Introduction


spacer1. Born in 1527 at Denbigh, Humphrey Llwyd or Lluhd NOTE 1 was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, he entered the service of Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, in which he evidently remained throughout his life, and was a Member of Parliament from East Grinstead for the Parliament of 1559 and represented the Denbigh boroughs from 1563 to 1567. As a M. P., he promoted a measure to allow the translation of the Bible and evidently the Book of Common Prayer as well into Welsh (something he mentions with obvious pride at §73). The scion of an old Welsh family, he married Barbara, sister to Arundel’s son-in-law Lord Lumley, and the books collected by himself, Arundel, and Lumley form the nucleus of the Royal Collection of the British Library. In 1566 - 7 he spent a year accompanying Arundel on a tour of the Continent, during which he was befriended by the great Belgian cartographer Abraham Ortelius.
spacer2. His earliest writings, an almanac and a translation of Agostino Nifo’s De Auguriis, are lost. His interest in Welsh antiquities first manifested itself in an English adaptation of the Cronica Walliae a Rege Cadwalader ad annum 1294. According to the O. D. N. B. biography,

Henry Sidney, lord president of the council in the marches of Wales, encouraged his chaplain Dr. David Powel of Ruabon to prepare an adaptation of the Cronica which existed in manuscript. Powel’s work appeared in 1584 under the title Historie of Cambria, now Called Wales and although he recognized in his introduction that Llwyd’s text contained “imperfections, not onelie in the phrase, but also in the matter and substance of the historie,” it remained the standard work on the history of Wales down to 1282 until Sir John Edward Lloyd’s History was published in 1911.

He subsequently published a description of Anglesey and its Druids (which may be read here), prefaced by an epistle to Ortelius dated April 5, 1568. Also, in 1567 he had been given a royal stipend to produce a map of Wales, which was subsequently published by Ortelius under the title Cambriae Typus in the 1573 Additamentum to his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, a map which enjoyed about fifty reprintings). This may be seen here. A couple of other specialized antiquarian works remain in manuscript. Finally, we have the present work. It is prefaced by a hasty note to Ortelius dated August 30, 1568, NOTE 2 correctly predicting Llwyd’s impending death from a fever evidently contracted abroad. The Fragmentum was printed at Cologne in 1572. Presumably its publication was Ortelius’ doing, although in that case one wonders why it appeared at Cologne rather than Antwerp. A possible answer may be that the responsibility for its publication was delegated to Ortelius’ sometime assistant, the Anglo-Catholic exile William Soone [d. 1575], then residing at Cologne. But, obviously, this is only a guess.
spacer3. The reader of this document may be a trifle puzzled about its nature and purpose, which is described as a “fragment” in its title and begins as a sort of open letter to Abraham Ortelius, although it ends with a paragraph addressed to the general reader. Opinions may vary, but my own surmise is based on the fact that at several points in the document Llwyd states his intentions of writing a more ambitious work, which one presumes to have been a projected history of the Britons from Julius Caesar’s invasion on down to the coming of the Saxons, and then more specifically of the Welsh. This is particularly suggested by a remark at §11, Imo potius cum locus dabitur opportunus, eius adventum et Britannicae historiae authoritatem multis in medium adductis et testimoniis et rationibus (quas pro historia Britannica edenda paratas habeo) stabilire conabor [“Nay rather, when opportunitie shalbe offered, I purpose to confirme (by bringinge foorth many weighty reasons and authorities, which I have readie in stoare for a British hystorie).”] Although, as we are about to see, he despised both their authors, he was familiar with the two comprehensive Humanistic histories of the British isles currently available, Hector Boece’s Scotorum Historia (first printed in 1527), and Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia (first printed in 1534). Both of these works commenced with a topographical Book I, so it seems plausible to conjecture that Llwyd meant to use this document, or at least a revised version of it, as a similar beginning for his own history. This would explain why his topographical descriptions cover England and Scotland as well as Wales, and why he takes pains to specify the location of each British tribe. The title of this document therefore can be understood as identifying it as a fragment of this projected British history.
spacer4. Llwyd, as I say, was familiar with the histories of both Vergil and Boece, and he showers liberal helpings of venom on both their authors. He criticizes Vergil for various geographical mistakes, which he inclines to blame on the fact that the historian was an Italian stranger (cf., for example, §23 ignoti hominis et externi [“a straunge and unknowen person”], NOTE 3 but Vergil’s main sin, the one that aroused his wrath, was his rejection (at Anglica Historia I.19) of the “matter of Britain,” the tradition that Britain was originally settled by refugees from the fall of Troy under the leadership of the eponymous Brutus, retailed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. This provoked an outburst at §8, ille nominis Britannici gloriam non solum obfuscare, sed etiam Britannos ipsos mendacisssimis suis calumniis infamare totis viribus conatur [“[he] manfully sought not onely to obscure the glory of the British name, but also to defame the Britaynes them selves with sclandrous lies”]. Therefore he could rail at Polydore (at §26) for being invidia et odio tumens infamis homunculus [“an infamous beggage groome, ful fraught in envie and hatred”].
spacer5. Boece, on the other hand, is dismissed for being a romancing falsifier, who drew a long bow in the interest of enhancing the antiquity and importance of Scotland. Thus Scotland was founded by some emigrants who fled Egypt under the leadership of Gathelus to escape the same Pharaoh who oppressed the Hebrews, and who only settled Scotland after experiencing adventurous wanderings, (I.i et seqq.), providing a clear parallel to the experience of the ancient Hebrews, of Aeneas and his followers after the fall of Troy, and also, if you will, to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s second band of Trojan refugees who settled Britain. He provided Scotland with forty fictitious kings prior to Kenneth MacAlpine and claimed that the Emperor Claudius penetrated as far as the Orkneys (III.31, which, as Llwyd points out at §26, would have been a neat trick insofar as Claudius’ visit to Britain only lasted for sixteen days). He also appropriated a fair amount of British history by claiming, for example, that the Brigantes were a Scottish tribe (I.12) and Camulodonum a Scottish city (I.36). Llwyd summarizes his case against Boece at §8, hic vero dum Scotos suos e tenebris eruit, quidquid unquam aut Romani aut Britanni laude dignum in hac insula gessere, hoc totum illis attribuit insulsissimus scriptor [“he goeth about to rayse his Scots out of darknesse and obscuritie, whatever he findeth that the Romanes or Britaynes have doone worthy <of> commendation in this ilande, all that he attributeth unto his Scottes, like a foolish writer”]. Hence at §45 he is described as hoc monstrum hominis [“this monstre”], and as a maleficus falsarius {“a malicious falsefier”].
spacer6. The problem with these two denunciations is that they are exactly opposed to each other. Llwyd was quite right to point out the ways in the fanciful material retailed by Boece is absurd and silly (although modern scholarship is not quite so sure that the blame ought to be placed on Boece rather than his sources, and although I have argued here that he was no mere romancer and had a considerably more serious purpose in including this material in his history — and it is worth pointing out that, for reasons of his own, the infinitely more scholarly George Buchanan saw fit to retain Boece’s forty kings in his 1582 Rerum Scotarum Historia). But there is no more credible evidence to support Geoffrey’s “matter of Britain” than Boece’s Egyptian legend, and, one might think, a truly rationalistic historian ought to have displayed equal scepticism towards both. To comprehend Llwyd and his purpose in writing, we must understand why he did not.
spacer7. The proper solution was recently provided by William Cobban NOTE 4 when he wrote that Polydore “made strenuous efforts to perceive the historical truth from the standpoint of an unpatriotic foreigner with no vested interest at stake.” This is precisely right, for Vergil’s situation as an auslander may have led him astray on details, but it had the crucial advantage of making him a disinterested observer, capable of exercising the kind of detached observation and judgment one wants in a historian, But Boece and Llwyd indeed did have the kind of patriotic vested interest Cobban had in mind, and both their works show how a historian’s particularized regional loyalties could get the better of his critical judgment. As Llwyd saw it, the problem with both Polydore and Boece was that both, each in his own way, detracted from the prestige of the Britons, Polydore by his rationalistic scepticism and Boece by advancing a rival patriotic program. This is how we can make sense out of Llwyd’s critique of his two predecessors, which otherwise might appear contradictory to the point of schizophrenia. And this purblind approach was not limited to his championing the Brutus tradition (which, after all, was still intellectually respectable in his time). NOTE 5 There are other historical fictions that he either concocted himself, or at least enthusiastically endorsed. I shall mention the most conspicuous of these.
spacer 8. In the first place, there is his belief that Brennus, the leader of the Celtic raiding party which invaded Italy, sacked Rome, and then went on to plunder Greece in the fourth century B. C. — a glorious achievement, from a Celtic viewpoint— was Welsh. He largely based this conclusion on linguistic grounds, which he could only do by turning a blind eye on the mounting body of evidence that the Celtic language spoken in Britain was essentially the same as that spoken on the Continent (§67 ), a scholarly hunch that was soon to strong support in the magisterial analysis of British and Continental place-names in Book II of Buchanan’s Rerum Scoticarum Historia. But even in the state of play as it existed when he wrote, certain obvious considerations ought to have kept him more openminded: the facts that some tribes on both sides of the channel (the Atrebates, Belgae and Parisii) had the same names, there being no evidence that these tribes spoke a different language than the other Britons, and that the Britons and Gauls had a number of shared cultural traits and institutions such as tattooing, fighting from chariots and, above all else, Druidism. Given such close ties, a theory that Britons and Gauls had a common language should not have struck him as necessarily implausible (compare the reasoning by which he equates the Continental Cimbri with the Cymbri or Welsh at §62). Llwyd should have thought of such facts, but the urgings of his patriotism overcame his commitment to dispassionate scholarship, and linguistic evidence that certainly establishes that Brennus and his followers were Celts is used to support the contention that they were specifically Welsh. Thus he writes (§65) ex his necesse est fateantur omnes aut Gallos Britannica usos loquela (quod historiae fere omnes negant) aut hos gnesios fuisse Britannos {“on the basis of these things, is necessary for everybody to admit either that the Gauls used the British language (something that just about all histories deny) or that these men were genuine Britons.”] The possibility of reversing the formulation and writing Ex his necesse est fateantur aut Britannos Gallica usos loquela, the actual truth, is left unconsidered.
spacer9. Even more fanciful was his entirely unsubstantiated claim that the Stuarts were descended from royal Welsh stock (§40), which is just as outrageous a fiction as anything Boece could have cooked up. Then too, his claim for the superiority of Druidism to the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans, in terms of both age and quality (§50), is no more than a bald assertion unsupported by any evidence or argumentation.
spacer10. Although such spells of patriotic myopia must be pointed out, they do not mean that Llwyd’s treatise is devoid of substantial value, any more than the similar features in Boece’s Scottish history entirely detract from the substantial worth of the entire production. Pointing out the ways in which Llwyd’s British enthusiasm led him astray should not divert our attention from the main thrust of his treatise, which is also its main strength: his treatise is largely devoted to linguistics, and his insistent message is that a working knowledge of the Welsh language is an essential tool for students of early Britain. This is most particularly true if one wants to understand British nomenclature, and place-names were a matter of considerable concern to antiquarians of his time. So, Llwyd’s treatise introduced a significant advance in the understanding of British history. And, clearly, Llwyd did not do his work in vain. One cannot go very far in William Camden’s Britannia without appreciating that he took Llwyd’s lessons very much to heart. More generally, Llwyd’s approach was largely based on language: at §65 he writes about evidence taken ex lingua ipsa, quo nullum certius argumentum [“from language itself, and there is no surer proof”], and his treatise provides an impressive lesson about the practical value of linguistics for historians. Although he drew the wrong conclusion, his use of vocabulary items and proper names in making his case about Brennus, for example, served as a model of how linguistic evidence could be used.
spacer11. Then too, in writing this treatise Llwyd was catering to his audience's curiosity about British national geography. Camden’s Britannia moved Thomas Campion to write (Epigram I.lxix, printed in 1619):

Lectorem utque pium decet, hoc tibi reddo merenti,
spacerPer te quod patriam tam bene nosco meam.

["As befits a pious reader, I give you this deserved thanks, for it is your doing that I am familiar with my native land."]

Many of Campion’s contemporaries no doubt felt the same gratitude. Far-flung regions such as Wales, the North country, and Scotland were still remote, exotic, and rather forbidding locales. Information about them, in the form of topographical and travel literature (as well as regional maps), was eagerly received, and even as late as the eighteenth century (which witnessed Defoe’s A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain and Boswell’s The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.) such works continued to appear.
spacer12. Commentarioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum was printed at Cologne in 1572, by Johann Birckmann, and may be seen here. Like many books of the period published posthumously and without supervision, it is rife with errors. In the following year, an English translation was produced by Thomas Twyne, under the title The Breviary of Britayne. Finally, in 1732 Moses Williams produced a heavily annotated edition, printed at London by William Bowyer (read it here). This was a valuable contribution and did much to correct the deficiencies of the original version. Williams’ text, however, is somewhat vitiated because he silently introduced a number of changes. A few illustrative examples are §72 Devae for Deae, §84 Bod Fari for Pot Vary, §90 Cyfeilioca for Cefelioca, §102 Dyvetia for Dwetia, and §115 Vurfandi for Urfandi and Pasquitanum for Pastquitanum, and his most significant unacknowledged alteration is at §108, where a quotation attributed to Eutropius is reassigned to Paulus Orosius and given in fuller form. Knowing no Welsh, I have no idea whether Williams’ alterations of Welsh nomenclature represent genuine improvements, but in any event they go to show that what he printed does not always accurately represent what Llwyd wrote. Nonetheless, I hasten to add that at many points I have benefitted from Williams’ work of annotation.

 

NOTES

spacerNOTE 1 See the O. D. N. B. article on Llwyd by R. Brinley Jones.

spacerNOTE 2 Therefore the statement in the O. D. N. B. that Llwyd died on August 21, 1568, is wrong.

spacerNOTE 3 There is plenty of truth to Llwyd’s diagnosis, for the Italian immigrant Polydore was capable of some egregious mistakes that no Englishman would have made. For example, at V.7 he absurdly has a band of defeated Danes retreating from Salisbury to London by way of Bristol. See the discussion of Polydore’s history here.

spacerNOTE 4 William Cobban, “Polydore Vergil Reconsidered: The Anglica Historia and the English Universities Reconsidered,” Viator 24 (2003) 365. For another relevant recent discussion of Polydore, Llwyd, and other historians of the time, see Andrew Hadfield, “Sceptical History and the Myth of the Historical Revolution,” Renaissance and Reformation XXIX (2005) 25 - 44.

spacerNOTE 5 Even as late as 1607, John Ross could take up the cudgels on behalf of Geoffrey of Monmouth in a Tractatus Apologeticus, and in the same year William Camden expressed his scepticism about “the matter of Britain” but declined to disallow it altogether: see his initial address To the Reader in the final edition of his Britannia (§10). Then too, the kind of bogus pre-Roman British history that became attached to the “matter of Britain” received a kind of quasi-official academic endorsement, insofar as all the arguments for the historical precedence for Oxford or Cambridge written by such contemporaries and near-contemporaries as Leonard Hutten, Giles Fletcher the Elder, and Dr. John Caius relied on the framework of that tradition.

spacer