Wales and the Welsh in the Middle Ages: Essays presented to J. Beverley Smith. Edited by R. A. Griffiths and P. R. Schofield . University of Wales Press. 2011. xvii + 252pp. £65.00.


This festschrift for Professor J. Beverley Smith forms a fitting tribute to a distinguished scholar, and succeeds – like every such volume should – in shedding new light on the honorand's scholarly terrain. Smith's books and articles, which are listed here in a helpful bibliography of his writings to 2010 prepared by Huw Walters, have been a major contributory factor to the vitality of medieval Welsh scholarship in recent decades. This impressive collection of thirteen essays by a stellar cast of scholars is both a fitting tribute and a major contribution in its own right, which will provide fresh inspiration for students of medieval Wales and should also catch the eye of a wider audience.

R. Geraint Gruffydd's warm memoir sets the tone for the volume by laying emphasis on Beverley Smith's qualities as both scholar and person. The following essays are clearly connected with the honorand's own studies, and are marked by the same quality and breadth of interest. The results are impressive. Thematically, there are certain concentrations, notably on Anglo-Welsh relations and the political culture of native Wales, the social complexities of medieval communities, law and legal disputes, and the provenance of Welsh monastic chronicles.

Huw Pryce demonstrates how new insights may be gained by refocusing the lens to explore the textual context of the thirteenth-century Anglo-Welsh agreements. The unequal nature of the relationship is teased out with reference to such practices as the dating of documents by the regnal year of the king of England and the arrangements made for ratifying the agreements. Writing emerges as pivotal from Pryce's study of the conduct of Anglo-Welsh relations, and those interested in questions of symbolism and ceremonial, not to mention the wider context of the Europeanization paradigm, will find much to ponder in his essay. In another fitting essay in honour of the biographer of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, David Carpenter examines the very feasibility of a homage-based native principality in thirteenth-century Wales. Thought-provoking suggestions such as the advantage of confederations in the face of both the kaleidoscopic nature of Welsh politics and external pressure leaves the reader with much to chew over.

The next two essays on Welsh monastic chronicling must, by reason of their significance to our understanding of the B-text of Annales Cambriae, be taken together, that of David Stephenson on the full account of the years 1257–63 and that of Daniel Huws on the important manuscript (National Archives, MS. E 164/1) in which it is preserved. Stephenson's detailed and judicious textual study throws up a number of interesting suggestions such as the use by the anonymous chronicler of a text or summary of Llywelyn's proposals for truce negotiations with the government of Henry III in 1260. He also makes a very persuasive case that monastic granges may have been used as ‘a sort of listening-post’ for the parent monastery of Cwm-hir in mid-Wales. This is complemented by Daniel Huws's characteristically acute study of the chronicle's textual context. Taken together they provide another important piece in our far from complete jigsaw picture of the compilation and transcription of both Latin and vernacular monastic chronicles in medieval Wales.

Taking his cue directly from Beverley Smith, Thomas Charles-Edwards explores literary sources for further evidence for the pattern of dynastic succession in early medieval Wales. His sensitive discussion of often intractable material throws up a number of interesting lines of enquiry, not least aspects of core and periphery within the major kingdoms of early medieval Wales.

Further from home, Michael Prestwich contributes an incisive assessment of the role of the significant number of Welsh infantry deployed during Edward I's 1297 campaign in Flanders; and Wendy Davies concentrates to good effect on the well-attested evidence of dispute cases in north-western Iberia. The implications of such legal arrangements are taken up much closer to home by Phillipp Schofield in his study of interpersonal litigation in the late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century Dyffryn Clwyd court rolls. Two further contributions by A. D. Carr and D. Huw Owen also concern themselves very largely with north-east Wales. Carr's essay is a more general piece which provides a lucid introduction to the extents of lands in Wales drawn up in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Owen turns his attention to non-administrative sources to demonstrate the continuing importance of Welsh kindred groupings in an area (Dyffryn Clwyd) which experienced significant English plantation in the post-conquest period. And, in what sets out to be the most explicitly revisionist contribution, Christopher Dyer addresses a number of arguments used to cast doubt on the urban character of boroughs and towns in medieval Wales.

The volume concludes with two stimulating essays which stray beyond the immediate focus of Beverley Smith's research: Richard Suggett's analysis of church-building in late medieval Wales and Ralph Griffiths's short intellectual biography of the pioneering historian William Rees (1887–1978). Suggett's wide-ranging discussion makes nuanced use of both architectural and poetic evidence, and highlights a number of central issues such as regional variations, local one-upmanship and the stimulus provided by the offerings of pilgrims. Griffiths's essay draws attention to a largely neglected strand in the development of the modern academic study of Welsh history. In attitude and interests, William Rees had much in common with the early annalistes, and was indeed favourably reviewed for his 1933 map of ‘South Wales and the March in the fourteenth century’ by none other than Marc Bloch. This contribution complements recent studies on other key figures which belong to the first generation of major twentieth-century Welsh historians, and will no doubt have broader historiographical significance too.

In a brief review it is impossible to do justice to all the contributions to this festschrift, which demonstrate individually and collectively the significance of Professor Smith's scholarly endeavours. This collection, then, does all due credit to the honorand, and for this we have the editors, contributors and publishers to thank. Impressive and stimulating, this collection is a fitting tribute which will make a welcome, if expensive, addition to any library.