The Pageant of Harlech Castle
- The Welsh Pageant held at Harlech Castle
Place: Harlech Castle (Harlech) (Harlech, Merionethshire, Wales)
Number of performances: 3
23–25 August 1920 at 3pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Kirwan, Patrick
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- President of the Pageant: Lord Harlech
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Rhys, Ernest
- Graves, Alfred Percival
Names of composers
- Edwards, A.C.
- Davis, Hubert
- Clements, Charles H.
Numbers of performers200
Object of any funds raised
To raise money in aid of a Harlech War Memorial Hall held in the Castle grounds at Harlech
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Episode I – the Great Sea Flood
Father Old Time talks to a young boy about the great flood. He muses that it will be a hard scene to perform and asks for the Pageant Master, who subsequently appears. The Pageant Master assures Old Time, ‘leave it to me’. Old Time and the Boy leave, as Gwyddno Garanhir and Eilon (his wife), enter with a harper, a priest, huntsmen with hounds, and other men and damsels. Gwyddno instructs the harpist to play while he writes and relaxes. Gwyddno jokingly gives his wife his sword, so she can act as sentry. Suddenly a messenger enters and proclaims that the sea has broken down the great dyke’s sea walls, and that the people are fleeing. Gwyddno takes little notice when Seithenyn rushes into the scene, babbling about the sea. Eilon is furious when she realises that Seithenyn has left women and children to fend for themselves, and resolves to return to save as many as she can. But then the flood breaks in, metaphorically portrayed by Water Furies and the Wind (children in costumes). All are washed away—Gwyddno last of all, by now standing on the table and yet still writing. The Old Time enters with two boys and says ‘Noah, me no Noah after this. Did Noah write odes on top of the Ark? Not he. Give me Gwyddno who wrote poems as he was drowning.’ He then introduces a romantic scene from the records of Harlech Castle.
Episode II – The Wooing of Branwen
A watcher from the tower spots 12 ships with white sails, and one great black barque flying a raven flag: the Irish fleet. Bran then enters with the Queen Mother, his Brother Manaqydden, his step-brothers, Nissyen and Evnisen, the maiden Branwen, and his assembled court. While they nervously prepare for the fleet’s arrival, it becomes clear that the Irish are actually bringing gifts in peace. Matholwen, crowned with gold, comes off the ship and greets Bran. The Queen informs Branwen that it is for her hand in marriage Matholwen has come; she tries to leave. Bran and Matholwch now enter, and are welcomed by the Queen. Bran explains that Matholwen originally had come in anger, but after being followed by a phantom black ship (the wreck of a lost ship that he assumed had been captured by the people of Harlech), he decided to make peace with Britain. The King and Queen Mother assent, and then leave to let Matholwch woo Branwen (they talk in dumbshow). Matholwch sings to Branwen, and woos her. The Queen Mother stands at the entrance and watches them kiss, before Bran announces a banquet. Everyone processions out.
Episode III – Owan Glyndwyr’s Parliament
Episode IV – Margaret of Anjou at Harlech Castle
Episode V – The Seven Years Defence of the Castle
The Court of the Castle is in disorder, with broken benches and loose stones scattered around. Two smiths are forging swords in a furnace, while damsels are stitching tunics and making bandages. Dafydd ab Ieaun, Dafydd ab Siencyn, Reinallt of the Tower and Gruffyd Vychan enter. They discuss the defence of the castle, some complaining about their hunger, others confident that the defence can be maintained. They boast about their former victories. Suddenly, another assault begins. The clamour of men and the clink of swords can be heard. Reinallt re-enters, his brow bandaged and stained; Dafydd ab Ieaun and others also return, covered with dust and out of breath. They celebrate their survival and sit down to feast, but there is no food. They instead listen to the music, which gradually grows louder as all the men join in the celebratory song, the Men of Harlech. Old Time narrates: ‘This is Harlech’s moment—Harlech’s cry of courage against odds. That harp-song shall carry the name of Harlech beyond the seas and over all the lands as a strain to hearten men and women in the dark hour.’
Episode VI – Archdeacon Prys as Psalmodist
Episode VII – The Royalists defend Harlech Castle
Episode VIII – The Coming of Peace
- Old Time (Hen Amser) – Long grey robe, grey-haired, bearing a sickle. He wears big horn spectacles.
- War (Rhyfel) – Crimson dress, black mask, iron crown on head. Long sword, mixed garb of soldier and headsman.
- Peace (Hedd) – White and soft green robe, star of silver and sapphires in diadem.
- Tomorrow (Yforeu) – Time’s small boy, rosy-cheeked, green jacket, one white leg. He carries the Book of Time in a satchel.
Old Time enters, and instructs Tomorrow to bring him his Big Book. He opens the book and declares, ‘What are these stained pages—pages of war, many of them? We must see them. Trumpeter, blow me a summons to call up War.’ War enters, and speaks:
With a mask of Death and Night, Here I come from mortal fight. Challenge me’ Fore Ill, for Well, I walk this world unconquerable.
Old Time replies ‘I have seen too much of you in the past, alas’, then asks: ‘How to get rid of him. Play up, a quick march now, and let us get this sad part of the show done. Has not War’s cruel pageantry lasted thousands of years?’ Soldiers’ march sounds. War stands forth with commanding gesture, his sword erect unsheathed, in front of him, while his army-train goes quickly by:
- Welch Fusiliers
- Flag Bearer
- Army Lorry
- Walking Wounded
- Red Cross Ambulances
- Six Nurses
- Welch Fusiliers
- Transport Wagons
Old Time asks War, ‘Before you go, lend me your sword, ay, sword and sheath, I have a question to ask these people of the ancient race. Those last pages were stained red and red. Turn the page, Boy, Turn the page. See, a white one—what is written here? Peace, Heddwch? Hearken folk, is it to be peace? A OES HEDDWCH?’ (He calls it aloud in a great voice as at the Gorsedd, three times, each time signalling to the crowd to reply, ‘Heddwch’. With the third reply, Exit War with roll of drums, followed by Trumpets to announce the coming of peace. Twelve girls attired in white, sliver and pale blue, holding flowers, form a ring around Peace, dancing and singing.)
Peace declares: ‘I need not tell my name. This is my olive-bough. The wars are done. Take this for a sign. A leaf to you, and a leaf to you. Go, dear children my swift messengers, bear one to every nation in the great world.’
The girls leave, still singing and dancing; then Peace exits.
Old Time says: ‘Come, Boy, close the book. We will begin with a clean page in our next scene.’
Key historical figures mentioned
- Glyn Dŵr [Glyndŵr], Owain [Owain ap Gruffudd Fychan, Owen Glendower] (c.1359–c.1416) rebel leader in Wales
- Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
- Dafydd ab Ieuan ab Iorwerth (d. in or before 1503) abbot of Valle Crucis and bishop of St Asaph
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
- Overture: ‘March in C’. A.C. Edwards
- Introduction to Episode I: Sea Music, Hubert Davis
- Interlude after Episode 4: Fantasia on Welsh Airs, Hubert Davis
- Incidental Music by Charles H. Clements
Newspaper coverage of pageantMorning Post
Western Daily Press
Edinburgh Evening News
Hull Daily Mail
Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Liverpool Daily Courier
Pall Mall Gazette
Book of words
- Graves, Alfred Perceval and Rhys, Ernest. The pageant of Harlech Castle: Book of the Words. Aberystwyth, 1920.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Bartie, A., Fleming, L., Freeman, M., Hulme, T., Readman, P., Tupman, C., ‘“And those who live, how shall I tell their fame?” Historical pageants, collective remembrance and the First World War, 1919-1939’, Historical Research (forthcoming 2017).
- Graves, A.P. To Return to All That: An Autobiography. London, 1930. At 339.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Correspondence, historical sketches, Reference MS 3264D
National Library of Wales
Sources used in preparation of pageant
With the exception of the National Pageant of Wales, held in Cardiff (1909), Wales was slow to the pageant form and it took the shock of the First World War to bring pageantry to North Wales. The 1920 Harlech Pageant was written by two major writers: Ernest Rhys, better-known as the founder of Everyman’s Library of affordable classics, and the Anglo-Irish poet Alfred Perceval Graves who had become a major proponent of Welsh literature, founding the Welsh folk-song society and becoming a Welsh bard at the National Eisteddfod in 1902.1 Graves’ son Robert was to define the wartime experiences of his generation in his 1929 memoir Goodbye to All That.
As with a number of other Peace Pageants held in the years immediately after the First World War, such as Oxford (1919) and Nottingham (1919), the Harlech Pageant presented the historical realities of centuries of armed conflict. Set within a castle which had been for centuries a sign of English conquest and domination, it concluded with an episode which blended the modern realities and horrors of war with an allegorical depiction of the coming of peace, striking a significant note of optimism. Historical pageants were a means of depicting and processing the traumatic events which had taken the lives of twenty-six men from a town of barely a thousand.2 The scenes portrayed in the pageant were given particular poignancy as they represented a protracted struggle between the English and Welsh and between Parliamentarians and Royalists as ultimately futile, foregrounding the coming of peace and of love. The allegorical structure echoed the Oxford pageant. The second episode, for instance, depicts the coming of peace between the Welsh and Irish, cemented through love between Matholwch and Branwen. The episode held particular poignancy for Graves, a devotee of a non-sectarian Irish culture, at a time when Ireland was wracked by war, and in which Welsh troops continued to serve. It was hoped, in the words of the Western Daily Press, that ‘it will be the first of a series to be given in all the castles of Wales.’3
The Pageant was closely connected to the Lloyd George family. The Pageant was opened by Mrs Lloyd George, long-suffering wife of the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who was unable to attend. In her opening speech, she ‘sincerely hoped there would be a substantial sum realised from the proceedings, for it was impossible to honour too highly the memory of those who had done so much for Wales and the Empire.’4 Margaret Lloyd George’s family was able to trace back a lineage directly to Owain Glyndwr, and her son David (who had served as a Major in the First World War) had been scheduled to appear as his illustrious forebear.5 However, it was announced that ‘Some disappointment was caused when it became known that the episode depicting Owain Glyndwr’s Parliament, the chief characters in which were to have been taken by members of Mr Lloyd George’s family, would be entrusted to other hands, because the original cast had accompanied the Premier to Switzerland.’6
Despite the snub from the Lloyd Georges, the Pageant was warmly received by many national newspapers. The Morning Post warmed to the ‘grim old pile’ which ‘formed a fitting setting for the picturesque pageant’, while the Daily Telegraph described it as a ‘picturesque pageant, giving in epitomised form, outstanding episodes in Welsh history and mythology’.7 The Western Daily Press hoped that the final scene ‘will be the first [performance] of a series to be given in all the castles of Wales.’8 Although this proved not to be the case, the Pageant was restaged (in a re-written form) in 1922. David Lloyd George, soon to be unseated as Prime Minister, opened that event, and practically his entire family played parts, with Margaret performing as Lady Glyndwr, Megan as Lady Edmund Mortimer, and Gwilyn as Edward Mortimer.9 A pageant was again held at Harlech in 1927, in tandem with celebrations at the other North Wales Castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, though the Spectator magazine complained that throughout these pageants the lack of space within the small confines of the castle restricted both the action and the number of spectators, particularly compared to the grand open spaces of Cardiff Castle.10 Nonetheless, Harlech constructed a Memorial Hall with the proceeds (possibly combined with funds from the 1922 pageant), which continues to be a major part of the local community.
- Richard Perceval Graves, ‘Graves, Alfred Perceval (1846–1931)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 30 September 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/33521
- A. Bartie, L. Fleming, M. Freeman, T. Hulme, P. Readman, C. Tupman ‘“And those who live, how shall I tell their fame?” Historical pageants, collective remembrance and the First World War, 1919-1939’, Historical Research (forthcoming 2017).
- Western Daily Press, 26 August 1920, 7.
- Morning Post, 24 August 1920: cutting in National Library of Wales, MS 3264D.
- Ladies Field, 28 August 1920: cutting in National Library of Wales, MS 3264D.
- Morning Post, 24 August 1920: cutting in National Library of Wales, MS 3264D.
- Morning Post, 24 August 1920 and Daily Telegraph, 25 August 1920: cutting in National Library of Wales, MS 3264D.
- Western Daily Press, 26 August 1920, 7.
- Manchester Guardian, 25 August 1922, 9. See ‘Welsh National Pageant (1922)’, British Pathe, youtube clip, accessed 30 September 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeAmPXimtwM
- Spectator, 22 July 1927, 8.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Harlech Castle’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1287/