Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why a King Feared Medieval Bards

The Bard ca 1871 painted by John Martin 1789-1854 
On a rock, whose haughty brow
Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood
Robed in the sable garb of woe
With haggard eyes the Poet stood;
(Loose his beard, and hoary hair
Stream'd, like a meteor, to the troubled air)
And with a Master's hand, and Prophet's fire
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre."
from The Bard ca 1755 by Thomas Gray 1716-1771

In the image, above, a bard strikes a defiant posture as the British army pursues him. The castle in the background is a powerful symbol of the dominance King Edward I exerted over the defeated Welsh. Despite his conquest, Edward did not feel secure. To prevent the bards from rallying the Welsh people with stories of their country's past glory, he ordered their massacre. The poem bears the same title as the painting and is about the same event.

'Bard' was the Celtic term for a professional poet. The word appears with spelling variations in all Celtic languages with writings extant today, ancient Gaulish, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Gaelic. The word may also have been used in Brittany and Cornwall.

Between the 12th and 17th centuries, the bards of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland bards were trained in the arts in small schools in which they earned degrees and were segmented into orders. One of their functions was to train the sons of aristocrats in poetic disciplines. Bards watched over genealogies, traditions, and law. This made them highly influential within their culture.

Edward's fear of the bards vividly illustrates the power of story.

Related posts: 

Edward and Eleanor: A Royal Love Story That Transcended Death
A Royal Love Story: History of the Eleanor Crosses

About Janalyn Voigt 

DawnSinger, my debut novel and the first installment in the Tales of Faeraven epic fantasy series, released with Harbourlight Books in 2012. Wayfarer, book two in the series will release in 2013. My other projects include DawnKing, book three in my medieval epic fantasy series and a romantic suspense novel set in a castle.

I love to help readers escape into creative worlds of fiction.

My spare time activities include reading, gardening, and finding adventures with my family in the great outdoors.

Visit the author site for Janalyn Voigt.


  1. Thanks, Janalyn. I've never thought about how brave bards were. Many times they defied the king with their songs and poetry. And minstrels did, too. After a while, people sort of tuned a minstrel out, and he could insert a little bit of propaganda that only the ones who were listening for it would notice.

    Remember all those old Robin Hood episodes? :)

  2. Hi, Pam. I didn't either until I stumbled across this incident in Welsh history. As a modern-day bard, I take this to heart.

  3. That castle really blends into the mountain! I did not know what a bard was, and now that I know it's a poet, I feel very educated. Thanks for your research. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com