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Some Data on the Use and Nature of Tents in Medieval Wales

By Heather Rose Jones, copyright © 1996, all rights reserved



A question about Welsh tents on the internet spurred me to see what sort of information might be available on the subject. One response to the question suggested that the Welsh would have no use for tents, given that travelers would be given hospitality at private houses. However this assumes that tents would have been used as we use them in our events: as a home-away-from-home in an ordinary living situation. Literary references in Welsh to tents suggest a different picture: that they were used when large numbers of people had to be sheltered and when the travelers could expect to be met with hostility -- specifically during wartime.

As far as I am aware, there are no physical artifacts or even period artistic representations that could shed light on the subject of Welsh tents. However there are a good number of literary references that can provide a context for discussion. The following are mostly taken from the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, a historical dictionary of the Welsh language. Those citations are by no means exhaustive, however, and I have added other examples where I can find them. Translations are primarily mine, except for the Biblical material, for which I have given the corresponding passage from the King James Version.


The primary words which can refer to tents and related activities are as follow.

Pabell/pebyll -- Noun. From the Latin papilio; (a) "tent, (temporary) dwelling, portable shelter, camp, pavilion, tabernacle, booth, canopy, arbour, bower, sanctuary"; (b) "mantle, cloak"

Pabellu/Pebyllu/Pebyllio -- Verb. From pabell; to pitch a tent or tents; to camp, to encamp (esp. of troops), to cover with a tent.

Pabellfa/Pebyllfa -- Noun. From pabell; camp-site, encampment.

Pabellog -- Adjective. From pabell; held in a tent?, tent-like? pertaining to a tent?, having a tent?, full of tents? [There is only one example and the context isn't very clear.]

Pall -- Noun. From Latin palla "mantle, cloak"; cloak, curtain, covering, pall (eccl.), tent, tabernacle, throne, bed of state.

Lluest -- Noun. Possibly from llu+gwest (army+lodging); temporary dwelling hurriedly erected (esp. formerly for soldiers during campaign, also for shepherds on the mountains), bivouac, portable shelter of canvas, cloth, etc., tent, tabernacle, camp, encampment, (shepherd's) booth, shieling, lodge, cottage, cabin, hut, cot(e), also fig.; upland summer dwelling; barracks, quarters (for soldiers, workmen, etc.), billet, hostel.

Lluestu -- Verb. From lluest; to lodge temporarily in the open, in a tent or in tents, live under canvas, bivouac, settle in camp, encamp (esp. of troops), also fig.; accommodate (person), billet, quarter; pitch tent(s), set up or erect a camp.

Lluestfa -- Noun. From lluest; temporary dwelling, camp, encampment; military quarters, barracks.

Lluestwr -- Noun. From lluest; one who lives in a cot, tent, or camp, pitcher of tents, camper, (military) quartermaster.

Lluesty -- Noun. From lluest+ty (house); temporary or movable dwelling, tent, tabernacle, booth, shieling, cottage, lodge, cabin, hut, cot(e), also fig., soldier's, workmen's etc. quarters, billet, barracks, hostel.

Pafiliwn -- Noun. From the English "pavilion"; pavilion, also in heraldry.

The Texts

Non-Welsh References

Tent-related references can be broken down into a number of categories for analysis. The first one I will consider is that of Biblical translations and other religious writings. These are, of course, useless for commentary on the artifacts and habits of the medieval Welsh, but they are quite useful in determining the use and meaning of the words we are considering. Bible translators generally worked very conscientiously to keep the meaning of the original passages, so we have a relatively objective landmark to interpret the words that were chosen. First, let's look at references which are to tents as dwelling places.

14th c. (Y Bibyl Ynghymraec 7) lluesteu symudedic. "movable encampments (lluest)"

1567 (Testament Newydd ein Arglwydd Jesu Christ  201b) ei celfyddytt ytoedd gwneythyr pebyllion. "his craft was making tents (pebyll)"

1588 (Deut xvi. 7) yr ei i'th babellau. "go unto thy tents (pabell)"

1588 (Eseia xiii 20) ni phabella Arabiad yno. "neither shall the Arabian pitch tent (pabellu) there"

1588 (Gen xiii.12) Lot ... a luestodd hyd Sodoma. "Lot [dwelled in the cities of the plain, and] pitched his tent (lluestu) toward Sodom." [Lluestu translates the entire phrase "pitched his tent".]

1567 (Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin 45a) ef a dannellawdd y lluestuy [:-papell] a gwaet. "he pitched the shelter (lluesty) [tent (pabell)] and <unknown>"

1567 (Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin Sall 38a) na bo nep a breswilio ei pebyll [:-lluestai]. "no one shall inhabit his tent (pebyll) [lluesty pl.]"

1588 (2 Cron. xiv. 15) Lluestai ... yr anifeiliaid. "the tents of cattle"

These references use pebyll, lluest, and their derivatives to refer to everyday dwellings under normal conditions. Another group uses the same words to refer to shelters or fortifications used in wartime. In two of these, alternate glosses are given using words connected with more permanent military sites.

1567 (Testament Newydd ein Arglwydd Jesu Christ>  396b) ymgylchynesont pebyll [:- c[a]stra.i. [sic] cestyll, lluestai] y Saint. "they encircled the Saint's tent (pebyll) [castra i.e., castles, encampments (lluesty)]"

1588 (Job xi. 18) pan gloddit luestfa y gorweddit mewn diogelwch "thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety" [The Welsh is more literally: "and you will dig an encampment (lluestfa) and lie down in safety".]

1567 (Testament Newydd ein Arglwydd Jesu Christ 396b) pebyll [:-c[a]stra.i. cestyll, lluestai ] y Saint. "tents (pebyll ) / castra / castles / shelters (lluesty) of the Saints"

Another group of references uses the words metaphorically to mean "shelter".

1567 (Testament Newydd 267b) Can ys gwyddam pe a's ein dayarol duy y pebyll [:-lluest, trigva] hyn a ddinistrir, vot i ni adailat wedy roddi gan Duw. "Since we know that it is our earthly <unknown> this tent (pebyll) [encampment (lluest), dwelling place] that is destroyed, which is for us a building given by God"

1588 (2 Sam xxii 12) Efe a osododd y tywyllwch yn bebyll oi amgylch. "He made darkness [into] pavillions (pebyll) round about him"

1567 (Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin Sall 14b) yn-dirgelfa ei luest [:-drigfa] y cudd ef vi. "in the secret-place of his shelter (lluest) he hides me" [The source is a Welsh version of the Book of Common Prayer.]

1551 (W. Salesbury: Kynniver Llith a Ban lviiib) oni dderbyniant chwchwi yr lluestai tragyvytha(w)l. "unless they receive you into the eternal shelters (lluesty)"

A more specialized use of both pebyll and lluest is for the word found in English as "tabernacle".

1346 (The Elucidarium ... from Llyvyr Agkyr Llandewivrevi 32) yn lle ycarchar wynt yma. yderbynnir wyntev ybepyllev tragywyd. "instead of them being imprisoned here, they will be received into eternal tents (pebyll) [?the tabernacle of the Lord?]"

1567 (Testament Newydd ein Arglwydd Jesu Christ 27a) gwnawn yma dri phebyll (1588 Marc ix.5 dair Pabell). "let us make three tabernacles (pebyll)"

1588 (Salm lxxxiv 1) Mor hawddgar yw dy bebyll di. "How amiable are thy tabernacles (pebyll)"

1567 (Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin Sall 14b) aberthaf yn ei luest [:-bepyll] ef ebyrth gorfoledd. "I will sacrifice in his tabernacle(?) (lluest) (or pebyll) joyful sacrifices."

1567 (Testament Newydd ein Arglwydd Jesu Christ 390a) Tabernacl [:-lluest, tent, tyley] y tustolaeth. "Tabernacle (lluest, tent, bed?) of the testament [covenant?]"

1567 (Testament Newydd ein Arglwydd Jesu Christ 181b) tabernacl [:-pepyll lluesty] Moloch. "the tabernacle [pebyll, lluesty] of Moloch"

Pall is found in a context that is probably more closely related to its primary meaning of "cloak, covering".

1588 (Eseia xxx 22) Yna'r halogwch balldy [sic] gerf-ddelw arian. "Ye shall defile also the covering (pall) of thy graven images of silver"

There are two other references that explicitly describe non-Welsh artifacts.

15th c. (Ffordd y Brawd Odrig 54) Gwyr y wlat honno [Tibet] a bresswylant mywn pebylleu o felt du. "Men of that land [Tibet] dwell in tents (pebyll) of black felt"

c. 1400 (Delw y Byd 33) [m]alwot ... oc eu kogyrneu y gwneir lluesteu (hospitia) didos y dynyon. "snails ... from their shells are made watertight shelters (lluest) (hostels) for the people" [The source is called "A Picture of the World" and I suspect that it may be a "tales of strange lands" type of book.]

It is worth noting that pebyll is used for a fabric structure, while lluest is used for a structure of other (highly improbable) material.

Welsh References

The remainder of the references either purport to describe activities and artifacts used in Wales (or, in the case of some with early settings, in Britain), or appear in non-Welsh stories which have been adapted into Welsh form. When discussing tales such as the three later Arthurian romances, we seem not to be dealing with direct translations (as we are with the Bible) but certainly with adaptations of non-Welsh material. They cannot tell us what the Welsh were doing, but they can tell us what would have made sense to their Welsh audience. Unless there is clear evidence that a description in a story is meant to be "strange and wonderful", we can assume that it corresponds to something in the audience's experience.

Military Contexts

The larger part of the references including our target words are connected with armies and military activities.

The first group of references comes from clearly fictional sources: legendary chronicles and tales. The Brut Dingestow and Brut y Brenhinedd are both Welsh versions of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. The Ystorya de Carolo Magno is a Welsh version of part of the French Charlemagne cycle, while Owein and the Ystoryaeu Seint Greal are Welsh adaptations of later French romances. The Dream of Maxen Wledig is a native Welsh tale with a very early setting but trappings of the high Middle Ages. Another "dream" tale, Breudwyt Ronabwy , contains traditional characters such as Arthur but was composed not much earlier than the date of its manuscript. (See my previous article "Medieval Welsh Clothing to 1300" for a detailed discussion of interpreting this source.)

13th c. (Brut Dingestow 73) Norhamtvn yn yd oed pebylleu Maxen a'e lu. "Northampton, where the tents (pebyll) of Maxen and his army were"

13th c. (Brut Dingestow 171) dywetpvt idav bot yr amheravdyr yn llustu yn agos ... A phebyllav a wnaeth ynteu ar glan yr auon. "it was told to him that the emperor was camping (lluestu ) nearby ... and he tented (pebyllio) on the bank of the river"

13th c. (Brut Dingestow 52) Ac ual yd oed yn dyuot parth a Cheint, nachaf gvyr Ruuein yn pebyllau yn y lle honno. "And while he was coming toward Kent, behold the men of Rome tenting (pebyllio) in that place."

14th c. (WBM -- The Dream of Maxen Wledig 187. 33-7) aeth hyt ym pen yfreni uawr. Athynnu pebyll a oruc yr amherawdyr yno. Achadeir vaxen y gelwir y pebyllua honno. "he went as far as the top of 'The Big Prow' [a place name]. And there the emperor pitched a tent (pebyll). And that tent-site (pebyllfa) was called 'Maxen's Chair'."

14th c. (Breudwyt Ronabwy 11.3) Ac ymchoelut o'r Iarll y'r pebyll. "And the earl returned to the tent (pebyll)."

14th c. (Breudwyt Ronabwy 11.31) nachaf y gwelynt o pebbyll gwynn penngoch a delw sarf purdu ar penn y pebyll, a llygeit rudgoch gwenwynic yn penn y sarf, a'e dauawt yn fflamgoch "behold, they saw [a squire coming] from a white red-topped tent (pebyll), with the image of a pure black serpent on the top of the tent, and bright red venomous eyes in the serpent's head, and its tongue flame-red"

14th c. (Breudwyt Ronabwy 12.29) Ac yna yd ymchoeles y mackwy tu a'e bebyll. "And then the squire returned towards his tent (pebyll)."

14th c. (Breudwyt Ronabwy 13.3) yn dyuot o pebyll puruelyn.>  A delw llew purgoch ar penn y pebyll. "coming from a pure yellow tent (pebyll), with the image of a pure red lion on the top of the tent"

14th c. (Breudwyt Ronabwy 13.27) sef y gwelynt ruthur y wrthunt pebyll brychuelyn mwyhaf o'r a welas neb, a delw eryr o eur arnaw, a maen gwerthuawr ym penn yr eryr. Yn dyuot o'r pebyll y gwelynt vackwy ... "this is what they could see: some distance away from them a spotted yellow tent (pebyll), the largest that any one had seen, and the image of a golden eagle on it, and a precious stone in the eagle's head. Coming from the tent they could see a squire ..."

14th c. (Breudwyt Ronabwy 7.21) A'r vydin honno yn pebyllyaw uch y Ryt. "And that troop pitching its tents (pebyllio) above the ford."

14th c. (Owein 654) A'r llu a bebyllywys yg kylch y castell "[after the battle] And the host pitched its tents (pebyllio) around the castle."

14th c. (Ystorya de Carolo Magno 178) nyt gwedus ... bot gwraged ymplith y lluoed yn ev lluesteu. "not suitable ... for women to be in the midst of the armies in their encampments (lluest)"

14th c. (Ystorya de Carolo Magno 7) Pan yttoed Charlys yn lluestu yg Kaer Baion a'e lu. "When Charlemagne was encamped (lluestu) in Caer Baion with his army."

14th c. (Ystorya de Carolo Magno 67) y mywn gweirglawd y tannyssant eu pebylleu ac y lluestyssant. "within a meadow they pitched their tents (pebyll) and they camped (lluestu)"

ca. 1400 (Ystorya de Carolo Magno 34) yno y tannwys y Cristonogyon eu pebylleu hyt trannoeth. "then the Christians spread their tents (pebyll) until the morrow"

c. 1400 (Ystoryaeu Seint Greal i. 114) ysgraff ... gwedy y phebyllu a llenneu o sidan oll, ac yn y pebyll yd oed gwely da digawn y adurnyat o lenneu goreureit. "a barge ... tented (pebyllu) with sheets wholely of silk, and in the tent (pebyll) there was a good bed ornamented abundantly with gilded sheets" [Llen "sheet" is as ambiguous in Welsh as it is in English -- it could be that the bed had cloth-of-gold bedclothes, but it could also be that the bed frame was plated with sheet-gold.]

c. 1400 (Ystoryaeu Seint Greal i. 127) ef a beris gwneuthur pall y'r ysgraff o syndal. "He caused to be made a tent (pall) of sendal for the barge."

15th c. (Brut y Brenhinedd line 260) Ac ena o kytdvundep kyghor pavb, wynt a kyrchassant e traethev en e lle ed oed Wl Kessar a'e lw en ev pebyllyev. "And then, by the unanimous advide of all, they sought the beaches in the place where Wl Kessar and his army were in their tents (pebyll)."

15th c. (Brut y Brenhinedd line 299) Ac eyssyoes gwedy llythrav er rann wuyhaf o'r dyd, e Brytanyeyt o kywarssanghedygyon vydynoed a dygynt rvthrev glew kalet, a Dwu en ev kanhvrthwyav, e wudvgolyaeth a demweynnyvs vdvnt, ac Wl Kessar a kymyrth y longhev a'e pebyllyev a'e lvestev en kedernyt ydav, ac gwedy dyvot e nos ef a kyweyrvs y longhev ac a aeth endvnt ac a wu lawen kanthav kaffael e mor en lle kastell ydav. "And already, after the greatest part of the day had slipped away, the Britons with a trampling of armies made a strong, hard rush and, God helping them, the victory was theirs, and Wl Kessar seized for himself their ships and their tents (pebyll) and their encampments (lluest) by strength, and after coming during the night, he prepared the ships and went in them and he was glad to have the sea in the place of a castle for him."

15th c. (Brut y Brenhinedd line 494) Ac gwedy dyvot ohonav hyt ger llaw glyn oed en agos y Kaer Keynt, ef a gweles en e lle honno llw gwyr Rvueyn ac ev pebyllyev ac ev llvestev gwedy ry dyskynnv en e glynn hvnnv, kanys Awarwy vap llvd a'e dvgassey hyt e lle honno wynt y keyssyav dwyn kyrch nos en dyrrebvd am penn Kasswallavn. "And after he came to beside the valley that was near Caer Ceint, he saw in that place an army of the men of Rome and their tents (pebyll) and their encampments (lluesty), they having descended upon that valley, since Afarwy ap Lludd had brought them to that place, they sought to rush upon Caswallon without warning."

15th c. (Brut y Brenhinedd line 674) Ac gwedy na chaffey fford arall en e byt, eyllyav a orvc y penn a'e varyf a chymryt telyn en y law ac en ryth eresdyn ac gwareyd dyvot em plyth e llw a'r llvestev, a'r klymev a ganey ar e telyn a dangosynt y vot en telynyavr. "And after he found no other way in the world, he barbered his head and his beard and took a harp in his hand and in the guise of a jester and player he came in the midst of the army and the encampments (lluest ), and the modes he played on the harp showed that he was a harper."

15th c. (Brut y Brenhinedd 180) ar lan yr avon honno y lluestws arthur y nos honno. "on the bank of that river, Arthur camped (lluestu) that night"

We find armies using tents or less-specified "temporary shelters" when on the move and when besieging a fortress. The French-derived romances (and Bredwyt Ronabwy in addition) give us a picture of brightly-colored pavilions made from costly fabrics, decorated with bright, heraldic emblems. The use of pebyll and lluest (or pebyllio and lluestu) in the same passage should not necessarily be taken as indicating a contrast between the two items. The use of such doublets is a very common literary device in Medieval Welsh. We find phrases such as tir a daear "land and earth", bryd a meddwl "mind and thought" often enough to caution against interpreting similar pairs as contrastive.

The next group of citations come from sources one step closer to reality. These include biographies and chronicles written fairly close to the events in question (although the copies we have may be later) and intended to be historical records. The Historia Gruffud vab Kenan is the biography of an early 12th century prince, probably composed (first in Latin) around the middle of that century. While some of the events in the biography may have been modified to fit the writer's political agenda, there is no reason to suppose that everyday details such as the equipment of an army would not be accurate for that period. The Brut y Tywysogion and Brenhinedd y Saesson are historical annals and, again, while they may not be completely reliable for large events (especially in the early sections) there is no reason to believe that the everyday details that are included would have been invented or imaginary -- at least in the context of the time they were written (which isn't always the same as the putative date of the entry). I am not familiar with the Ellis Gruffyth manuscript but have guessed that it falls in this category.

13th c. (Historia Gruffud vab Kenan 22 History of Gruffudd ap Cynan) urth henne e lluestws ac y pebyllyus ... em Mur Castell "because of that, he camped (lluestu) and tented (pebyllio) ... in Mur Castell"

13th c. (Historia Gruffud vab Kenan 15, the History of Gruffudd ap Cynan) lluesteu y dywededigyon vrenhined "encampments (luest) of the aforementioned kings"

13th c. (Historia Gruffud vab Kenan 13 History of Gruffudd ap Cynan) - en e cantref hvnnv y lluestassant wythnos "in that cantref they camped (lluestu ) for a week"

13th c. (Historia Gruffud vab Kenan 1641 29) Gruffudd ... a luestws yn y erbyn ynteu. "Gruffudd ... encamped (lluestu) against him.

14th c. (Brut y Tywysogion 92, a Welsh chronicle) - y kyuodes ... Maredud ac Ywein ... yn anssynhwyrus oc eu pebyll heb gyweiraw eu bydin "Maredudd and Owein arose insensibly(?) from their tents (pebyll) without readying their army"

14th c. (Brut y Tywysogyon Pen 20. 102) ac yno ytynawd ef bebylleu "[A year after that, Henry, king of England, led a mighty host to Chester, in order to subdue Gwynedd.] And there he pitched tents (pebyll)"

14th c. (Brut y Tywysogyon (RB) 134) yna y pebyllawd Ywein yNhal Llwynn Pina. "then Owein tented (pebyllio) at Tal Llwyn Pennant"

14th c. (Brenhinedd y Saesson 166) yna pebyllu a dyuot glaw arnadunt. "then they tented (pebyllu) and rain came on them"

16th c. (Llawysgrif Ellis Gruffyth Mos 158. 35a) gosodassantt twy I pebyll ai lluesdi ynn y man a elwir glasgrug. "they placed their tent (pebyll) or shelter (lluesty) in the place that was called Glasgrug"

Just as in the fictional tales, we find armies using tents (pebyll) and temporary shelters (lluest) while on the move. In the Ellis Gruffyth ms. the item in question is specifically called "a pebyll or lluest".

References to military tents/camps in poetry can also be assumed to reflect contemporary practice, at least when the subject of the poem is "real-life" events and people. The following are taken from a variety of poems with military subjects.

1160 (The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales 155b. 13-14) - Pei byw llary lleissiawn / Ni luestai wyned ym mherfed edeirniawn (Cynddelw) "While Llary Lleission lives, Gwynedd shall not camp (lluestu) in the middle of Edeirnion"

12th c. (The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales 237a. 23-4) Rhys rhos gyffro, Rhag pyrth Penfro yn pebylliaw (Seisyll Bryffwrch). "Rhys Rhos Gyffro, tenting (pebyllio) before the gates of Penfro."

13th c. (The Book of Aneirin I. 14-15, a poem in the Book of Aneirin) - rac pebyll madawc "in front of Madog's tent (pebyll)"

c.1300 (Llawysgrif Hendregadredd 83b. 12) Am hafren am orten wrt luestu (Gwynfardd Brycheiniog). "about the Severn concerning visiting while camping (lluestu )"

14th c. (Poetry in the Red Book of Hergest 1043. 21 a poem from the Red Book of Hergest) lluest gadwallawn "Cadwallon's encampment (lluest)"

14th c. (The Book of Taliesin 77. 15) Pebyllyawnt ar tren atharanhon. "they tented (pebyllio) on <unknown>"

c. 1400 (Poetry in the Red Book of Hergest 1404. 31) Pebyllwys fy llyw yn llu hyfryt praff. "My leader tented (pebyllio) with a great, pleasant army"

One of my favorite places to look for real-life confirmation of events and artifacts described in fiction are the law tracts. It would be ideal to find a passage along the lines of "the poles of a king's tent are worth four-pence and the fabric is worth six-pence". But, alas, no such mentions can be found. We do find the word lluest (temporary-shelter) used in connection with military activities, however this word alone does not specify the nature of the structures involved. In one version of the laws, the parallel section uses the word cestyll (castles) instead of lluesteu (temporary-shelters) suggesting that the activity of the "man with an axe" may be more along the lines of making pallisades rather than cutting tent poles.

c.1200 (Y Llyvyr Du or Weun, Facsimile of the Chirk Codex of the Welsh Laws 30. 5-7, the Chirk Codex of the Welsh laws) ebrenyn adely opob myleyntref dyn amarch abuyall ygueneuthur lluesteu "the king is entitled to have from each villein-town a person and a horse and an axe to make encampments (lluest)"

13th c. (Llyfr Iorwerth 43.12) E brenhyn a dele o pob byleyntref den a march a bueall e wneythur lluest e'r brenhyn, ac vynteu a deleant bot ar e cost ef. "The king is entitled to have from each villein-town a person and a horse and an axe to make an encampment (lluest) for the king, and they are entitled to be at his expense."

13th c. (Llyfr Iorwerth 93.22) E brenhyn a dele o pob byleyntref gur a buyall y wneythur lluesteu ydau en e lluyd. "The king is entitled to have from each villein-town a man and an axe to make encampments (lluest) for him when on campaign."

14th c. (Llyfr Blegywryd 47.15 - for contrast) Y gan y tayogeu y keiff y brenhin pynueirch yn y luyd, ac o pob tayawctref y keiff gwr a march a bwell y wneuthur y gestyll, ac ar treul y brenhin y bydant. "From the villeins the king gets packhorses for his campaign, and from each villein-town he gets a man and a horse and an axe to make his castles (fortifications?), and they will be at the expense of the king."

13th c. (Llyfr Colan 40, Llyfr Colan - one of the law tracts) E brennyn a dyly o pob tayauctref ban el y lluyd gur a buyall y lluestu ydau. "The king is entitled to have from each villein-town, when he would go to battle, a man with an axe to make camp (lluestu) for him"

Non-Military Contexts

Tents are commonly found in medieval fiction in non-military contexts as well. A very common motif in the French-derived Arthurian romances is of the hero riding along and coming across a tent pitched in the middle of nowhere, often inhabited by a lady, and often belonging to a man with whom the hero subsequently jousts. "Peaceful" jousts (as contrasted with "wars") are another context in which tents appear, being used for changing armor and clothes and for sleeping in during multi-day events. These pavilions are well furnished with tables, chairs, delicious food, and even windows. A very different context is found in the native tale of Branwen, where the reason given for using a tent as a "great hall" when hosting foreign visitors is that the host (Bran) was so large that he could not fit into a house. It is possible that originally there was some sort of supernatural prohibition at work rather than a simple size constraint, but for our purposes the actual size dynamics of tents versus permanent halls are less important than the concept that ordinary peace-time entertaining could be done in a tent.

c. 1400 (Ystoryaeu Seint Greal i. 66) Y mae yma y pebyll teckaf o'r a weleist di eirioet. Ac os mynny di, mi a baraf y dynnv allan ual y gallom eisted yndaw rac gwres yr heul. "Here is the fairest tent (pebyll) that you have ever seen. And if you wish, I will arrange to spread it out so that we can sit in it against the opression of the sun"

14th c. (WBM Branwen 40. 34-5) Nyt ymywn ty ydoydynt namyn ymywn palleu "They were not within a house, but within tents (pall)." [The reason given is that Bran was so large he could not be contained within a house.]

14th c. (WBM Branwen 44. 13-16) achyweiraw y pebyllau ar palleu awnaethant udunt ar ureint kyweirdeb yneuad "and they prepared the pavillions (pebyll) and the tents (pall) for them in the manner of preparing a hall." [See the previous for the context of using tents.]

14th c. (Owein 500) Ac ny bu hir yr ymwan; Kei a vyrywyt. Ac yna pebyllyaw a oric y marchawc a phebyllyaw a oruc Arthur a'e lu y nos honno. A phan gyfodant y bore trannoeth y vynyd yd oed arwyd ymwan ar waew y marchawc. "And not long was the jousting ere Cei was thrown. And then the knight pitched his tent, and Arthur and his host pitched their tents that night. And next day when they arose in the morning there was the signal for combat upon the knight's lance."

14th c. (Owein 547) A'r nos honno yd aeth pawb y eu pebylleu. "[after the jousting] And that night all went to their tents."

14th c. (WBM Peredur col.120) Ac yn y llanerch y gwelei pebyll. Ac yn rith eglwys ef a gant y pater wrth y pebyll. A pharth ar pebyll y daw.>  A drws y pebyll a oed yn agoret.>  A chadeir eur yn agos yr drws.>  A morwyn wineu telediw yn eisted yn y gadeir a ractal eureit am y thal.>  A mein damllywychedic yn y ractal.>  A modrwy eur vras ar y llaw. "and in the clearing he could see a pavilion, and taking it to be a church he recited his pater to the pavilion. And he came towards the pavilion. And the doorway of the pavilion was open, and a chair of gold near the doorway, and a handsome auburn-haired maiden sitting in the chair, and a frontlet of gold about her forehead, and sparkling stones in the frontlet, and a thick gold ring on her hand."

14th c. (WBM Peredur col.120) A disgynnu a oruc peredur.>  A dyuot ymywn.>  Llawen uu y vorwyn wrthaw a chyfarch gwell idaw a wnaeth.>  Ac ar tal y pebyll y gwelei bwrd.>  Adwy gostrel yn llawn owin.>  A dwy torth o vara can a golwython o gic mel voch. "And Peredur dismounted and came inside.>  The maiden made him welcome and greeted him, and at the end of the pavilion he could see a table and two flagons full of wine, and two loaves of white bread, and chops of the flesh of sucking pigs."

14th c. (WBM Peredur col.144) a myet a wnaeth Pedur a Gwalchmei hyt yn lluest walchmei y diot eu harueu.>  A chymryt a wnaeth Pedur vn ryw wisc a oed y walchmei.>  A mynet awnaethant lla ynllaw ynyd oed Arthr. "[they] went to Gwalchmei's tent to take off their armour.>  And Peredur took just such a garment as was on Gwalchmei, and they went hand in hand to where Arthur was,"

14th c. (WBM Peredur col.162) Ac ef a welei bebyll ym plith y pebylleu ereill teccaf or a welsei eiroet.>  A morwyn tec a welei yn ystynnu y phen trwy ffenestyr ar y pebyll. "[he goes to a tournament] And he could see a pavilion amongst the other pavilions, the fairest he had ever seen.>  And he could see a fair maiden craning her head through a window of the pavilion."

14th c. (WBM Peredur col. 164) A phan deuth yr pebyll nyt oed gyfeir ar y pebyll a uei waeth y gyweirdeb noe gilyd. kany wydynt wy py le yd eistedei ef. "[at the tournament] and when he came to the pavilion there was no part of the pavilion which was in poorer state than the rest, for they knew not where he would sit."

14th c. (WBM Gereint col.449) A llanerch a welei yny berllan a febyll o bali pengoch a welei yny llannerch. a drws y pebyll a welei yn agored. Ac yuallen a oed yghyueir drws y pebyll. Ac ar yscwr or auallen y doed corn canu mawr. A diskynnu a oruc ynteu yna a dyuot yr pebyll y mywn. Ac nyd oed yny pebyll namyn un uorwyn yn eiste y mywn cadeir eureit. Achadeir arall gyuerbyn a hi yn waac. "[Gereint encounters some people in an enchanted mist] and he could see a clearing in the orchard, and a pavilion of brocaded silk with a red canopy he could see in the clearing, and the entrance of the pavilion he could see open. And there was an apple tree over against the entrance of the pavilion, and on a branch of the apple tree was a big hunting-horn; and with that he dismounted and came inside the pavilion. And there was no one inside the pavilion save a solitary maiden sitting in a golden chair, and another chair over against her, empty."

There are several references from 16th century chronicles to royal pavilions, however only the chronicler is Welsh, not the participants. What is relevant is that the same terminology (lluestu, pebyll) is being used for artifacts whose nature we can determine from other sources. (From the context, it's possible that at least some of the references are to the Field of the Cloth of Gold.) There is no guarantee, however, that the item that a Welsh army might use and call a pebyll would necessarily bear anthing more than a functional resemblence to the English royal pavilion so called here. (Recall that the Tibetan tents were called by the same word and we can probably assume that it was due to the function rather than appearance.) I don't have the context for the last citation of this group and it is possible that it belongs in the "fiction" category instead.

16th c. (Llawysgrif Ellis Gruffyth Mos 158, 244b) gosodasant twy ddau Bauiliwn o liw gwyrdd y dail i seuyll ar y maes ... A char bron y ddau bauiliwns yma I daruoedd gossod prenn hir. "they placed two pavillions (pafiliwn) of the color of green leaves to stand on the field ... And in front of these two pavillions (pafiliwn) they had placed a tall tree"

16th c. (Llawysgrif Ellis Gruffyth Mos 158, 169b) Ir ydoedd y brenin ynn lluesdu ac ynn aros ynni Bebyll or tu gorllewin I galeis. "The king was camping (lluestu) and waiting for us in a tent (pebyll) on the western side of Calais."

16th c. (Llawysgrif Ellis Gruffyth 254a) gosod pauiliwn brenin ffraink ac or tu arall I gossoded pauiliwn brenin lloygyr. "placing the pavillion (pafiliwn) of the French king and on the other side was placed the English king's pavillion (pafiliwn )"

16th c. (Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies xviii. 324) tent ne bauiliwn kywaethog o vrethynn aur a sidan. "a rich tent (tent) or pavillion (pafiliwn) of cloth of gold and silk"

There are a number of passing references in poetry and other non-fictional sources to non-martial tents, but in general there is not enough context for them to be truly useful beyond confirming them as existing artifacts. One exception is the passage I translate as "a trestle [i.e. table] before me and a white sheet on it, and a tent above it against the falling of specks from the heavens", which seems to refer to the use of a sunshade-type tent used to protect an al fresco meal.

1201 (Collections Historical & Archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire li. 173) [thence straight to] Red bebellua [on] clawedauc [drll.]. This appears to be some sort of boundary description involing a landmark called Red bebellua "ford of the tent-site (pebyllfa)".

c.1300 (Llawysgrif Hendregadredd 48a. 20) Gordawc pall eurawc pell nas gwelwyf (Cynddelw). "a lively golden pall so far away I could not see it"

c.1300 (Llawysgrif Hendregadredd>  54b, 17) y bebyll y byll y ball coch (Cynddelw). "the tent (pebyll) the mantle the red 'pall' (pall)" [The available context doesn't let us distinguish whether this is pall/tent or pall/cloak.]

c.1300 (Llawysgrif Hendregadredd 120b. 16-17) Eil ywr llall or pall pell uy min y wrthi y am orthorch eurin (Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd). "Second is the one from the far tent (pall), my lip against her, about a golden collar"

1300-25 (Cylchgrawn Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru vi. 174) Eua a dechreavd kerdet ... yno y gwnaeth idi luest. "Eve began to walk ... there she made for herself a shelter (lluest)." [Or possibly "he made for her". Without the full context there is no way to know.]

15th c. (Y Cymmrodor xxiii. 226) lluest o dderw a llvain / llemhysten fantellwen fain [Robin Ddu i long]. "an encampment (lluest) of oak and <unknown>, a slim white-mantled sparrowhawk" [It is tempting to interpret llvain as a spelling variant of lliain, thus reading "an encampment of oak and linen", but I can find no evidence that this would be reasonable.]

16th c. (Yr Areithiau Pros 7) trestel gar vy mron a lliain gwyn arno, a phebyll uwch i benn rhac ssyrthio brychau or nenn. "a trestle before me and a white sheet on it, and a tent (pebyll) above it against the falling of specks from the heavens"

16th c. (W. Salesbury: Llysieulyfr Meddyginiaethol 193) gwden y coed ... yr haf y gwasanetha hi yn lluest ne y[n] arber. "Great Bindweed ... in the summer it serves as a shelter (lluest ) or arbor"

1590 (Collections Historical & Archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire xxvi. 25) two Deryhouses and all the lands, etc., belonging ... commonly known by the name of Lyestith-yn [sic] y dole gwinnon. [I.e., lluesty appears in place names.]

?16th c. (Ll yng nghasgliad Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru 1560, 550) lluest, hafotty ['geirie ... sathredig yn Sir Drefaldwyn']. [I.e., lluest is an alternate term for a summer dwelling.]

In a strange way, it is the use of "tent" words metaphorically, referring to other things entirely, that best establishes the tent as an everyday object that would be familiar to the general populace.

14th c. (OBWV 91) Trwst y bobl tros dy bebyll [Gruffudd ab Adda i'r fedwen yn bawl haf]. "The noise of the people over your tent (pebyll )" [about a birch tree]

14th c. (Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym 158) Pebyll uwch didywyll dČl [i'r het fedw]. "a tent (pebyll) over your dark brow" [about a hat]

14th c. (Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym 187) Pan ddêl ar ôl rhyfel rhyw, Pill doldir, y pall deildew. "When comes, after frost's battle, the fastness of meadowland, the pall of thick leaves"

15th c. (Cywyddau Iolo Goch ac Eraill 198) Yn drwsa dail da dien, Yn dywyll bebyll uwch ben [Llywelyn ab y Moel i Goed y Graig Lwyd]. "a bunch of good, pleasant leaves as a dark tent (pebyll) overhead" [about a forest]

15th c. (OBWV 112) Pebyll Naf o'r ffurfafen, Brethyn aur, brith yw ei nen [i'r llwyn banadl]. "The Lord's tent (pebyll) from the heavens, cloth of gold, its sky is speckled" [about a broom thicket]

16th c. (Pen 76, 97) pebyll melwas o draserch [i wallt gwraig weddw]. "the tent (pebyll) of Melwas' infatuation" [about a widow's hair -- Melwas was supposed to have kidnapped Gwenhwyfar because of his passion for her]

16th c. (A Welsh Leech Book 4) Rhag .. [c]aethiwed ymhebyll y galon. "enslaved in the tent (pebyll) of the heart"


So what can we know about tents in medieval Wales? We know that medieval Welsh armies used items that they called by the same word they used for identifiable fabric tents. We know that medieval Welsh armies also used items that the called by the same word they used for temporary summer dwellings which might be something other than a fabric tent. We know that the majority of non-fictional references to tents are to military uses, but that fictional uses included housing while travelling or at tournaments (the French-derived romances), serving as a great hall, and as protection against the sun, the weather, or "specks falling from the heavens". And we know that tents would be familiar enough to the average person that they could be used metaphorically to describe other objects.

We know that fictional tents could be made of costly fabrics and be furnished with the same sorts of ojects as might be found in a more permanent chamber. They would be of bright colors, often with a different-colored roof and perhaps with representations of animals on them.

What we don't know, from this information, is what shape the tents would take. How would they be supported? Would special fabric be used or would they be made of fabric designed for other purposes? Would poles by cut on site or carried along? Or would living trees be bent and tied and covered in some fashion? At this point, the construction of native Welsh tents can be nothing but speculation. And in so far as the SCA re-creates actual medieval activities, no one can claim to have an "authentic medieval Welsh tent" without access to sources other than those I have found.

But in so far as the SCA re-creates the world of the medieval chivalric romances, then we have more useful material. We have evidence that the medieval Welsh not only knew about this romantic tradition (via the adaptations of French material) but participated in creating it themselves (see especially the "Dream of Rhonabwy"). We have visual representations of tents in the original French manuscripts and we have descriptions in the native Welsh tales of their colorful interpretations of these.

In addition, I have run across one early 15th century reference that gives us good, practical primary evidence for what one Welsh nobleman was using as his military tents. It comes from the Chronicle of Adam of Usk who was writing about contemporary events.

Item, isto autumpno, Oweynus de Glendor, cum tota Northewalia, Cardikan, et Poysia sibi adherentibus, Anglicos in illis partibus habitantes, cum eorum villis et presertim vila de Pola, ferro et flamma multum infestabat. ... Dictus tamen Oenus non modicum Anglicis nocuit, plures eorum interimendo, arma, equos, et tentoria primogeniti regis et principis Walie ac aliorum dominorum hostiliter auferendo, et eadem pro usu ad montana sua et tutamina de Snowdon secum transferendo.

"In this autumn [1401], Owen Glendower, all North Wales and Cardigan and Powis siding with him, sorely harried with fire and sword the English who dwelt in those parts, and their towns, and specially the town of Pool ... Yet did the same Owen do no small hurt to the English, slaying many of them, and carrying off the arms, horses, and tents of the king's eldest son, the prince of Wales, and of other lords, which he bare away for his own behoof to the mountain fastnesses of Snowdon."

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