The Story of Gelert

Llewellyn, prince of Wales, is said to have loved the chase above all else but always took with him his Irish wolf- dog, Gelert. The prince had many hounds, but Gelert was his favourite and was always there for the morning hunt. However, one day Gelert did not turn up and eventually Llewellyn went off with his followers and the hounds but could not enjoy his day and in the end hurried back home to find out what had happened to Gelert. He was met by Gelert, giving his usual greeting, but Llewellyn was horrified to find that Gelert was covered in blood. Hurrying into the castle, he went to see his infant son but found the cradle overturned and empty, with no sign of the child, but with blood everywhere.

Concluding that Gelert must have killed and eaten the baby, Llewellyn drew his sword and plunged it into the hound. The stricken Gelert gave a long-drawn out howl as he died and this cry was followed by a child's wail. Llewellyn searched for the source of this sound and found his child under a pile of bedding from the cradle, completely unharmed, and close by was the body of a gaunt wolf, which had obviously been slain by Gelert after a bloody battle.

Horrified at what he had done, and stricken by remorse, Llewellyn had the body of Gelert buried with due pomp and the place was afterwards known as Bedd Gelert (the grave of Gelert), as was the town that grew up near to it.

Gelert's grave
Gelert's grave

It was said that Prince John (later King John) of England had made a gift of a hound to Llewellyn in 1210 and that this was Gelert. The Hon. W.R. Spencer wrote a poem about him, the first part of which is thus:

The flower of all his race
So true, so brave - a lamb at home,
A lion in the chase.
'Twas only at Llewellyn's board the faithful Gelert fed;
He watched, he served, he cheered his lord
And sentinelled his bed.
In sooth he was a peerless hound,
The gift of Royal John.0

Did Gelert ever exist? And, if he did, did his battle with the wolf and subsequent demise actually occur? In a guide-book, published in Portmadoc in 1899 and entitled Bedd Gelert: Its Facts, Fairies and Folklore, the author Mr. D.E. Jenkins tells another story, founded on local research. It is that in the year 1793, a certain David Pritchard came north from South Wales to Bedd Gelert to take over the Royal Goat Hotel. As reported in Eric Parker's book, Best of Dogs: "He needed customers; how should he attract them? The name, decided Pritchard, the name of the place, the "grave of Gelert", shall bring them to my inn. Was there not a Welsh proverb, "I repent as much as the man who slew his greyhound"? Then here shall the greyhound have been slain, and his name shall be Gelert. All that was necessary was help from the parish clerk, and the placing of a gravestone on a suitable spot; so the stone was placed and the story told, among others to William Robert Spencer, who made a set of verses about it, and so came the name into the speech and hearsay of local tourists in Wales, from the nineteenth century to this day. And William Robert Spencer? He was a friend of Pitt, Fox, and Sheridan, admired for his wit and graces of society - a Georgian poet whose biography ends with the sad statement: "died in poverty in Paris, 1834". Here, in Beth Gelert, or The Grave of the Greyhound, is the story as he tells it:


The spearmen heard the bugle sound,
And cheerly smiled the morn;
And many a brach, and many a hound,
Obeyed Llewelyn's horn.

And still he blew a louder blast,
And gave a lustier cheer;
"Come Gelert, come, wer't never last
Llewelyn's horn to hear.

"Oh where does faithful Gelert roam,
The flower of all his race;
So true, so brave, a lamb at home,
A lion in the chase?"

But no Gelert answers the horn. Llewelyn rides home:

 That day Llewelyn little lov'd
The chace of hart and hare;
And scant and small the booty prov'd,
For Gelert was not there.

Unpleas'd Llewelyn homeward hied,
When near the portal seat,
His truant Gelert he espied,
Bounding his Lord to greet.

But when he gain'd his castle door,
Aghast the chieftain stood;
The hound all o'er was smear'd with gore,
His lips, his fangs, ran blood.

Llewelyn gaz'd with fierce surprise;
Unus'd such looks to meet,
His fav'rite check'd his joyful guise,
And crouch'd and lick'd his feet.

Llewelyn looks for his child, finds the bed overturned and empty:

 "Hell-hound! my child by thee devour'd!"
The frantic father cried;
And to the hilt his vengeful sword
He plung'd in Gelert's side.

His suppliant looks, as prone he fell,
No pity could impart;
But still his Gelert's dying yell
Pass'd heavy o'er his heart.

Arous'd by Gelert's dying yell,
Some slumberer wakened nigh:-
What words the parent's joy could tell
To hear his infant's cry!

Conceal'd beneath a tumbled heap
His harried search had miss'd,
All glowing from his rosy sleep,
The cherub boy he kiss'd.

Nor scath had he, nor harm, nor dread,
But, the same couch beneath,
Lay a gaunt wolf, all torn and dead,
Tremendous still in death.

Ah, what was then Llewelyn's pain!
For now the truth was clear:
His gallant hound the wolf had slain
To save Llewelyn's heir.

Vain, vain, was all Llewelyn's woe:
"Best of thy kind, adieu!
The frantic blow that laid thee low,
This heart shall ever rue."

Those are the verses, written at Dolymelynllyn, August 11th, 1800 - all founded on an innkeeper's invention."

 Inn sign at Beddgelert
 The Inn sign at Beddgelert

Eric Parker goes on to say that a similar story to that of Gelert is found all over the world about different dogs and, indeed, other animals, and that the whole thing must therefore be myth or a fairy tale. On the other hand, Phyllis Gardner in her book "The Irish Wolfhound" says "The fact that this story, or some variant of it, is a well-known item of folk-lore, does not to my mind preclude the possibility of its being literally true. Even the fact that the bones exhumed from GELERT's alleged grave were those of a quite small dog only seems to prove that the owner of the site of the grave (an innkeeper) wished to attract custom to his inn, and knowing there was a dog's grave there, stated it to be that of GELERT."

No-one has questioned why the place should have been called Beddgelert before the innkeeper hit upon his money-making scheme.

postcard

The postcard is entitled "The Faithful Hound" and was published by Gwynedd Crafts, Beddgelert. The hound pictured was named Sean and sadly died in May, 1989 from osteosarcoma at the age of three.

Gelert by C. Burton Barber

The original of this picture by C. Burton Barber is in Reading Art Gallery

top of page   back to history page  History Page index Site guide   Home page

Updated 12/11/2001