Around 200 Welsh poems by around 80 individual women survive from the early modern period, both in manuscript and print. While this may sound impressive, it represents the thin end of the wedge, and is a pattern replicated throughout early modern Europe, the extant poems represent only a small percentage of what was composed by women poets in early modern Wales.
The geographical distribution of the women poets is also interesting: the majority belong to the counties of North Wales – to Caernarvonshire, Meirionethshire, Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire – where cynghanedd and the twenty-four strict metres were preserved by provincial poets long after the professional poetic guild had ceased to exist. Poets from South Wales are rare until the Methodist revival took hold: ahandful of female hymnists published their work at the end of the eighteenth century.
The poems anthologized in Beirdd Ceridwen (2005) include gender specific responses to sexuality, love, marriage, childbearing and childrearing, friendship, and grief for children and loved ones. They are voiced by mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, lovers, friends and neighbours. But the poems are also of their time and place and the women poets share the concerns of their male peers in poems on religion, death, the world of nature and Crown Loyalism, even if their responses are gendered. Contemporary events are also captured, including highly personal responses to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the cultural revival in eighteenth-century Wales, the Methodist revival, and the American War of Independence.
In a pattern that is replicated in early modern Britain and Europe, a considerable number of the women were privileged. This is particularly true of the strict-metre poets at the beginning of the early modern period, and indicates, perhaps, that poetry was part and parcel of their social and cultural inheritance.