Sunday 21 May 2023

King Arthur’s Sister

 The Daughters of Anlawdd Wledig Part II

The Cousin from Brittany
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Utherpendragon and Igerna had two children, Arthur and Anna [viii.20].  When a large Germanic fleet returned to ravish the cities of Albany during the King’s illness, Loth of Lodonesia, “a valiant man, mature both in wisdom and age” was put in command of the British forces. As a reward for his prowess the King had given him his daughter and put him in charge of the kingdom while he was ill [viii.21].

A little later, after Utherpendragon has passed after being poisoned by the Saxons at Verulamium (St Albans), Geoffrey has the young King Arthur call upon his nephew Hoel(us), (or Howel) of Brittany for military assistance [ix.2]. Hoel arrived at Southampton with 15,000 armed warriors and with Arthur they marched to the town of Kaerluideoit which was besieged by the Saxons [ix.3]. In the History of the Kings of Britain both Hoel of Brittany and Cador, Duke of Cornwall, forget Cai and Bedwyr, stand out in military expertise and in supporting Arthur in the recovery of Britain from the Saxons and later in the Gallic campaign against the Romans, reflecting Geoffrey’s apparent admiration for these two kingdoms, particularly Brittany. Indeed, Hoel commands the British fourth division at the decisive battle of Saussy in the defeat of the Romans [x.6]. It is Hoel’s niece Helena that that is killed by the Giant of Mont-Saint-Michel. Arthur avenges her death and recalls his encounter with the giant Retho on Mount Arvaius (Snowdon) [x.3]. The tale of the beard collecting giant Retho is reminiscent of the fate of Dilius Farchog in Culhwch and Olwen but Geoffrey appears to have obtained his tale from an independent source.

Geoffrey states that Hoel was the son of Arthur’s sister, and therefore his nephew, and his father was Budicius (II), King of the Armorican Britons. [ix.2] This is a direct contradiction of Geoffrey’s previous statement, noted above, that Arthur’s sister Anna was married to Loth of Lodonesia [viii.22]. Geoffrey only gives Arthur one sister, which he named Anna, so we presume this must also be Anna but Geoffrey does not name Hoel’s mother.

There is considerable confusion here on Geoffrey’s part. Later he states that during the days of Aurelius Ambrosius, Loth had married the King’s own sister and had two sons by her, Gualguanus (Gawain) and Mordredus, who were Arthur’s nephews [ix.9]. This statement can only mean “the sister of Aurelius Ambrosius”. Thus, Hoel of Brittany is Arthur’s first cousin, not his nephew. This confusion continued in the chronicle tradition reappearing in Wace and Layamon, although most later sources recognised Hoel as Arthur's cousin.11

Aurelius is the brother of Utherpendragon, Arthur’s father, and second son of Constantine II [vi.5]. At the time of his father’s assassination he was considered too young for kingship and when Vortigern had the elder brother Constans killed, Aurelius was secreted away to Brittany with his younger brother Utherpendragon and raised by King Budicius (I) [vi.8]. The two surviving sons of Constantine would later return to Britain and subdue the Saxons; “but first they will burn Vortigern besieged in his tower” as Merlin predicted [viii.2].

In Geoffrey’s work Hoel figures prominently as Arthur’s close friend and ally throughout his life, yet he is completely unknown in pre-Galfridian tradition and was certainly introduced to the Arthurian story by Geoffrey. 

Rachel Bromwich sees a possible explanation for this is to be found in Geoffrey’s attitude to his source-material. Almost certainly of Breton stock himself, Geoffrey’s sympathies were always with the emigrant colony, as opposed to the native Welsh themselves. This is demonstrated by Geoffrey’s apparent admiration for Hoel’s military prowess and constant loyalty to Arthur in the recovery of Britain and the Gallic campaign, as noted above, in preference to heroes of Welsh Arthurian tradition such as Cai and Bedwyr.

Geoffrey decided to provide Arthur, the hero of his story, with a rival nephew who should be of Breton birth. He took a name that was frequent among Breton nobles and introduced (invented) Hoel(us) to the Arthurian tradition. For the father of this Duke of Brittany he used a traditional ruler of Breton Cornubia: Budic, a man who figures frequently in the ecclesiastical tradition, appearing in several Saints’ Lives and may even be historical.

According to Geoffrey Hoel’s mother was Arthur’s sister, yet he deliberately maintained silence as to her name; certainly no mention of Anlawdd Wledig here. As noted above, Geoffrey had already listed Arthur’s sister Anna as the mother of Mordredus and Gualguanus, Geoffrey’s name for Arthur’s nephew Gwalchmai. Yet, in Welsh tradition, as shown in one version of Bonedd y Saint, Gwyar is listed as the mother of Gwalchmai …. and one of the daughters of Anlawdd Wledig.12

In Culhwch and Olwen, Gwalchmai son of Gwyar is named as Arthur’s nephew, a member of his court and one of the ‘Six Helpers’ whom Arthur appointed to assist him in the quest for Olwen, as ‘he was the best of walkers and the best of riders. He was Arthur’s nephew, his sister’s son, and his cousin.’ In Culhwch and Olwen he is listed as Gwalchmai mab Gwyar, where Gwyar is assumed to be his mother who was Arthur’s sister.  The use of the matronymic is unusual, but not impossible, but most heroes listed in the Court List are designated by their patronymic. In De Rebus Gestis Anglorum (1125) William of Malmesbury maintains the same uncle-nephew relationship between Gwalchmai and Arthur:

“At this time was found in the province of Wales called R(h)os the tomb of Walwen, who was the not degenerate nephew of Arthur by his sister.”

Here William used the Norman form of the name ‘Walwen’ which corresponds to the Welsh Gwalchmai. The site of Walwen/Gwalchmai’s grave has been the subject of much debate. William adds that it “was found in the time of king William upon the sea-shore, fourteen feet in length” which seems to echo the entry in the Stanzas of the Graves which states the grave of Gwalchmai is in Peryddon. 

The location of Peryddon has been the subject of much discussion over the years as several rivers claim this name; it is said that Peryddon was an alternative name for a section of that great Welsh river the Dee. Geoffrey of Monmouth names a 'fluvium Perironis' which early Welsh translations render as Afon Peryddon. The 12th century Book of Llandaf makes reference to Aber Periron in the vicinity of Rockfield, about 2 miles from Monmouth, Geoffrey’s home town if we are to assign any relevance to his name. Geoffrey was of Breton stock and it is doubtful he was actually born at Monmouth, but he was certainly familiar with the geography of the area placing King Arthur’s court at nearby Caerleon.

The 10th century Armes Prydein (The Prophecy of Britain), a prophetic poem from the Book of Taliesin, records a stream named Aber Peryddon which had to be crossed when traversing into Wales. Perhaps the best candidate for the Peryddon may be at Rhos, Pembrokeshire, where a stream at Sandyhaven Pill runs down from Castell Gwalchmai (Walwyn's Castle) into Milford Haven, corresponding with William of Malmesbury’s account above.13

The name ‘Walwen’ corresponds to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Gualguanus’ whom Geoffrey presents as Arthur’s nephew by his sister Anna [ix.9]. It seems almost certain that Geoffrey knew of William of Malmesbury’s account, and maintained the relationship between Arthur and Gualguanus. The name Walwen/Gualguanus also corresponds to Gauvain of the French romances and to the English Gawain. Variants of the name appear on the Continent, such as the Breton name ‘Galvaginus’ on the Modena archivolt in Italy which depicts a pre-Galfridian version of Gwenhwyfar/Guinevere’s abduction, (at Modena depicted as Winlogee).

By giving Arthur’s sister Anna as the mother of Gualguanus, Geoffrey caused considerable confusion among Welsh sources. In the 14th century ‘Birth of Arthur’ an attempt was made to reconcile the native tradition with that of Geoffrey by replacing Anna as the name of Arthur’s sister with that of Gwyar:

‘Gwrleis and Eigyr had two daughters, Gwyar and Dioneta. Gwyar was (living as) a widow in her father’s court, and Hywel her son with her, after the death of Ymer Llydaw her husband. And Uthyr caused Lleu ap Cynfarch to marry her, and they had children: that is two sons, Gwalchmei and Medrawd, and three daughters, Gracia, Graeria, and Dioneta.’14

Arthur’s sister Anna is unknown before Geoffrey and therefore we could opt for Gwyar as the original name of the sister of Arthur and the mother of his nephew Gwalchmai. However, we must be cautious in forcing conclusions as Rachel Bromwich considers it probable that Gwalchmai was an addition to the story of Culhwch (in which he plays no essential part), and that he was introduced to the tale under the influence of Brut y Brenhinedd, where we find the Welsh counterpart of Gualguanus (Gawain) referred to constantly as Gwalchmai ap Gwyar.15 However, there is no suggestion that Geoffrey invented Gwalchmai; on the contrary, he is a figure of Welsh tradition from the earliest stratum of the Arthurian legend along with Cai and Bedwyr. (See: The Search for Lud for a discussion Gwyar’s origins).

As we have seen above, Geoffrey states that Hoel was the son of Arthur’s sister and his father was Budicius (II), King of the Armorican Britons. The Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s Historia, ignorant of either Hoel or his mother in any native source (as the relationship did not exist before Geoffrey), countered Geoffrey’s invention with the vague allusion to ‘a certain ruler of Brittany’ who had married a sister of Arthur.16

This ruler of Brittany consistently appears as ‘Emyr Llydaw’ the father of Hoel. We find 'emyr' is a generic noun meaning 'emperor, king, prince, leader’; perhaps borrowed from the Latin 'imperium'; ‘Llydaw’ being the regular Welsh name for Brittany or Armorica. ‘Emyr Llydaw’ therefore, literally means 'ruler of Brittany'.

Rachel Bromwich concludes that these instances point towards Emyr Llydaw being originally a generic term for any unspecified ruler of Brittany, but later came to be interpreted as a proper name denoting a particular person. This is exactly what we find in the Welsh versions of Geoffrey’s chronicle (Brutiau) where Emyr Llydaw has become a personal name, displacing Budicius but belonging distinctively to Welsh and not Breton tradition.17

Emyr Llydaw was a device used by many of the Breton saints in a similar function to that of Anlawdd Wledig to demonstrate a relationship to a hero of note or a royal line. Indeed, early versions of Bonedd y Saint name Emyr Llydaw as the grandfather of five Welsh saints, to which later versions complimented at least another three.

Evidently the term ‘Emyr Llydaw’ was known to the Welsh scribes long before Geoffrey wrote his Historia as we find it in Englynion y Beddau: The Stanzas of the Graves. Collected in the 13th century Black Book of Carmarthen, yet the earliest series of 73 stanzas has been dated to the 9th or 10th century. Further series of stanzas appear in later manuscripts; Red Book of Hergest, Peniarth MS98B, Wrexham MS1, but these need not concern us here.

A character named as ‘Beidawg the Red’ appears in three consecutive stanzas from the early series which Thomas Jones suggests, that although known to us only from the Stanzas of the Graves, indicates he was a significant figure who’s tale has been lost. Jones cites stanzas 37 and 38 which both begin ‘Pell y vysci’ (Long past and hidden the turmoil he caused) which he states are not formal grave stanzas and their source could have been a series of elegiac englynion from some lost story of Beidawg the Red who lies buried in Machawy.18

The third stanza here includes the earliest mention of Emyr Llydaw, his father.

36. The grave of Beidawg the Red in the region of Rhiw Lyfnaw,
the grave of Lluosgar in Ceri,
And at the Ford of Brydw the grave of Omni

37. Long past and hidden the turmoil he caused and his wealth,
the soil of Machawy covers him:
long [and] white the fingers of Beidawg the Red

38. Long past and hidden the turmoil he caused,
the soil of Machawy upon him,
Beidawg the Red, son of Emyr Llydaw

Machawy has been identified with the valley of the river of that name where it joins the Wye just to the east of the village of Erwood just a few miles north of Glasbury. This is the site where, according to the Welsh chronicle O Oes Gwrtheryn, a battle was fought when Gruffudd, the son of Llywelyn was victorious, and an English bishop (Leofgar of Hereford) was slain. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle (D Manuscript) records this for the year 1056. The Chronicle of John of Worcester adds that these events took place at `Clastbyrig? identified as Glasbury on the River Wye.20

John K Bollard notes that in all three instances the manuscript records the name as ‘Beidauc Rut’; the similarity of the name to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Budicius, King of the Armorican Britons and father of Hoel, will be immediately obvious. The inclusion of the name in the early series of Englynion y Beddau may suggests the possibility that ‘Emyr Llydaw’ had already developed into a proper name in early Welsh tradition.21

What does all this tell us about Geoffrey’s influence on Culhwch and Olwen? As we have seen, Culhwch is noted as Arthur’s cousin as their mothers are both daughters of Anlawdd Wledig. This character is generally regarded as a device introduced simply to provide heroes with a relationship to Arthur, such as St Illtud. Geoffrey was clearly unaware of this fictitious relationship and therefore did not include Anlawdd Wledig in his chronicle. Instead he used “Arthur’s sister” to effectively perform the same function. He admired the Bretons and introduced Hoel, Duke of Brittany, son of Budicius, as Arthur’s best general and ally displacing the traditional characters of Cai and Bedwyr. But when it came to the mother of Hoel, Geoffrey clearly became rather confused seemingly forgetting that he had initially mentioned only one sister of Arthur; Anna, mother of Gualguanus and Mordredus.

As an Arthurian character Emyr Llydaw displaces Budicius and finds his way into the lists in Breuddwyd Rhonabwy and Geraint ap Erbin, both dated after Geoffrey’s chronicle, but not in the earlier Culhwch and Olwen.22

Notes & References:
11. Geoffrey of Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe, Penguin Books, 1966, p.214 and p.333.
12. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, Fourth Edition, University of Wales Press, 2014, p.369.
13. John K Bollard & Anthony Griffiths, Englynion y Beddau: The Stanzas of the Graves, Gwas Carreg Gwalch, 2015, p.70.
14. Bromwich, TYP, p.370.
15. Bromwich, TYP, p.368.
16. Bromwich, TYP, p.399.
17. Bromwich, TYP, p.348.
18. Thomas Jones, The Black Book of Carmarthen, ‘Stanzas of the Graves’, Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture, British Academy, 1967, p.104.
19. Jones, Stanzas of the Graves, p.125.
20. CBHC - Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales: Glasbury-On-Wye; Battle in Machawy Valley 
21. John K Bollard, Anthony Griffiths,  Englynion y Beddau: The Stanzas of the Graves, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2015.
22.   - Brynley Roberts, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia and Brut y Brenhinedd, in Arthur of the Welsh, p.111.

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