Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwallog ap Lleenog: One Brother Dies and the Other Lives On

In The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn states his presence at the death of Gwallog ap Lleenog ‘From a long line of princes / Grief of the Saxons’. Gwallog is a descendant of Gwyr y Gogledd ‘The Men of the North’. His descent on his father’s side is recorded in the Harleian Genealogies. ‘[G]uallauc map Laenauc map Masguic clop map Ceneu map Coyl hen.’ This places him amongst the lineage of Coel Hen (Old King Cole).

More importantly within the context of my research on Gwyn ap Nudd and the Old North, Gwyn, Gwallog and Caradog are mentioned as half-brothers through their shared descent on the maternal side from Tywanwedd in Descent of the Saints. Tywanwedd is the daughter of Amlawdd Wledig, a Welsh prince who may have ruled on the border of Herefordshire.

These three brothers appear again in an entry in Peniarth MS 132: ‘Gwyn ap Nudd greiddyei (?) ap Lludd. He went to Llew ap Llyminod Angel. He went between sky and air. He was brother to Caradog Freichfras and Gwallog ap Lleenog. He and they had the same mother.’

Between Sky and Air
Between Sky and Air

In Geraint son of Erbin Caradog, Gwallog, Gwalchmai and Owain son of Nudd appear alongside Arthur as ‘guarantors’ of Edern son of Nudd after he is mortally wounded by Geraint. Caradog and Edern appear together as Arthur’s ‘counsellors’ in The Dream of Rhonabwy. This brings to light further familial links.

It is of great interest to note that if Tywanwedd is Gwyn’s mother, this places him in the same lineage as Arthur (Arthur’s mother was Eigr daughter of Amlawdd) and Culhwch (Culhwch’s father was Goleuddydd, son of Amlawdd): the three are first cousins (!).

However, Peter Bartrum argues due to Gwyn, Gwallog and Caradog’s ‘disparate nature’ in ‘character, place and time’ it was more likely their mother was a fairy like Gwyn. Considering Gwyn is a god whose worship as Vindos / Vindoroicos / Vindonnus can be traced back to the Romano-British period it seems clear she must also have been divine: a goddess who, like Gwyn, may later have been perceived as a fairy.

As within Brythonic mythology there is a long tradition of relations between deities and mortals, often bearing offspring (for example Owain Rheged’s parents were Urien Rheged and the goddess Modron, mother of Mabon) it seems possible the story behind Gwallog’s birth was that his father, Lleenog, slept with a fairy woman. Perhaps one of her guises was Tywanwedd, and as Tywanwedd she seduced Lleenog?

The story of Gwallog’s birth from a fairy woman provides some fascinating insights into the continuity of pagan beliefs within a northern British society that was nominally Christian. It also supports my growing intuition that Gwyn, his father (and now his mother) were viewed as ancestral deities by the Britons of the Old North, Wales and beyond.

***

Gwallog’s kingdom is traditionally Elmet. This is derived from Ifor Williams’ translation of lines in The Song of Gwallawg ap Lleenawg where Gwallog is named ‘a judge over Elmet’. Bede speaks of ‘silva elmete’ (‘the forest of Elmet’) saying ‘subsequent kings made a house for themselves in the district, which is called Loidis.’ Loidis is Leeds and place-name evidence suggests Elmet covered West Yorkshire.

Further evidence Gwallog ruled Elmet comes from Nennius’ History of the Britons. He tells of how Edwin of Northumbria ‘occupied Elmet and expelled Certic, king of that country’. Certic is usually identified as Ceredig, Gwallog’s son.

Gwallog’s renown as a war-leader is evidenced by the Triads, where he is named as one of three ‘Pillars of Battle’, ‘Bull Protectors’ and ‘Battle-Leaders’ of Britain. According to Nennius he was amongst four kings; Urien, Rhydderch the Old, Gwallog and Morcant, who played a leading role in defending the north against the Bernician Angles. Whilst some scholars assume Nennius refers to an alliance between the four kings, Tim Clarkson believes he refers to separate campaigns and these northern rulers were as likely to have been enemies as allies.

Whilst the existence of an alliance is impossible to prove or disprove we know Morcant ordered Urien’s assassination at Aber Lleu (opposite Lindisfarne) and Gwallog fought either with or against the sons of Urien Rheged ‘Gwallach, horseman of battle, planned / to make battle in Erechwydd (Rheged) / against the attack of Elphin’ following Urien’s death.

In two poems attributed to Taliesin we find further evidence Gwallog fought just as ferociously against other Brythonic war-lords as against the Angles and Saxons. In The Song of Llenawg, Taliesin lists battles in Agathes, Bretrwyn, Aeron (a river in Ceredigion), Arddunion, the wood of Beit, Gwensteri and the marsh of Terra. He also mentions a cattle raid and conflict ‘At the end of the wood of Oleddyfein, / From which there will be pierced corpses, / And ravens wandering about.’

In The Song of Gwallog ap Lleenawg, Taliesin says Gwallog ‘rejected uniform ranks of the rulers, / Of the hosts of Rhun and Nudd and Nwython’. This shows he battled against other well-known northern rulers. He is finally described as ‘king of the kings of tranquil aspect’ over Caer Clud (Dumbarton, capital of the kingdom of Strathcylde), Caer Caradawg (the location of one of three ‘perpetual harmonies’ of the Isle of Britain) and the land of Penprys (Powys?). It seems he subjugated a number of other kings.

In The Black Book of Carmarthen we find an enigmatic poem called A Song on Gwallawg ab Lleenawg which refers to how Gwallog lost an eye in his youth. He is said to have lost it to an ‘accursed tree’ which appears thrice: as ‘black’, ‘white’ then ‘green’. In another variant he loses it to a ‘white goose’.

That Gwallog and his battles are so well remembered suggests this fearsome one-eyed warrior was known across Britain during his time and centuries later. Whilst his exploits are celebrated by the Bards I can only imagine his opponents and the ordinary people must have lived in dread of being caught up in the conflicts or ordered to fight.

Sadly we have no records of how anybody outside the ruling classes viewed Gwallog. However in the poem about how he lost his eye we may find reminiscences of a folk tradition. One can imagine gatherings around the fire whereby beery speculations led to a plethora of ‘how Gwallog lost his eye’ songs.

***

The only record I have been able to find which may relate how Gwallog met his end is in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. He refers to Guallauc of Salisbury who dies fighting against the Romans in the Battle of Saussy (France). Whether this is ‘true’ and whether Gwallog and Guallauc are the same person remains uncertain.

In The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn tells Gwyddno he was present at Gwallog’s death. Within the context of Gwyn’s rulership of Annwn and role as a psychopomp, I assume he appeared to guide him to the land of the dead. The knowledge that Gwyn and Gwallog were half-brothers adds a whole new dimension to this scene and to their relationship. Gwyn was not only acting as a guide of the dead to a celebrated warrior but to his kinsman.

Gwyn also mentions his presence at Llachau’s death. Llachau is Arthur’s son. If Tywanwedd was Gwyn’s mother, this makes them cousins once removed. Again he gathers the soul of a relative.

At the end of The Conversation, Gwyn laments that he is alive whilst the warriors of Prydain (Britain) are slain and in their graves. Knowledge of Gwyn’s ancestral connections with these men provides a deeper understanding of why he chooses to recite their names to Gwyddno and particularly grieves their fall.

Because Gwyn is a god of Annwn whose role is to guide and contain its spirits until the world’s end, he is fated to witness the deaths of his mortal and semi-mortal kindred as he lives on.

Cotton Grass, Winter HillSOURCES

Bartrum, Peter A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000 (National Library of Wales, 1993)
Bromwich, Rachel (ed) The Triads of the Island of Britain (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Clarkson, Tim The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland (John Donald, 2010)
Evans, J. Gwengobryn The Black Book of Carmarthen (Lightning Source UK Lmtd, 1907)
Heron (transl) Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir https://barddos.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/gwyn-ap-nudd-and-gwyddno-garanhir/
Monmouth, Geoffrey of The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Classic, 1973)
Pennar, Meirion (transl.) The Black Book of Carmarthen (Llanerch Enterprises, 1989)
Skene, William F. The Four Ancient Books of Wales (Forgotten Books 2007)

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4 thoughts on “Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwallog ap Lleenog: One Brother Dies and the Other Lives On

  1. Alex Jones

    One day, I shall create a computer program to follow all these lineages and their locations to build a pattern of who was where and when.

  2. Fascinating web of connections and your conclusion about Gwyn being fated to witness the deaths of his kindred eerily evokes his role as Lord of the Otherworld.

  3. I’ll ask you a druidic question: what sort of god meets his rival on top of a hill, at noon. A solar hero. One who rules morning and springtime, and is at the height of his powers at noon, which corresponds to the season of Lughnana. Gwyn is Gwalchmei is Gawain. He may have power over the devils of Annwn, but it is because he is mighty, not one of their princes, and because he comes into his own at dawn, Annwn belonging to night.

    1. The lines in the Mabinogion state that Gwyn contains the fury of the ‘demons’ of Annwn in him – that he partakes in their nature and he is named in ‘The Life of St Collen’ as a King of Annwn. Surely this is because he is Annuvian and otherworldly figure. Gwyn’s opposition to Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ suggests he is a god of Winter and Gwythyr of Summer. Gwyn’s leadership of the Cwn Annwn and of the Wild Hunt are also suggestive of connections with Winter. However he is also associated with September, in Cornish Gwynngala. Of course this doens’t rule out his presence on Glastonbury Tor at noon – a magical and liminal place and time. I’d agree Gwyn has some connections with the sun and light through his older name Vindos ‘White’ and Vindonnus ‘Clear Light’ whether his is the light of thisworld or the otherworld is unclear, I’d personally vouch for the latter, but I think we have to follow our own intuitions and revelations in these things and they are personal and experiential – none of us can claim ultimate knowledge of the gods šŸ™‚

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