Life Update: I passed my Masters degree in Medieval Studies so now I can put an MA after my name! So with this update I thought it may interest you to read a chapter of my dissertation that took me 10 months to plan, read and write! If any of you are super interested in the rest of my dissertation then let me know and I’d be happy to send it to you!
The purpose of analysing these stories and writing them in detail is to clearly see if there is an influence from the Anglo-French in the writings and give the reader an understanding of the overall story. In doing so, one will then be able to distinguish if the background influences of the Normans is apparent in the main body of texts. Following on from the chapter of colonisation the linguistic element, these stories have been chosen to be analysed first as two out of the four stories concentrate on countries and their relationship with Britain, and what is now referred to as Wales in particular. The Dream of Maxen Wledig (Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig) focuses on the Roman Empire’s relationship with Britain through Maxen’s marriage whilst Lludd and Llevelys (Lludd a Llefelys) focuses on a French and British alliance through brotherhood. The last two stories Kilhwch and Olwen (Culhwch ac Olwen) and The Dream of Rhonabwy (Breuddwyd Rhonabwy) only focus geographically on Wales and England but are still an important part of the Mabinogion, and therefore reflect other influences on the portrayal of Wales. The stories as mentioned in the introduction are estimated to have been created orally after the Norman Conquest, which took place in 1066 and it is likely that these stories were written down in manuscript form in the 1300s, but as discussed, the absence of a great deal of Brythonic and Pre-Norman manuscripture leaves the possibility of an earlier writing open. Though a precise date cannot be determined, going from the existing evidence then the periods of the original conception of the stories and their consolidation into manuscripts were periods of great change for England, Wales, France and Scotland, and might indicate they are a response to the Normans whose exploits were explored in the previous chapter. The direct quotes from the passages of the story will be taken from Lady Charlotte Guest’s translation of the Mabinogion, a decision to use the stories found in the older version and not the newer one written by Sioned Davies is purely due to the originality of the Mabinogion. Thus, using the original texts will allow a better study on the stories to see if there was indeed influence from the Anglo-French in these stories.
The first story which will be analysed is The Dream of Maxen Wledig. The story starts with the Emperor of Rome Maxen Wledig (Magnus Maximus) dreaming of himself going on a journey. In the story, according to the version translated in Lady Charlotte Guest’s edition, Maxen Wledig dreams of a specific location filled with rivers, mountains, valleys and a princess who lives in a castle.
“He was journeying along the valley of the river towards its source; and he came to the highest mountain in the world. And he thought that the mountain was as high as the sky; and when he came over the mountain, it seemed to him that he went through the fairest and most level regions that man ever yet beheld, on the other side of the mountain.”
Though at first glance, one thinks of the description as not being wholly applied to the geographical area of what known now as Wales, which was mentioned in the previous chapter. The highest mountain in Britain is that of Ben Nevis located in Scotland, though later in the passage it is mentioned of Maxen’s messengers traveling to Anglesey. Thus, reinforcing the description of the mountain as Snowdonia.
“And they went forward until they saw Anglesey before them, and until they saw Arvon likewise. “Behold” said they, “the land our master saw in his sleep.” And they saw Aber Sain, and a castle at the mouth of the river.”
After his messengers find the princess that Maxen dreams of, he travels to Aber Sain to marry her, as he had made it his mission to find the woman. Her name is Helen Luyddawc and they become married. Maxen then lives with her and her family but due to this he endangers his position of being Emperor of Rome, Helen’s brothers help him defeat the new Emperor and he is then restored to his former glory. This story, similar to that of Lludd and Llevelys, which shows the two men as allies working alongside each other. Shows Maxen restored as Emperor due to the help given to him by Helen’s two brothers Kynan and Adeon. This can be interpreted as the native Britons had an important role to play within the Empire. Maxen Wledig is thought to have not been a fictional character but based off Magnus Maximus who was a Roman commander in 383 AD and was proclaimed Emperor. He was later executed by Theodosius but still became an important figure as he represented the relationship between Britain and Rome. The character of Maxen Wlegid in the story ends with him being restored as Emperor. Though if his was based off the historical Magnus Maximus in reality the outcome for his life was not the same. This shows how the story was changed for Magnus Maximus, perhaps for the audience to think of him having a happier ending in the story. Helen’s two brothers conquered many lands until Adeon decided to return home while Kynan decided to settle on the lands that he and his brother had conquered.
“And they took council and cut out the tongues of the women, lest they should corrupt their speech. And because of the silence of the women from their own speech, the men of Armorica are called Britons. From that time there came frequently, and still comes, that language from the Island of Britain.”
The place is referred to as Llydaw means Brittany and lled-taw which means half silent. Another important factor is Kynan’s name, the meaning of Kynan is chief and the end of the story with all these factors considered it shows Kynan founding Brittany. This is important as it shows a British man founded and conquered Brittany which was part of France. Brittany was a part of the British Isles until John’s reign and therefore though this is important, it does not show how much influence the Normans had in this story perhaps it was to show that the Normans already had links to Brittany. Hence this story clearly states the claim to Brittany as of British conquerors.
The next story that is analysed is Lludd and Llevelys, which focuses on two brothers the same titles as the story. Both men start off by living in Britain until Llevelys falls in love with a French princess, and later, becomes the king of France as they marry while his brother Lludd, being the eldest of four inherits the Kingdom of Britain from his father Beli the Great. Lludd starts having many problems in his court in the form of three plagues and sails to France to ask his brother for help.
“And they began to cleave the seas towards France. And when these tidings came to Llevelys, seeing that he knew not the cause of his brother’s ships, he came on the other side to meet him, and with him was a fleet vast of size. And when Lludd saw this, he left all the ships out upon the sea except one only; and in that one he came to meet his brother, and he likewise with a single ship came to meet him. And when they were come together, each put his arms about the other’s neck, and they welcomed each other with brotherly love.”
The first problem was an arrival of a group of people called the Coraniaid, which could have been also known as the Coraniaid meaning the Romans. However this does not describe the Romans as the enemy but merely as a problem. The second problem was that every evening a scream would be heard which caused disruption to Lludd’s court and the last problem was that the mass of food that was in the court was never consumed. The second plague is interesting in terms of colonisation for the way it is described in the Mabinogion.
“That is in thy dominion, behold it is a dragon. And another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it, and striving to overcome it. And therefore does your dragon make a fearful outcry.”
This story portrays both countries France and Britain as allies, united together and not enemies, by both men working together to resolve the problems. The fighting dragons can be seen to represent Britain and a foreign country that was not France. Through Llevelys the story shows a once British man embracing the French culture and France as his own country by ruling it and continuing to help his brother when he is needed, showing their combined heritage. The earlier mention of the Coraniaid’s being the Romans, may lead the reader to assume that the other dragon may in fact be a portrayal of the Roman Empire. Though this would conflict with the earlier story of Maxen Wledig, which showed the alliance of the Roman Empire and Britain. As the stories do not fit well together, this again enforces one’s argument that these stories composed in the same time period was merely put together in a manuscript though they were not connected. The story is also linked to another, possibly the same one but written earlier which has changed over time. It is possible that the story is a motif in terms of two dragons fighting showing a foreign invader and that in the Mabinogion the original story was changed with Norman influence. This can be shown in the story written in the ninth century in the History of the Britons which tells of a boy finding two dragons (a red one to resemble the Native Welsh and a white one to resemble the Saxon nations) under the foundations of a pool in Snowdonia, the dragons are both fighting and ultimately the red dragon wins the fight which leads the prophecy that the Saxons would be forced to leave Britain. This story and one’s similar has had an impact on modern-day nationalism and symbolism for Wales, as since the late 1950s the Welsh national flag has been used and on it is the image of a red dragon. Though this symbolism would not have been used in the medieval period, it has an everlasting effect on Welsh culture in the modern day.
The story of Kilhwch and Olwen focuses on the relationship formed between Wales and England, more specifically Cornwall. It also mentions King Arthur and his association with Cornwall whilst also having strong ties with Wales. The story starts with Kilhwch’s mother dying shortly after his birth, as he was born in a pig run which links with the meaning of Kilhwch’s name. Once Kilhwch’s father is remarried years later, his son is cursed by his new stepmother to fall in love with the giant Ysbaddaden Bencawr’s daughter named Olwen because he refused to marry his step sister.86 Asking his father for guidance, he tells his son to seek out his famous cousin Arthur in Cornwall to help him on his quest to marry Olwen.
“Arthur is thy cousin. Go, therefore, unto Arthur, to cut thy hair, and ask this of him as a boon.”
Kilhwch travels to Cornwall to seek Arthur and after he arrives, Arthur agrees to help his cousin and they travel to where Olwen lives to asks her father for her. To win Olwen’s hand Kilhwch is given many tasks to complete after he is done he would then be able to marry Olwen, and after these tasks are completed, ultimately her father is killed which permits Kilhwch to marry Olwen.
“And that night Olwen became Kilhwch’s bride, and she continued to be his wife as long as she lived. And the hosts of Arthur dispersed themselves, each man to his own country. And thus did Kilhwch obtain Olwen, the daughter of Yspaddaden Penkawr.”
Though this story may not seem to have much importance regarding the Anglo-French influence, the fact that Arthur is mentioned to be living in Cornwall, has importance later on. Due to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s writings of Arthur’s birth in Tintagel, the Normans and ultimately that became the rest of Britain once they had settled and became Anglo-Normans, believed that King Arthur was from Cornwall. This is thought to have inspired Henry III’s brother Richard to buy the ‘Island of Tyntagel’ in 1233. Richard had been appointed the county of Cornwall several years earlier and after buying Tyntagel he built upon it his own castle. Raising the question of did the Anglo-Normans influence the stories or did the stories influence the Anglo-Normans? Looking at the story of Kilhwch and Olwen and also the second branch Branwen Daughter of Llŷr, explored in the next chapter, which mentions France as the enemy, one would have thought that this would have been changed by the Anglo-French settlers, the answer would be the latter. Thus, the Anglo-Normans would have either not been interested in the stories, therefore lacking the influence or been influenced by these stories as shown by Henry III.
The last and final story which will be analysed in this chapter is The Dream of Rhonabwy, the story is introduced in the geographical setting of what is known today as modern-day Wales.
“Madawc the son of Maredudd possessed Powys within its boundaries, from Porfed to Gwauan in the uplands of Arwystli.”
Madog was the ruler of Powys in the twelfth century until his death in 1160, therefore the characters in this story were similarly to Magnus Maximus, as in they were based on historical people.92 The story begins with Madawc’s brother who is jealous of his power travelling to Loegria and killing many of the inhabitants. The word “Lloegyr” is the medieval Welsh name for the South of England, that which has the modern-day cities of London, Winchester, Oxford, Bath etc but excludes that of Cornwall and Devon. Madawc who is shocked at his brother’s actions hires many guards to look for him around his land. As Madawc’s brother may have thought that killing many of the people in Loegria would give him power equal to his brother, this shows the disunion between Powys and the South of England. One of the guards is called Rhonabwy and after staying a night in a castle due to a storm, dreams of a messenger who has upset both Arthur and Medrawd leading them into a battle against each other, the Battle of Camlan.
“I was one of the messengers between Arthur and Medrawd his nephew, at the battle of Camlan; and I was then a reckless youth, and through my desire for battle, I kindled strife between them, and stirred up wrath.”
In the story Rhonabwy and the messenger Iddawc follow Arthur’s army towards Cevndigoll where Arthur and Owain are playing a game comparable to chess. Owain is informed by a squire of Arthur’s troops injuring and killing some of his ravens.
“’Lord,” said Owain, “thou hearest what the youth says; if it seem good to thee, forbid them from my Ravens.” “Play thy game,” said he. Then the youth returned to the tent.
After Arthur’s men carried on attacking and killing Owain’s ravens, Owain had no choice but to raise his banner which lead to his ravens, once they regained their strength, to start attacking Arthur’s men. After more death on both parties, both men formed a truce and everything was peaceful. The story ends with Cai announcing that those who wish to follow Arthur should go with him that day back to Cornwall and those who did not, would be against him which leads to the commotion of the troops starting to move towards Cornwall, awaking Rhonabwy from his dream. To be analytical, Arthur and Medrawd could be interpreted in Rhonabwy’s dream as a version of Madawc and his brother, whilst the messenger could be interpreted as jealousy, this is purely because the start of the story does not link to the ending and even the disagreement between Arthur and his nephew is not resolved, which leads to Rhonabwy talking to the messenger.
Though an in depth analyse of these stories have been written, one will clearly outline how these four stories show the impact of the Anglo-French, which have already been briefly mentioned throughout this chapter. The first story Dream of Maxen Wledig shows mention of France through the reference of Brittany at the end of the story. The story ends with the two brothers of Maxen’s wife Helen conquering lands and when one brother decides to go back to Wales, the other Kynan founds and settles in Brittany and therefore this gives Britain the claim to Brittany. Perhaps this was the Normans influence, which directly links that they were not invaders and merely just expanding as Britain and Brittany already had history. The story of Lludd and Llevelys shows a huge influence of French through Llevelys marrying the French princess and moving to the continent, which portrays France as an ally and not seen as the enemy. This again is reinforced later on in the story, as France again is link as allies when Lludd is in trouble with his court. Looking to his brother for advice, he sails to France to get assistance. The fact that this story represents Britain going to France for help, displays them as comrades and a country who would help in a time of need. Though the two men are linked through brotherhood, they were also both Kings of Britain and France thus this brings the countries into the equation. This story is very different from the story of Branwen Daughter of Llŷr which is analysed in the next chapter and implies France as the enemy, who wanted to come and conqueror Britain.
The third story in this chapter, Kilhwch and Olwen, may have influenced Norman descendants in Cornwall due to the mention of where King Arthur lived. The fact that Arthur may have lived in Cornwall due to stories like Kilhwch and Owen amongst other Arthurian stories is thought to have inspired Henry III’s brother Richard. It was due to this Arthurian interest, he bought the ‘Island of Tyntagel’ in 1233 and built upon it his own castle perhaps this shows the Anglo-Normans and those descended from them being influenced by stories rather than them directly influencing them. This notion is interesting as this would mean that the stories would either have been translated into English or Latin either through their wives or orally recited in that language, another reason for the influence would be that the Norman lords would have learnt Welsh or have been able to understand the basics of the language. It is already known that the Normans were descendants from Scandinavians and therefore were fast learnings, therefore there is no reason to doubt that Norman lords settling in Wales or on the border would have learnt some Welsh to be able to understand the natives.
The fourth and final story that is analysed in this chapter The Dream of Rhonabwy which shows the disunion between Wales and England, which could have been due to the new Norman lords, though this is mere conjecture but would show the Anglo-French influence on the story especially the thoughts on those orally reciting or writing the stories. The disunion shown in the story is due to Madawc’s brother who is envious of his power and travels to Loegria and kills many of the inhabitants. Hence by doing this Madawc’s brother thought that this would make him of equal or greater power. Guards are posted around the area as Madawc does not agree with the way his brother is acting and though the story then develops into a guard’s dream, the originally issue is never dealt with and is remains unclear what happened between the two brothers or how Loegria was affected afterwards. The term Loegria is also used in the story of Math the son of Mathonwy which is the fourth branch of the Mabinogi.
Sources: C. Guest, The Mabinogion, (London: J.M Dent & Sons Ltd, 1906)
Davies, The Four Branches Of The Mabinogi Pedeir Keinc Y Mabinogi. (Llandysul: Gomer Press, 1993)
“HISTORY OF TINTAGEL CASTLE,” English Heritage, Accessed: 8th December 2017, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/history-and-legend/history/#footnote-1