History of the Welsh Eisteddfodau

1789 and the Gwyneddigion Eisteddfodau

Silver gorget awarded at the Corwen eisteddfod, 1789
Silver gorget awarded to Gwallter Mechain at an eisteddfod in Corwen in 1789, which marked the renaissance of the eisteddfodic movement in Wales.
Gwyneddigion medal won by Gwallter Mechain at Corwen, 1789 (obverse)
This medal was made in Chester, having been commissioned by the Gwyneddigion Society as a prize at the Corwen Eisteddfod in 1789. It was awarded for extemporare verse, and won by Gwallter Mechain. Dr David Samwell was so incensed that his favourite, Twm o'r Nant, had not won that he threatened one of Gwallter Mechain's supporters to a duel. However, no blood was spilled and Samwell gave Twm a silver pen as a consolation prize.
A silver pen given to Twm o'r Nant by Dr David Samwell
A silver pen given to Twm o'r Nant by Dr David Samwell, surgeon to Captain Cook, as a consolation prize for having been supposedly unfairly beaten by Gwallter Mechain at an eisteddfod in Corwen, 1789.

The year 1789 is a vital one in the Eisteddfod's history - the beginning of the modern period for the Eisteddfod. In simple terms, what happened is this: Thomas Jones of Corwen, an assize-man who took a great interest in the little eisteddfodau then being held in the taverns, asked the Gwyneddigion, a society of Welsh exiles in London, to sponsor the Eisteddfod in Wales. It seems that Wales needed a national institution which could restore some measure of quality and dignity to Welsh-language culture. And the Gwyneddigion agreed.

But of course, they also insisted on the right to lay down the law. If they were going to sponsor the Eisteddfod, they wanted to be assured that definite rules had been laid down - for example, the judge would be chosen by them, so would the main poetic subjects, and the poets would be expected to compete under pseudonyms. In a way they were drawing up a blueprint of the kind of modern competitive Eisteddfod so familiar to us today. Well, Thomas Jones of Corwen, rather disingenuously, said that the Gwyneddigion were sponsoring the Eisteddfod in Corwen in May 1789. In fact they were doing no such thing. But in September of the same year, in Bala, the Gwyneddigion did sponsor an Eisteddfod. At that Eisteddfod, the subject for the chair was A Reflection on the Life of Man.

Listen to a video narrative in Welsh by Hywel Teifi Edwards: