‘A thousand years of Welsh scribes’

Published on: Author: Megan 1 Comment

On 10 May, 2016, the Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies welcomed Daniel Huws of the National Library of Wales to discuss ‘A thousand years of Welsh scribes,’ which is based on his work on his forth-coming book ‘A Repertory of Welsh Manuscripts and Scribes.’ Daniel Huws became interested in Welsh poets and their manuscripts in 1958 and obtained a diploma from University College London in Archive Administration. Shortly thereafter, in 1961, he began work at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth as an archivist, and he was given permission in the 1960s to start the first catalogue of manuscripts in the National Library of Wales. He became the Keeper of the National Library in 1992 and began to compile information on the Welsh scribes and their manuscripts in 1996. Below is a short summary of his lecture.


The Welsh manuscripts which date prior to 1100 were described by Daniel as the “poor cousin” of the Irish tradition, after which they were thoroughly affected by English norms. After this point in time, the Caroline Script became universal. Although this period around 1100 was the apex of manuscript production in Medieval Wales, very few of these texts have survived war and the Reformation.While these earlier texts had been written primarily in Latin, there were a few examples of texts written in Welsh vernacular. The first complete example of a vernacular manuscript from Wales dates to sometime around the middle of the 13th century into the mid-14th century. At this point there is an explosion of the production of Welsh literature in vernacular. The transmission of Welsh literature from this period onwards until the late 18th century was through manuscripts, except for a few printed religious texts and dictionaries after 1550. In the 1700s printing became more widely used and began to print texts written in the vernacular tradition.

His research is planned to be encompassed in three volumes. The first volume will consist of a catalogue of Welsh manuscripts from AD 800 to 1800, a total of over 3000 texts. The second volume will focus on the scribes of these manuscripts; it will provide names, dates and bare biographical information on those which are known, label nameless scribes whose work has been identified in more than one manuscript (a total of 178 scribes) and will identify those who have only crafted one manuscript, but are particularly significant (a total of 30 scribes). Daniel mentioned that there are approximately twenty scribes who can be identified as women from manuscripts which date to the late 16th century. Finally, the third volume will contain almost 900 images and provide examples of the work of a selected number of scribes. These examples will demonstrate the different scripts used by some scribes and how the handwriting of some of the most prolific scribes changed through time. This volume will be arranged chronologically, and so will demonstrate the history of handwriting in Wales.

These publications are intended to service future generations; in true archival manner, the volumes will be produced on acid-free paper with a high-quality binding. The National Library will also reproduce it digitally on their website. In addition to the backing from the National Library, Daniel has received support from the Centre for Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth and the University of Wales Press.

Summary by Megan Kasten (PhD Researcher)

Our seminar series for this session concludes on 17 May 2016 with Ian Campbell (Edinburgh) who will discuss ‘An inventory of a fragment of Alexander Seton’s library at Pinkie House.’ This will be held in Room 202, 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm.

One Response to ‘A thousand years of Welsh scribes’ Comments (RSS) Comments (RSS)

  1. I was present at Mr Huws’ talk. Thank you for publishing this summary, which has nicely refreshed my memory of that day in the presence of such an inspirational scholar.

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