Myth Against the World: Bardo-Druidism and Welsh National Identity, 1792-1900
Dr. Marc Baer
Today, two major symbols of Welsh national identity are the National Eisteddfod and its bardo-druidic congress, the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain. The Eisteddfod is a competitive literary and musical festival which has its roots in the Middle Ages. The Gorsedd, on the other hand—with its mystical rituals, costumes, symbols, and sayings—is more suggestive of an even earlier time, when the ancient Welsh were led by a priesthood of druids and followed a pagan religion of great poetic beauty. At least, this is what the nineteenth-century Welsh believed on the authority of the great antiquarian, bard, and cultural hero, Iolo Morganwg. In reality, though, this was the “bardic name” of Edward Williams (1747-1826), a skilled literary forger who fabricated an ancient Welsh society that fit the moral and aesthetic values of Romantic-Era Britain. In the 1850s, new interest in Iolo Morganwg arose and a disciple of his, John Williams “Ab Ithel” (1811-1862), organized the first Grand Eisteddfod since the medieval period complete with a Gorsedd. This massive event was the first of many, and, eventually, the National Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd became national institutions in Wales. This project investigates the development of the Eisteddfod and Gorsedd and examines the changing motivations for Welsh identification with these institutions throughout the nineteenth century. As this study explores the shifting relationship between English national identity and Welsh, a hypothesis arises as to why the Gorsedd has survived its unmasking as a fake and remains a national symbol of Welsh pride and identity to this day.
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