Death and Commemoration in Late Medieval Wales

  • David Hale

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study examines the attitudes to and commemoration of death in Wales in the period between the end of the thirteenth century and the middle of the sixteenth century by analysis of the poetical work produced during this period. In so doing, this is placed in the wider context of death and commemoration in Europe.

    Although there are a number of memorial tombs and some evidence of religious visual art in Wales which has survived from the late medieval period, in comparison with that to be found in many other European countries, this is often neither so commonplace nor so imposing. However, the poetry produced during this period very much reflects the visual material that was produced in other parts of Europe. The poetry shows that the Welsh gentry at that time were familiar with many of the themes surrounding death and commemoration so obvious in European visual art such as the macabre and the fate of both the body and the soul after death.

    With war, famine and disease being so commonplace during the Middle Ages, and the late medieval period witnessing the effects of the Black Death, it is, perhaps, little wonder that macabre imagery and concerns about the fate of the soul were so often produced in European visual art of the time. These concerns are reflected in the Welsh poetry of the period with several poets composing quite vivid poetry describing the fate of the body as a decomposing corpse after death or allusions to the personification of Death appearing to claim its victims. The tension that many felt between the role of God on Judgement Day and God as Redeemer is also apparent in a number of the poems composed at this time.

    This study shows how important the role of the poet was amongst the gentry in Wales during the late medieval period, a role which ensured that the patrons of the poets were immortalised in words rather than by physical memorials. It also highlights the importance of poetical works of the period as an important primary source for historical research. Many of the poems give a contemporaneous account of important events of the period such as symptoms of plague victims which confirm that the Black Death was indeed the bubonic form of the plague.
    Date of AwardJun 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMadeleine Gray (Supervisor)


    • Death in Wales
    • Welsh History
    • Late Medieval Period
    • Poetical Works
    • fate of the body
    • fate of the soul
    • Poetical works as primary historical research
    • Black Death
    • Personification of Death
    • Welsh poets
    • Grief and Mourning
    • Macabre and Medieval Art
    • Attitudes to Death

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