternatively, Prys Morgan indicates his religious education was inspired through Edward Evan of Aberdare (c.1716-98). In addition, J Lloyd notes that his poetic instruction derived from the Glamorgan Poet, Lewis Hopkin (1708-71). It would appear that all these influences were later to resurface in Edward Williams own work later.

Overall. Edward Williams was born into an exciting period within Wales historical perspective, it too was recovering politically, along with religious changes that where also stiring within its boarders. Nonetheless, London was slowly becoming a cultural hub for Wales. Its influence from which was slowly returnd through its leading gentry, and also the developing professional class. London was also a radical centre for where new ideas firstly from American and later via France with its people revolution sweeped back into Wales. Industrial and agricultural innovations were also bringing momentum and transformation to the ladscape. Heavy industries were introduced to south and north-east Wales on a much larger scale. Indeed they slowly replaced the smaller industires within the local communities.. Investment came from local entrepreneurs but mainly from outside beyond Wales boarders.

In addition, religious divergence coupled with changing ideas swept through the communities. All these where interconnected to the earlier Welsh Trust of Thomas Gouge and the circulating schools of Griffith Jones; both raised the standards of literacy within the population. Although there is no record of Williams having actually attending these. It appears therefore suggests his education was primarily derived from his home education and associates. Moreover, its undercurrent was the early local influences which inspired and installed a burning thrust for knowledge.

Nonetheless he took up his farther craft of stone masonry while harbouring his personal interests. In fact its been argued that Edward Williams was the first who understood the value of the nations folkways and customs. While Emyr Humphreys takes it further and argues he was the first to both appreciate there real significance within a cultural context and perspective. Indeed local customs and folkways became recorded during his travels in various parts of Wales, when he collected and copied manuscripts in his early years. During these its likely he became exposed to Thomas Johnes of Hafod, Cardiganshire. He was the owner of various ancient texts which Edwards accessed and dutifully copied. Nonetheless, these were later destroyed by a fire that engulfed Hafod. Moreover Edward Williams was also a diarist where his entries are not tainted with any romantic ideas. It is in fact a straight observation of events encounter, observed and recorded. Scolars who have studied these speak of its great value when compared to other grand tour writers, who neglect to record the ways of the country folk. Therefore, its historical value cannot be underestimated during the 18th century. Especially when considering the economic and religious aspects, and its impact on rural life. Therefore it appears little missed his eye when recording its pursuits. No doubt, it too connected with changing influences derived from religious shifts.

A person of note encountered on such travels within Wales, in 1779 at the old court of Ifor ap Llywelyn. Here Edward Willaimss met the Rev. Evan Evans. Emyr Humphreys considers this encounter with the antiquarian was a restricting influence on Williams romantic ideas. It has led to the suggestion he checked Williams romantic notions. Therefore, it would indicate a certain amount of respect was given by Edward Williams to his views. Moreover, he would come to supersede Evan Evans authority and knowledge in due course spwecifically concerning manuscripts after 1788. From which date Edward Williams views would slowly influence Welsh culture. Indeed, a century would pass after Edwards William's passing in 1826. The establishment of the rigours of enquiry became to challenges the authenticity of his work would be undertaken.

In comparison Evan Evans and Edward Williams tends to highlight different approaches to scholarship. These being the serious pursuits of recovering historic documentation through written texts as evidence. In regards to the Celtic romantic ideas fostered by its linguistic definition and referenced in classical literature. However, it would appear Edward Williams bridged, and fused both approaches together. Even if Emyr humphreys considers that Edward Williams had the grandeur to consider himself as the new Daffyd ap Gwilym. Along with the appellation of adopting Iorwerth Gwilym. This was to be later changed in the 1780 to IoIo Morganwg an psuedonmin which he is probably better known today. Nonetheless, the broad spectrum of interest he fostered in the folkways, linguistics, manuscripts, poetry and religion becomes evident. The syntheses of these parallel approaches which run through IoIo work developed and fused tyogether. These eventually derived and evaluated into a doctrine which saw the light of day in 1792 in London. If this is the case, it too would account for some of the confusion historians have had too unravel. Therefore, what was the real turning point in Williams career. This must be centred earlier in 1770 coupled with the passing of his mother. It is interesting to note that G. Williams argues it is from this date the Edward Williams began to take Laudnium to relieve his asthma. Nonetheless,the following year Williams first journeyed to North Wales between 1771-72 collecting linguistic evidence for a proposed critical essay. He to travelled or walked with his brothers to London in 1773 to seek their fortune. Here Williams worked as a mason in various localites around London. Indeed the city was a radical centre full of new ideas and expectations. Indirectly it became a cultural centre for Wales through its Welsh societies which developed there supported by the gentry and artisans. However they were distant and remote from the environment in Wales, subsequently their ideas took on a form of nostalgia centred in there past. Under such influences, it is here Edwards becomes involved with the Gwyneddigion Society. A Welsh London society established three years previously by Owen Jones (1741-1814), Robert Hughes and Richard Morris. The societies activities were centred on the publication of manuscripts, literature and promoted Welsh cultural pursuits. Such cultural aims included supporting and re-establishment of the Eisteddfod. Indeed G. Jenkins pionts out it is from this period when Edward Williams magnetic personality begins to shine through. At the age of Twenty-three years, it is indeed no mean feat of achievement from a insular and secular educated background. Indeed he would eventually reshape and reinvent the consciousness of Wales in due course. In fact, C. Lewis suggestd that E. Williams historical knowledge of the past and its understanding, enabled him to see the value of reviving the Eisteddfod reintroduced as a celebrated cultural event. While G. Williams further contributes where much is owed by Edward Williams and to this society, specifically in preserving an old institution and assisting and promoting its re introduction..

Edward Williams returned to Wales in 1777, by which time he was in touch with most of the scholars and people of letters concerning Welsh culture. It too could be seen as a bleak period. Although he married Margaret Roberts, together they produced two siblings one of which, died during his second trip to London. It would appear that he had some difficulty in settling down, various works was undertaken as a farmer, grocer and bookshop owner. Indeed, he did get into financial difficulties that resulted in a period within Cardiff Gaol. Scholars in turn have attributed this period is when the art of forgery was learnt. However, this may well be questionable in light of present arguments. These have shown Edwards understanding of poetic grammars and linguistics gave Edward Williams the edge, where he easily reproduce poetic verse from the 14th Century, in its correct grammatical form and mitre. During 1786 he was asked to assist in the collection of the poetic works of Dafydd ap Gwilym for publication by Owain Pughe. Indeed Williams had to be chased for the manuscripts for publication, Prys Morgan indicates the late manuscript became an addition to Gwilym works. Although it formed an appendixes to Owain Pughe publication. This was in fact IoIo own individual work, which has been later classified as the forgery. Irrespectively the original publication raised Williams status, when they were distributed in 1788, at the Bala Eisteddfod. Indeed, a period considered by Garient Jenkins where the overall Celtic Romantic Movement were encourage to be both historically 'adventurous and imaginative.' As indeed others such as Macpherson had been which rose to its cause for Scotland. However, it raises several questions, partly because G.J. Williams who highlighted the appendixes validity, considered it was due to a personal rivalry with North Wales. Indeed the l memory of the bardic controversy surrounding the Carmarthen Eistedfod in the 15th century still lingered.

Nonetheless, there is a need to consider the extra manuscript slipped in by IoIo was the results of his personal studies irrepectively of the use of laudanum. It becomes quite clear it could have been a deliberate move on his behalf. Therefore, ideas concerning the later 1792 Gorsedd displayed in London, were alreadyor had been formulated. Such Ideas are likely to be the result from his first visit, exposed to other radical visionaries such as William Blake. Indeed the preface which appeared in Owan Pughe later publication of Llywarch Hen poems, introduced the"bogus Druid tradition"' written by IoIo. It therefore becomes clear there is indeed an agenda, which is probably being orchestrated. Even before his 1790 trip to London. Nonetheless Pughe, Jones and IoIo joint enterprise was the collection of manuscripts and the publication of the Myvyrian Archaeology, produced in three volumes from 1802. Williams was still fabricating forgeries,although these appear to be specifically located in the third volume. Indeed was it IoIo attempt to demonstrate to the world of establishing Welsh literature and its cultural past, placing these on the same pedistal as the classic within the renaisance? What eve it was it has certainly suggested some aim was achieved. Specicifically as French and German scholars egerly awaited IoIo publications, and commenced there studies in the early 19th century. Nonetheless, Edward Williams work is still under scrutiny, by both amateur and professional scholars within the 21st century.

Thel influence derived from London on Edward Willaiams also needs careful consideration. Although Williams fostered a close working relationship with John Jones and Owain Pughe. It was indeed very radical as it included Tom Paine opinions within 'The Rights of the Common Man.' These were no doubt discussed in the coffee houses and the Half Moon Inn. In addition the various societies also held closed links with other radical groups, so it would appear all its members were well informed of current affairs of the its period. Indeed Williams held anti slavery views, he was a Unitarian such views came to a head concerning a Jamaican inheritance from his brother. Indeed, it's been argued the inheritance was refused due to the use of slavery at his brothers plantation. A frequent visitor to the Welsh London societies was Howel Harris who delived various sermons. Methodist and nonconformists were not held in high regard by IoIo. He sustained them with contempt, and held them responsible for changing the rural customs, which had slowly transformed them through there religious message. The Unitarians found another talent in IoIo with his acute understanding of the musical airs, as he wrote various hymns for there use. IoIo was also susceptible to David Williams of Carmarthen a Presbyterian minister whom later developed into a Deist. Indeed these ideas also could have influenced and been included within Iolo Morganwg legacy.

The humble beginnings of the 1792 Gorsedd of Bards performed on Primrose hill in London . Although a fabrication of tradition, it was eventually incorporated in to the 1819 Eisteddfod celebrations. Additional changes were also introduced with various classification of culture became recognised within its Eistedfodd treatise. However, Prys Morgan suggests it did simply more for the eisteddfod institution, regardless of the Gorsedd authenticity. Its pomp and ceremony added an attraction which raised its popularity and status. To such an extent, Neil Evans commented the cultural celebration has 'drawn nourishment' from outside its established confines. Pose and poetry completions became held in and discussed within the public houses of the 19th centutry. It was just one specific path which marked the beginnings towards cultural excellence.

Overall Edward Williams was a self-educated individual who processed a multitude of scholastic talents, which are revealed through the early associations. These were further enhanced through his extensive reading in both English and Welsh. Indeed the book's deposited within the National Library of Wales, is evidence of the scope and variety of material he read and devoured. Indeed his historical importance to Wales History is both historically seen through his dairies and journalistic reports of 1795. These were undertaken for the Ministry of Agriculture, to record many features of rural life both in Glamorgan, and in Cardiganshire. Linguistically his accumulated knowledge, coupled with the information derived from manuscripts gave him an unprecedented edge. Such is seen through the forgeries of poetry and the like, he had indeed gained a mastery of the poetic tradition and imitated its lyrical pose. Yet, it is difficult to except he learnt the art of forgery while in the debtors prison at Cardiff. Indeed his addiction to Laudanum suggested to be connected with the loss of his mother by G. Williams. It's continuing use could have contributed to the instability of his employment and even furthered any romantic notions after the Bala Eisteddfod.

Moreover, one must also consider G. William's argument that Edward Williams was a practical person through his trade. Apart from being restricted to the circles in which he circulated. It could well indicate an attempt to socially improve his standing within society. Yet the contribution made through perserving and copying manuscripts, and in some cases the originals were lost altogether, as those of Thomas Johnes of Hafod. Although discrepancies have been revealed tends to place some manuscript value in doubt. Consequently, scholar's have to tread very carefully to verify there authenticity. Plus the fact within the Myvyrian Archaeology both Pughe and Williams did not acknowledge there sources in some cases. This further adds to the challenges, although G. Williamssuggests Pughe and IoIo talents were probably misdirected.

Edward Williams had various dreams for Wales, which encompassed radical ones too. Firstly, he wanted the establishment of new communities free from oppression. Secondly, the establishment of a cultural institution concentrating on the study of rural folkways and lore. Thirdly, a literature institutions such as the Welsh Manuscript Society of mid 19th century. In addition, a vision of centralisation where manuscripts could be stored. Lastly, the reinvention of traditional through culture, was this one of his aims too? Founded on his own muse, in conjunction with the understanding of what he uncovered through his travels. It tends to hint towards a patriotic Welshmen, concerned with raising the prestige of his patch, Glamorgan. Yet he also took the whole country with it too. Regardless of his dreams and achievements, his historical importance culturally, historically might be plainly clear.

Indeed, modern historiography arguments indicate that Edward Williams to a certain extent has been under estimated. Although his forgeries and active imagination indeed cannot be denied, yet, there is a growing argument that reinforces his talents. Gareth Elwyn Jones and Dia Smith have commentated that Edward Williams had a: -

"conflating genuine insights to Language and culture…….with romantic effectiveness"

The people of Wales, Ceridigion, 1999 p. 4

In addition, G. Jenkins considers that: -

"Edward Williams ranks among the most curious, wayward, imaginative and

wonderfully gifted scholars ever seen in Wales."

"Edward Williams exercised a decisive influence on the course of Welsh scholarship.

The only scholar that processed the gifts necessary for reinterpreting the past,

inventing it with colour, vividness and making it needs relevant to the nation"

Foundation of Modern Wales, Cardiff, 1986 p. 424, 426

Nonetheless, Ceri Lewis points out that Edward Williams was indeed: -

"a most remarkable, and most complicated figure…"

IoIo Morganwg in Branwen Jarvis (ed) Guide to Welsh literature c. 1700-1800 vol. 4, Cardiff, 2000. pp. 127

It therefore would indicate whenever Edward Williams contribution becomes studied within any historical content. His genius and personality still holds the same enchantments as Philip Jenkins has recently argued. It still has not been put to 'rest in our own time!' Alternatively, the present view from Prys Morgan, both as 'a forger and as a genius.' Indeed his description of Edward Williams has mellowed over the years, as he has sought out the truth of this character. Nonetheless, recent contributions do indicate that Edward Williams have indeed been misunderstood. Ths contributions to both Welsh culture, its identity, literature, and his own historical importance as a diarist and journalist, some has yet to be revealed fully. Yet, any study of Edward Williams is filled with traps and pitfalls. It is probably a tribute to Edward Williams genius of his compound knowledge, it still draws some scholars into its web and towards various perspectives.

© Astrocelt 2001


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Morgan, P., IoIo Morganwg, University Wales Press, 1975

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Morgan, P., 'Engine of the Empire c. 1750-1859,' in Prys Morgan (ed), The Tempus History of Wales 25,000BC AD2000, Stroud, 2001

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Williams, G., Religion, Language and Nationality in Wales, Cardiff, 1979

Williams, G., When Was Wales, London, 1985

Edward Williams, IoIo Morganwg, Wales
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