Red, Black, and White Books - Sarah Woodbury

Red, Black, and White Books

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo leaves Sam the Red Book of Westmarch, in which to record the goings on of Middle Earth after he is gone. Tolkein himself says that his inspiration for the fictional book was the Red Book of Hergest in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which he knew well.

In Wales, there were three such books of which we know:
The Red Book of Hergest
The Black Book of Camarthan
The White Book of Rhydderch

The Red Book of Hergest was written between 1375 and 1425 by Hywel Fychan fab Hywel Goch of Fuellt, for his employer, Hopcyn ap Tomas ap Einion of Ynys Tawe. In it are some of the most famous Welsh texts, including the Chronicles of the Princes, The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Ruin and Conquest of Britain, the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and so on. The complete list is here:

The Black Book of Camarthen, in the National Library of Wales (Peniarth Manuscript 1), dates to the mid-thirteenth century and is believed to have been the work of a single scribe at the Priory of St. John in Carmarthen. It is one of the first works written wholly in Welsh and comprised mostly of poetry, primarily on the subject of Dark Age (sorry, Brynne) topics. The contents of which are here:

The White Book of Rhydderch contains much of what is in the other two books, with an emphasis on religious subjects and prose, rather than poetry. The copy in the National Library of Wales dates to around 1350 AD. It is found here:

As to how old the material in the books actually, it is not clear, or from what earlier books they were copies. Scholars date the version of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi that is in these books to around 1100 AD, given the linguistic characteristics, but that is not to say that the stories aren’t older. Much of the poetry is much older–dating to between 400-700 AD for the Dark Age poets such as Taliesin and Aneurin.

2 Replies to “Red, Black, and White Books”

  1. There are documents such as “Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326” and “Calendar of Charter Rolls”; “Handlist of the Acts of the Native Welsh Rulers 1132-1283”; “The Register of John Pecham, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1279-1292” etc. These are all original sources that Beverley Smith used in his book. I’ve no idea if you could really get a hold of them, although they might be available online for a fee. I guess you need to schedule another trip to Wales!

  2. Yeah, I already looked through all those. the Red Book of Hergest link is where I got my Chronicle of the Princes PDF. On Friday I need to go in to the library and look at the books my professor recommended, see if there are any primary sources I can actually *use*. And let me know if you come up with anything that’s an *English* source as well – horrors, I know, but I need things that describe the economic and political aspects of the war . . . still have no idea what my thesis is, beyond “Edward I subjugated Wales in X manner as a result of X thing”. I need something more focused than that. (this is turning into its own little essay, but) there’s got to be *something*.

    Your (slightly frazzled) daughter.

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