Harlech Castle

Mabinogion: second branch

The second story centres on the triangle of Bendigeidfran (meaning Bran the Blessed), the giant king of Britain, his sister Branwen, and their evil half-brother Efnisien (sometimes spelt Evnissyen).

Branwen is given in marriage to Matholwch the king of Ireland. Efnisien, enraged at not having been consulted about the marriage, mutilates Matholwch's horses in a horrific act of revenge.

Bendigeidfran pacifies the insulted Matholwch with new horses and gifts, including a magical cauldron that brings the dead back to life. Matholwch returns to Ireland with Branwen by his side.

Branwen becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Gwern. But the shadow of the mutilated horses hangs over her, and the people of Ireland demand that their king avenge the disgrace brought by Efnisien.

She is banished to the kitchen of Matholwch's castle, where she sleeps and works each day. Each day Branwen is beaten by the bloody hands of the butcher. She trains a starling to take a letter to Bendigeidfran at Caer Seint (Caernarfon) to let him know of her humiliation.

Bendigeidfran gathers his army to invade Ireland and rescue Branwen. His men cross the Irish Sea in ships, but Bendigeidfran is able to wade across, such is his height.

Matholwch tries to make peace, offering to give the kingship of Ireland over to Branwen's son Gwern, and to build him a new palace. At the coronation feast the Irish hang 100 deerskin bags in the new banqueting hall. The bags, supposedly containing flour, actually hold armed Irish lords.

Efnisien, still feeling insulted, foils the plot by crushing the men's skulls as they hid. He throws Gwern headlong into a fire, ruining the chances for peace.

Fighting breaks out. Seeing that the Irish use the magical cauldron to revive their dead, Efnisien hides beneath a pile of Irish bodies. He is thrown into the cauldron, and breaks it into pieces by pushing against the sides. The strain costs him his life.

With the Irish defeated, just seven Welsh soldiers survive the battle, including Bendigeidfran, his brother Manawydan, and Pryderi. Bendigeidfran, mortally wounded by a poisoned spear in his foot, orders the soldiers to cut off his head and take it to be buried in London facing towards France, ensuring that the country will never be invaded from the sea.

Branwen goes with them, but her heart breaks with sadness when they get back to Wales and she dies. The seven soldiers travel to Harlech with the still-living head, where they stay for seven years feasting and listening to the birds of Rhiannon to make them forget their pain and loss.

Then they travel to the island of Gwales, where they stay in a royal palace for another eight years. One day a soldier opens a door looking out on Cornwall, and they remember their pain and their lost friends. The men then set out for London to bury Bendigeidfran's head.

In Ireland, meanwhile, five pregnant women survive. Their children repopulate the nation.

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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