Sunday, 19 June 2016

Chronicles in Medieval Wales and its Neighbours


Rebecca Thomas writes:

On the 25–26 May the Welsh Chronicles Research Group hosted a two-day conference at Cambridge on ‘Chronicles in Medieval Wales and its Neighbours’. The conference, organised by myself, Ben Guy (ASNC), Georgia Henley (Harvard; matric. MPhil ASNC 2010), and Dr Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor; matric. BA ASNC 2006), brought together scholars from a wide range of international institutions to share and discuss recent research on medieval chronicles. Whilst the research group is focused primarily on the study of chronicles from medieval Wales, we also invited specialists working on chronicles from Ireland, Scotland, and England, in order to facilitate wider and more comparative discussion. The Welsh Chronicles Research Group has previously organised two symposia (Bangor 2014 and Glasgow 2015), but this was our largest event to date, and proved to be an exciting and stimulating two days. 
The first day of the conference, held at the English Faculty, opened with a session focused on the early medieval period, with papers by Dr Nicholas Evans (University of Hull) on the Annals of Ulster, Dr Roy Flechner (UCD) on Chronicles and Canon Law, and myself on Asser’s use of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Discussion continued through the coffee break before the next session turned to a later period, with Dr Joshua Byron Smith (University of Arkansaw) discussing the Welsh material that Gregory of Caerwent incorporated into his chronicle and Ben Guy presenting on Brut Ieuan Brechfa, an early Tudor version of Brut y Tywysogyon, examining Ieuan Brechfa’s adaptation of the Brut and how it related to other versions. The session was brought to a close with something a bit different as we welcomed Scott Lloyd from the ‘Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’, who gave us a presentation on the Battlefields Inventory, a project attempting to map the locations of all recorded battles in Wales. 
After lunch we were delighted to welcome J. Beverley Smith, Professor Emeritus in Welsh History at Aberystwyth University, to give the keynote lecture. Professor Smith gave a masterful analysis of Vita Griffini filii Conani (a text discovered and edited by ASNC's Professor Paul Russell), in which he drew attention particularly to the text's classical models and also to the problems of identifying later accretions present in both the Latin and Welsh versions. Observations concerning the latter led him to suggest an alternative date and context for the composition of the Vita.
The day was brought to a close with a session on chronicles in medieval Scotland. Professor Dauvit Broun (University of Glasgow) used the Chronicle of Melrose as a case study to present an exciting new approach to the study of chronicles, whilst Dr John Reuben Davies (University of Glasgow), also focusing on the Chronicle of Melrose, examined its thirteenth-century sources. Dr Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor University) had the final word of the day with a presentation on the website of the Welsh Chronicles Research Group, which provides summaries of various medieval chronicles (including bibliographical detail) as well as recent editions of certain important texts.
Dr Owain Wyn Jones presenting on the website of the Welsh Chronicles Research Group

As the first day came to an end we could reflect on what had been a wonderful day of papers and debate, and the discussion continued over the conference dinner at La Margherita, and well into the night thereafter. We still had much to look forward to however, with two sessions taking place on Thursday morning, this time held in the Divinity School of St John’s College. Dr David Stephenson (Bangor University) started proceedings with a paper exploring annalistic references to events in southern Powys in the late-twelfth century, before Henry Gough-Cooper (independent scholar) talked to us about the textual relationships between versions of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ group of Welsh Latin Chronicles. ASNC’s own Professor Paul Russell closed the session with a paper on the Latin rhetoric of Chronica de Wallia, examining its similarities to a Welsh marwnad. 
The final session opened with a paper by Georgia Henley (Harvard), drawing on her work editing the ‘Cardiff Annals’, and assessing their relationship with the annals of Tewksbury, followed by an examination of the Annála Gearra as Proibhinse Ard Macha by Dr Denis Casey (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), with some interesting food for thought on the construction of chronology in the text. Bringing proceedings to a close, Professor Chris Given-Wilson (University of St Andrew’s) took us forward to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with his examination of Adam Usk’s attitude towards the Welsh. 
There was general agreement that the conference had been a productive affair, and had sparked exciting debate and discussion. We were not the only ones who thought the conference to be exciting however. A press release on the event by St John’s College caught the attention of BBC Wales, who expressed a keen interest in learning more about Welsh Chronicles. This was how I found myself wearing headphones and sitting in front of a microphone at the BBC Cambridgeshire studio at 7.45am on the first morning of the conference. ‘Good Morning Wales’ (BBC Wales), and ‘Post Cyntaf’ (Radio Cymru) took it in turns to pose a series of questions about Welsh Chronicles, the direction of our research, and medieval Wales more generally. The idea of chronicles as a medium for recording events and sharing news caught the imagination of ‘Good Morning Wales’, with the presenter comparing the medieval chronicle to a modern-day smartphone! 
The media attention didn’t end with the radio however, and BBC Wales subsequently produced an article on the conference (‘Delving into the Welsh Dark Ages’), which can be accessed here:
Further information on the conference, future news and events, as well as information on medieval Welsh chronicles more generally (including selected editions), can be found on our website:

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