Terry Breverton’s top 10 great Welshmen

Terry Breverton is a senior business lecturer at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, and the author behind an ongoing series of books on Welsh history and culture. Here he picks his top 10 entries from the latest edition of 100 Great Welshmen, a celebration of the remarkable achievements of his countrymen.

1. Arthur ap Meurig ap Tewdrig (died 570)

Europe’s greatest legend has been kidnapped from south-east Wales, but by placing him in the lives of over 100 saints in the Welsh ‘Age of the Saints’ (the sixth-century Dark Ages in the rest of Europe), Arthur’s existence and family background in Glamorgan, Gwent and Brittany was conclusively proved. In fact, all the legends associated with Arthur have their precedence in Wales, predating the medieval romances.

2. John Charles (1931-1994)

Like football’s first superstar, Manchester United’s Billy Meredith, the gentle giant (“Il Gigante Buono”) was never properly acknowledged as one of the greatest footballers in the world. Charles is still revered in Italy for his time with Juventus, when he was instrumental in their rise to greatness and broke scoring records. When asked who was the best centre-forward he ever played against, the English captain Billy Wright nominated John Charles. He gave the same answer for the best centre-half.

3. Owain Glyndwr (1354-1415)

Wales’ greatest hero has been neglected until recently with the 500th anniversary of his 13-year war against English rule. He threw back five invading English armies, and is still revered by patriots as a cultured man who fought overwhelming odds. Fidel Castro referred to him as the ‘world’s first guerrilla leader’ and GM Trevelyan called him “a wonderful man, an attractive and unique figure”. In 1999, in a poll to find the most significant figure of the last 1000 years, 100 world leaders voted Glyndwr in seventh place, above Churchill, Darwin, Gates, Mandela and Einstein. No one knows how or where he died, which adds to the aura of this undefeated Welshman.

4. DW Griffith (1875-1948)

A pioneer of cinema, David Lewelyn Wark Griffith was proud of his Welsh heritage, and boasted of his ancestry from Gruffudd ap Llewelyn, King of Wales. Apart from making Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, he formed the United Artists studio with Fairbanks, Chaplin and Pickford. He revolutionised cinema techniques, innovating fade-in, fade-out (dissolve), close-up and flashback. He elevated moving picture ‘shorts’ to epics, which were then copied across the world.

5. Llywellyn Morris Humphreys – Murray The Hump (1899-1965)

Also known as Murray the Camel, he was Al Capone’s right-hand man, and made the mafia what it is today. His parents were from Carno in mid-Wales, and he rose from being a hired gun in Chicago to ruling the mob when Capone was incarcerated. After the prohibition years, ‘The Hump’ is credited with moving the outfit into more respectable activities such as the control of unions and financial institutions and then into entertainment, gambling and Las Vegas. For one of his daughter’s teenage birthday parties, Frank Sinatra was the singer.

6. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

The author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson, along with another four of the first six American presidents, had Welsh origins. JF Kennedy, at a dinner honouring Nobel prize winners said: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, or human knowledge, that has ever gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

7. Pelagius (also know as Morgan) (c385-c460s)

This Celtic monk believed that paying for salvation or following a leader was not the way to heaven; following the example of Christ was the only way. This would have starved the Pope and Roman Catholicism of funding, and thereby power; many Italian bishops who supported Pelagius were banished.

8. William Price (1800-1893)

This Chartist free thinker and Republican doctor escaped to France after the Chartist riots, but upon his return preached the benefits of vegetarianism, nudity and free love, the unhealthiness of socks, and the potential dangers to the environment of rapid industrialisation, revolution, republicanism and radical politics. He refused to treat patients who would not give up smoking, and prescribed a vegetarian diet instead of pills. The original hippy, Dr Price wore long pigtails and dressed in the Welsh national colours of red, white and green. One of his children was named Iesu Grist (Jesus Christ) and Price was instrumental in the acceptance of cremation in Britain, selling tickets for his own bonfire.

9. ‘Black Bart’ Roberts (1682-1722)

Time-Life called Pembrokeshire’s John Roberts “the last and most lethal pirate”, and with his death the golden years of piracy died. The most successful pirate of all time, Roberts took over 400 recorded ships in just three years, from the coast of the Americas through the Caribbean to the Slave Coast of Africa. Utterly fearless, his habit of dressing in red silks (jolies rouges) for battle gave rise to the term Jolly Roger. Probably the only teetotaller on the seas, when he died over 250 of his crew were tried and sentenced, in the greatest pirate trial of all time.

10. HM Stanley (1841-1904)

Born John Rowlands in a workhouse, he fought for both sides in the American civil war. When working as a reporter in Abyssinia, he was sent to find the explorer David Livingstone, famously greeting him with the words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” when he discovered him at Ujiji in 1871. Later Stanley was the first white man to cross central Africa from east to west. He led several expeditions, tracing the 2000-mile course of the river Zaire (Congo) to the sea, and carving out a huge colony in central Africa for his friend and employer, Leopold of Belgium.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jun/02/bestbooks