A Bibliographic Guide to the Characters of the Pre-Galfridian Arthurian Legend

Below can be found a brief guide to the characters who appear in the pre-Galfridian Arthurian legend, the first version of which appeared online in 1998. An up-to-date expansion, development and revision of all the material found here is contained in my Concepts of Arthur, particularly chapter four. As such, this article will no longer be updated. It will, however, continue to be archived at this website in its existing form.


Bromwich and Evans have recently written that the Arthur of pre-Galfridian literature was:

above all else...a defender of his country against every kind of danger, both internal and external: a slayer of giants and witches, a hunter of monstrous animals -- giant boars, a savage cat monster, a winged serpent (or dragon) -- and also, as it appears from Culhwch and Preiddeu Annwn, a releaser of prisoners. This concept [of Arthur] is substantiated from all the early sources: the poems Pa Gur and Prieddeu Annwn, the Triads, the Saint's Lives, and the Miribilia attached to the Historia Brittonum... in early literature he belongs, like Fionn, to the realm of mythology rather than to that of history. (R. Bromwich and D. Simon Evans (edd.), Culhwch and Olwen. An edition and study of the oldest Arthurian tale (Cardiff, 1992), pp. xxviii-xxix)

Only in the Historia Brittonum of 829/30, the mid-10th-century Annales Cambriae, and the 12th-century Gesta Regum is a non-Galfridian 'historical' concept of Arthur as the victor of Badon and defeater of the Saxons found, and the latter two texts appear to be related genetically to the first and consequently cannot act as independent witnesses to this concept of Arthur. The vast majority of the sources make no reference whatsoever to this notion, and this has been seen as very significant when it comes to determining the origins of Arthur (see further 'The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur'; O. J. Padel, 'The Nature of Arthur', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 27 (1994), pp. 1-31; T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud, 2007)).

By the 12th century the Arthurian legend achieves extensive written form in Welsh as narratives and allusions and Arthur is an imposing character, granted fantastic titles and the lordship of the whole of Britain. As a figure Arthur becomes too strong and too clearly established to be anything other than central in any context he appears in and, as a consequence, the Arthurian legend attracts figures and episodes of unrelated story-cycles: 'In this lay the seeds of decline as the story setting, the hero a story-telling device, and the Arthurian scene an opportunity for parody. Arthur, not integral in story-telling context, never achieves, in Continental romance, the active central role which he has in the earliest Welsh, and even the later Welsh texts fail to maintain his real pre-eminence.' (B. F. Roberts, 'Culhwch ac Olwen, the Triads, Saint's Lives', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 73-95 at p. 85).  

Cai and Bedwyr

Later medieval representations of Cai (= Kay) make boastfulness and mockery his most prominent characteristics and often use him as an excuse for a humorous or moralising interlude at his expense. This Cai is, however, very different to that attested by the non-Galfridian evidence. One important early view of Cai is provided by the poem Pa gur yv y porthaur?, in which Cai is presented as one of the chief companions of Arthur, a magnificent heroic figure of epic poetry:

Vain was a host
compared with Cai in battle.
(Lines 52-53; P. Sims-Williams, 'The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh
: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 33-71 at p. 43)

Cai would entreat them,
while he struck them three at a time.
When Celli was lost,
there was fury.
Cai would entreat them
as he cut them down. (Lines 31-36; Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 41)

Heavy was his vengeance,
painful was his fury.
When he would drink from a horn
he would drink enough for four.
When he came into battle,
he would slay enough for a hundred.
Unless it were God who accomplished it,
Cai's death were unattainable. (Lines 68-75; Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 43)

Whilst other figures do appear in this work, Cai's exploits dominate: more than a third of the poem is devoted to the praise of Cai and to a catalogue of his feats. Other pre-Galfridian materials, including Culhwch ac Olwen and the Life of St Cadog (both works datable to c. 1100), extend our knowledge of this figure, confirming him as one of Arthur's main companions and a heroic figure possessing superhuman powers. Thus in Culhwch it is said that:

Kai had this peculiarity, that his breath lasted nine nights and nine days under water, and he could exist nine nights and nine days without sleep. A wound from Kai's sword no physician could heal. Very subtle was Kai. When it pleased him he could render himself as tall as the highest tree in the forest. And he had another peculiarity,--so great was the heat of his nature, that, when it rained hardest, whatever he carried remained dry for a handbreadth above and a handbreadth below his hand; and when his companions were coldest, it was to them as fuel with which to light their fire. (C. Guest, The Mabinogion (London, 1877), p. 229)

These references can perhaps point us to the origins of this figure. Arthur himself was probably not originally a historical figure but rather a folkloric, heroic one, 'the leader of a band of heroes who live outside society, whose main world is one of magical animals, giants, and other wonderful happenings, located in the wild parts of the landscape' (see 'The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur'; O. J. Padel, 'The Nature of Arthur', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 27 (Summer 1994), pp. 1-31 at p. 14; T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud, 2007)). Cai with his magical attributes, his heroic characteristics, and his superhuman powers -- see further L. M. Gowans, Cei and the Arthurian Legend (Cambridge, 1988) -- would fit very well into such a folkloric cycle. Moreover, his ability to change his height, and other traditions which make it clear that Cai was thought to be a giant, is strongly reminiscent of folkloric suggestions that Arthur and his relatives were giants/could alter their height (see Padel, 1994 and C. Grooms, The Giants of Wales. Cewri Cymru (Lampeter, 1993) on this). With regards to the name Cai, nothing certain can be said. Some favour deriving it from Latin Caius but others would instead see it as a native name perhaps meaning 'path' or 'way' (see Rachel Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), pp. 303-4, 547; Gowens, 1988, pp. 2-3).

Bedwyr (= Bedivere) is also presented in early texts as one of the chief companions of Arthur and as a heroic figure of epic poetry, second only to Cai; in the early references Cai and Bedwyr are nearly always named in close conjunction, though Bedwyr is usually shown as subordinate in importance to Cai: 

they fell by the hundred
before Bedwyr the Perfect [or Perfect-Sinew].
On the shores of Tryfrwyd,
fighting with Rough Grey [a werewolf],
furious was his nature
with sword and shield.
(Pa gur yv y porthaur? lines 46-51: Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 42)

Arthur called upon Bedwyr, who never shrank from an enterprise upon which Cei was bound. It was thus with Bedwyr, that none was so handsome [the text in the Red Book of Hergest reads 'so swift'] as he in this Island, save Arthur and Drych son of Cibdar, and this too: that though he was one-handed no three warriors drew blood in the same field faster than he. Another strange quality was his: one thrust would there be of his spear, and nine counter-thrusts. (Culhwch ac Olwen: G. Jones and T. Jones (trans.), The Mabinogion (London, 1949), pp. 107-8)

Bedwyr, as a great heroic warrior who wielded a magic spear, who fought a renowned werewolf and who was, along with Cai, the close companion of Arthur, would seem to lend himself also to the interpretation suggested above for Cai, that is that he was a heroic figure of folklore associated from a very early date with the Arthurian cycle. Of particular interest in this context is the reference to 'Bedwyr's Well/Spring' as a place-name in the 9th- or 10th-century poem Marwnat Cadwallon ap Cadfan, which would seem to parallel Arthur's early associations with such topographic features (see Padel, 1994 and chapter two of Concepts of Arthur). We can also cite here the reference, in an Arthurian englyn, to 'the grave of Bedwyr...on Tryfan hill' (Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 50) in the mid-late 9th-century Black Book of Carmarthen version of Englynion y Beddau (for the date see J. Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry: a Study and Edition of the Englynion (Cambridge, 1990), p. 389), the Englynion y Beddau being a specialised Welsh record of pre-existing antiquarian topographic folklore which was specifically concerned with the supposed resting places of mythical/folkloric heroes. In the light of both of these references we can feel confident in treating Bedwyr as a folkloric hero of some considerable antiquity and the same type as Arthur. Cai similarly seems to be associated from an early date with topographic lore. Thus the place-name gwryt kei is attested as early as the 12th century and seems to refer to a pass across which the gigantic Cai could stretch his arms (see Grooms, 1993, pp. 148-150). On Bedwyr see further L. M. Gowans, Cei and the Arthurian Legend (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 32-36, and R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), pp. 279-80.

Gwalchmei m. Gwyar

Gwalchmei m. Gwyar appears to have been Arthur's sister's son and a hero in the mould of Bedwyr and Cai:

Arthur called on Gwalchmei son of Gwyr, because he never came home without the quest he had gone to seek. He was the best of walkers, and the best of riders. He was Arthur's nephew, his sister's son, and his first cousin. (Culhwch ac Olwen: R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), p. 369)

This Gwalchmei is the same person as Geoffrey of Monmouth's Gualgu(i)nus (Gualgwinus, Walwan(i)us), Arthur's nephew by his sister Anna (Historia Regum Britanniae IX, 9), the Gauvains of French romance (English Gawain), and the Walwen mentioned by William of Malmesbuy in 1125 (see Bromwich, 1978, pp. 369-375):

At this time (1066-87) 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. He reigned in that part of Britain which is still called Walweitha... But the tomb of Arthur is nowhere beheld, whence ancient ditties fable that he is yet to come. The tomb of the other, however, as I have said, was found in the time of King William upon the sea shore, fourteen feet in length; and here some say he was wounded by his foes and cast out in a shipwreck, but according to others he was killed by his fellow-citizens at a public banquet. Knowledge of the truth therefore remains doubtful, although neither story would be inconsistent with the defence of his fame. (E. K. Chambers, Arthur of Britain (London, 1927), p. 17)

The 'historical' details in the above, such as the claim that Walwen ruled in Walweitha (Galloway) can be safely dismissed as later antiquarian speculation (for example, the placing of Walwen in Galloway is clearly due to a later comparison of the two names, not any real association). Our main interest in the passage stems from the fact that William's account clearly preserves a folk explanation of a remarkable feature in the natural landscape, in this case an enormous tomb. Such topographic folktales (see particularly O. J. Padel, 'The Nature of Arthur', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 27 (1994), pp. 1-31) are a distinguishing feature of the earliest Arthurian material and, indeed, the 14 feet long grave is strongly reminiscent of the variable and great length of the grave of Arthur's son, Amr -- recorded in chapter 73 of the early 9th-century Historia Brittonum -- and the numerous references which suggest that Arthur and his chief companions were believed to have been giants (see Padel, 1994; L. M. Gowans, Cei and the Arthurian Legend (Cambridge, 1988); Grooms, in his Giants of Wales. Cewri Cymru (Lampeter, 1993), p. 230, considers Gwalchmei to have been a giant and notes that he appears as such in local folklore). Unfortunately, the section already quoted from Culhwch is Gwalchmei's only significant appearance in that tale and he entirely absent from the (admittedly incomplete) poem Pa Gur?. However he is present in the Black Book of Carmarthen version of Englynion Y Beddau, dated to the mid-late 9th century by Rowland (in J. Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry: a Study and Edition of the Englynion (Cambridge, 1990), p. 389), indicating that topographic folklore was attached to his name by this point, the Englynion being a specialised record of such pre-existing folklore. He is also to be found in the pre-Galfridian Early Version of Trioedd Ynys Prydein, No. 4, 'Three Well-Endowed Men of the Island of Britain', alongside Arthur's son Llacheu, and he is used by Cynddelw in the 12th century as a paragon of heroic qualities. Given all of this it seems clear that Gwalchmei was a folkloric hero of some antiquity and the same type as Arthur, but also that he perhaps occupied a lesser role in the non-Galfridian Arthurian tradition than did either Bedwyr or Cai.

With regards to Gwalchmei's parentage it should be noted that there is some confusion as Geoffrey makes him Arthur's nephew by Anna and Lot of Lothian, but in Culhwch and the Early Version of the Triads he is 'Gwalchmei son of Gwyar'. It seems safe to assume that the Welsh tradition is the earlier one, with later Welsh writers being seen to struggle with the differing accounts given by Geoffrey and the native tradition, but the substitution of Anna's name with that of Gwyar in the 14th-century Birth of Arthur raises the possibility that Gwyar could be a matronymic, a rare but not unknown situation (see Bromwich, 1978, pp. 372-3). In Culhwch he is given a brother, Gwalhauet mab Gwyar, who is also referred to in a marwnad by the 13th-century poet Llygad Gwr, suggesting that this brother might have been a traditional rather than an invented character. The name Gwalchmei may mean something like 'The Hawk of the Plain(s?)' or 'Hawk-Beak' with Gwyar literally meaning 'blood' (Bromwich, 1978, p. 552; Bromwich rejects completely Loomis' derivation of the forms Gauvains etc. from Gwrvan gvallt auvyan rather than Gwalchmei, see pp. 370-71), although Koch has suggested that it could be from an early *Wolcos Magesos, 'Wolf' or 'Errant Warrior of the Plain' ('The Celtic Lands', in N. J. Lacy (ed.), Medieval Arthurian Literature: A Guide to Recent Research (New York, 1996), pp. 239-322 at p. 267).


Gwenhwyfar (= Guinevere) is first named as Arthur's queen in Culhwch ac Olwen (c. 1100) but a fuller account of her role in the pre-Galfridian tradition is to be had from Caradog of Llancarfan's Vita Gildae, written in the 1120s or 1130s for the monks of Glastonbury:

Glastonbury....was besieged by the tyrant Arthur with an innumerable host because of his wife Gwenhwyfar, whom the aforesaid king Melwas had violated and carried off bringing her there for safety, because of the invulnerable position's protection, provided by the thicketed fortifications of reed, rivers and marshes. The war-like king had searched for the queen throughout the cycle of one year, and at last heard that she resided there. Thereupon he called up the armies of the whole of Cornwall and Devon and war was prepared between the enemies.

When the abbot of Glastonbury -- attended by the clergy and Gildas the Wise -- saw this, he stepped in between the contending armies, and peacefully advised his king Melwas, that he should restore the kidnapped lady. And so, she who was to be restored was restored in peace and good will. When these things had been done, the two kings gave to the abbot many territories; and they came to visit the church of St Mary to pray; the abbot sanctioning the dear fraternity in return for the peace they enjoyed and the benefits which they had bestowed and which they were about to bestow yet more plentifully. Then, reconciled, the kings left, swearing reverently to obey the most venerable abbot of Glastonbury, and not to violate the holiest part nor even the lands bordering on the land of its overseer. (J. B. Coe and S. Young (ed. and trans.), The Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend (Felifach, 1995), pp. 25-7)

There are several subsequent references to this tale of the abduction of Gwenhwyfar by Melwas, for example in Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charette, in which a certain Meleagant abducts Arthur's queen Guenièvre, wounding Keu in the process, and takes her to the Otherworldly kingdom of Go(i)rre (OFr. voirre, 'glass'; Welsh gwydr, 'glass'); on the Modena archivolt, where there appears to be a representation of some version of this story; in the 14th-century poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym; and in the non-Galfridian Ymddiddan Melwas ac Gwenhwyfar, a dialogue poem which appears to be between Arthur's queen and Melwas 'from Ynys Wydrin (Isle of Glass)' (Cai may also have a part at the end). While this latter work only survives in post-medieval manuscripts, the original poem should probably be regarded as very much older (i.e. 12th century: R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), p. 383). It has been convincingly suggested that behind these tales lies a pre-Galfridian Welsh story concerned with the rescue of Gwenhwyfar from an Otherworld Island of Glass controlled by Melwas (who appears in other works as a magician who went to the 'end of the world'), similar to Preideu Annwfyn and its analogues. The version presented in Vita Gildae would seem to be being an adaptation of this story with the Isle of Glass being identified -- spuriously -- as Glastonbury by Caradog (the name actually means 'island, or fortress, of the Glastings', not 'Isle of Glass' as Caradog asserts, though he may not have been the first to make the identification) thus allowing him to introduce the abbot of Glastonbury as peacemaker and beneficiary of 'many lands' from Arthur and Melwas (see P. Sims-Williams, 'The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 33-71 at pp. 58-61).

The above abduction theme remains at the centre of the tales concerning Gwenhwyfar, though the abductor changes: in Geoffrey of Monmouth's HRB the abductor is Arthur's nephew Mordred; in Ulrich's Lanzelet it is Valerin; in Diu Crone it is Gasozein and, finally, in the Vulgate romances it becomes Lancelot. It should of course be noted that some of these may not be changes but rather variant versions of the abduction tale. The resemblances between the Fenian and Arthurian cycles have often been noted (for example, A. G. Van Hamel 'Aspects of Celtic Mythology', Proceedings of the British Academy, 20 (1934), pp. 207-48) and, as such, Geoffrey's account of Mordred's abduction of Gwenhwyfar could represent an early tradition since it is closely paralleled by the abduction of Fionn's wife Grainne by his nephew Diarmaid. That said however, this requires us to identify Mordred as Arthur's nephew, an identification not confirmed by texts independent of Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose authority in this matter is to be doubted (see note on Medraut; on the recurrent idea that Gwenhwyfar was somehow involved in the Battle of Camlann, see the discussion in chapter four of T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud, 2007)).

With specific regard to Gwenhwyfar herself, a number of points need to be made. First, her name is generally agreed to mean 'white/sacred fairy/enchantress' (see M. Richards, 'Arthurian Onomastics', The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1969), pp. 250-64 at p. 257), and as Ford has shown, the first element of this name, gwen 'white, holy', points clearly to her Otherworldly origins (P. K. Ford, 'On the Significance of some Arthurian Names in Welsh', The Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 30 (1983), pp. 268-273). This name, Gwenhwyfar, is cognate with the Irish Finnabhair and Richards has pointed out that the division in the Triads into Gwenhwy + fawr, 'great', in contrast with her supposed sister Gwenhwy + fach, 'little', is a transparent folk etymology. Second, Geoffrey of Monmouth's forms of her name include G(u)anhumara and the -m- here is best explained as deriving from a misreading of a written Old Welsh (9th-11th century) source (Bromwich, 1978, p. 381), which is obviously of interest. Third, in early Welsh tradition (for example, in Brut y Brenhinedd and Trioedd Ynys Prydein) Gwenhwyfar's father is Ogfran Gawr ('the Giant') and she herself appears as a giantess (understandably, given her parentage) in British folklore -- thus Sir John Rhys records the following popular rhyme: Gwenhwyfar, ferch Ogrfan Gawr / Drwg yn fechan, gwaeth yn fawr, 'Gwenhwyfar daughter of Ogfran the Giant, bad when little, worse when big' (Studies in the Arthurian Legend (Oxford, 1901), p. 49).

Lancelot du Lac

Lancelot du Lac is a non-insular figure -- his name is clearly a foreign importation and he was unknown to the Gogynfeirdd, the references to him by Welsh poets of the 15th and later centuries owing their origin to a knowledge of the French Vulgate Cycle. Lancelot first appears in the late 12th-century poems Le Chevalier de la Charette by Chrétien de Troyes and Lanzelot by Ulrich von Zatzikhofen. Both of these poems contain elements of mythology and folklore which are obviously 'Celtic' in origin, but there is no reason to think that Lancelot is one of these elements. As a major Arthurian hero Lancelot is late on the scene, finally superseding the earlier hero Gawain (= Gwalchmei, see note) as the peer of Arthur's knights in the 13th-century Vulgate romances (see R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), pp. 414-16, who rejects completely any association between Lancelot and the god Lug, arguing instead that the name Lancelot is most probably a variant of the Breton Lancelin, recorded in 11th century, with an altered suffix).

Llacheu m. Arthur

Llacheu features frequently in the early poetry, although he is only mentioned once in the Early Version of the Triads, which were originally compiled in the 11th or 12th century: Triad 4 'Three Well-Endowed Men of the Island of Britain:.. Llacheu son of Arthur...'. In the Black Book of Carmarthen there are two important references to him. The first comes from the perhaps 10th-century poem Ymddiddan Gwyddno Garanhir ac Gwyn fab Nudd, the last section of which contains a catalogue of earlier heroic warriors at whose deaths the speaker claims to have been present:

I have been where Llacheu was slain
the son of Arthur, awful [/marvellous] in songs
when ravens croaked over blood.
(J. B. Coe and S. Young (ed. and trans.), The Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend (Felinfach, 1995), p. 125)

The 'marvellous songs' probably refer to Llacheu, not Arthur (see A. O. H. Jarman, 'The Delineation of Arthur in Early Welsh Verse', in K. Varty (ed.), An Arthurian Tapestry: Essays in Memory of Lewis Thorpe (Glasgow 1981), pp. 1-21 at p. 18, n.26). The second is in the early poem Pa gur yv y porthaur?, where Llacheu appears alongside Cai in the list of warriors and their deeds that Arthur narrates:

Cai the fair and Llachau,
they performed battles
before the pain of of blue spears (ended the conflict).
(Lines 76-8: P. Sims-Williams, 'The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.) The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 33-71 at p. 43)

There are continuing references to him in later Welsh verse (i.e. after c. 1150), in which he is used as a standard of heroic comparison (for example, Cynddelw refers to Llacheu uar, 'Llacheu's ferocity'), and he is mentioned in Breuddwyd Rhonabwy. As Bromwich says, 'These allusions in poetry indicate that Llacheu was a figure of considerable importance in the early Arthurian saga, and that like Kei and Bedwyr he belonged to the oldest stratum of Arthurian tradition...' (R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), p. 416). Certainly he would appear to be present in local topographic folklore, like Arthur et al, if the evidence of a 13th-century elegy can be trusted (see Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 44).

It is worth noting that early Arthurian tradition gave Arthur more than one son. In the early 9th-century Historia Brittonum Arthur is said to have slain his son Amr. This Amr failed, however, to achieve later fame beyond a mention of 'Amhar son of Arthur' in Geraint (he appears as one of Arthur's four chamberlains along with Bedwyr's son, Amhren -- see G. Jones and T. Jones (trans.), The Mabinogion (Dent, 1949), p. 231). Another son, one Loholt, is mentioned in the continental romances. Y Seint Greal identifies Llacheu with this Loholt, thus having Cai slay Llacheu rather than Loholt as he does in the Perlesvaus. There is, however, no reason to believe in any early association between Llacheu and Loholt (or indeed, in a traditional origin for Loholt -- he first appears in Chrétien's Erec and the name is Breton-French) and thus no reason to think that there was a tradition of Cai slaying Arthur's son which is not recorded in the Welsh sources. Rather the equation of Llacheu with Loholt is best viewed as the result of the translation of the continental material into Welsh and the consequent substitution of Welsh traditional material for the unfamiliar continental names (see Bromwich, 1978, pp. 417-18; C. Lloyd-Morgan, 'Bruddwyd Rhonabwy and Later Arthurian Literature', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 183-208 at p. 197). Other sons granted to Arthur in Welsh materials include Gwydre, named in Culhwch ac Olwen as having been killed by the giant boar Trwyd at Cwm Kerwyn in the Preselly mountains, and Duran, who appears in an englyn and prose fragment from MS Mostyn 131, p. 770, which, though late (perhaps 15th century?), is clearly working in the native non-Galfridian tradition of Arthur.

Madog m. Uthyr

In the 'Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle' (Ymddiddan Arthur a'r Eryr), a work drawing on traditions earlier than Geoffrey of Monmouth though the text itself cannot be dated before c. 1150, the eagle reveals himself as Arthur's deceased nephew Eliwlat vab Madawc vab Uthyr (this genealogy is repeated in the mid-15th-century Pedwar Marchog ar Hugain Llys Arthur), thus making Madawg and Arthur brothers. This Madog son of Uthyr is known from another pre-Galfridian text, Madawg drut ac Erof in the Book of Taliesin:

Madawc mur menwyt.
Madawc kyn bu bed,
Bu dinas edryssed
o gamp a chymwed.
Mab vthyr kyn lleas
Oe law dywystlas.

Madog, the rampart of rejoicing.
Madog, before he was in the grave,
he was a fortress of generosity
[consisting] of feat(s) and play.
The son of Uthyr, before death
he handed over pledges.
(P. Sims-Williams, 'The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 33-71 at pp. 53-4)

and from a late 12th-century religious poem, where he is mentioned ironically in a list of former worthies:

Madog, famous leader, was false;
he had great profit: wretched sorrow! (Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 54)

From these references it is evident that there were stories current in early Welsh tradition regarding Arthur's 'brother', but unfortunately nothing more survives of these than the above and Geoffrey made no use of such traditions.


Medraut (= Modred) makes his first appearance in the Annales Cambriae, in an annal of probably mid-10th-century origin (see 'The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur'; T. Green, Concepts of Arthur (Stroud, 2007)):

The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell: and there was plague in Britain and Ireland (s.a. 537)

This annal makes it clear that, by the 10th century, Medraut was seen as playing an important part in the pre-Galfridian Welsh tales, and this conclusion is confirmed -- if confirmation is needed -- by the references made to him by the 12th century and later bards. For example, Meilyr Brydydd, in a lament for the death of Gruffudd ap Cynan (d. 1137), praises his subject for having Medraut's valour in battle, and Meilyr's son Gwalchmei lauds Madog ap Maredudd (d. 1160) for possessing the 'good nature of Medrawd'. Going beyond this simple statement of fact is, however, difficult, as no source uninfluenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth or the Bruts makes Medraut Arthur's nephew or his betrayer/opponent -- in fact they seem rather to contradict these claims. Thus the references to him by the 12th-century Welsh court poets, including those noted above, seem to indicate that Medraut was thought of as a paragon of valour, courage and good nature to whom their patrons could be favourably compared (see R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), pp. 454-55; O. J. Padel Arthur in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 2000), pp. 113-15), and the native Welsh tradition on this point seems to have remained remarkably vigorous to a very late date -- no references to any conflicts or acts of treachery between Arthur and Medraut are made by the Welsh poets until the early 16th century, when they first appear in the work of Tudur Aled. Similarly, on the matter of parentage, no non-Galfridian account supports Geoffrey's claims and we have to recognise that the parents attributed to Medraut by Geoffrey are the same as those given by him to Gwalchmei -- sources earlier than Geoffrey make it clear that this parentage is false for Gwalchmei at least, and post-Galfridian authors who do make use of Geoffrey appear to indicate that the parentage given in his Historia to both Gwalchmei and Medraut was at variance with that found in the traditional materials. As such it is now generally accepted that there is no reason to believe that either notion is any older than the Historia Regum Britanniae itself (see for example Bromwich, 1978 and Padel, 2000).

In the later Vulgate Mort Artu, Morguase -- Arthur's supposed half-sister -- is made to be Medraut's mother and this incest motif is preserved in the romances based upon the Mort Artu (for example, Malory's Morte Darthur). Both this parentage and the incest motif are, however, clearly inventions of the Mort Artu, despite their modern popularity, and in all unrelated accounts the portrayal of Medraut is solidly Galfridian. Geoffrey's form of the name, Mordredus, was derived from a Cornish or Breton source and the name is known from the Cornish Domesday returns and in the Bodmin manumissions of A.D. 960-1000 (Bromwich, 1978, p. 455).

Uthyr Pendragon

Uthyr is, of course, famous as the father of Arthur in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1138), but he was known to Welsh tradition prior to the publication of this work (pace Geoffrey Ashe: see A.O.H. Jarman 'Emrys Wledig; Amlawdd Wledig; Uthr Bendragon', in Llên Cymru 2 (1952)). So, for example, in the early poem Pa gur yv y porthaur? from the Black Book of Carmarthen one of Arthur's band of men is named as:

Mabon son of Myrdon,
Uthr Pendragon's servant;
(Lines 13-14: P. Sims-Williams, 'The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 33-71 at p. 40)

One of the most interesting questions is, naturally, whether Uthyr was viewed as Arthur's father previous to Geoffrey. The answer to this is probably 'yes'. In the 'Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle' (Ymddiddan Arthur a'r Eryr), which is independent of Geoffrey's work, the eagle reveals itself to be Arthur's deceased nephew, Eliwlod son of Madawg son of Uthyr (stanzas 7-9), i.e. Arthur and Madog are both sons of Uthyr (the above relationship between Uthyr and Madog is confirmed by another reference in the Book of Taliesin -- see note on Madog). In addition to this, in the Book of Taliesin poem Marwnat vthyr pen[dragon] (another piece of evidence, incidentally, for a pre-Galfridian Uthyr) the speaker, who would appear to be Uthyr, boasts 'I have shared my refuge, a ninth share in Arthur's valour', that is, perhaps, that he has passed on his qualities (or his kingdom) to Arthur, and later that 'The world [or 'battle'] would not exist if it were not for my progeny' (see Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 53).

Accepting the above, it must therefore be asked what was the nature of this Uthyr beyond being perceived as Arthur's father? The crucial piece of evidence is provided by Triad 28, which tells us that Uthyr was a great and renowned enchanter/magician who teaches one of the 'Three Great Enchantments of the Island of Britain' to Menw son of Teirgwaedd, a character who is one of Arthur's men and has the ability to shape-shift and to become invisible in Culhwch ac Olwen. This fits, of course, very nicely with the episode in Geoffrey's text in which Uthyr shape-shifts in order to lie with Gorlois's wife, and Bromwich's suggestion that Geoffrey was here drawing on a native tradition, just as he did in making Uthyr Arthur's father, appears to have been accepted (see R. Bromwich (ed. and trans.), Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff, 1978), p. 56, and Sims-Williams, 1991, p. 53; it is generally agreed that British traditions and stories lie behind many elements of Geoffrey's work, though the Arthurian sections taken as a whole are Geoffrey's alone and owe little to prior narrative: see B. F. Roberts, 'Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae and Brut y Brenhinedd', in R. Bromwich et al (edd.), The Arthur of the Welsh: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), pp. 97-116). As such, Uthyr was probably originally perceived as a magician and shape-shifter who was/became known as Arthur's father; for the view that Uthyr was originally a 'Celtic' god, see K. Malone, 'The Historicity of Arthur', Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 23 (1924), pp. 463-91. 

With regards to the name, uthr can be both an adjective ('terrible') or a proper name, a fact which has caused some confusion in the past. However, in the light of the evidence for pre-Galfridian traditions about this figure, and the fact that Uthyr appears as a personal name in Welsh and Irish sources, there is no reason to look for the origins of the name Uthyr Pendragon -- or his association with Arthur -- in an early gloss on the name Arthur (see Jarman, 1952 and Bromwich, 1978, pp. 521-22). Pendragon means literally 'Chief Dragon' but dragon occurs in the oldest poetry (for example, in Y Gododdin) as a euphemism for warriors; thus Pendragon should be taken as something like 'foremost leader' or 'chief of warriors' (see Bromwich, 1978, pp. 520-23).

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