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Edward Williams, better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈjolo morˈɡanuɡ]) (10 March 1747 – 18 December 1826), was an influential Welsh antiquarian, poet, collector, and literary forger.[1][2] He was widely considered a leading collector and expert on medieval Welsh literature in his day, but after his death it was revealed that he had forged a large number of his manuscripts.[3] Regardless, he had a lasting impact on Welsh culture, seen most notably in his foundation of the Gorsedd, and the philosophy he developed in his forgeries had a huge impact on the early neo-druid movement. His bardic name is Welsh for "Iolo of Glamorgan" (the county's name is spelt "Morgannwg" in modern Welsh). Iolo is the diminutive of "Iorwerth", the Welsh form of "Edward".[2]


Early life

Edward Williams was born at Pennon, Glamorgan, Wales, and was raised in the village of Flemingston (or "Flimston", being "Treffleming" in Welsh). He followed his father into a career as a stonemason. In Glamorgan he took an interest in manuscript collection, and learned to compose Welsh poetry from poets such as Lewis Hopkin, Rhys Morgan, and especially Siôn Bradford.[2] In 1773 he moved to London where the antiquary Owen Jones introduced him to the city's Welsh literary community. In 1777 he returned to Wales, where he married and tried his hand at farming, but evidently met with no success. It was during this time that he produced his first forgeries.

Williams' son, Taliesin, whom he had named after the early medieval bard Taliesin, later went on to collect his manuscripts.

Literary career

From an early date Williams was concerned with preserving, and maintaining, the literary and cultural traditions of Wales. To this end he produced a large number of manuscripts as evidence for his claims that ancient druidic tradition had survived the Roman conquest, the conversion of the populace to Christianity, the persecution of the bards under King Edward I, and other adversities. In his forgeries he develops an elaborate mystical philosophy which he claimed represented a direct continuation of ancient druidic practice. Williams' reported heavy use of laudanum may have been a contributing factor.[2]

Williams first came to public notice in 1789 when he produced Barddoniaeth Dafydd ab Gwilym, a collection of the poetry of the 14th-century Dafydd ap Gwilym. Included in this edition was a large number of previously unknown poems by Dafydd that he claimed to have discovered; these poems are regarded as Williams' first forgeries.[2] His success led him to return to London in 1791. There he founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards, at a ceremony on 21 June 1792 at Primrose Hill. He organised the proceedings, which he claimed were based on ancient druidic rites. In 1794 he published some of his own poetry, which was later collected in the two-volume Poems, Lyric and Pastoral. Essentially his only genuine work, it proved quite popular.[2]

Williams worked with Owen Jones and William Owen Pughe on The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, a three-volume collection of medieval Welsh literature published between 1801 and 1807.[3] The Myvyrian Archaiology relied partially on manuscripts in Williams' collection, some of which included his forgeries. Forged material included a false Brut chronicle, a book attributed to Saint Cadoc, and poems claimed to be the work of Dafydd ap Gwilym and Iolo Goch. The second volume, which collected the Welsh Triads, contained an additional "third series" of forged triads, as well as Williams' alterations to the authentic ones.[2]

After Williams' death some of his collection was compiled into The Iolo Manuscripts by his son, Taliesin Williams.[2] His papers were used by many later scholars and translators, and were used for reference by Lady Charlotte Guest as she was translating the prose collection Mabinogion. Guest did not, however, rely on William's editions of the tales themselves except for Hanes Taliesin.[2] Later still, more of Williams' forgeries were published in the text known as Barddas.[4] This work, published in two volumes in 1862 and 1874, was claimed to have been a translation of works by Llywelyn Siôn detailing the history of the Welsh bardic system from its ancient origins to the present day. Though it contains nothing of authentic druidic lore, it is the fullest account of the mystical cosmology Williams developed.[4] Other works by Williams include the "Druid's Prayer", still used by the Gorsedd and by neo-druid groups; a treatise on Welsh metrics called Cyfrinach Beirdd Ynys Prydain ("The Mystery of the Bards of the Isle of Britain"), published posthumously in 1828; and a series of hymns published as Salmau yr Eglwys yn yr Anialwch in 1812.


Iolo's philosophy represented a fusion of Christian and Arthurian influences, a romanticism comparable to that of William Blake and the Scottish poet and forger James MacPherson, the revived antiquarian enthusiasm for all things "Celtic", and such elements of bardic heritage as had genuinely survived among Welsh-language poets. Part of his aim was to assert the Welshness of South Wales, particularly his home region of Glamorgan, against the prevalent idea that North Wales represented the purest survival of Welsh traditions. The metaphysics elucidated in his forgeries and other works proposed a theory of concentric "rings of existence", proceeding outward from Annwn (the Otherworld) through Abred and Ceugant to Gwynfyd (purity or Heaven).

Bardic alphabet

The Bardic Alphabet

Iolo Morganwg developed his own runic system, in Welsh Coelbren y Beirdd ("the Bardic Alphabet"). It was said to be the alphabetic system of the ancient druids. It consisted of 20 main letters, and 20 others "to represent elongated vowels and mutations."[5] These symbols were to be represented in a wooden frame, known as peithynen.


A Welsh-language school in Cowbridge, Ysgol Iolo Morgannwg, is named after him.


  1. ^ Welsh Biography Online
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jones, Mary (2004). "Edward Williams/Iolo Morganwg/Iolo Morgannwg". From Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 11, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Jones, Mary (2003). "Y Myvyrian Archaiology". From Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 11, 2009.
  4. ^ a b Jones, Mary (2004). "Barddas". From Jones' Celtic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 11, 2009.
  5. ^

Further reading

  • Jenkins, Geraint (ed.) (2005), A Rattleskull Genius: the Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
  • Morgan, Prys (1975) Iolo Morganwg, (Writers of Wales). Cardiff: University of Wales Press
  • Williams, G. J. (1956) Iolo Morganwg. Y Gyfrol Gyntaf, Cardiff: University of Wales Press
  • Williams, G. J. (1926) Iolo Morganwg a Chywyddau'r Ychwanegiad. Cardiff: University of Wales Press

External links



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