Williams, Rowland (DNB12)

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WILLIAMS, ROWLAND, ‘Hwfa Môn’ (1823–1905), archdruid of Wales, was born in March 1823, at Penygraig, near Pentraeth, Anglesey. In 1828 his parents moved to Rhos Trehwfa, near Llangefni, and it was from this place he took his bardic name of ‘Hwfa Môn.’ At an early age he was apprenticed to a carpenter and worked at Llangefni, Bangor, Ebenezer, and Port Dinorwic. He commenced to preach as a member of the independent church at Llangefni and in 1847 entered Bala Congregational College. In 1851 he was ordained minister of the Flint and Bagillt churches; on 12 May 1853 he married his predecessor's widow, Mary Evans. His next pastorate was at Brymbo (1855–62), and for a time he took charge of the Welsh church at Wrexham also. After a short but strenuous ministry at Bethesda, Carnarvonshire, he accepted a call in 1867 to the Welsh church meeting in Fetter Lane, London, where he remained until 1881. Two country pastorates, viz. Llanerchymedd (1881–7) and Llangollen (1887–93), closed his ministerial career; from 1893 he lived in retirement at Rhyl until his death on 10 Nov. 1905. He was buried in Rhyl new cemetery on the 14th. He left no issue.

Hwfa Môn was throughout his career a preacher of great descriptive and dramatic power. He was known to his countrymen as a poet rich in language and with much feeling for natural beauty. But his widest repute was won as the picturesque and arresting central figure in the annual pageant of the national eisteddfod. The first eisteddfod he attended was that of Aberffraw in 1849, when he was admitted to the ‘gorsedd,’ or bardic guild, and won a minor poetic prize. He won his first bardic chair in 1855 at Llanfair Talhaiarn, Denbighshire, for an ode on ‘The Exit of Israel from Egypt,’ and in the same year carried off a second chair at Llanfachreth, Anglesey, for an ode on ‘The Poet.’ The highest bardic distinction, the chair of the national eisteddfod, first fell to him in 1862, when his ode on ‘The Year’ was successful at Carnarvon. It was reckoned a special distinction that he defeated on this occasion the veteran Ebenezer Thomas (Eben Fardd). He was a competitor for this honour on several later occasions and was twice successful, winning the Mold chair in 1873 (‘Caractacus in Rome’) and the Birkenhead chair in 1878 (‘Providence’). In 1867 he had won the eisteddfodic crown (given for verse in the ‘free’ metres) at Carmarthen, his subject being Owen Glendower. Henceforward, his part in these competitions was more often that of judge than competitor; from 1875 to 1892 he was constantly employed as chief bardic adjudicator in the great national festival.

As leader of the movement which gave the bardic Gorsedd its prominent and dignified position in the modern eisteddfod, he, on the death of Clwydfardd in 1894, naturally stepped into his place as archdruid. His personality and faith in the institution gave the Gorsedd and its ceremonies an entirely new importance, which was heightened by the artistic reforms introduced by Sir Hubert von Herkomer.

Collected editions of the works of Hwfa Môn are: 1. ‘Gwaith Barddonol Hwfa Môn’ (with portrait), Llanerchymedd, 1883. 2. ‘Gwaith Barddonol Hwfa Môn, Ail Gyfrol’ (with photograph), Bala, 1903. Some of his poems have been separately printed, and there is much of his work in Parry's memoir (see below). Paintings of him in his official robes by Sir Hubert von Herkomer and by Christopher Williams are the property of the artists.

[Cofiant Hwfa Môn, ed. W. J. Parry, Manchester, 1907 (illustrated), is a memorial volume, biographical and critical, with some of the later pieces; see also The Times, 11 Nov. 1905, and T. R. Roberts, Eminent Welshmen.]

J. E. L.