Twm Sion Cati - The Happy Highwayman, West Wales
The Welsh love a good story, and those concerned with Twm Sion Cati are favourites to this day. He is often described as the Welsh Robin Hood , though some major differences exist between the two. For example, Twm’s tales are centred around a man known to have been real; and contrary to the practices of Sherwood’s denizen, Twm seems generally to have kept the spoils for himself.
The bandit’s real name was Thomas Jones, turned into a Welshified equivalent Twm Sion, and as was customary differentiated from the numerous others of that ilk with a nickname suffix derived from his mother’s name – she was Catherine Jones, thus Cati.
Twm, who was born in Tregaron , Cardiganshire, lived from 1530 to 1609, or so it is believed. In fact the figure of legend is probably a convenient focus for tales of many bandits and rogues of the day. The illegitimate son of a local squire he had some learning, but as a Protestant in the age of Bloody Mary he had to turn his hand to more direct means of earning a living, namely highway robbery. It seems the real Twm was pardoned in 1559 by Elizabeth I, returning from his haven in Geneva when this came about.
As with Robin Hood there are many stories of Twm’s bravery and gallantry: one farmer seeking him at his mother’s home gave his horse and whip to a ragged beggar waiting nearby for the poor man to hold for him, only to see Twm throw off his rags and steal his horse. Worse yet for the yeoman, Twm rode straight to the farmer’s wife at their home and obtained money from her to help the husband Twm swore was in trouble and had lent his horse and whip to the messenger to prove his bona fides.
Another tale that demonstrates his desire to avoid hurting people, and perhaps is an echo of the Robin Hood legends, has Twm the Highwayman robbing a man who puts up some resistance, but the skilful robber fires an arrow at his victim so well aimed that it pins him almost harmlessly to his saddle.
A rather less salutary story concerns his unconventional wooing of a girl he had at first set out to rob on the road, returning her jewellery and asking for her hand. When she refused him he grabbed her arm and drew his dagger, drawing blood with its tip and threatening to cut the hand off should she refuse him again. She does not, of course, and the two are married.
Somewhat unexpectedly Twm’s post-criminal career took the path of genealogy and heraldry, and he became a magistrate and a poet into the bargain. The cave he supposedly used as his hideout in earlier times can still be visited, though not without difficulty as it is in the steep slopes above a fast flowing river, the Tywi, on the RSPB Reserve at Dinas Hill near Llandovery .
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