(Rhyfelgyrch Gwyr Harlech)
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|The Fireside Book of Favorite American Folk Songs
states: In 1486 the Earl of Pembroke was sent by Edward IV to storm Harlech
Castle, a Welsh stronghold. This march, written years later to commenorate
that battle, is known almost as well in America as in Wales.
The melody March of the Men of Harlech is said to be an "old Welsh air." There are several sets of lyrics to the melody, some printed on broadsides in the 19th century. One of these can be found at the Broadside Ballads Online. These words were written by Sir Joseph Barnby (1837-1896), a famous English composer.*
According to Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales "This famous march celebrates the defiance of the Welsh forces under Dafydd ap Jevan in defending Harlech Castle against the English in 1468." They were, however, forced to surrender to Yorkist forces.
(The different dates from sources are NOT typos - the correct date is 1468.)
Harlech Castle was prominent in Welsh history several times. Owen Glendower captured it and held a parliament there in the early 15th century. Queen Margaret took refuge there in 1460, when her husband, Henry VI, was captured. In 1647, during the English Civil War, Harlech Castle was the last Welsh fortress surrendered to the Parliamentary armies.
There is another set of lyrics at Men of Harlech (2).
Men of Harlech! In the Hollow,
Do ye hear like rushing billow
Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle's distant sound?
Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen,
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen,
Be they knights or hinds or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground!
Loose the folds asunder,
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! 'tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us
Honor's self now proudly heads us,
Freedom, God and Right!
Rocky Steeps and passes narrow,
Flash with spear and flight of arrow
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven!
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And mercy shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Stike for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and Right!
Lyrics in Welsh
|First version from|
Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs
*The World's Best Music, Volume IV
See Bibliography for full information.