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Early Women Writers

Gwerful Mechain



Gwerful Mechain


Welsh cantref of Mechain, Powys in an area now known as Montgomeryshire or Maldwyn


ca. 1460-1502


Born to Hywel Fychan, Gwerful Mechain was the descendant of a noble family from Llanfechain in mid-Wales (Koch 862). A relatively large corpus of work attached to her name has survived, although scholars disagree on the exact number, particularly because some works attributed to her were later thought to be authored by Gwerful Fychan (Cartwright 63). Her poetry was circulated orally before it was written down, and the oral tradition was likely to have influenced Ann Griffiths (1776-1805), who belonged to the same region (Cartwright 60). Among Gwerful Mechain’s famous works is an explicit ode to the vagina (Cywydd y Gont), supplying praise to that which she observes men have neglected in their courtly love poetry. While she explores the female body in uniquely explicit detail, somewhat circumventing tradition, she employed strict metre and used many prevalent forms, such as the Ymrysonau (bardic debate) or Englynion (short form). This points to her knowledge of and subversive engagement with poetic convention (Koch 862), not from the margins but from within (Cartwright 66). In her poems, she converses both with women (such as the reference to receiving advice from a woman named Gwenllian in her poem to jealous wives, establishing a chain of information exclusively for women) and men while defending women from a woman’s perspective.


Approximately 32 poems have been attributed to her, although more modest estimations have also been made, the lowest estimate being 13 (Cartwright 63). Cywydd y Gont (Poem of the vagina) although sometimes attributed to Dafydd ap Gwilym (Cartwright 63), I Wragedd Eiddigus (To jealous wives), Dioddefaint Crist (Christ’s suffering).




Cywydd (poem), Ymrysonau, Englynion, Erotic, Religious, and Prophetic


Cartwright, Jane. “Women Writers in Wales.” History of British Women’s Writing, 700 - 1500 Volume 1 ed. Mcavoy, Liz Herbert and Watt, Diane. pp. 60 - 71;Harries, Leslie. “Gwerful Mechain”. Dictionary of Welsh Biographies.;
Koch, John T. “Gwerful Mechain” Celtic Culture A Historical Encyclopedia Volume 1 pp. 862-863;
Earliest manuscript preserving her work: London, British Library, Add MS 14967 (History);
Gramich, Katie, ed. The Works of Gwerful Mechain: A Broadview Anthology of British Literature Edition. Broadview Press, 2018;
Lloyd-Morgan, Ceridwen. Women and their poetry in medieval Wales. na, 1993;

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