Gruffydd Robert was a native of Caernarfonshire. The date of his birth is not known, but documents preserved in Milan show him to have been born circa 1527 to one Robert and to domina Catherina de Griffis: Catrin ferch Gruffudd, a woman of gentry stock. The intriguing possibility is that these individuals may have been the poet Catrin ferch Gruffudd ap Hywel and her then partner, Sir Robert ap Rhys of Llanddeiniolen, a clergyman. Catrin was an elder relative of Wiliam Cynwal; she was also a staunch recusant, and poems on religious themes are attributed to her. It is certainly the case that during his lifetime, Gruffydd Robert was believed in Milan to be descended from the nobility. He was one of seven children, whose names are not given; it is noted that Morys Clynnog was his uncle. Robert was educated in Oxford; and although it cannot be proven that he was the 'Griffin Roberts Wallicus' who studied at Christ Church College between 1550 and 1555, it was there that Morys Clynnog and Siôn Dafydd Rhys graduated, and an association between Robert and Christ Church cannot be discounted.
In November 1558, while still in minor orders, Gruffydd Robert was appointed archdeacon of Anglesey by archbishop Reginald PoleReginald Pole; however, the death of Queen Mary the month following suggests that Robert's tenure in Anglesey was brief. Refusing to accept the authority of Queen Elizabeth in spiritual matters, he went to mainland Europe around 1560, perhaps in the company of Morys Clynnog. There is evidence that Clynnog was in Flanders, Brussels and Leuven; and as Gruffydd Robert's name appears on the register of students inscribed at the university of Leuven, he may have accompanied his uncle there. By 1563, both men were in Rome. It was there that Gruffydd Robert was ordained priest; together with Morys Clynnog, he was appointed to the chaplaincy of the English Hospice, where he remained until the beginning of 1565. From there Robert went to Milan, where he came to the notice of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo and was chosen by him as one of his ordinary confessors. In 1567, Robert was appointed theologian to the cathedral church; he was made a canon in 1571. It is known that at some point prior to 1571 Robert was awarded a doctorate; however, the circumstances of this are not as yet known.
References are made to Gruffydd Robert and his diocesan responsibilities in Giovanni Pietro Giussano's biography of Carlo Borromeo and in books by Paolo Onofrio Branda and Baldassarre Oltrocchi. He is mentioned in numerous records preserved in the diocesan and state archives of Milan, and in the collection of letters by Carlo Borromeo and his correspondents kept in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. These documents record details of the various duties which Gruffydd Robert undertook. In addition to his work as canon theologian and his pastoral responsibilities, he was chaplain to a convent, a diocesan censor, an overseer of education in the Milanese seminaries, and one of Borromeo's ambassadors. During the plague of 1576-7, Gruffydd Robert met weekly with Ludovico Settala, a collegiate physician, in order to co-ordinate the response of the Church and the medical college to the needs of the citizens of his area of Milan.
In about November 1582, Carlo Borromeo allowed Robert to discontinue his homiletic duties in the cathedral of Milan; this was occasioned by other demands on his time, but also by his pronounced foreign accent when speaking Italian. There is no suggestion in the sources that he suffered from any disability, such as a stroke, as has been suggested. After Borromeo's death in 1584, Gruffydd Robert remained in Milan; a letter from him to Rosier Smyth, sent probably in 1596-7, has been preserved. His diocesan duties continued, and he was in the service of archbishops Gaspare Visconti (1584-95) and Federico Borromeo from 1595 onward. Gruffydd Robert died on 15 May 1598, aged around 71. He is believed to have been buried in the graveyard of the church of Santa Maria Annunciata in Camposanto close by the cathedral; this graveyard now lies beneath the Via Cardinale Carlo Maria Martini.
It is likely that Gruffydd Robert printed a small collection of poetry c. 1560-3. In 1567, the first part of his Grammar, entitled Dosparth Byrr ar y rhan gyntaf i ramadeg cymraeg , was printed in Milan at the press of Vincenzo Girardoni. The Grammar was composed in the form of a dialogue between teacher and pupil, namely 'Gr' (Gruffydd Robert himself) and 'Mo' (Morys Clynnog): the structure of the work may reflect Robert's respect for his uncle. The second part of the Grammar, which discusses the parts of speech, was not published until about 1584; and it may be surmised that the third part (on cynghanedd) and the fourth (on the metres of Welsh poetry) appeared before 1594. Two other small books - one a florilegium of Welsh verse, the other an incomplete translation of Cicero's Cato Maior De Senectute - are usually considered as appendices to the Grammar itself; however, it could be argued that they are works of humanist interest published separately.
Gruffydd Robert was the first to attempt to analyse the Welsh language. The most important fact which emerges is the attempt to make Welsh a 'language of scholarship', a fit instrument for use by anyone who wished to treat all the subjects which received attention from the humanists. And when he shows how the vocabulary of the language can be enriched, he deals with the Latin element in Welsh. His knowledge of the bardic measures was not thorough, yet the sections dealing with cynghanedd and the metres show that he had great gifts as a literary critic. His grammar is one of the most important Welsh works of the Renaissance, and it is also significant in the history of Welsh prose. Saunders Lewis considered that Gruffydd Robert is the first Welsh master, and the greatest, of the distinctive style of the Renaissance, the Ciceronian style.
It was Gruffydd Robert who prepared the Athravaeth Gristnogavl for its publication, also at the press of Vincenzo Girardoni, in 1568. This booklet was a translation by Morys Clynnog of an Italian catechism compiled by a Jesuit, Diego de Ledesma (1519-1575). Y Drych Cristianogawl (1585) was formerly attributed to Gruffydd Robert, but is now recognised to be the work of Robert Gwyn of Penyberth.
Published date: 2019-07-26
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We do not know where he was born, although recent research seems to incline towards proving that he was a Caernarvonshire man. Nor do we know where he was educated; we cannot be certain that he was the ' Griffin Roberts ' who was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, between 1550 and 1555. Nevertheless, he is described as ' Griffin Roberts, clerk, M.A. ', which suggests that he went to either Oxford or Cambridge. In 1558 he was appointed archdeacon of Anglesey, but as queen Mary died about a month afterwards it can be surmised that his stay there was but short. He refused to acknowledge the authority of queen Elizabeth in spiritual matters, and went to the Continent with Morys Clynnog. The latter stayed in Brussels and Louvain, and perhaps Gruffydd Robert did likewise, although one might conclude from what appears at the beginning of his Welsh grammar that he travelled through several countries in Europe. However, both men were chaplains in the English Hospital, Rome, in 1564. There Gruffydd Robert gained the notice of cardinal Carlo Borromeo, and when the cardinal was made archbishop of Milan, Gruffydd Robert went with him, and he was appointed as one of the archbishop's confessors and a divinity canon in the cathedral. There are references to him in the cardinal's biography and details are given in letters written by his friend, Owen Lewis, now in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, of the duties which he performed. About November 1582 Borromeo wanted him to relinquish his position as divinity canon because he could not speak Italian sufficiently fluently. We do not know what happened, but he stayed at Milan, and was there in 1596-7 when he sent a letter to Rosier Smyth. Nor do we know when he died, or where he was buried. His contemporaries spoke of him as ' doctor ' but where or when he received the doctorate is not related.
It is possible that Gruffydd Robert published a small book of poems c. 1560-3. Then, in 1567, appeared the first part of his grammar, Dosparth Byrr ar y rhan gyntaf i ramadeg cymraeg, printed at Milan. The second part, which treats of the parts of speech, did not appear before c. 1584, and it may be surmised that the third part (on the cynganeddion) and the fourth part (on the metres) appeared before 1594. Two other small works, which contain a collection of Welsh poems and the beginning of a translation of Cicero's De Senectute, may be regarded as supplements to the grammar. He was the first to attempt to analyse the Welsh language. The most important fact which emerges is the attempt to make the Welsh a 'language of scholarship,' a fit instrument for use by anyone who wished to treat all the subjects which received attention from the humanists. And when he shows how the vocabulary of the language can be enriched, he deals with the Latin element in Welsh. His knowledge of the bardic measures was not thorough, yet the sections dealing with cynghanedd and the metres show that he had great gifts as a literary critic. His grammar is one of the most important works of the period of the Renaissance. It is also important in the history of Welsh prose. Mr. Saunders Lewis has shown that Gruffydd Robert is the first Welsh master, and the greatest, of the special style of the Revival of Learning, the Ciceronian style.
It was he who published Athravaeth Gristnogavl for Morys Clynnog at Milan in 1568. Y Drych Cristianogawl, 1585, has been attributed to him, and his name appears at the end of the introduction, but there is considerable doubt about this.
Published date: 1959
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