Thursday, February 21, 2013

Word of the Month: The Croes Naid

While the work of revising the dictionary often results in new citations added to articles, or to new definitions added to existing entries, adding a new word to the dictionary is always very exciting. Sometimes, in the process, we also manage to solve some editorial ‘mysteries’.
In the recent edition of the Prose Brut to 1332 (H. Pagan, ed. ANTS vol. 69, 2011), we can  read that, ‘Robert de Winchelse et autrez grauntz fusrent juretz sur la croice neite de tenir et maintenir lez dites ordenances’ (l. 5797 ; Robert of Winchelsea [bishop of Canterbury] and other great [men] swore on the ‘croice neite’ to hold and maintain the said ordinances). In the glossary and notes to the text, it is suggested that neite is a form of net (AND2 s.v. net, soon to be net1) though there is also a mention that one manuscript presents the reading nettement. Neit is indeed an attested variant of net, though none of the senses of net (currently ‘clean’, ‘pure, chaste’, ‘innocent’) seem to apply to this citation.
The editors were preparing a concordance of Foedera during the rewriting of the entries beginning with ‘n’ and came across the following citation: Et cest serment avons nous fet sur le cors nostre Seigneur, & la Croys Neyt, & la Blake Rode de Escoce, en la presence de le honurable pere en Dieu Johan eveske de Kardoyl (Vol. i, p. 924 ; And we [Robert, bishop of Glasgow] swore this oath on the body of Our Lord and the ‘Croys Neyt’ and the Black Rod of Scotland, in the presence of the honourable father in God, John, bishop of Carlisle [in 1300]). Recalling the previous encounter with this cross, it became clear that something very specific was being referred to in these citations, not a generic ‘pure’ cross.

Badge of the Wales Herald Extraordinary - Cross of 'Neith'

A search of all the standard dictionaries of medieval French and English provided no clues as to the meaning of neit in this context. However, the DMLBS sub crux (II, 524b) contains the following citation under the second meaning of ‘cross of Christ (w. ref. to preservation as a relic)’: nobis ... Walenses partem illam preciosissimi ligni crucis, que a Walensibus crossneyht vocatur, reddiderunt, (The Welsh rendered to us the most precious fragment of the wood of the Cross, which they call ‘crossneyht’). The citation, which dates to 1283, is also taken from Foedera (vol. II, p. 247), and seems to suggest that the term in question is the result of an attempt to render a Welsh expression in Latin and Anglo-Norman. But what was it and what does it mean?
Our colleagues at the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, pointed us in the right direction. In their dictionary ( sub croes ‘cross’) one can find the locution y Groes Naid defined as ‘the sacred jewelled cross of the princes of Gwynedd said to contain a part of the Holy Rood; it was taken to London after the death of Llywelyn II and added to the English Crown jewels; fig. a symbol of protection and security; mark of excellence (lit. cross of fortune or fate).’ The expression Croes Nawdd sometimes appears as well, but it seems most likely that the more accurate representation of the term is Naid (naid is defined by the GPC as ‘destiny, fate, chance, luck, fortune; protection, sanctuary, refuge’ while nawdd is defined as ‘sanctuary, refuge, protection’). It is evident that this is the source of our croice neite. The next task was to locate any references to this cross outside of Foedera.
In his article ‘The Cross Nawdd’ (Y Cymmrodor, XLIII (1932) 1-18), Edward Owen provides a history of the Welsh relic, sometimes also known as the Crux Neoti, as an accompaniment to his transcription of a document from the PRO, about its restoration. He cites an anonymous article in The Tablet (The International Catholic News Weekly, 17 June, 1911) for his summary of references to the ‘croes nawdd’ in medieval Latin chronicles. W.C. Tennant discusses the relic in her article ‘Croes Naid’ (National Library of Wales Journal, 7.2 (1951) 102-115.
The cross, which was said to contain a fragment of the wood of the True Cross, was reported to have been found on the body of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, at his defeat near Builth in 1282. The Latin citation in Foedera details the presentation of this relic to Edward I in 1283.This was obviously a notable event in the reign as a number of contemporary Latin chronicles mention the presentation of the relic.
The history of the cross itself remains obscure. Welsh legend claims that the cross was brought to Wales by Elen Luyddog, daughter of Constantine the Roman Emperor, as can also be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, or by Hywel Dda on his return from pilgrammage. Other tales link the cross to St. Neot, a saint venerated in Cornwall.
Three images of the cross can be found in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor where the cross is believed to have been held after being given to the chapel by Edward III until its confiscation in 1552. Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian provides a history of the cross, alongside images of the representations of the cross in the chapel at their monthly blog
There are several further mentions of the cross in Foedera in Anglo-Norman: Piers de Gaveston swears on ‘la croiz Neit’in 1307(i 1010) and another oath is sworn on ‘la croiz neytz’ in 1306 (i 1010). A further mention of the cross in Anglo-Norman can be found in The Antient Kalendars and Inventories of the Treasury of His Majesty’s Exchequer (ed. F. Palgrave, 1836, Vol. iii, p. 188) as item 207 of an inventory of the jewels found in the treasury at the beginning of Robert de Wodehouse’s term as Treasurer in 1339: ‘Un saphire de la croice Gneyth, pris .xl. s.’ Owen’s and Tennant’s respective articles also contain several references to the ‘crois Neit’ or the ‘crois Nect’ in their transcriptions of the accounts of Richard de Grymesby for repairing the cross in 1351-53 (PRO E 407/5/100). This appears to be the last mention of the cross in Anglo-Norman though the expression would continue to be used in Welsh, especially in the figurative sense, after this time.
The result of this research is twofold – firstly, the AND will soon have a new entry online under neit#1 using the citations from Foedera and the Prose Brut. Secondly, the edition will have a more accurate gloss, though one which will need to be consulted online!



  1. How interesting, and what great detective work! (NB. slight confusion over Welshmen: I'm fairly sure it was Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and not Gruffydd ap Llywelyn who died in possession of a piece of the true cross in 1282. Worth double checking?)

  2. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. It has now been corrected.

  3. When Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow swore an oath of fealty to Edward I, he did so on, amongst others things, 'la Cros Neyt.' (Rymer II, 867).

    According to Robert Kelham's 'Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language' (1843): 'Neytz, netz (croiz), the white cross, viz. of St. Andrew: one of the crosses on which they used to swear in Scotland.'

    Does it not seem more probable that a Scot (Wishart) would find a relic from his own country a more potent symbol of truth/fealty than a cross from England via Wales?

    Although Edward I was passionate about his relic collection, and certainly travelled widely with some or all of it, the Welsh cross he took from Wales might not have been what the bishop swore his oath on.

    One wonders...

    Peter Ogwen Jones

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  5. While I concede your point that it seems unlikely that the Croes Naid was either in Scotland or being sworn on by a Scot, the use of the term 'cros neyt' in reference to the saltire seems equally problematic - what is the meaning of 'neyt' then in the Foedera citations?

    While Kelham does offer St Andrew's Cross as a translation, there seems to be no etymological reason for doing so, merely contextual. I'll have to think more on this - so far any references to St. Andrew's Cross have used the term 'sautour' or 'cowe croisé'.

    Looking at the citation, it seems more than there was an idea of swearing on relics of the cross from all three kingdoms thus the apposition of the Croes Naid with the Black Rood.