Thomas Stephens (historian)

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Thomas Stephens
Thomas Stephens (1821-1875).jpg
Born(1821-04-21)21 April 1821
Pont Nedd Fechan, Glamorganshire, Wales
Died4 January 1875(1875-01-04) (aged 53)
Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, Wales
Occupation Chemist and druggist
Known forWelsh historical literature, rigorous critical methods, social reform
Notable work
The Literature of the Kymry (1849,1876)

Madoc: An Essay on the Discovery of America by Madoc ap Owen Gwynedd in the Twelfth Century (1858,1893)


Orgraff yr Iaith Gymraeg (1859) (an orthography of Welsh)

Thomas Stephens (Bardic names: Casnodyn, Gwrnerth, Caradawg) (21 April 1821 – 4 January 1875) was a Welsh historian, literary critic, and social reformer. His works include The Literature of the Kymry (1849,1876), Madoc: An Essay on the Discovery of America by Madoc ap Owen Gwynedd in the Twelfth Century (1858,1893), and Orgraff yr Iaith Gymraeg (1859) (an orthography of Welsh), as well as a number of prize-winning essays presented at eisteddfodau between 1840 and 1858. He was the first Welsh historian and literary critic to employ rigorous scientific methods, and is considered to have done more to raise the standards of the National Eisteddfod than any other Welshman of his time. Stephens also figured prominently in efforts to implement social, educational and sanitary reforms both locally in Merthyr Tydfil and more broadly throughout Wales.


Thomas Stephens was born on 21 April 1821 at Pont Nedd Fechan, Glamorganshire, Wales, the son of a boot-maker. In 1835 he was apprenticed as a chemist and druggist in Merthyr Tydfil and took over the business in 1841. He was also appointed manager of the Merthyr Express newspaper in 1864. [1] [2] [3]

Stephens suffered a series of strokes from 1868. He died on 4 January 1875 in Merthy Tydfil and was buried at Cefncoedycymmer cemetery. [2] [4]


Stephens began submitting prize-winning essays to eisteddfodau from 1840. His bardic names were Casnodyn, Gwrnerth, and Caradawg. Stephens' book, The Literature of the Kymry (1849, 2nd ed. 1876), [5] was based on his essay "The Literature of Wales during the Twelfth and Succeeding Centuries" which won the Prince of Wales Prize at the 1848 eisteddfod held in Abergavenny. In this work, Stephens pioneered the use of rigorous methods of literary criticism in the study of medieval Welsh literature. [1] [2] [6] [7]

Stephens' 1858 eisteddfod essay Madoc: An Essay on the Discovery of America by Madoc ap Owen Gwynedd in the Twelfth Century, which demolished Welsh claims of the discovery of the Americas by Madoc, was acknowledged as the outstanding submission. However, although convincing, the essay was not awarded the prize due to the adjudicators' reluctance to discard the old claims. Disgusted, Stephens refused to compete in future eisteddfod competitions. [1] [2]

Other works include Orgraff yr Iaith Gymraeg (1859) (an orthography of the Welsh language), articles for Archaeologia Cambrensis and the South Wales newspapers and Welsh periodicals, essays on the life and works of the bard Aneurin, and an English translation of Y Gododdin. [1] [2]

The rigorous methods of literary criticism applied in his works often made Stephens unpopular with the less discriminating enthusiasts for the glory of Wales, but he earned the respect of serious scholars. [1] [2] [6]

Stephens' manuscripts and letters are included in the National Library of Wales General Manuscript Collection. [8] [9] [10]

Bust of Thomas Stephens, c. 1871 by Joseph Edwards; presented to Stephens as a testimonial after 25 years as honorary secretary of the Merthyr Library Thomas Stephens (1821-1875) bust.jpg
Bust of Thomas Stephens, c.1871 by Joseph Edwards; presented to Stephens as a testimonial after 25 years as honorary secretary of the Merthyr Library

Social reforms

With the encouragement and friendship of Lord Aberdare, Sir Josiah John Guest, and Lady Charlotte Guest, Stephens was a prominent promoter of welfare, education and sanitary schemes in Merthyr Tydfil and organised relief for families of victims of coal mine explosions. He was appointed High Constable of Merthyr in 1858. [1] [2]


Literary critic Meic Stephens states that Stephens "is generally considered to have been the first Welsh literary critic to adopt a scientific method and to have done more, as an adjudicator, to raise the standards of the National Eisteddfod and to win for it the confidence of scholars, than any other Welshman of his time". [1] :563 However, he also notes that author Emyr Humphreys presents a "less favourable view" in his 1983 work The Taliesin Tradition. [11]

Stephens' modern biographer Marion Löffler describes his "main contributions to the shaping of Wales" in terms of his work to transform Merthyr's social organisation and modernise Welsh culture, and "his pioneering works of scholarship". [2]


(Sources for works: Dictionary of Welsh Biography, [2] National Library of Wales, [8] Stephens, [1] NLW Welsh newspapers [12] )

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Stephens, Meic, ed. (1986). Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 562–563. ISBN   0-19-211586-3.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Löffler, Marion (7 August 2017). "Stephens, Thomas (Casnodyn, Gwrnerth, Caradawg; 1821–1875), Historian and Social Reformer". The National Library of Wales: Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  3. "Mr Thos. Stephens. Distinguished Welsh Litterateur. Proposed Memorial". The Cardiff Times. 28 March 1908. p. 5. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  4. "Deaths". The Merthyr Telegraph. 8 January 1875. p. 3. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  5. Stephens, Thomas (1876). Evans, Sylvan (ed.). The Literature of the Kymry (2nd ed.). London: Longmans, Green, & Co.
  6. 1 2 Thomas, Daniel Lleufer (n.d.). "Stephens, Thomas (DNB00): Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, Volume 54". Wikisource. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  7. 1 2 Williams, B. T. (1876). The Life of Thomas Stephens. pp. xix–xlviii, in Stephens, Thomas (1876). Evans, Sylvan (ed.). The Literature of the Kymry (2nd ed.). London: Longmans, Green, & Co.
  8. 1 2 "Fonds GB 0210 MSTOMSTP – Thomas Stephens Manuscripts". National Library of Wales. n.d. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  9. Davies, W. LL. (1939). "The Thomas Stephens Manuscripts". National Library of Wales Journal. 1 (2): 96. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  10. National Library of Wales (1943). Handlist of Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales, Volume I. Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales.
  11. Humphreys, Emyr (2000) [1983]. The Taliesin Tradition. Bridgend: Seren Books. ISBN   9781854112460. [cited in Stephens (1986)]{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  12. "Welsh Newspapers". Retrieved 19 April 2020.

Further reading

External Sources