Icons of Welsh history, myth and folklore
Posted by Dan | Nov 20th, 2022 - 8:00pm
It is hard not to fall in love with some of the fantastic histories we
have here as such an ancient isle - we have developed a mixture of
mythos and real lore that gives all of the British Isles an
awe-inspiring list of characters and legends well-worth repeating
forever around campfires and to our children. Today's quiz focuses on Cymru's legends and tales, we will retell their stories and all you need to do is correctly identify the person, or thing, behind them... Hopefully you are well versed with the local and national legends of these mystic Celtic lands...
The first of the house of Tudor from the Welsh Tudors of Penmynydd, and the first Welsh monarch of England and Ireland. Born in Pembroke castle, their ascent to the throne would not be simple, with the War of the Roses raging on between many members of their family and the opposing house of York - they would spend time in exile in Brittany for many years, preparing a return. They seized the crown in 1485 with the aid of France, Wales and Scotland at the battle of Bosworth Field, marking the end of the rule of the Plantagenet line with the death of Richard III, and solidified their claim by marrying a member of the house of York. They would be the last king to take the throne in battle, but their reign would be one of stability following the brutal civil war - a leader who focused on growing the country's economy and raising new revenues and taxes. They for the most part succeeded in achieving peace and prosperity, reigning for nearly 24 years and transferring the crown peacefully to their son in 1509.
Born in Casnewydd Bach, Pembrokeshire, this person would take to the seas, operating on slave ships until their capture on the West Coast of Africa - from this capture, they met up with captain Howell Davis, also of Pembrokeshire, and they agreed to join the crew. This marked the start of their life of piracy, eventually ascending to the captain's role. By vessels captured, this pirate was the most successful in all of the Golden Age of Piracy. Throughout their career, they captured some 400 prizes from armed conflict, raiding ships off the Americas and Western Africa between 1719 and 1722. Not only were they a revered pirate, but they are also attributed to the development of the Pirate Code, as well as being one of the earliest flyers of the Jolly Roger. Their legendary status earned them various titles including "The Great Pyrate", "Dread Pirate" and "Barti Ddu" and while they may have met their demise in battle, their legacy lives on to this day in modern media.
Many myths exist in parallel throughout Celtic mythology and beyond, even if you haven't heard this particular tale you more than likely have heard its parallel in French, Cornish, Breton or Italian stories throughout history - even finding its way into Arthurian legend. This one, however, is linked to Llyn y Fan Fach in Carmarthenshire. The legend tells the story of a boy who would gaze into the waters of the lake, from a young age all the way through to adulthood while grazing his sheep, he would stare into these waters. One day, a human form came walking out of the waters and straight to him - it was clearly supernatural but he did not care, he was absolutely besotten. The being was a fountain of wisdom and knowledge, it gave visions of the future, a perfect future if they were to marry. There were three conditions:
The boy must never strike her 3 times
Their origin must always remain a secret
The supernatural origin of their future prosperity must always remain a secret
He agreed and while maintaining his secrets from the community of Myddfai they married and quickly he came to prosper - his sheep grew strong and he became a great negotiator allowing his farm to expand and develop and expand into other ventures. He was beloved by all, all while his supernatural partner remained in the background, quietly producing a sizeable family of healthy children. Over time the boy became complacent, allowing his business to fail and his friends to grow distant - he eventually became bitter and angry, eventually striking his partner. They reminded him of the terms of their deal, and the transgression was forgiven. However, it would not be long before two more such events took place, the boy striking their partner and upon the third instance the supernatural being announced their relationship was over - it returned to the lake, taking all their livestock in tow.
The boy was left behind heartbroken, pleading in the shallows of the lake to no avail. He would return to his farm a broken man, unable to ever attain the success he had once seen, with only his children to console him. An interesting tale, but which of these supernatural creatures is the one from the tale?
The first and only Welsh person to hold the seat of Prime Minister, this Liberal Party politician would help to see the nation through some of its toughest times, holding office from 1916 to 1922. They started their political career in local politics, being a champion of Welsh devolution, the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales, equality for labourers and tenant farmers as well as reform of land ownership. By 1890 they had earned their seat in parliament, with a narrow victory in Caernarvon Boroughs - a seat they would hold for an impressive 55 years. They would serve in Henry Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet, as well as serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer under H.H. Asquith. They believed in assisting those in need, and their financial reforms led to the basis of the modern welfare state in the National Insurance Act of 1911.
War would break out and they would focus on strengthening the nation's finances, as well as forging agreements with trade unions to keep the nation ticking in such a turbulent time. They became Secretary of State for War by 1916, but H.H. Asquith's popularity waned due to difficulties in the war and he was forced to resign. This would lead to our subject taking the seat of Prime Minister, supported by both conservatives and some liberals. They instituted changes to combat shortages and worked to bring the then-divided command of the allied forces under one single command - the war effort would turn in their favour and by November the war would be over. They maintained popular support in the upcoming election held immediately following the war, but their troubles were far from over. Heading into a depression, alongside the Irish War of Independence leading to the Irish Free State of 1921. They still managed to institute some education and housing reforms and difficult times lead to their resignation - they would continue to lead a faction of the Liberals but would never see office again. They would eventually ascend to peerage, earning the titles Viscount Gwynedd, of Dwyfor in the County of Caernarvon, with the title Earl of Dwyfor handed down to their descendants in turn.
This monarch led the kingdom of Gwynedd from 655 to 682 AD, they had a difficult reign dealing with multiple devastating plagues, the second of which claimed their life. Little is known about their reign, but they became somewhat of a legendary mythical redeemer figure in Welsh culture - Y Ddraig Goch, or the Red Dragon, is traditionally linked to them, as well as appearing in many romantic stories, especially by Geoffrey of Monmouth where they are portrayed as a legendary ruler of Britain. Their legend would continue on throughout time, being linked to the War of the Roses - prophecies regarding them were linked to many contenders to solidify their claim to the throne, with the struggle between the Red and White dragons and fulfilling Merlin's prophecy. A fascinating bit of history, not much is known of the person in question, but their legend truly sprawls throughout Welsh history.
A giant and ruler of Britain in Welsh mythology, they appear in several Welsh texts, but their most significant appearance is in the Mabinogi, the earliest of the Welsh stories, belonging to the Matter of Britain. In the tale, the king of Ireland sails to Harlech to meet our subject, who is the high ruler over the Island of the Mighty - the Irish King wishes to marry their sister, Branwen, which would forge an alliance between the two islands. They agree, but the celebrations are cut short when the high ruler's half-brother Efnysien brutally mutilates the Irish King's horses in response to not being consulted about the marriage. As compensation, our subject gives the Irish King a magic cauldron that can summon the dead and the marriage continue as planned.
The half-brother continues to insult the Irish King, but eventually, our subject's half-sister would fall victim to abuse, sending a message by a Starling with hopes that it would reach her brother (our subject). The giant high ruler wades across the Irish Sea with their brother Manawydan and a huge host of warriors, the Irish attempt to make peace (albeit with a trap planned), but they see through the ruse and during a vicious battle, the high ruler has to sacrifice themselves in order to prevent the Irish from using the cauldron to resurrect their dead.
The survivors, following the orders of our now mortally wounded high ruler, cut off its head to return it to Britain. The head continues to speak, entertaining those in Harlech, before moving on to Gwales where they live a further 80 years. Eventually, the head would fall silent, and it was taken to White Hill where they buried it, facing France to ward off invasion. All in it is a truly mystical tale full of intrigue and one that is well worth reading into further...
Born to a king of Ceredigion, Ceredig ap Cunedda, and grew up to be a Welsh bishop of Mynyw in the 6th century who would come to be known as a saint. Many tales about this person can be found in the Buchedd Dewi, which documents their life in great detail (perhaps some parts are a little embellished). They were a teacher and preacher, founding churches throughout Wales, Dumnomia and Brittany, and a cathedral in their name stands on the site of a monastery they founded in Britain's smallest city, which also shares their name. Miracles often follow saints around, and this one was no exception - attributed to them is the forming of the hill on which Llanddewi Brefi stands, while a white dove was seen sitting on their shoulder. They lived a simple life, refraining from meat and beer and spending most of their time reading, praying and writing. Their symbol would become the leek, and while little is known of their death, the date of March 1st is believed to be when they died - they were officially recognised by Pope Callixtus II in 1120, immortalised the Patron Saint of Wales.
Our next subject achieved some great feats, leading a war of independence in the Middle Ages against Welsh rule, they were the last Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales as well as forming the first ever Welsh Parliament. They had quite the claim to the title too, as a direct descendant of the princes of Powys, the kings and princes of Deheubarth, the kings and princes of Gwynedd and more. They led the final Welsh Revolt around 1400, with a war raging for 15 years until their eventual disappearance. They would be in hiding for their remaining years, with English military expeditions not only putting down Welsh resistance searching for their leader - the English would be unsuccessful in their search. They spent a chunk of their life with a hefty bounty on their head, but they were never betrayed or captured. The English would call them a rebel, but to the Welsh, they were a folk hero - monuments and statues litter the nation, and appearances in media from Song and TV to literature, even including Shakespeare.
If you are familiar with the folk custom of wassailing, a practice similar to carolling, then this name should be familiar to you - it is a custom that is said to be more common in the Southern reaches of Wales, but one that has popped up in popular media throughout the ages. The name is also linked to the eponymous hobby horse that is central to the custom - a horse's skull is mounted on a pole and the beast travels house to house, typically carried by a bearer hidden under a sackcloth. The custom dates back to the early 1800s, with the tradition occurring near Christmas Time when a group would accompany the horse throughout the local area - they go home to home requesting entry through song, the tradition dictates that the homeowner would typically refuse entry, also in song, and the two would go back and forth. If the homeowner relented, the horse and its following would be allowed entry and given food and drink. The name's history has some debate, some believing it is linked to the Holy Mary, others Grey Mare, and while it doesn't have a deep history, it has seen somewhat of a resurgence in the latter part of the 1900s. A fun tradition with a somewhat creepy image, but one that makes these folk customs so endearing.
0 out of 10Your final score was...
Always stay up to date
Never miss a post! Click the button to get notified on your device whenever new content goes live.
When you click the button your browser may display a prompt to display notifications, if this doesn't display you may have already disabled notifications.
We will never spam you, and only ever push notifications when we have something for you!