Iolo Morganwg

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Pseudonym of Edward Williams (1747–1826), Welsh poet, antiquarian, and founder of neo-druidism. Best remembered for having launched the cultural society gorsedd, or Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain [the Throne/Assembly of the Bards of the Isle of Britain], in 1792, Iolo remains a controversial figure. While thousands still devoutly practise neo-druidism, marching around the decidedly non-Celtic megaliths at Stonehenge, informed opinion has long since portrayed his antiquarianism as Iolo's own invention. He is the counterpart of the Scottish ‘translator’ James Macpherson and the Breton revivalist Hesart de La Villemarqué. A stonemason by trade, Iolo was deeply influenced both by late 18th-century antiquarianism and by the political radicalism attractive to many intellectuals following the French Revolution; he called himself ‘the Bard of Liberty’. Critics have pointed out that he also had a lifelong addiction to the drug laudanum. Among his many publications were poems purportedly by the 14th-century Dafydd ap Gwilym, which have since been proved to be his own.

See Stuart Piggott, The Druids (London, 1968);Prys Morgan, Iolo Morganwg (Cardiff, 1975).

Subjects: Religion.

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