Charlemagne in Wales: Imperialism in Medieval Welsh Poetry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


To some extent, this chapter follows on from those by Annalee Rejhon (chapter 9) and Luciana Cordo Russo (chapter 8) in this volume. In her chapter, Rejhon considers the two earliest Charlemagne texts to be translated into Welsh, Cân Rolant (from the Anglo-Norman Chanson de Roland) and Pererindod Siarlymaen (from Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne) and suggests they were both adapted in the first half of the thirteenth century. Rejhon considers in detail some examples of references to these legends in the work of three twelfth- and early thirteenth-century court poets of Wales, the gogynfeirdd, references that were inspired by Anglo-Norman Charlemagne texts circulating in the courts of the English king and the Welsh princes. Cordo Russo’s chapter focuses on techniques of translation in the Welsh texts, comparing the two earlier texts with the later one, Otuel, translated early in the fourteenth century.

In this chapter, I will look at the legacy of Charlemagne in Welsh poetry of the later Middle Ages, in the work of court poets composing from the middle of the fourteenth century to the later fifteenth century. These poets had the advantage of access to all four of the Charlemagne legends available in Welsh versions, and the detail of their references indicates the familiarity of the poets and their audiences with the legends as an assimilated tradition of military, chivalric, religious, and imperial achievement. While the gogynfeirdd, court poets who praised the Welsh princes from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, made relatively few references to the Charlemagne legends, preferring to attach their aristocratic patrons to the familiar prestige of native Welsh heroes and saints, poets of the fourteenth century drew more freely on international popular legends including those relating to Charlemagne and his knights, with a focus on the latter rather than on Charlemagne himself. The names of Roland, Oliver, and Otuel, in particular, appear fairly frequently in the poetry as paradigms of chivalric action for uchelwyr, literally ‘high men’, that is, men of the Welsh gentry, many of whom gained significant military experience fighting for the English king in wars against Scotland and France. In the fourteenth century, uchelwyr patrons of the new court poetry that emerged after the fall of the independent princes in 1282 were keen to claim legitimacy as the heirs of the Welsh princes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCharlemagne in the Norse and Celtic Worlds
EditorsHelen Fulton, Sif Rikhardsdottir
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherD.S. Brewer
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781800108639, 9781800108646
ISBN (Print)9781843846680
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

Publication series

NameBristol Studies in Medieval Cultures
PublisherBoydell and Brewer

Structured keywords

  • Borders and Borderlands
  • Centre for Medieval Studies


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