The ceremony in which the winning poet is chaired for composing a collection of poems, an ode or other poem - all in strict meter on a specific subject is one of highlights of the Gorsedd of the Bards' pageantry in every National Eisteddfod. It is held on Friday afternoon.
It is a very old ceremony. The custom of competing for a chair in the King's court was already well-established in Hywel Dda's time in the tenth century and when the Lord Rhys 'held his court excellently' in Cardigan in 1176, the prize for the chief poet and chief musician was a chair each. Then, in c.1541, silver chairs were awarded at the Carmarthen eisteddfod and once more at the Caerwys eisteddfodau in 1523 and 1567.
Having re-established the eisteddfodic movement in Bala in 1789 winning the Chair became the ambition of every poet, although there was no Gorsedd ceremony associated with it yet. It was at the first provincial eisteddfod in Dyfed / Dinefwr in Carmarthen in 1819 that Iolo succeeded in linking the rites of the Gorsedd of the Bards with the ceremony of Chairing the winning Bard.
In 1867 it was decided to assign the Chair for an ode in strict meter and to award a Crown for the best pryddest in free meter.
The Chairing ceremony at Wrexham 1876 was memorable and harrowing because the winning poet, 'Eurebius', Thomas Jones (Taliesin o Eifion) had died a few weeks previously. On the memorial poster for the sad event it was maintained that his dying words had been, 'Has the ode been sent safely?' On the festival stage the members of the Gorsedd wore mourning, and to the music of the Dead March, the chair was covered with a black cloth.
Among the most significant chairs awarded have been:
- Chairs in the Celtic Revival style:
- Eugene Vanfleteren - Birkenhead 1917 (winning poet - Hedd Wyn)
- J.Kelt Edwards and Elias Davies - Corwen 1919 (Cledlyn Davies)
- Llew Hughes - Barry 1920 (the prize was withheld)
- The Wrexham Chair 1933 - a gift from J.R.Jones, Shanghai, a native of Llanuwchllyn (Trefin)
- The Bro Dinefwr Chair 1996 by the Revd T. Alwyn Williams made from the oak left from Llandeilo Bridge, swept away in the great floods of 1845. The carpenter-minister died within hours of finishing it. (R.O.Williams)
- The experimental Chair in Pembrokeshire and St David's 2002 made by Robert Jones, with its striking symbols, such as the thorn. (Myrddin ap Dafydd)