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Learning About

Harlech Castle


Math fab Mathonwy

Math Fab Mathonwy (Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi)

Math fab Matholwy was lord of Gwynedd and Pryderi fab Pwyll was lord of twenty one hundredths in South Wales.

Math would only live while his two feet were places in the bosom of a maiden, unless war prevented him from doing so. His maiden was Goewin ferch Pebin. Goewin was the most beautiful maiden known to anyone and she lived in Dôl Pebin, Arfon. Math lived in Caer Dathyl, Arfon and Goewin was constantly in his presence.

Due to the clause on his life, Math couldn’t travel around his lands to defend them, therefore this task was given to his nephews, Gilfaethwy fab Dôn and Efeydd fab Dôn.

Unfortunately, Gilfaethwy had fallen in love with Goewin and before long, Gwydion, his brother, had realised this and promised to help Gilfaethwy to win Goewin, by starting a war.

Gwydion told Math that Pryderi had special pigs, and that he would be wise to acquire some of them. So, Gwydion went to the south and persuaded Pryderi to exchange the pigs for greyhounds and horses with silver collars and twelve golden shields.

However, the greyhounds, horses and shields were an illusion.

Gwydion was forced to travel back to Gwynedd very quickly, as the illusion would only last for one day and they had to arrive in Gwynedd before Pryderi realised that he had been cheated. By the time Gwydion and his men had reached Gwynedd, Pryderi’s armies were on their way to the north and Math was forced to leave his home to join the battle.

That night, Gilfaethwy fab Dôn raped Goewin ferch Pebin, in Math ab Mathonwy’s bed. When Math returned from the battle, having killed Pryderi, he went to Goewin, to put his two feet in her bosom. Goewin told Math of Gilfaethwy and Gwydion’s treachery and he told her that he would compensate for their insult and would take Goewin as his wife.

Math needed a new maiden and Gwydion and Gilfaethwy suggested their sister, Arianrhod. Arianrhod had to step over Math’s wand to prove she was a virgin, but as she did so, a baby appeared. The baby screamed and Arianrhod ran away, leaving something behind. Gwydion hid this thing in a chest at the foot of his bed.

Arianrhod’s child was christened and given the name ‘Dylan’. During the christening, a storm came and when the sea rose, Dylan could swim like a fish and was named ‘Dylan Ail Don’.

One day, Gwydion woke up to hear a scream coming from the chest at the bottom of his bed. He found a baby there and the baby lived in Math’s court until he was four years old.

When the child was four years old, Gwydion took him to Arianrhod, so that she could name him, but she refused and cursed that he would never be named, unless she named him herself. This was a terrible insult, so Gwydion planned to trick Arianrhod into giving the child a name.

Gwydion created the illusion of a ship on the Menai Strait and sailed to Caer Arianrhod and changed his and the child’s appearances. They tricked Arianrod into believing that they were cobblers and she asked them to make her a pair of shoes. She came aboard the ship so that Gwydion and the child could measure her feet. A wren flew into the ship and the boy truck it with a needle between the tendon and bone of its leg. Arianrhod commented,

"God knows, the fair one struck it with a skilfull hand”.

Gwydion then said:

“Yes, may you be cursed. He has been named and it is a good name. He is now Lleu Llaw Gyffes”.

The illusion of the ship disappeared and Arianrhod cursed Lleu again: he would never carry arms unless they were given to him by her.

Gwydion and Lleu went to Dinas Dinlle, where Lleu learnt to ride and when the time came for Lleu to carry arms, Gwydion changed their appearances again and they both went to Caer Arianrhod, alleging to be poets from Morgannwg. Arianrhod gave them a warm welcome but the next morning, Arianrhod came to wake them and told them that the court was under the threat of war. Arianrhod gave Lleu arms and Gwydion told her what she had done. Arianrhod was livid and cursed him once more: he would never marry a woman of the human race.

This caused quite a predicament for Gwydion and Lleu but Math told them that he would create a wife for Lleu, made of the fruits of the oak, meadow sweet and broom trees. She was given the name ‘Blodeuwedd’. Math gave Lleu Cantref Didoning, the finest hundredth in his lordship and Lleu established his court in Mur y Castell, Trawsfynydd.

One day, Lleu went to visit Math in Caer Dathyl, and Blodeuwedd came across Gronw Pebr, lord of Penllyn, hunting in the Mur y Castell area. According to the customs of the time, Blodeuwedd welcomed Gronw Pebr to the court when he passed on his way home. At the very first sight of each other, they fell in love. They both decided that the only way they could be together was for Blodeuwedd to discover how to kill Lleu, pretending to be worried about him.

Blodeuwedd told Lleu that she was worried about his death. He thanked her for her worry but told her that it wouldn’t be easy to kill him: he would have to be struck by a spear produced over a period of a year, during the mass service. He couldn’t be killed while he was inside or outside, or while his feet touched the ground. The best way to kill him would be to have one foot on a buck, another on a bath near a river, under a frame with a sturdy roof.

Blodeuwedd passed on the information to Gronw Pebr and Gronw produced a spear over a period of a year. Blodeuwedd persuaded Lleu to show her how he should stand if he were to be killed. The bath, frame and roof were prepared and Lleu stood with one foot on the side of the bath and the other on a buck. Gronw struck him in his side with the spear. Lleu turned into an eagle, gave a deafening scream and flew away.

Gronw and Blodeuwedd happily lived together in Mur y Castell and Gronw succeeded to conquer the hundredth of Ardudwy.

Math and Gwydion were greatly disappointed by the events and Gwydion went on a journey through Gwynedd, Powys and Arfon to look for Lleu. He found an eagle in Nantlle in Arfon and believed that it was Lleu, so sang a series of rhymes, to make sure that it was him. After hearing the rhymes, the eagle came to Gwydion. He pointed his wand at the eagle and Lleu appeared in front of him, in his human form. He looked sad and disheartened, and very thin.

Lleu was cared for in Caer Dathyl, and within a year, he was better and a plan was hatched to take revenge for Blodeuwedd and Gronw’s betrayal.

The men of Gwynedd travelled to Mur y Castell, but Blodeuwedd heard that they were on their way and she and her maidens escaped towards the mountain, through Afon Cynfael to the court on the mountain. The women were so frightened that they were unable to look forwards, they were constantly looking back over their shoulders. Every one of them, except for Blodeuwedd, fell into the lake and drowned. The lake has been known as ‘Llyn Morynion’ (‘Lake of the Maidens’) ever since.

Gwydion transformed Blodeuwedd into an owl for her betrayal. She could never show her face in daylight again. Gronw Pebr ran away to Penllyn and asked Lleu if he would accept gold, silver or land for the insult against him. Lleu refused and insisted that he be given the chance to strike Gronw with a spear, in the spot where Lleu was struck.

Gronw asked his men if any of them would be willing to take the spear instead of him, but they all refused.

Gronw asked if he could use a stone from the bank of Afon Cynfal to defend himself. Lleu granted this wish, but when he shot the spear, it split the stone and struck Gronw, breaking his spine. Gronw had been killed. This stone with a hole in it lies on the bank of Afon Cynfal and is known as ‘Llech Gronw’ (‘Gronw’s Stone’).

Lleu Llaw Gyffes regained his lands and became a successful leader. Eventually, he became lord of Gwynedd. This marks the end of this branch of the Mabinogi.