William John Gruffydd
Family, education and early life
In 1894, after elementary schooling at Bethel primary school, he was one of the first students to join the recently opened Caernarvon County School. In 1899, he won a place at Jesus College, Oxford, graduating in English literature.
In 1904 he was appointed Assistant Master at Beaumaris Grammar School, and in 1906 Lecturer in Celtic at University College, Cardiff (now Cardiff University).
In 1909 he married Gwenda Evans, the daughter of a minister of religion from Abercarn. They had one son.
During the First World War he volunteered for service with the Royal Navy : he served from 1915 to 1918 as a naval officer in the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
On being demobilised, he was appointed Professor of Celtic at University College, Cardiff (succeeding Professor Thomas Powel, who retired in 1918), and he held the chair until his retirement in 1946.
Celtic poet and academic
Gruffydd specialised in Celtic culture. He became a schoolteacher and worked in Scarborough and then for two years at Beaumaris Grammar School before taking a post as assistant lecturer in Celtic studies at University College, Cardiff in 1906; from 1918 until 1946 he was Professor of Celtic. He was President of Council of the National Eisteddfod of Wales and edited Y Llenor ('The Littérateur', a highly influential Welsh language journal of literature published by the university). He wrote poetry and prose and contributed to Welsh scholarship by publishing important histories of Welsh literature and legend.
Gruffydd took an interest in Welsh politics and social questions, coming from a nonconformist, radical family. He was a member of Plaid Cymru and served as deputy vice-president in 1937. However, Gruffydd voiced disagreement with Plaid Cymru party president Saunders Lewis, which eventually led to his leaving the party.
Gruffydd was elected to Parliament as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for the University of Wales seat on 29 January 1943 after the sitting MP Ernest Evans became a County Court Judge. Gruffydd's opponent in the by-election was Plaid's Saunders Lewis, and he had effectively split the Welsh-speaking community. He was comfortably re-elected in the 1945 general election and sat until the abolition of university seats in 1950. He did not stand again for Parliament.
The 1945 general election brought a reduction in Liberal strength in the House of Commons and was particularly savage for its leadership. Sir Archibald Sinclair the party leader lost his seat in Caithness and Sutherland, the Chief Whip Sir Percy Harris and William Beveridge were also beaten. In fact apart from Gwilym Lloyd-George who was in any case travelling in the direction of the Tories every Liberal MP who had ever held government office was defeated. This meant a new leader was required. Gruffydd was not a candidate and historians have noted that he was more concerned with his academic work than with trying to make a career in politics but the judgment of one historian of the Liberal Party that he was an academic of extremely limited political experience only sitting in the House because of the university seats, seems unduly harsh in the light of Gruffydd's long-time association with Welsh political and social affairs previous vice-presidency of Plaid Cymru and his managing to be returned to the House of Commons when so many others were falling by the wayside - even candidates for university seats had to win the votes of real voters.
Gruffydd died at his home in Bangor Road, Caernarfon, on 29 September 1954. He was buried in the cemetery at Llanddeiniolen near the yew tree about which he composed one of his most famous poems.
- 'GRUFFYDD , WILLIAM JOHN (1881-1954), scholar, poet, critic and editor', Dictionary of Welsh Biography entry by Sir Thomas Parry, D.Litt., (1904-85); Welsh text published 1997; English translation published 2001; retrieved 10 February 2018.
- The school was the first intermediate school to open under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889. It is now Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, a bilingual comprehensive secondary school for pupils aged 11–18, in Caernarfon, Gwynedd.
- [A History of Wales, by John Davies, page 610]
- Roy Douglas, The History of the Liberal Party 1895-1970; Sidgwick and Jackson, 1971 p.248
- Alun Wyburn-Powell, Clement Davies: Liberal Leader; Poltico's, 2003 pp 140, 142
- See, K O Morgan, Wales in British Politics: 1868-1922; University of Wales Press, 1963 p.197 & Emyr Price, David Lloyd George;University of Wales Press, 2006 pp197-8
- Jorgen Scott Rasmussen, The Liberal Party: A Study of Retrenchment and Revival; Constable, 1965 p.41
Books and Journals
- Jones, J. Graham (June 1993). "The Liberal Party and Wales, 1945-79" (PDF). Welsh History Review. 16 (3): 326–55. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
- C W Lewis & Clare L Taylor, 'William John Gruffydd' in Dictionary of National Biography, OUP 2004-08
- Who was Who, OUP 2007
Papers of W. J. Gruffydd, -, including drafts of articles relating to the Mabinogi; lecture notes for his Welsh courses at University College of Wales, Cardiff; other lecture notes and articles; BBC broadcast talks; personalia; and a substantial group of correspondence from notable literary figures are deposited in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.