Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 36

Moelfre — Owain Gwynedd — Church of Penmynnydd — The Rose of Mona.

LEAVING Pentraeth Coch I retraced my way along the Bangor road till I came to the turning on the right. Here I diverged from the aforesaid road, and proceeded along one which led nearly due west; after travelling about a mile I stopped, on the top of a little hill; cornfields were on either side, and in one an aged man was reaping close to the road; I looked south, west, north and east; to the south was the Snowdon range far away, with the Wyddfa just discernible; to the west and north was nothing very remarkable, but to the east or rather north-east, was mountain Lidiart and the tall hill confronting it across the bay.

“Can you tell me,” said I to the old reaper, “the name of that bald hill, which looks towards Lidiart?”

“We call that hill Moelfre,” said the old man desisting from his labour, and touching his hat.

“Dear me,” said I; “Moelfre, Moelfre!”

“Is there anything wonderful in the name, sir?” said the old man smiling.

“There is nothing wonderful in the name,” said I, “which merely means the bald hill, but it brings wonderful recollections to my mind. I little thought when I was looking from the road near Pentraeth Coch yesterday on that hill, and the bay and strand below it, and admiring the tranquillity which reigned over all, that I was gazing upon the scene of one of the most tremendous conflicts recorded in history or poetry.”

“Dear me,” said the old reaper; “and whom may it have been between? the French and English, I suppose.”

“No,” said I; “it was fought between one of your Welsh kings, the great Owain Gwynedd, and certain northern and Irish enemies of his.”

“Only think,” said the old man, “and it was a fierce battle, sir?”

“It was, indeed,” said I; “according to the words of a poet, who described it, the Menai could not ebb on account of the torrent of blood which flowed into it, slaughter was heaped upon slaughter, shout followed shout, and around Moelfre a thousand war flags waved.”

“Well, sir,” said the old man, “I never before heard anything about it, indeed I don’t trouble my head with histories, unless they be Bible histories.”

“Are you a Churchman?” said I.

“No,” said the old man, shortly; “I am a Methodist.”

“I belong to the Church,” said I.

“So I should have guessed, sir, by your being so well acquainted with pennillion and histories. Ah, the Church. . . . .”

“This is dreadfully hot weather, said I, “and I should like to offer you sixpence for ale, but as I am a Churchman I suppose you would not accept it from my hands.”

“The Lord forbid, sir,” said the old man, “that I should be so uncharitable! If your honour chooses to give me sixpence, I will receive it willingly. Thank your honour! Well, I have often said there is a great deal of good in the Church of England.”

I once more looked at the hill which overlooked the scene of Owen Gwynedd’s triumph over the united forces of the Irish Lochlanders and Normans, and then after inquiring of the old man whether I was in the right direction for Penmynnydd, and finding that I was, I set off at a great pace, singing occasionally snatches of Black Robin’s ode in praise of Anglesey, amongst others the following stanza:-

“Bread of the wholesomest is found In my mother-land of Anglesey; Friendly bounteous men abound In Penmynnydd of Anglesey.”

I reached Penmynnydd, a small village consisting of a few white houses and a mill. The meaning of Penmynnydd is literally the top of a hill. The village does not stand on a hill, but the church which is at some distance, stands on one, or rather on a hillock. And it is probable from the circumstance of the church standing on a hillock, that the parish derives its name. Towards the church after a slight glance at the village, I proceeded with hasty steps, and was soon at the foot of the hillock. A house, that of the clergyman, stands near the church, on the top of the hill. I opened a gate, and entered a lane which seemed to lead up to the church.

As I was passing some low buildings, probably offices pertaining to the house, a head was thrust from a doorway, which stared at me. It was a strange hirsute head, and probably looked more strange and hirsute than it naturally was, owing to its having a hairy cap upon it.

“Good day,” said I.

“Good day, sar,” said the head, and in a moment more a man of middle stature, about fifty, in hairy cap, shirt-sleeves, and green apron round his waist, stood before me. He looked the beau-ideal of a servant of all work.

“Can I see the church?” said I.

“Ah, you want to see the church,” said honest Scrub. “Yes, sar! you shall see the church. You go up road there past church — come to house, knock at door — say what you want — and nice little girl show you church. Ah, you quite right to come and see church — fine tomb there and clebber man sleeping in it with his wife, clebber man that — Owen Tiddir; married great queen — dyn clebber iawn.”

Following the suggestions of the man of the hairy cap I went round the church and knocked at the door of the house, a handsome parsonage. A nice little servant-girl presently made her appearance at the door, of whom I inquired whether I could see the church.

“Certainly, sir,” said she; “I will go for the key and accompany you.”

She fetched the key and away we went to the church. It is a venerable chapel-like edifice, with a belfry towards the west; the roof sinking by two gradations, is lower at the eastern or altar end, than at the other. The girl, unlocking the door, ushered me into the interior.

“Which is the tomb of Tudor?” said I to the pretty damsel.

“There it is, sir,” said she, pointing to the north side of the church; “there is the tomb of Owen Tudor.”

Beneath a low-roofed arch lay sculptured in stone on an altar tomb, the figures of a man and woman; that of the man in armour; that of the woman in graceful drapery. The male figure lay next the wall.

“And you think,” said I to the girl; “that yonder figure is that of Owen Tudor?”

“Yes, sir,” said the girl; “yon figure is that of Owen Tudor; the other is that of his wife, the great queen; both their bodies rest below.”

I forbore to say that the figures were not those of Owen Tudor and the great queen, his wife; and I forbore to say that their bodies did not rest in that church, nor anywhere in the neighbourhood, for I was unwilling to dispel a pleasing delusion. The tomb is doubtless a tomb of one of the Tudor race, and of a gentle partner of his, but not of the Rose of Mona and Catherine of France. Her bones rest in some corner of Westminster’s noble abbey; his moulder amongst those of thousands of others, Yorkists and Lancastrians, under the surface of the plain, where Mortimer’s Cross once stood, that plain on the eastern side of which meanders the murmuring Lug; that noble plain, where one of the hardest battles which ever blooded English soil was fought; where beautiful young Edward gained a crown, and old Owen lost a head, which when young had been the most beautiful of heads, which had gained for him the appellation of the Rose of Anglesey, and which had captivated the glances of the fair daughter of France, the widow of Monmouth’s Harry, the immortal victor of Agincourt.

Nevertheless, long did I stare at that tomb which though not that of the Rose of Mona and his queen, is certainly the tomb of some mighty one of the mighty race of Theodore. Then saying something in Welsh to the pretty damsel, at which she started, and putting something into her hand, at which she curtseyed, I hurried out of the church.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50