The Robes of the Gorseddogion

Liverpool 1884 - the gorseddogion in aprons and sashes similar to the Friendly Societies' regalia. In the centre are: Hwfa Môn a Clwydfardd.
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Liverpool 1884 - the gorseddogion in aprons and sashes similar to the Friendly Societies' regalia. In the centre are: Hwfa Môn a Clwydfardd.
Hubert Herkomer's description of the Gorsedd Robes in the 1890s;
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Hubert Herkomer's description of the Gorsedd Robes in the 1890s; in T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn's manuscripts, MWL2435 / 282. Extract from the text: 'The Gorsedd is moreover right to attach importance to ceremonials and rituals. Life without ceremonials would be confusion, for it would be without order as well as without distinction. In these days of levelling it is all the more necessary to uphold distinction.'
A sketch of the new Gorsedd robes and headgear in T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn's manuscripts, MWL 2435; c.1895.
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A sketch of the new Gorsedd robes and headgear in T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn's manuscripts, MWL 2435; c.1895.
Cynan presenting Princess Elizabeth to Archdruid Crwys to be made a member of the Order of Ovates, Aberpennar, 1946. Her name in Gorsedd is 'Elizabeth o (from) Windsor'
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Cynan presenting Princess Elizabeth to Archdruid Crwys to be made a member of the Order of Ovates, Aberpennar, 1946. Her name in Gorsedd is 'Elizabeth o (from) Windsor'
Caernarfon National Eisteddfod Proclamation Ceremony in 1893.
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Caernarfon National Eisteddfod Proclamation Ceremony in 1893.
Rows of green robed Gorsedd members, Newport Porclamation ceremony, 1987. Elerydd (W.J.Gruffydd) was the Archdruid.
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Rows of green robed Gorsedd members, Newport Porclamation ceremony, 1987. Elerydd (W.J.Gruffydd) was the Archdruid.

The Gorsedd has three Orders:

  • the Order of Ovates (green robes)
  • the Order of Bards (blue robes)
  • the Order of Druids (white robes).

Some of the Druids wear head-dresses of oak leaves to show that they have won either a National Chair or Crown and some of the officers wear cream robes to denote that they have specific responsibilities in the Gorsedd.

These robes are very different from those seen in Iolo Morganwg's first Gorsedd in 1792 where bards were expected to appear barefoot and bareheaded in the Gorsedd Circle. Iolo denoted that they had been admitted as Bards by tying white, green or blue armbands around their arms. This was the custom until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Then, in 1858, in Llangollen, the Gorsedd Bards wore robes of three colours with leeks and ears of corn on them and they carried staffs as they walked in procession. Without doubt the two most strangely-dressed bards were the eccentric Myfyr Morganwg carrying the mystic egg of the Druids hanging around his neck and Dr William Price, Llantrisant in his foxskin head-dress.

In the Mold Gorsedd, 1873, the gorseddogion appeared in the regalia of their respective Friendly Societies, popular at this time. In Liverpool in 1884 they wore light blue silk aprons and sashes emblazoned with the Mystic Mark.

In the photographs of the Caernarfon (1894) and Llandudno (1896) Gorseddau we can see that the costumes are evolving slowly, with the bards appearing in Gorsedd robes and black birettas adorned with the Mystic Mark. The Archdruid wears a mitre (similar to a bishop's mitre) with the Mystic Mark on it.

During the 1890s two personalities, who were to influence the appearance of the Gorsedd immensely set about restyling the Gorsedd robes. Herald Bard, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn, (1895 onwards), argued that there was no precedent for the bishop's mitre or the birettas and he supported Hubert Herkomer attemps at re-designing the robes, based upon a 'Celtic' pattern.

Herkomer (1849-1914), a native of Bavaria, became Slade Professor of Fine Art in Oxford and after 1890 a Fellow of the Royal Academy. His main contact with Wales was through his second wife, Lulu Griffiths, Stanley House, Rhuthin, and after her early death he married her sister, Edith. Herkomer was a creative genius - a blacksmith, painter, engraver, architect, editor, playwright and actor.

He described his new design for the Gorsedd robes thus:

'The foundation of the robe is of ordinary smock shape with sleeves and buttoning behind the neck. Upon the smock are placed hanging draperies three upon each side falling from the shoulders. One hangs in a loop around the sleeves, the two others are free, one long one to hang behind and a shorter one in front. … This gathering of folds should be finished by the wearing of a Celtic brooch on either or both sides. An important portion of the costume is the hood which contains a small cap from which it falls covering the neck.'

And when he had completed the work he said, 'To me it has been a special pleasure to contribute towards the safety of the Gorsedd's future picturesqueness.'

The Marquis of Bute, Lord Mostyn and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn sponsored these new robes.

By 1917, however, standards had deteriorated drastically; as Winifred Coombe-Tennant, Mam o Nedd, commented:

'The procession of the Bards was remarkable then! Some robes were torn, and dirty, or reaching down to just under the knee; others were being held off the floor with the help of safety-pins.'

Eventually the Beili Glas (D. Rhys Phillips) established a Committee for Gorsedd Robes with Ladies Mostyn, Hughes-Hunter and Howard-Stepney, Angela Stepney-Gulston, Awen Mona, Mam o Nedd and others as members. Since then the robes have been refurbished regularly.

In Newport in 1988, following a competition among Dyfed Art College students, a dark purple cloak decorated with gold, designed by Jennie Anthony, was made to invest the winning poet or prose-medal winner on the pavilion stage.

Other members of the Gorsedd pageantry wear specific robes during the ceremonies, e.g. the Court Officers, the pipers and the banner bearers.

Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales