Bizarre History Revealed

10 Mar 2009

In a new book just published, The  National Pageant of Wales  (Gomer) Hywel Teifi Edwards writes of one of the most bizarre but largely forgotten public spectacles ever held in Wales.

THE WELSH DON’T KNOW THEIR OWN HISTORY!

The Welsh public don’t have enough of an understanding of their own history’ says Hywel Teifi Edwards. And this is as true of Wales today as it was a century ago. Professor Edwards warns that schools are forever emphazising ‘science and sums’ but are neglecting Welsh history to a large extent.

In 1909, a pageant celebrating Wales through the ages, featuring over 5,000 participants from among the country’s upper and working classes alike, was held in the shadow of Cardiff Castle - to great public acclaim.

Even though the pageant caused a flurry of media excitement at the time, the event staged a century ago has been largely overlooked until now.

Hywel Teifi Edwards has written a lively, accessible account of the staging of the pageant, accompanied by numerous fascinating photographs showing prominent individuals in costume, in addition to several spectacular scenes such as ‘storming the Castle’ - no mean feat.

The actors included Lord Tredegar as Owain Glyndŵr, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff as Hywel Dda, the City Librarian as Merlin the Wizard and the Chief Constable of Glamorgan as ‘Chief Ruffian’.  The cast also consisted of rugby players, teachers, schoolchildren, and a mixture of people from all walks of life. 

The pageant presented a re-enactment of Welsh history, ranging from Caradoc’s defiance of imperial Rome circa 50 BC to the Act of Union between England and Wales in 1536.

At the heart of the book is the compelling story of one man and his passion for his native country. Owen Rhoscomyl, the maverick historian who was employed to script the pageant, was a one-time soldier, novelist and firebrand, and Hywel Teifi Edwards tells his fascinating story with great verve.

Rhoscomyl had a ‘warrior spirit’ and he truly believed that the Welsh could make their mark on the world stage. Hywel Teifi asserts that Wales today desperately needs unique figures with a vision such as Rhoscomyl.

He says ‘If only we had his like again in 2009 to script a National Pageant (or better still an epic film) to tell the Welsh, who are awaiting yet another referendum to test their readiness for 'a proper parliament', what he told them in the wake of the  Cymru Fydd  collapse in 1896. Quite simply, as Barack Obama put it on the night of his election victory, when he confronted the difficulties to be overcome, ‘Yes, we can. Rhoscomyl never doubted that the Welsh could be whatever they aspired to be. We will do well to remember him this year.’ To mark the 100th anniversary of the pageant, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, with the help of local school children, will present an affectionate tribute to this remarkable event. The historical pageant will be staged at Cardiff Castle on 16 May 2009.

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