bard, in Wales, term originally used to refer to the order of minstrel-poets who composed and recited the poems that celebrated the feats of Celtic chieftains and warriors. The term bard in present-day usage has become synonymous with poet, particularly a revered poet.

For other meanings of the word, see Bard (disambiguation).
A bard was one of a caste of poets and scholars of medieval and early modern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.

The term acquired generic meanings of an epic author/singer/narrator (comparable with the terms in other cultures: minstrel, skald, rhapsode, udgatar, griot, ashik, ozan, dengbej) or any poets, especially famous ones. For example, William Shakespeare is known as The Bard.


The word is a loanword from descendant languages of Proto-Celtic *bardos, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *gwerh2: "to raise the voice; praise". The first recorded example is in 1449 from the Scottish Gaelic language into Lowland Scots, denoting an itinerant musician, usually with a contemptuous connotation. The word subsequently entered the English language via Scottish English.

Secondly, in medieval Gaelic and Welsh society, a bard (Scottish and Irish Gaelic) or bardd (Welsh) was a professional poet, employed to compose eulogies for his lord (see planxty). If the employer failed to pay the proper amount, the bard would then compose a satire. (c. f. fili, fáith). In other European societies, the same function was fulfilled by skalds, rhapsodes, minstrels and scops, among others.

Bards (who are not the same as the 'Filidh' or 'Fili') were those who sang the songs recalling the tribal warriors' deeds of bravery as well as the genealogies and family histories of the ruling strata among Celtic societies. The pre-Christian Celtic peoples recorded no written histories; however, Celtic peoples did maintain an intricate oral history committed to memory and transmitted by bards and filid. Bards facilitated the memorization of such materials by the use of poetic meter and rhyme.

During the era of Romanticism, when knowledge of Celtic culture was overlaid by legends and fictions, the word was reintroduced into the West Germanic languages, this time directly into the English language, in the sense of 'lyric poet', idealised by writers such as the Scottish romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott. The word was taken from Latin bardus, Greek bardos, in turn loanwords from the Gaulish language, describing a class of Celtic priest (c. f. druid, vates). From this romantic use came the epitheton The Bard applied to William Shakespeare and Robert Burns.

Irish bards

Irish bards formed a professional hereditary caste of highly trained, learned poets. The bards were steeped in the history and traditions of clan and country, as well as in the technical requirements of a verse technique that was syllabic and used assonance, half rhyme and alliteration, among other conventions. As officials of the court of king or chieftain, they performed a number of official roles. They were chroniclers and satirists whose job it was to praise their employers and damn those who crossed them. It was believed that a well-aimed bardic satire, glam dicenn, could raise boils on the face of its target.

However, it should also be noted that in medieval Ireland Bards were one of two distinct groups of poets, the other being the fili. According to the Early Irish law text on poets, Uraicecht Becc, bards were a lesser class of poets. Allegedly they did not have either sufficient training or lineage qualifications. As should they were said to not be eligible for higher poetic roles as described above. However, it has also been argued that the distinction between filid (pl. of fili) and bards was a creation of Christian Ireland, and that the filid are were more associated with the church. However, in Gaelic portions of Ireland after the Norman Conquest the Bards became the main carriers of poetic tradition.

The bardic schools were extinct by the mid 17th century in Ireland and by the early 18th century in Scotland.


In 18th and 19th century Romanticism, 'The Bard' became attached as a title to various poets,

In modern Wales the Gorsedd of Bards (Welsh: Gorsedd y Beirdd) is a society whose honorary membership is extended to those who have done great things for Wales.

Bards make up one of the three grades of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, a Neo-druidic order based in England.

In the 20th century, the word lost much of its original connotation of Celtic revivalism or Romanticism, and could refer to any professional poet or singer, sometimes in a mildly ironic tone. In the Soviet Union, singers who were outside the establishment were called bards from the 1960s.

The 1960s also saw the birth of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. As the medieval bard was the repository of histories, stories, legends, songs of his/her people, SCAdian bards seek to recreate this profession in modern times by emulating those performance arts within the framework of the SCA. Many SCAdian bards do painstaking research and perform pieces in a historically accurate style, others take those songs/stories and parody them with comic intent, while others create original works in a medieval style. Joe Bethancourt (Ioseph of Locksley), Leslie Fish (Leslie the Bard) and Benjamin The Bard are good examples of all three approaches taken over the past 50 years.

Examples of bards

Notable bards of Britain

  • Taliesin, a 6th century Welsh bard who wrote the Book of Taliesin.
  • Aneirin, a late 6th century Brythonic poet who wrote the Book of Aneirin.
  • Dafydd ap Gwilym, a 14th century Welsh poet, generally regarded as the greatest Welsh poet of all time.
  • Iolo Morganwg, an 18th century Welsh rogue and bard, famous for his forgeries and lies.
  • Iolo Goch a 14th century Welsh poet and bard, famous for several surviving works, especially 'The Labourer'.

Fictional bards of Britain

See also


External links

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