Background material connecting Guinevere's abductors with otherworldly kings

Completed 10 June 2000.
Last modified 27 January 2002.
© Text Copyright 2000 Michael Wild

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  1. The abduction of Gennavar (Guinevere) by Melvas
  2. The homeland of Meleagant
  3. Gwyn son of Nud at Glastonbury, as an otherworld king, an abductor and as Lord of the Dead

The abduction of Gennavar (Guinevere) by Melvas

This version of the abduction of Guennuvar appears in the Life of Gildas by Caradoc of Llangarfan: a contemporary and friend of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Like Geoffrey, Caradoc wrote in the mid-twelfth century. Caradoc's account of Guennuvar's abduction is quoted in full. The translation was made by Hugh Williams and was first published in 1899.

The Gildas mentioned in the story was a real historical person. A saint who wrote in his book, 'The Ruin of Britain', that he was born in the year of the famous battle of Badon Hill.

The incident of the rescue of Guennuvar from Melvas probably comes from the later years of Gildas's life. Just prior to the abduction Gildas had moved to the region of Glastonbury for safety. He had lived as a hermit on an island in the Bristol Channel, but his peaceful religious life there was disrupted by raids of pirates from the Orkneys.

'Being therefore distressed, he could not remain there any longer: he left the island, embarked on board a little ship, and, in great grief, put in at Glastonia, at the time when king Melvas was reigning in the summer country. He was received with much welcome by the abbot of Glastonia, and taught the brethren and the scattered people, sowing the precious seed of the heavenly doctrine. It was there that he wrote the history of the kings of Britain.

Glastonia, that is, the glassy city, which took its name from glass, is a city that originally had its name in the British tounge. It was besieged by the tyrant Arthur with a countless multitude on account of his wife Gwenhwyfar (Guennuvar in the Latin original), whom the aforesaid wicked king had violated and carried off, and brought there for protection, owing to the asylum afforded by the invulnerable position due to the fortifications of thickets of reeds, river and marsh. The rebellious king had searched for the queen throughout the course of one year, and at last heard that she remained there. Thereupon he raised the armies of the whole of Cornubia (Cornwall) and Dibneria (Devon); war was prepared between the enemies.

When he saw this, the abbot of Glastonia, attended by the clergy and Gildas the Wise, stepped in between the contending armies, and in a peaceable manner advised his king, Melvas, to restore the ravished lady. Accordingly, she who was to be restored, was restored in peace and goodwill. When these things were done, the two kings gave to the abbot a gift of many domains; and they came to visit the temple of St. Mary and to pray, while the abbot confirmed the beloved brotherhood in return for the peace they enjoyed and the benefits they had conferred, and were more abundantly about to confer. Then the kings returned reconciled, promising reverently to obey the most reverent abbot of Glastonia, and never to violate the most sacred places nor even the districts adjoining the chief's seat.

Two Lives of Gildas, trans. Williams, H., Llanerch Enterprises: Felinfach, 1990 (1899), pp. 98-101.

The homeland of Meleagant

A description from Sone de Nansai.

Now while the Island of Galoche seems to be a highly Christianized form of the Celtic Other World as described in the Harryings of Annwn, yet there is in Sone de Nansai another island, which seems to be the most extraordinary composite of Celtic conceptions of the Other World. After his marriage and coronation in the Isle Galoche, Sone and his queen depart for a visit to a neighboring island, which is said to be so exactly square that no one could tell which side was longer. The walls are high, wide, and made of crystal. There were four palaces at the four corners of the walls. A bowshot away was a great causeway which led to the mainland half a league away. Connecting the causeway with the island was the Sword Bridge, where many heads were stricken off when Meleagan was lord. His father was King Baudemagus, and his grandfather Tadus. In the center of the island was a fountain which welled up through a horn of gilded copper. And there was also a cemetery, where the names of the buried were inscribed on stones. While here Sone and his wife were overwhelmed by a terriflc tempest. There was lightning, thunder, and a gale which tore up trees, and drove mountainous waves over the island, so that all who did not take refuge on the walls were drowned. Sone saved Odee's life. At last after three days and nights, a thunderbolt fell in the cemetery, tearing open the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea's heathen wife. Then the sun shone out once more. But the stench from the opened tomb was not relieved till the body was thrown into the sea. Sone and his bride returned to Galoche.

Celtic Mythology and Arthurian Roamance, Roger Sherman Loomis, P. 211.

Gwyn son of Nud at Glastonbury, as an abductor and Lord of the Dead

Gwyn ap Nudd and St Collen from 'The Lives of the Saints' by S. Baring Gould

MAY 20 COLLEN, C Denbighshire, and as COLAN in Cornwall 7th cent.

COLLEN was a Welsh saint of the seventh century. He is the patron of Liangollen in Denbighahire, and Colan in Cornwall. According to some of the Welsh pedigrees be was the son of Pedrwn, the son of Coleddog (mentioned in the Triads as one of the "Three Ineloquent Men of the Court of Arthur"); but, according to others, the son of Gwynog, of the family of Caradog Freichfras. His Life, written in Welsh, and still un-translated, says that he was the son of Gwynog, and adds that his mother was Etlini Wyddeles (the Irishwoman), the daughter of Matholwch, an Irish princeling. His Life states that he went to be educated to Orleans, where he remained for eight years and a half, during the wars of Julian the Apostate, which is an absurdity. Just at that time, in order to bring to a speedy termination the incessant wars between the Pagans and the Christians, a Pagan of the name of Bras challenged, as the champion of Paganism, to fight any Christian that might be pitted against him, laying down that the losing side should henceforth adopt the religion of the religion of the conqueror. To this the Pope consented, but when he came to look for his man he could find no one that would consent to enter the combat. However, he was directed at last by a voice from heaven to S. Collen, who was at that time at Porth Hamwnt. The challenge was accepted without the slightest hesitation, and both met, armed for the conflict. Collen, in the first encounter, had the misfortune to have his hand a little bruised, but Bras very kindly gave him a little ointment to put upon it, at the same time endeavouring to persuade him to give in, and believe in his Pagan god. The hand was forthwith healed, but instead of returning the ointment box, Cohen threw it into the river, lest either should get further benefit from it. This time Collen felled his antagonist, who implored him not to kill him, and promised to embrace the Christian religion. He was in due time baptized by the Pope, and thereupon "the whole Greek nation believed and was baptized." As a souvenir of this signal victory, the Pope gave Collen a wonderful lily, which he afterwards brought to this country, "and it is said that that lily is still at Worcester."

Collen afterwards came to Glastonbury, where in three months time he was elected abbot. This post he soon resigned for a mode of life that was "heavier and harder," which consisted principally of preaching here and there. He again got tired of this, and returned to Glastonbury, where everything went on quite smoothly for five years, when he happened to quarrel with some of the people, and, cursing them, left for "the mountain of Glastonbury "(probably Glastonbury Tor), and made his cell in a quiet spot beneath a rock. As he was in his cell one day, he heard two men talking ahout Gwyn ab Nudd, and saying that he was the King of Annwn (the Under-World) and the Fairies. Collen put his head out, and told them to hold their peace, as those were merely demons. They told him to hold his peace, besides, he would have to meet Gwyn face to face. By Collen heard a knocking at his door, and in answer got the reply, "It is I, the messenger of Gwyn ab Nudd, King of Annwn, bidding you to come to speak with him on the top of the hill by mid-day." The saint persistently refused to go day after day, until at last he was threatened with the words, "If you don't come, Collen, it will be the worse for you." This disconcerted him, and, taking some holy water with him, he went. On reaching the place, Cohen beheld there the most beautiful castle that he had ever seen, with the best appointed troops; a great number of musicians with all manner of instruments; horses with young men riding them; handsome, sprightly maidens, and everything that became the court of a sumptuous king. When Collen entered, he found the king sitting in a chair of gold. Collen was welcomed by him, and asked to seat himself at the table to eat, adding that beside what he saw thereon, he should have the rarest of all dainties, and plenty of every kind of drink. Collen said, "I will not eat the tree-leaves." Hast thou ever," asked the king, "seen men better dressed than these in red and blue?" Collen said, "Their dress is good enough, for such kind as it is." "What kind is that?" asked the king. Collen said that the red on the one side meant burning, and the blue on the other, cold. Then he sprinkled holy water over them, and they all vanished, leaving behind them nothing but green tumps.

Collen certainly passed into Brittany, as the church of Langolen, near Quimper, in ancient Cornouaille, venerates him as founder.

In some old Welsh kalendars his festival day is given as the 21st.

Gwyn ap Nudd as an abductor in 'Culhwch and Olwen'.

The gentle gold torqued maidens af this Island....Creiddylad daughter of Lludd Silver-hand (the maiden of most majesty that was ever in the Island of Britain and its three adjacent islands, And for her Gwythyr son of Greidswl ans Gwyn son of Nudd fight for her each May-calends till the day of doom).

....Creiddylad daughter of Lludd Silver-hand went with Gwythyr son of Greidawl; and before he had slept with her came Gwyn son of Nudd and carried her off by force. Gwythyr son of Greidawl gathered a host, and he came to fight with Gwyn son of Nudd. And Gwyn prevailed, and he took prisoner Greid son of Eri, Glinneu son of Taran, and Gwrgwst the Half-naked and Dyfnarth his son. And he took prisoner son of Nethawg, and Nwython, and Cyledyr the Wild his son. And he took prisoner Pen son of Nethawg, and Nwython, and Cyledyr the Wild his son, and he slew Nwython and took out his heart, and compelled Cyledyr to eat his father's heart; and because of this Cyledyr went mad. Arthur heard tell of this, and he came into the North and summoned to him Gwyn son of Nudd and set free his noblemen from his prison, and peace was made between Gwyn son of Nudd and Gwythyr son of Greidawl. This was the peace that was made: the maiden should remain in her father's house, unmolested by either side, and there should be battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr every May-Calends for ever and ever till doomsday; and the one of them that should be victor on doomsday, let him have the maiden.

From'The Mabinogion', trans, G. Jones and T. Jones, Dent 1949, pp. 106-107 & pp. 128-129.

Gwyn ap Nudd as a malevolent ruler of the Otherworld of Annwn and as the leader of the 'Wild Hunt'.

Gwyn son of whom God has set the spirit of the demons of Annwn, lest this world be destroyed.

From'The Mabinogion', trans, G. Jones and T. Jones, Dent 1949, P. 119.

Gwyn is King of the Fairies and Lord of Annwn. Annwn appears to have been a kind of Hades, a marshalling place of departed souls somehow related to Avalon. Welsh tradition adds that Gwyn is the leader of the Wild Hunt, in which the souls of the dead are whisked out of their bodies and borne away through thunderclouds. This hunt occurs in folklore from Ireland to Eastern Europe. Its personnel includes quite a number of real and fabulous heroes, Arthur among them. It's destination in any given version is the leader's abode. Thus Gwyn's prescence goes far to establishing a dim but venerable belief in the summoning of the dead to the Tor (Glastonbury Tor) for passage to Annwn.

From King Arthur's Avalon by Geoffrey Ashe, P. 26.

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