Twm Siôn Cati

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Twm Siôn Cati (Welsh form, variously anglicised as Twm Sion Cati, Twm Shon Catti, Twm Shon Catty and so on) is a figure in Welsh folklore, often described as the Welsh Wizard.

Contents

Background

Tales about him vary on details, but he is usually said to have been born in or very near to Tregaron, in or around 1530, his mother being one Cati Jones of Tregaron. His father was supposed to be Siôn ap Dafydd ap Madog ap Hywel Moetheu of Porth-y-ffin, also near Tregaron. He was an illegitimate son whom his mother named William. The Welsh-language equivalent of Tom is Twm. It was also common practice in rural Wales, traditionally a matriarchal society, for children with common names to be nicknamed after their mothers. Thus he became known as Twm Siôn Cati.

He was supposedly a Protestant by faith at a time when Mary I of England, a Catholic monarch, ruled and he had to gain an income as best he could, choosing robbery as his trade as his religion had him marked out as a rebel already and his high status meant that he could rely on any advantage or protection from others. As a young man he fled to Geneva in 1557 to escape the law. After the accession of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, he was able to obtain a pardon for his thievery, enabling his return to Wales in 1559.

Twm was active in west Wales, with forays into England, in the late sixteenth century. Stories centre on his tricks, with which he outwitted law-abiding people and criminals alike.

The original character is often said to have been based on one Thomas Jones (c. 1530-1609) who, according to the Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, was pardoned for unspecified offences in 1559, wrote poetry, was a steward who "often had recourse to the law", and married the widow of Thomas Rhys Williams of Ystrad-ffin. It seems unlikely, however, that all the tales told of Twm Siôn Cati in later times can be attributed to this one man. The Oxford Companion further asserts "he has been confused with others of the same name who were raiders and highwaymen in the district of Tregaron" and lists another eleven Thomas Joneses in the field of literature alone.

Although the original tales were passed on orally, there were later a number of written stories of Twm Siôn Cati. An English-language pamphlet, Tomshone Catty's Tricks, was printed in 1763. William Frederick Deacon wrote two books involving him in the 1820s. In 1828, T J Llewelyn Pritchard's The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shon Catti, descriptive of Life in Wales was published. Enlarged (and somewhat altered) editions of this followed. An eight-page pamphlet, Y Digrifwr, was published in 1844, its subtitle admirably describing its contents ("The jokester: a collection of feats and tricks of Thomas Jones of Tregaron, Cardiganshire, he who is generally known under the name Twm Sion Catti"). George Borrow, walking through Wild Wales in 1854, heard several tales about Twm from a fellow-walker on the way to Tregaron and later read what was probably Pritchard's book.

In the tale told by Llewelyn Pritchard, Twm is the illegitimate son of Cati Jones following attentions from John Wynn of Gwydir (John "Wynn" ap Maredudd); the Welsh forms of the names of his parents became incorporated into his name. He grows up in Tregaron and after a spell working for a farmer, he works for a local landowner. He is trusted to take a large sum of the squire's money to England. The journey is fraught with encounters with highwaymen, footpads, and villains, all of whom Twm is able to best. Twm woos and eventually marries the Lady of Ystrad-ffin and subsequently becomes a magistrate and mayor of Brecon.

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