The Dream of Macsen Wledig

Despite its nominal Romano-British roots, one is often struck by how little impression the four centuries of Roman occupation seem to have left on the cultural life of medieval Wales. Even Rome’s most significant legacy – Christianity – seems to have been established in the Brythonic world in the years after the end of imperial rule by wandering anchorites from Gaul and Ireland, as much as through the residual influence of the urban diocesan churches of the Romano-British past. Slighter still is the influence of Roman historical or mytho-historic tradition on the narrative histories of medieval Wales. Where this influence does occur (one thinks of references to Virgil in the poetry of Taliesin, for example), this is most easily accounted for by the influence of the Early Medieval schoolroom rather than any lingering Romano-British substrate. Whatever was known about Rome and its traditions, at a popular level at least, seems for the most part to have been quickly forgotten by the ancestors of the Medieval Welsh after the withdrawal of legions in 410 AD.

One exception to this general rule is the figure of Macsen Wledig, who seems to reflect the memory of a genuine Roman Imperial potentate, the legionary warlord Magnus Maximus, who was proclaimed Emperor by the army in Britain in 383 AD. Maximus was born in the province of Iberia (could this be the original source of the Irish Míl Espane?) around the middle of the fourth century. During his early career he saw service first in North Africa and later on the Danubian frontier, in both cases under Theodosius the Elder during the 370s. He may have accompanied the general to help shore up the defences of the British province following the ‘barbarian conspiracy’ of 367-368, which saw widespread devastation of the coastlands by Pictish, Germanic and Gaelic raiders. At some stage he seems to have become a well-established presence in Britain, and by 380 appears to have been in overall charge of the military operations of the island, probably holding one of the two key imperial positions of Dux Brittanniae or Comes Litoris Saxonici. In 381 he successfully held back a significant Pictish raid, and it was perhaps on the basis of this that he was ‘raised to the purple’ by his troops (and perhaps also the grateful citizens of the province).

In this respect, there was nothing unusual about Magnus Maximus – his activities were entirely symptomatic of the military and political fragmentation of the late Roman period. Professor Brynley F. Roberts summarises the situation:

By the fourth century it was clear that the foundations of central Roman government were becoming increasingly unstable. A widespread empire called for ever more bureaucracy to administer it, discontent in under-resourced armies led to less secure defences, and the rivalry of claimants to authority increased spending while at the same time the use of ‘their’ troops to support these claims weakened provincial armies. The empire was becoming bankrupt and the general picture is one of decline and approaching collapse. This is fertile ground for military coups in all ages and the proclamation of a new emperor was the standard response of a provincial army to its nervousness and grievances.i

It was against this background that we should view Maximus’s imperial career, such as it was. He was not the first of the ‘Emperor Generals’, and certainly not the last. The province of Britannia produced three such figures in the first decade of the fifth century alone, no doubt contributing to the final decision on the part of Honorius to withdraw troops from the island altogether and leave the ‘breeding ground of tyrants’ to its own devices. But in mid-fourth century, Magnus Maximus was nothing more and nothing less than yet another general playing politics within an increasingly overstretched and fragmented Roman Empire.

It was on this basis that he took his armies over to Gaul and defeated the Emperor Gratian at Paris in 383. His initial aim appears to have been control of the Gaulish Prefecture (Gaul, Britain and Spain) from the regional capital of Trevororum (Trier). He seems to have established this regional powerbase and ruled it with reasonable success for a number of years – issuing coins, maintaining law and order and managing the barbarian foederati. However, by 386 he found himself in conflict with the young Emperor Valentinian, who was based in Rome (from where he controlled Italy and North Africa, the wealthier portion of the Western empire). Maximus crossed the Alps in 387, forcing Valentinian briefly into exile. However, Maximus was robustly opposed by the popular general Theodosius the Great (who was the son and namesake of his former commander). Not long after, Valentinian and Theodosius attacked Maximus from the East, defeating him at Siscia. He was captured and executed at the Adriatic port of Aquileia in August 388.

Thus Magnus Maximus passes out of the history of the Late Empire – a significant but by no means exceptional player in the increasingly militarised politics of the Western empire. However, he was not forgotten in provinces of Britain where, along with a very select handful of other Roman and Romano-British figures, he seems to have found an enduring place within the local narrative-historical tradition of the nascent Welsh nation.

Macsen Wledig in the Popular Native Tradition

The memory of Macsen Wledig (as he became known in the Welsh tradition) seems to have been maintained in the first instance within an oral-vernacular context. But alongside this we have a parallel tradition, the record of his career and reputation as preserved in insular Latin sources from the early Middle Ages. While there was a degree of mutual influence involved, there are also some subtle but important differences to consider between these two recollections of the fourth-century emperor- general Magnus Maximus. We find some interesting cultural dynamics at play, which may have some light to shed on the development of the Welsh narrative-historical tradition as a whole.

We can assume that a popular, oral mythology of Macsen began to take shape not long after the events of the fourth century themselves. We might speculate that the involvement of British troops in his elevation may have given him a special status on the island; or even that the participation of Brythonic troops in his Continental campaigns might have triggered folk-memories of the Belgic sack of Delphi and other legendary continental hostings.ii It may also be the case, as Brynley Roberts has suggested, the memories of other similarly named Roman figures may have become conflated into what we might call ‘the Macsen complex’; notably a second-century provincial governor who was also called Maximus, who administered the Britanniae from around 225 AD. Rather more close to the horizon of historical memory, we have second Maximus who was also raised to the purple by British troops in 409 AD under rather similar circumstances to those of his fourth-century namesake. Two other similarly named figures, Maxentius and Maximianus (both emperors of the third century), also contributed something to the mythology, as we shall shortly consider. So rather like the Welsh Custennin (Constantine) – another rare example of a popular legendry figure from the Romano-British past – we might assume that the medieval Macsen was a composite entity, the focal point for a range of narrative and tribal-historical materials from a variety of sources.

Evidence of his popularity in post-Roman and early medieval Wales is to be found in the genealogical records, an early example of which can be found on the ninth-century ‘Pillar of Eliseg’, found at the monastry of Valle Crucis in Llangollen. Here, one of the ancestors of the local Powysian dynasty is described in the following terms:

Britu… filius Guarthi[girn] …que[m]que peperit ei Sevira filia Maximi Regis qui occidit regem Romanorum

‘Brittu.. son of Vortigern…who sprung from Sevira daughter of King Maximus, who killed the king of the Romans.’

Macsen is also named as a significant progenitor in the ruling dynasties of Powys, Dyfed and various northern dynasties as recorded in the tenth-century Harliean genealogies. Within these lists he seems to occupy a significant point in the lineages where names of apparent Roman origin are replaced by those of a more Celtic timbre the succeeding generations, i.e.

HG II (Dyfed):….Clotri map Gloitguin map Nimet map Dimet map Maxim Guletic map Protec map Protector etc.

However spurious many of these names may be, we do at least see evidence here that even as early as the tenth century, the name of Mascen or Maxen Wledig (OW. Maxim Guletic)iv was associated with a transition of power from Roman authorities to Celtic, tribal figures such as Clotri and the eponymous Dimet. It has been suggested that this tradition could relate to authentic grants of land made to native figures such as Vortigern and Padarn Peisrud; or that Macsen himself was responsible for the settlement of federate tribes such as the Déisi or the Attacotti.v More certainly, it can be seen that Macsen was regarded as a significant figure from whom it was desirable for ruling dynasties to claim descent or affiliation. As we have seen, the ingredients of this dynastic myth was a folk-memory of powerful Roman warlord, who – with the able assistance of the British war-host – was able to play a dominant role on the Imperial stage. It is inevitable that, over time, the both the significance and the success of this figure and his British helpers was exaggerated by the descendents of his native followers. It is also not surprising to find the depth and significance of his British connections being subject to a degree of mythic magnification. From the evidence of the Eliseg pillar it would appear that the motif of intermarriage with a local dynasty, as we find related in the Mabinogion tale, was already well established at least as early as the ninth century.

"Macsen Wledig in Insular Latin Sources

In the learned tradition of the Early British church we find an altogether more accurate if rather less flattering portrayal of the Roman general. Gildas, writing in the mid-sixth century, describes Maximus as a one of a ‘thicket of tyrants’ (tyrannorum virgultis) who were emerging from the British provinces during that time. He describes the general descending on the Continent with a ‘great retinue of hangers on’, and subduing neighbouring provinces in the western Empire. He recounts how the usurper general kills one legitimate Emperor and drives another into temporary exile. The control of the regional seat of government at Trier is also noted, as is the usurper’s eventual defeat and capture in the port of Aquilieia. But Gildas was also to add reputable testimony to a motif that was to become an import feature in the national mythology of Wales, i.e. the removal of troops from the province of Britannia, which was to subsequently leave the latter open to the foreign invasions that follow in the fifth century:

After that Britain was despoiled of her whole army, her military resources, her government, brutal as they were, and her sturdy youth, who had followed in the tyrants footsteps, never to return home. Quite ignorant of the ways of war she groaned aghast for many years… vi

Gildas then goes on to describe the depredations first of the Picts and Scots, and finally those of the Germanic Saxones – against which the Britons were now unable to defend themselves. Thus Maximus is indirectly implicated in the potent complex of the gormes, which was to become a defining theme of the poetry and prophesy of Medieval Wales, as we have seen elsewhere.

The compiler of the ninth/tenth century Historia Brittonum elaborates on this account, adding another crucial component of the medieval legend, the Breton settlements:

27. The seventh emperor was Maximus.vii He withdrew from Britain with all his military force, slew Gratian, the king of the Romans, and obtained the sovereignty of all Europe. Unwilling to send back his warlike companions to their wives, children and possessions in Britain, he conferred upon them numerous districts from the lake on the summit of Mons Jovis, to the city called Cant Guic, and to the western Tumulus, that is, to Cruc Occident. These are the Armoric Britons, and they remain there to the present day. In consequence of their absence, Britain being overcome by foreign nations, the lawful heirs were cast out, till God interposed with his assistance. viii

In chapters 29-30, further details of Maximus’s career (and its aftermath) are described as they are found in Gildas: including his arrest at Aquilieia, the subsequent denuding of the military resources of the island, and the growing impatience of Rome at the waywardness and vulnerability of the British province. Thus the place of Macsen is established in the British tradition both as the catalyst for the end of Roman rule and as the driving force behind the Brythonic settlement of Armorica. These elements are combined with various other materials in Book V of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae. Geoffrey’s account is particularly significant to us here, as it was almost certainly one of the key sources of the vernacular tale of Breudwyt Macsen Wledig. It also offers an unusually clear insight into the historiographic method of the Monmouth chronicler: the creative deployment and synthesis of classical history and the native tradition.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Maximianus

One of the few other Romans recalled in the British tradition was a certain Custennin, a composite figure based primarily on Constantine the Great (d.337), the so-called ‘first Christian emperor’. However, like Magnus Maximus, he also seems to have had a specific personal link with the British provinces – and it was probably this connection more than anything else that gave him his status in the Welsh tradition. The historical Constantine had come to Britain with his father Constantius, partly as a means of escaping political enemies in the Eastern Empire, but also to serve on the northern frontier, defending the borders of North Britain against Pictish raids. It was in the course of this service that Constantius (again like Maximus) was proclaimed emperor by his troops in Eboracum (York), the provincial capital of the Britannia. Like Maximus again, Constantine used Britain as a springboard to gain control of the Gaulish prefecture, with its regional capital in Trier. This was to provide an effective powerbase for his wider imperial ambitions. It is hardly surprising, perhaps, that that he seems to have been remembered in similar terms to Maximus in the Welsh tradition. Like Macsen, Custennin appears in the Harliean genealogies (where he is represented here as the former’s direct ancestor). He seems to have been at least as popular as the other emperor-general – several leading Dark Age British figures seem to have borne his name. However, the influence of a second Constantine, the fifth century usurper Constantine III (d.411), may also have played its part in the formation of the Custennin legend – as indeed might the careers of various sixth-century saints and warlords such as the Dumnonian chief Constantine (who may or may not be identical with Custennin Gorneu of the genalogies). The case of Constantine serves to illustrate the confused and compounded nature of the oral recollection of these Roman and sub-Roman figures, many of whom bear the same or very names similar names (within Constantine’s family alone we find a Constantius, Constantia, and Constans). The propensity to duplicate or amalgamate figures with similar names of this kind created fertile terrain for creative synthetic historians such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, as we shall see.

To confuse things further, the historical Constantine had a political rival with the name of Maxentius. In the early fourth century, Maxentius was a high ranking Roman nobleman whose father, Maxinianus, had briefly worn the purple alongside Diocletian. His family had a longstanding rivalry with the House of Constantius. When news of Constantine’s elevation reached Rome, it was Maxentius who mobilsed the opposition to his claim, and before long the two were locked in a struggle for the overall control of the western empire. Maxentius’s father Maximianus, was also involved in the civil war 307-311, sometimes offering reluctant support for Constantine, sometimes fighting against him with his son. The activities of these individuals and those of the later Maximus (d.388) seems to have become hopelessly confused in the minds of medieval historians, and this confusion seems to have fed in to the medieval myth of Macsen Wledig. As Rachel Bromwich points out, the name Macsen or Maxen itself is of learned origin, and seems to be derived from Maxentius rather than Maximus;ix while the name used for the hero by both Geoffrey and the Historia Brittonum is Maximianus, the name of Maxentius’s father! Such confusion allowed writers like Geoffrey to pick and chose what he wanted from the content and nuances of the various traditions. In the native dynastic mythology, as we have seen, there was a pronounced tendency to regard ‘Macsen’ as both a hero and an ancestral forbear. In the writings of the Early British church, on the other hand, he is seen as an irresponsible usurper, who set in motion the beginning of the end of Roman civilisation on the island. Geoffrey handles this muddled and contradictory material by bringing it all together in a complex meta-narrative largely of his own creation: in which Roman history, British myth and a sprinkling of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman political geography are all brought into play to serve his literary and political agenda (the nature of which we will consider in due course).

Geoffrey’s account essentially incorporates the vernacular mythology of Macsen Wledig with the rather more ‘historical’ accounts of Contantine, as found in Late Latin sources such as Bede, Orosius and Ammianus Marcellus. Constantine’s mother Helen or Helena – in reality probably a Bythian Greek – is represented here as the daughter of a ‘British King’ Coel (Coel Hen of the Welsh genealogies).x Here we have a clear predecessor of the Elen Lwydawg of the Breudwyt Macsen legend, built from this creative fusion of British and Roman tradition.

Geoffrey represents Constantine taking power in Britain, and finding himself in conflict with a ‘certain dictator’ based in Rome, by the name of Maxentius.xi Here we are back with the realities of Roman history – Maxentius, as we have seen, was a genuine historical figure, who is recorded as opposing Constantine’s imperial claims from his base in Rome. Constantine did indeed make these claims from Britain, and remained close to his north-western powerbase. But inevitably (under the influence of the popular tradition) Geoffrey magnifies the role of the British involvement in this Roman civil war, and incorporates an extra dynastic element. Three uncles of Constantine’s British mother – Ioelinus, Trahern and Marius – are described as helping Constantine in his fight against Maxentiusxii (foreshadowing the role played by Elen’s brothers in the attack on Rome in the Breudwyt), and it is the son of Ioelinus who emerges in the following generation under the name of ‘Maximianus’.

Geoffrey’s Maximianus seems to have been used as the vehicle to give spurious pseudo-historical support for the ‘Macsen’ legend as it was remembered in the vernacular tradition. Maximianus is depicted as having mixed Roman and British blood, and subsequently marrying back into the British royalty through the daughter of ‘the Duke of Cornwall’.xiii His ascent to the throne of Britain is at first opposed by a dynastic rival, ‘Conanus Meridiadocus’ – clearly a recollection of the traditional Breton ancestor, Conan Meriadoc. We will find a significant echo of this situation in the Breudwyt, in which a certain ambivalence is implied between Elen’s brother Cynan and Macsen himself, before and during their joint siege of Rome.

Geoffrey’s Maximianus also marches on Rome; and like the historical Magnus Maximus kills Gratian and drives Valentinian into exile.xiv However, unlike Gildas, Geoffrey lays less emphasis on the fact that this is an act of illegitimate usurpation, though he does note that his hero’s initial motivation for his war with Rome was greed and a hunger for power.xv However, aside from this rather cursory moral exigesis, Geoffrey stays closer in spirit to the vernacular Welsh version of these events rather than that of the Early British church. Maximianus is accorded respect for being the killer of the ‘king of the Romans’ while acquiring the status of a kind of honorary Brit, affiliated to the native royal houses by marriage and (in this account) also by virtue of his maternal ancestry.

Geoffrey also adds new material to the hints spelled out in the Historia Brittonum concerning Breton national origins. Not only does he incorporate the tutelary figure Conan Meriadoc, but also includes extra material from the Breton tradition concerning the settlement of Brittany by British warriors. Along with this material came the rather gory motif of the mutilation of the tongues of the native wives, as a means of preserving the purity of the Brythonic language. The same device is of course also present in the Breudwyt Macsen, where it is presented as a piece of folk etymology to explain the origin of the Welsh name for Brittany, Llydaw (> lled taw ‘half silent’). It has also been suggested that Geoffrey’s Octavius, a certain ‘Duke of the Gewissae’ who fights a civil war against Constantine in the previous generation, was borrowed from Outham Senis in the Breton tradition. Outham is father of Kenan (i.e. Conan) in the Breton sources, and survives in the Mabinogion as Eudaf Hen the father of Helen and Cynan. xvi

As well as Geoffrey’s magpie instincts, we can see evidence here of a very particular synthetic-historical vision. There is no need to linger on Geoffrey’s merits or otherwise as a historian in a modern sense. It is well known that his works have little value as a guide to the objective events in pre- or proto-historic Britain. Yet Geoffrey’s work was written for a purpose, and that purpose was rather more complex than simply the desire to entertain. It is worth trying to understand this purpose, as it relates in a significant way to the presentation of Macsen and the Roman Empire in the Mabinogion tale.

This is not the place to enter into a full discussion of Geoffrey’s national affiliations and political motivations, but a brief summary might be useful at this point. Geoffrey was an Anglo-Norman churchman, possibly of Breton descent. He had grown up in South East Wales, and seems to have been associated with that bilingual culture of the Welsh marches which we can assume was responsible for the ‘proto-Romances’ of Bleddri and his ilk, as discussed elsewhere on these pages. He had a fascination with the historical traditions of Wales and, it would seem, at least some degree of romantic sympathy with its sense of national destiny. However, he also had close connections with the Anglo-Norman elite, his patrons had included Robert Earl of Gloucester (the natural but illegitmate son of Henry I) and Waleran, Count of Mellent, son of Robert de Beaumont. The interests of these patrons would have come first. His chief purpose, according to the historian J. S. B. Tatlock was to give ‘a precedent for the dominations and ambitions of the Norman kings.’xvii

Yet the influence of his youth in South East Wales, and perhaps the tug his Breton roots as well, seems to have given the work a secondary agenda. Reading the Historia Regum Brittaniae, we are struck by how he presents Britain and Rome as peers if not equals – a theme that is reiterated throughout Books IV and V. In this respect, he is adhering to the grain of the vernacular Welsh tradition, which shows a marked reluctance to view the Roman occupation as a fully-fledged gormes or negative event in the way that the Saxon invasion (for example) was traditionally regarded.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the key point is that the sub-Roman Welsh, particularly in ecclesiastical circles, had tended to self-identify as ‘citizens’ or ‘Christians’, as opposed to ‘pagan’ or ‘barbarian’ peoples such as the Picts and Saxons. This cultural self-image clearly presupposes an acceptance of the fact that the Britons had been at least partly ‘Romanised’; which has at least the potential to conflict with an equally powerful sense of native British sovereignty. References to the Rome and the Roman occupation found in Geoffrey’s HRB, as well as those in the Historia Brittonum, or in vernacular traditions found in the Mabinogion or the Triadic glosses – all reveal the variety of strategies of reconciling this awkward conundrum.

The ninth-century writer of the Historia Brittonum was influenced by this learned, self-flagellatory tradition; but in his presentation of the parity of Rome and Britain in particular, a few more concessions are made to native patriotic sensibilities. Chapter 19 represents Caesar being seen off by ‘Belinus son of Minocannus’ – almost certainly a reference to a native historical tradition similar to that underlying Triads 35, 37, 51, 67 and 71.xviii In Chapter 21, while acknowledging that Britain was successfully conquered by the Emperor Claudius in the first century AD – the author of Historia Brittonum is at pains to emphasise that no tribute was ever paid to Claudius, but rather to ‘British emperors’ instead. In its account of the subsequent emperors (HB lists nine in total), a disproportionate number seem to live or die in Britain. Of the eighth emperor Severus, for example, we are simply told that he lived ‘occasionally in Britain, and sometimes at Rome’. The implication is clear: Britain was seen in this tradition as a key focus of power in the empire, a semi-autonomous polity, of similar or equal importance to Rome. This may have been a standard view in Early Medieval Wales where, under the influence of the vernacular mythologies of Macsen and Custennin, the significance of Britain in the imperial politics of the late Roman empire seems to have undergone considerable exaggeration. While we find in Chapters 28 and 30 (and elsewhere) traces of the same moralistic tradition of national self-disparagement that we find in Gildas; the Historia is also prone to the opposite tendency: a rather wishful reinvention of history, where Britain is more often than not a central stage on which the critical events of Roman history unfold.

Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae merely represents a more unabashed projection of this tendency. Even before the account of Roman Britain, the two nations are portrayed as military and cultural coevals. The story of Belinus and Brennius in Book III represents a British conquest of Rome, as a pre-emptive sweetener to the historical fact of imperial subjugation in Books IV and V. The Roman invasions of Julius Caesar and Claudius are both described in terms that present Britain as the superior military power, defeated only through internecine betrayal. But the arrival of the Romans is never described in the colonial terms of an imperial power occupying the territory of culturally-inferior indigenes. During Books IV and V, Roman emperors are frequently described as marrying into British royal families – leading to a situation in which the British can be seen as dynastic players in the politics of Rome, rather than its conquered imperial subjects. The marital alliance was the least objectionable way of representing the process of British ‘Romanisation’. Whether as a result of his Welsh upbringing, his native Breton sentiment or (intriguingly) as an expression of a new kind of Anglo-Norman naturalised patriotism – it was this concept of British-Roman parity that Geoffrey chose to expand, embellish and attempt to ‘make respectable’ within his Historia Regum Britanniae. It is within this context that the story of Maximianus should be placed.

The Dream of Macsen Wledig

The motif of a marriage between Britain and Rome lies at the heart of the Mabinogion tale Breudwyt Macsen Wledig. Cynan and Eudaf Hen are present within this tale as male members of the British house into which Macsen marries. As such, the Breudwyt seems to be drawing on a well-established Brythonic tradition, which is also evidenced in Breton sources as we have seen. The portrayal of Macsen himself is essentially that of the vernacular tradition – the heroic leader of British hosts against the might of Rome, consort of a British princess. The Mabinogion tale may have been partly influenced by Geoffrey’s HRB, but if this is the case it remains more likely to have taken place through a vernacular intermediary such as the Brut Dingestow.xix Overall, we might consider it a High Medieval expression of a native mytho-historic tradition that was already well established by the time the Pillar of Eliseg was inscribed in the early ninth century. It was probably redacted in its present form at some point in the first half of the thirteenth century, during the reign of Llywelyn Fawr (d.1240). With its rather sumptuous vision of the Romano-British past, and self-confident handling of the literary Welsh register, we might see this tale emerging from a similar cultural context as the so-called Three Romances dealt elsewhere in these pages.

The early part of the tale depicts the meeting and the marriage of Macsen Wledig (who is represented as the Emperor of Rome at the start of the tale) and Elen daughter of Eudaf Hen. This is placed within the framework of the aisling or dream-vision, a Celtic variation of the international motif of ‘wooing from afar’. A close parallel can seen in the Middle Irish tale, Aislinge Oenguso ‘The Dream of Angus’ which survives in a 16th century manuscript, but probably represents an older textual tradition.xx This tale begins with the mythological hero Oengus catching sight of a beautiful woman in a dream. When he tries to reach out and touch her, she disappears. After this he finds himself ‘troubled in the mind’, and begins to lose his health and appetite as a result of pining for the mysterious visitor who continues to haunt his nightly dreams. At last he discusses his experience with the king’s physician and his mother, who agrees to send out messengers to attempt to find the girl. These attempts are initially to no avail, but eventually the girl is identified as Cáer Ibormeith, daughter of Ethal Anbuail from S íd Uamuin – a faery mound located in the territory of Ailill and Medb of Connachta. The lovers are eventually united in the flesh, flying off together in the form of swans.

The Dream of Macsen Wledig also has the hero first setting eyes on the his love-object during a dream, which takes place as the emperor falls asleep while resting in the middle of a hunting expedition. The dream takes the form of a kind of out-of-body experience, in which the emperor travels mentally over the Alps and down a large river (the Rhine?) before crossing the channel, transversing the mainland of Britain to Snowdonia, where he finds a luxurious court on the Caernarfornshire coast:

…at the mouth of the river he saw a great castle, the fairest that anyone had seen, and he saw the castle gate was open, and he came into the castle. He saw a hall in the castle. He thought that the roof-tiles of the hall were all of gold. The sides of the hall he thought to be of valuable, sparkling stones. The floors of the hall he imagined to be of pure gold, with golden couches and silver tables. On a couch facing him he saw two young, auburn-headed lads playing gwyddwyll…At the foot of the hall-pillar he saw a grey-haired man in a chair of elephant ivory with images of two eagles in red gold upon it. There were gold bracelets on his arms, and many gold rings on his fingers; and a gold torque around his neck, and a gold frontlet holding his hair; and a noble look about him.xxi

Such descriptions are reminiscent of the opulent court scenes of the rhamantau. Also characteristic of this genre are rich personal descriptions, which are at the most profuse in the description of the heroine, who is seen sitting before her father in the hall in a chair of red gold:

The maiden wore shifts of white silk with clasps of red gold at her breast, and a surcoat of gold brocaded silk with a mantle to match, and a brooch of red gold holding the mantle about her; and a frontlet of red gold on her head, with rubies and white gems in that frontlet, and pearls alternating with imperial stones; and a girdle of red gold about her…

No sooner does Macsen embrace this maiden than he rudely awakened from his dream by the sound of the hunt resuming. After this, he falls into a kind of lovelorn torpor, just like the hero of Aislinge Oenguso. Finally, after he has conferred with his wise men, it is agreed that messengers would be sent to ‘the three regions of the world’ to look for the lady in the dream. After a year of unsuccessful searching, the messengers return empty-handed. Finally, the emperor is advised to ‘begin hunting in the forest in the direction you saw yourself go’ and attempt to retrace the direction of his original dream journey. He locates the place where the dream began, and sends some messengers out along the route of his mental journey. This eventually brings them to the hall seen in the emperor’s dream, which is now identified as Caer Seint in Caernavon – a site of genuine Romano-British significance.xxii This location may also be relevant to the contemporary medieval purpose of the Mabinogion tale itself, as we will consider in due course.

The messengers enter the hall and recognise exactly the same scene envisioned in the emperor’s dream: the youths playing gwyddbwyll, the old man in his throne, his radiant daughter seated before him. The exchange that then takes place illustrates a deftness of dialogue and characterisation that is typical of Medieval Welsh literary prose:

The messengers got down on their knees and spoke to her like this
‘Empress of Rome,’ they said, ‘greetings! We are messengers to you from the emperor of Rome.’
‘Noblemen,’ said the maiden, ‘I see you bear the mark of well-born men and the badge of messengers. Why are you mocking me?’
‘Lady,’ they said, ‘we are not mocking you at all. But the emperor of Rome saw you in his sleep. He can neither live nor breathe nor exist because of you. Lady, we will give you a choice – either come with us to be crowned empress of Rome, or the emperor will come here and take you as his wife.’
‘Noblemen,’ said the maiden, ‘I do not doubt what you say, but nor do I believe it too much either. But if it is I whom the emperor loves, let him come here to fetch me.’xxiii

After this exchange the messengers return to Macsen, and tell him they have found the maiden and established ‘her name, and her family, and her lineage.’ The emperor then sets off with his army to the Island of Britain. The text then notes, almost parenthetically, that he ‘took the Island of Britain by force from Beli son of Manogan and his sons, and drove them into the sea’.

It seems strange, on the surface at least, that such a significant geo-political event as this should be passed over so lightly. We might recall the reluctance within the Medieval Welsh tradition to regard the Roman occupation as a gormes in the same mould as the Saxon invasion or the Pictish raids. In the light of Elen’s demand of the sovereignty of the Island as part of her ‘maiden fee’, as we will see, it is possible to see how this tale succeeds in depicting a situation in which the Romanisation of the island occurred without any effective loss of sovereignty. So why include reference to the Sons of Beli Mawr at all?

There are several possible explanations for this. Primarily, the traditional fact that the dynasty of Beli Mawr held the sovereignty of the island before the coming of the Romans seems to have been a common article of tribal-historical knowledge in Medieval Wales. This pre-Roman sovereignty of the Beli and his sons is referred to in the Historia Brittonum (Ch. 19), and numerous points in the triadic tradition, as well as being the implicit reality throughout the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and the chwedl of Llud and Llefelys. Clearly, the author was obliged to at least acknowledge that a transition did at some stage occur from the sovereignty of the House of Beli Mawr and the Roman imperium.

However, as Brynley Roberts points out, there is rather more to Elen and her family affiliations than is revealed explicitly in the text itself. Roberts points out that in at least one genealogical tract, Elen is described as the grand-daughter of Caradog ap Bendigeidfran. This would link her to the family from whom the sovereignty of the Island of Britain was wrested in an internecine coup at the end of the Second Branch by the Sons of Beli Mawr. Thus, Roberts suggests, ‘by his marriage to [Elen] Macsen may be said to have re-instated an ancient dynasty…’ which, if we can accept the typological resonances of these legends as seen in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, may well have had contemporary political significance.xxiv But as he goes on to point out ‘these implications may not have been foreseen by the author of the Breudwyt.’ xxv As with the triadic tradition of Aranrhod being the daughter of Beli Mawr (which ties up many of the genealogical lose ends in the Four Branches, while not actually being mentioned in the text of the Mabinogi itself), we cannot rule out the possibility that Elen’s ancestry was a subsequent invention.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Elen is being represented as emerging from an established British royal lineage, and the overthrowing of the rule of the Sons of the Beli could thus be read by medieval Welsh audiences as much in terms of an internecine coup as an invasion and occupation by a foreign power. A key manoeuvre to support such a reading takes place once Macsen has met, fallen in love with and slept with the royal British heroine. She demands a ‘maiden fee’ (agweddi), a kind of dowry-in-reverse from Macsen in return for her virginity:

He asked her to list her maiden fee. She listed thus: the Island of Britain for her father, from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, and the Three Adjacent Islands, to be held under the empress of Rome; and three major forts to be built for her in the three locations of her choice in the Island of Britain. Then she asked for the prime fort to be built for her in Arfon. And the soil of Rome was to be brought there, so it would be healthier for the emperor to sleep and sit and walk around. After that, two other forts were built for her, namely Caerllion and Caerfyrddin.xxvi

It is probably no coincidence that Arfon was the powerbase from which Llwelyn ap Iorwerth (later Llywelyn Fawr) initially emerged during the Venedotian power struggles of the 1190s.xxvii The implication here would be that Llywelyn Fawr, as the inheritor of this sacred imperial tenemos was thus the bearer of at least some kind of hegemonic authority over the rest of Wales, if not over the island as a whole. A further suspicion that the political interests of this notable Welsh prince of the thirteenth century were being specifically served by this tale is indicated by the location of the other two forts at Caerllion and Caerfyrddin respectively. As Brynley Roberts suggests, Llywelyn’s aspirations – only partially fulfilled – to expand his sphere of influence into southwest and southeast Wales, may well have described by the positioning of these two other subordinate centres of power. What we see here is envisioning of a pan-Welsh circuit of power (which was still far from a reality in the early-thirteenth century), linked by the arterial Sarn Elen networkxxviii, but with the nerve-centre of imperial authority clearly identified with caer at Aber Seint in Arfon. This political geography was conceived here as being shaped in the remote Romano-British past, but might have had a particular resonated with the regional aspirations of Llywelyn Fawr, in particular during the second decade of the thirteenth century, when he was struggling to subordinate South East Wales. Brynley suggests, on this basis, a date of composition for the Breudwyt Macsen of between 1215 and 1217,xxix a suggestion to which we will return in due course.

After this political-geographic aside, we proceed with the main current of the narrative stream. Here, the influence of Geoffrey is apparent, as we see the newly-married Emperor falling foul of conspiring enemies in Rome during his British sojourn (a distant recollection, as we have seen, of the enmity between Constantine and Maxentius in the early part of the fourth century). This provides the circumstances for Macsen to bring his army to Rome – a crucial part of the original British legend. The influence of the popular tradition is clear from the jingoistic representation of the British contingent:

Then Macsen travelled with his host to Rome, and conquered France and Burgundy and all the countries as far as Rome. And he laid siege to the city of Rome. For a year the emperor was outside that city; he was no closer to taking it than on the first day. But the brothers of Elen Luyddog from the Island of Britain had followed him, with a small host. And there were better fighting men in that small host than twice their number of the men of Rome. The emperor was told that the host had been seen dismounting near his own host and pitching its tents. And no one had ever seen a fairer host or one that was better equipped or with finer banners for its

In the same vein, the British host is described as playing a decisive role in the siege of Rome:

Then [the British host] watched the men of Rome attack the city. And Cynan said to his brother, ‘We shall try and attack the city in a shrewder way that this.’ Then by night they measured the height of the walls, and they sent their carpenters into the forest, and a ladder was made for every four of their men. When those were ready, every day at noon the two emperors would have their meal, and both sides would stop their fighting until everyone had finished eating. But the men of the Island of Britain had their meal in the morning, and drank until they were intoxicated. While the two emperors were eating, the Britons approached the walls and placed their ladders against them, and immediately went over the walls. The new emperor did not have time to put on his armour before they set upon him and killed him, and many others with him. They spent three nights and three days overthrowing the men who were in the city and overcoming the castle, while another group guarded the city in case any of Macsen’s host should enter before they had bought everyone under their control.

The rivalry between the Roman and British hosts is significant here, as no doubt were various other aspects of their respective depiction. The British troops, despite their drunken and un-sportsmanlike conduct, are portrayed as the more effective soldiers. Their occupation of Rome, temporary though it might have been, was an important addition to the stock of mythology alluded to above. The superior martial vigour of the British host served to compensate for the fact of Imperial occupation, and qualify that occupation in terms of a gesture of indulgence between in-laws. As if to emphasise that this is the case, the Roman Emperor Macsen is represented having to recruit his wife Elen to beg her brothers to return the captured city into his hands! Having offered them the opportunity ‘to conquer whatever part of the world you wish’, the two brothers peacefully withdraw, to pursue a freebooting career which sees them eventually settle in Brittany. The tale then ends with this short and rather brutal summary of the Breton foundation myth:

Cynan and another group stayed on to settle there. And they decided to cut out the tongues of the women, lest their own language be corrupted. Because the women and their language were silenced, while the men spoke on, the Britons were called Llydaw [i.e. ‘half silent’] men.xxxi

This gruesome piece of folk etymology is also known in Breton sources, the earliest reference to it being found in the early-eleventh century Vita Goeznovii. It was also appeared in Geoffrey’s Historia, and it is through this source (or one its vernacular translations) that it became known to the author of the Breudwyt. The mutilation of the women, as suggested above, is probably based on a medieval. Semi-learned speculation, derived from a spurious etymology of the Welsh name for Brittany (Llydaw). The Historia Brittonum does not include this detail, but Chapter 27 does link the Continental adventures of Macsen and his British warhost with the the settlement of the ‘Armoric Britons’ and the subsequent military denuding of the province. In this respect, the Historia Brittonum was the following the grain of the ‘Learned’ interpretation of Macsen taken by writers such as Gildas, which as we have seen was far less forgiving of the usurper general than the vernacular folk-memory seems to have been.

However, the Breudwyt, like the account of Geoffrey of Monmouth, also offers succour to popular tradition. The Macsen we find in this saga is essentially the Macsen of the Pillar of Eliseg and the genealogies: the Romano-British warlord who overthrew the ‘king of the Romans’ and went on to father the royal houses of Wales. But no less important to this thirteenth-century chwedl are the achievements of the children of Eudaf Hen: Elen Llwydawg and her warlike brothers, whose exploits represented a distant echo of the great Belgic hostings of Brennus and Bolgios ( Brân and Beli Mawr of the medieval tradition).

Purpose and Dating of ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’

The evidence would suggest that, in the earlier part of the Middle Ages at least, Macsen Wledig had a special place within in the genealogical traditions of the southern and eastern Welsh royal houses. The northern dynasties of Gwynedd tended to emphasise their links with the Gwŷr Gogledd, the Men of the North, who are represented as the founders of the kingdom after the victories of Cunedda and his sons over ‘the Irish’ in the fourth century of the common era. The ninth century saw the rise of the Gwynedd-based House of Rhodri Mawr, and with it the wider territorial ambitions of its descendents and (along with this) a widening of their claimed dynastic affiliations. By the early tenth century, when it would appear the Harleian Genealogies had assumed their present form, Mascen Wledig had been linked to the northern dynasty of Clydno Eityn,xxxii and through that to Rhodri’s father Merfyn Frych. Thus began a process of interweaving the essentially southern British tradition of Macsen Wledig into the fabric of a northern-based vision of pan-Welsh sovereignty. The High Medieval tale of Breudwyt Macsen is the culmination of this pseudo historical tradition.

This work of Middle Welsh prose serves this agenda on a number of levels, not least of which is an appropriation of the aura of Romano-British civilisation envisioned as the backdrop of the events concerned. The court of Eudaf Hen was no wattle-and-daub roundhouse of Iron Age archaeology, but a sumptuous golden-tiled palace, its walls studded with gem-stones, its furniture wrought from gold, silver and elephant ivory. The purpose of this almost Arabian vision of gilded excess was to develop this fantasy of a pre-Roman British civilisation, to underscore the nobility of the native dynasty into which Macsen marries. But, such was the power and beauty of the image itself, that it was to detach itself from this particular context and become a staple of later medieval court literature, as evidenced for example in the fourteenth-century paean by the poet Iolo Goch in praise of Sir Hywel ap Gruffuudd, Constable of Cricieth castle:

The cywydd opens with a description of the fair caer on the coast and the fine castle (caer fawrdeg ac war fordir/A chastell gwych gorchestol), the deer around the tower, the music, the dancing and revels, and the maidens seated at the windows working their silk embroidery. At the caer are proud men playing chequers and a grey-haired man who presents the poet with a golden goblet of wine.xxxiii

The inspiration here, as Brynley Roberts notes, is not only the Breudwyt Macsen, but also the palatial ambiance of the Romances – the ladies at the window recalling the silk-weaving maidens at the court of ‘the yellow-haired man’ in Owain; the golden goblet perhaps containing an after-image of the vessel proffered by the Empress of Constantinople in the Historia Peredur. This delight in the sensual luxuria of an imagined Arthurian or Romano-British past was especially characteristic of the literature of later medieval Wales. This florid phase might be said to have begun in the thirteen-century ‘Age of the Llywelyns’, when a more wholehearted emulation of European courtly norms saw the Welsh elite embrace (with evident relish) both the literary and material culture of the French-speaking world. Part of this process saw an adaptation of three of the Chrétien de Troyes’ famous Arthurian romances, which will be discussed in more detail elsewhere on these pages. The Breudwyt Macsen might be said to have been born of the same cultural-historical impulse.

So this vision of native British splendour was gratifying on a number of levels, not least the sensual and aesthetic. Yet, as we have seen, there was also a nationalistic agenda – a pride in the native British past, and a desire to envision it as the equal (if not superior) to the glories of Rome. The material wealth of their palatial residence was a signifier of the nobility of the dynasty of Eudaf Hen himself. Perhaps this quality is best exemplified by the heroine, Elen Llwydawg. Elen, like Macsen himself, may be a partially composite character – based partly on St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, who was also accorded a spurious British ancestry in the Welsh tradition. Behind her there may also be an older tutelary figure from the native tradition, evidence for whom can be found in the folk tradition of referring to the old Roman roads of Wales as Sarn Elen (although this ‘Elen of the Roads’ could easily be either of the (H)elens of the medieval learned tradition – I see no particular need to posit a separate native origin). The evocative epithet llwydawg ‘of the hosts’ is not uncommonly applied to male heroes in the Welsh tradition; but its most notable female recipient was the other famous (H)elen known to the Brythonic tradition, that is the mother of Constantine. It is unsurprising, therefore, to find a degree of conflation between these two famous Elens, with the result that (in a number of genealogies) they became completely identified, with Macsen becoming identified as the father of Custennin(!)

The Breudwyt, then, was working within a well-established tradition in its representation of Britain and Rome as cultural and military equals, and the occupation of the former by the latter in terms of a strategic dynastic partnership rather than a process of colonial subjugation. One of the most enthusiastic advocates of this concept of Roman-British parity (and dynastic interdependence) was of course Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia Regum was an enormously popular text in thirteenth-century Wales, after its translation into the vernacular c.1200. However, as we have seen, in representing Britain as an equal of Rome – and Macsen as a Romano-British scion whose power was dependent on the military vigour of his British levy – Geoffrey was merely accentuating a tendency that had been present in the popular tradition since at least as early as the ninth century, and might even date back to a genuine folk memory of the fourth-century events themselves.

The political-geography of the Breudwyt is suggestive of a thirteenth-century provenance, as we have already suggested. The centrality of Arfon is particularly interesting, given Llywelyn Fawr’s personal connection with the area (see note xxvii); though it should be remembered that the Romano-British background of Caer Seint (< Segontium) was already well-established within the Welsh historical-narrative record. However, the location itself was more usually linked Custennin/Constantine than with Macsen Wledig, the latter apparently being more closely associated with the genealogical traditions of southern and eastern areas Wales before the advent of the House of Rhodri Mawr.

It was perhaps as part of a conscious effort to bring these areas into a pan-Welsh hegemony under the Gwynedd principality that the south-eastern and south-western centres of Caerlleon and Caerfyrddin respectively were defined as the basal points of the triangular circuit of power, with Arfon at its apex, that we find represented in the Breudwyt. A specific connection with the geo-political agenda of Llywelyn Fawr is possibly apparent here, although again it should be noted that the dream of Greater Welsh hegemony was a well-established goal of the Venedotian princes since the time of Rhodri Mawr.

Overall, the early- to mid-thirteenth century Venedotian provenance appears the most likely on grounds of both the style and the content of the Breudwyt Macsen Wledig, even if an earlier or indeed later date of composition cannot be conclusively refuted. We have identified within the text a well-established Medieval Welsh tendency to magnify the native contribution to the Romano-British project, as well as what might be a more specific agenda relating to the geo-political aims of the thirteenth century prince Llywelyn Fawr (d.1240). But there is also the intriguing possibility that the same legend was also used by very power that Llywelyn was most determined to resist, the Angevin hegemony. The great castle at Caernarfon, built by Edward I to consolidate his conquest of 1282, was, in the words of historian Arnold Taylor ‘plainly intended to give substance to the Dream of Macsen’. In a strange act of funerary theatre, echoing the showy Arthurian exhumations sponsored by his grandfather Henry II, the conquering English king then gave an honourable burial to a corpse that was claimed (in English sources) to be that of ‘the father of the noble emperor Constantine’, which in the Welsh geneaological tradition could have easily been interpreted as being that of Macsen himself. Thus we find, not the first time, evidence of the Angevin kings making use of the Welsh historical and narrative tradition to serve their own ends, but perhaps also to lay claim to a ‘British’ identity of their own.

iRoberts, Breudwyt Macsen Wledig (2005) Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
iiRe: the discussion of the Second Branch.
iiiRoberts ibid p. xlviii and TYP p.452
iv(g)wledig = ‘sovereign’ ‘lord’. This title is particularly associated with Roman and sub-Roman figures in the Welsh tradition
v"Attacotti, Déisi and Magnus Maximus: the Case for Irish Federates in Late Roman Britain", Philip Rance, Britannia 32 (2001) 243-270
viDe Excidio Britonum Chs 13-14 trans. John Morris (1978)
viiThe original text reads ‘Maximianus’ – a clear confusion with third century emperor of that name.
viiiHistoria Brittonum trans. Halsall (1998)
ixTYP p.453
xHRB BK 5 Ch 6
xiHRB BK 5 Ch 6-7
xiiHRB BK 5 Ch 7-8
xiiiHRB BK 5 Ch 9
xivHRB BK 5 Ch 14
xivHRB BK 5 Ch 12
xviSee Roberts, op. cit., ff. The Breton sources cited by Roberts are the Vita Goeznovii (c.1019 AD) and the Cartulary of Quimperlé. Old Welsh/Old Breton Eutham becomes Middle Welsh Eudaf follows regular sound and orthographic changes. Roberts suggests (p.lvii) that Octavius is produced from a misreading of Outham as Octham. The influence of the name of the Anglo-Saxon king Octa, who also appears in HRB, may also have played a part.
xviiThe Legendary History of Britain (1950) p.426
xviiiTYP p.76 etc. These triadic allusions seem to suggest an extensive body of Brythonic lore relating to interactions between the sons of Beli Mawr and Rome. Although the details are vague, the key elements of this saga seem to include a journey by Caswallon to Rome in amorous pursuit of a certain ‘Fflur daughter of Ungach the dwarf’. At some stage he seems to have disguised himself as shoemaker, like Gwydion and Lleu in the Fourth Branch. Triad 51, which may be largely influenced by Geoffrey’s works, hints at a betrayal of Casswallon by a certain Afarwy son of Llud. Triad 35 – of key interest here – has Caswallon taking a British levy overseas in pursuit of Julius Caesar (implying that the latter had been successfully expelled from the shores in the first place). This tradition may have arisen from Julius Caesar’s premature withdrawl from his British campaign in 54 BC.
xixLoomis quoted by Roberts (op. cit) p.lxi
xxTranslated by Jeffrey Gantz, Early Irish Myths and Sagas (Penguin: 1981) pp.108-112
xxiMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.104
xxiiThis is the location of the Roman fort of Segontium, built in 77-78 AD during the campaign to subdue the Ordovices. Capable of housing over a thousand legionaries, it remained the most significant Roman centre in North Wales for the next three hundred years. Historia Brittonum (ch. 25) records a medieval tradition that Constantine the Great ‘sowed seeds of silver, gold and bronze’ there – probably a reference to the antique coins found around the site of the old Roman fort.
xxiiiMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.107
xxivFrom the evidence of the Four Branches, it would seem to be the case that the Sons of Beli Mawr were typologically equated with the Sons of Rhodri Mawr in the Medieval Welsh tradition. Caswallon ap Beli Mawr, who emerges victorious at the end of the Second Branch, might be identified with the more ‘pure’ line of Anarawd ap Rhodri, ancestor of the House of Aberffraw, Lords of Gwynedd in the central middle ages. The line of Bendigeidfrân and his half brothers, on the other hand, bear exhibit the typological hallmarks of the rather more ‘mixed’ dynasty of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn and his half brothers Rhiwallon and Bleddyn ap Cynfyn (d. 1072). By asserting that the sovereignty of Britain passed back to Bendigeidfran’s sept during the Roman period (as the author here may have been attempting to imply), the author may have been pressing the claim of a slightly wider base of the Welsh royal tribe, over the exclusivity of House of Aberffraw. Precisely which groups or individuals would have benefitted from this assertion is rather harder to glean, though we may note that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth – while clear on the primacy Gwynedd over the other Welsh regions – also would have pressed his claim to a pan-Welsh authority partly through his descent from the houses of Mathrafal and Dinefwr as well as Aberffraw.
xxvRoberts, op.cit., p.lxiii
xxviMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.108
xxviiThe cantref of Arfon was ostensibly part of the territory of Rhodri ab Owain (e.g. Itinerarium BK II, Ch. 5-6), but it might have been marginal to his main power centre on Anglesey. C.f. A. D. Carr ‘Prydydd y Moch: Ymateb Hanesydd’ Transactions of the Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion (1989) pp. 161-180. Professor Carr collates of the evidence of the charters, the annals and references to contemporary events in the work of the gogynfeirdd would suggest that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth may have been in control of the ‘roads into the heart of Gwynedd Uwch Conwy’ throughout the 1190s. Note also the emergence of the Fourth Branch hero Lleu Llaw Gyffess – another probable antetype for Llywelyn Fawr – from the same region.
xxviiiShortly after this section we are told that ‘Elen decided to build great roads from one fort to another across the Island of Britain’ to facilitate the movement of troops. From this act of military-civic development, she gains the totemic soubriquet Elen Luyddog ‘Elen of the Hosts’. As Brynley Roberts points (p. lxxxi) ‘Sarn Elen’ is the popular name given to a number of trackways in Wales with real or imagined Roman provenance. It may be that ‘Elen of Hosts’ herself arose from a typonymic legend associated with these places, subsequently incorporated into this thirteenth century antiquarian tale.
xxixOf course, there were a number of northern Welsh princes with aspirations of pan-Welsh leadership, notably Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (d.1064). However, there are certain features of the Breudwyt (not least the evident influence of the Galfridian Brut) which suggest a thirteenth century authorship. Professor Roberts’ suggestion is thus as reasonable as any. It should be noted that some historians (e.g. Sims-Williams ‘Historical Need and Literary Caveat’ Welsh Historical Review, 1994/5) have argued strongly against the ‘typological’ method of diagnosing the particular provenance of medieval Welsh texts.
xxxMabinogion (2007) trans Davies p.108-109
xxxiibid p.110
xxxiiAccepting Bartrum’s suggested amendment of Eidinet to Clydno(y) in HG IV
xxxiiiBreudwyt Macsen Wledig (2005) Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies p.xc