Chess pieces

The Dream of Macsen Wledig

Magnus Maximus was a usurper against the Romans in the fourth century.

Also known as Macsen Wledig, the historical figure Magnus Macsenus or Magnus Maximus became the basis for a number of Welsh and English legends. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth he was king of the Britons following the death of Octavius, during the reign of Emperor Constantine I.

The Mabinogion tells of Macsen Wledig marrying the daughter of a Caernarfon-based chieftain. Although fictionalised, the story has a degree of basis in fact.

The tale begins with Macsen Wledig, emperor of Rome, falling into a deep sleep after going hunting. He dreams of journeys of rivers, mountains and valleys. Eventually he finds a great city with a vast castle, and a huge fleet of ships.

He boards the largest ship, which sets sails along the seas and oceans before arriving at wondrous lands. He comes to a castle with a hall covered in gold, silver and precious stones. Seated are two youths playing chess, dressed in jet black satin.

Elsewhere in the hall is a man sitting in an ivory chair, and a maiden of great beauty. The maiden rises from her chair, and the man embraces her. Emperor Macsen Wledig awakes at this point.

Consumed by love for the maiden seen in his dream, Macsen Wledig mounts his horse and goes forth to Rome. On his arrival he is withdrawn, choosing to sleep rather than engage in the people of the household. In each of his dreams he sees the beautiful maiden.

One day the page of his chamber tells Macsen Wledig that the people are turning against him, because they get neither message nor answer from him. The wise men of Rome are brought before the emperor, and he tells them of his dream. The wise men instruct Macsen to send messengers for three years to the three parts of the world to seek the beautiful maiden.

After a year the messengers return with no news, leaving the emperor sorrowful. The king of the Romans says to him to go and hunt where he did before the dream. From there 13 messengers journey to a high mountain, at the top of which they see the land of the emperor's dream.

Eventually they come to the vast city and its castle. They cross the sea in the giant ship, which takes them to Britain. They ride until they come to Snowdon. "Behold," said they, "the rugged land that our master saw." They continue to Anglesey and Arvon.

At Aber Sain they find a castle at the mouth of the river. They go inside and into the hall from the dream. They see the two youths playing chess, the man carving chess pieces and the maiden in the chair of gold.

The messengers proclaim the maiden empress of Rome. She tells them she will not go with them to Rome; if Macsen Wledig loves her, he must come to her.

They return to Rome and tell the emperor of their findings. With his guides, Macsen Wledig goes to Britain and finds Aber Sain, the castle of his dream. He sees Kynan and Adeon playing chess, and their father Eudav son of Caradawc, carving chessmen. Then he spies the maiden, named Helen Luyddawc, from his dream.

"Empress of Rome," he says, "all hail!" And the emperor throws his arms about her neck, and that night she becomes his bride. The following day she asks for Britain for her father, and three chief castles made for her, the largest in Arvon. The emperor grants this; the other castles are built in Caerleon and Carmarthen.

The emperor remains for seven years, building castles and roads throughout Britain. The length of time spent away from Rome means he is banished from returning, and he loses his high office.

The new emperor threatens Macsen in a letter. The deposed emperor sets off for Rome with his army, vanquishing France and Burgundy on the way. However, he spends a year outside Rome without become near to recapturing it. Eventually he is joined by Helen and her warrior brothers, and Kynan and Adeon, sons of Eudav.

Kynan and Adeon construct a ladder for every four men of their party. While the warring emperors break their fighting to eat, the Britons breach the city walls.

The new emperor, unable to arm himself in time, is slain along with many others. For three days and nights the Britons fight to retake the castle and city, unbeknown to Macsen Wledig.

Macsen complains to Helen that her brothers have been unable to conquer the city. She replies that "the wisest youths in the world are my brothers. Go thou thither and ask the city of them, and if it be in their possession thou shalt have it gladly."

The gates of the city of Rome are opened, and the emperor Macsen Wledig once again is seated on the throne, with all the men of Rome submitted themselves unto him.

The emperor gives Kynan and Adeon leave to vanquish any region in the world they may desire to rule. The brothers conquer lands, castles and cities in the Amorica region of Gaul, which contains the Brittany peninsula, slaying men and sparing women. After many years of this Adeon returns to Britain, leaving Kynan to rule over the rest.

Kynon and his men then cut the tongues out of the women, to prevent them from having their speech corrupted. Because of the silence of the Amorican women, the men of the region became known as Britons.


Chwedlau Myrddin

Ynys Gudd Morgana

Stori Ynys Gudd Morgana

Ewch ar anturiaethau gyda'r cymeriadau yn ein straeon a gemau.

Wales arts

Catrin Dafydd (Image © Catrin Howells)

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