Kestrel's Nest

Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed1

A translation of the First Branch of the Mabinogi
from the texts in the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rhydderch2

Translated by Angela Grant

Part One : Pwyll and Arawn

Pwyll Prince of Dyfed was lord over the seven cantrefs3 of Dyfed. And once upon a time he was in Arberth, a principal court of his, and it came into his mind and his thoughts to go hunting. The part of his lands that he wanted to hunt was Glyn Cuch. He started that night from Arberth, and came as far as Pen Llwyn Diarwya, and stayed there overnight.

On the next day, in the youth of the day, he arose and came to Llyn Cuch to release his dogs under the trees. He sounded his horn to begin to muster the hunt, and went after the dogs, and became separated from his companions. And as he was listening to the cry of the pack, he heard the cry of another pack, and they were not the same cry, and those were coming to meet his own pack. And Pwyll saw a clearing in the wood, by way of a level field; and as his pack reached the edge of the clearing, he saw a stag in front of the other pack. Towards the centre of the clearing, the pack that was after it overtook it and brought it to the ground.

And then Pwyll looked at the colour of the pack, without bothering to look at the stag. And from what he had seen of hunting dogs of the world, he had not seen dogs of similar colour to these. Their colour was a bright shining white and their ears were red. And as the whiteness of the dogs shone, so shone the redness of their ears. Then he came up with the dogs and drove away the pack that had killed the stag, and baited4 his own pack on the stag.5

And as Pwyll was baiting his dogs, he saw a horseman coming after the pack on a great dapple-grey horse; with a hunting horn around his neck, and a garment of grey-brown material on him as a hunting-dress. And then the horseman came towards him and spoke to him thus; 'Chieftain,' said he, I know who you are, and I will not greet you.' 'Well,' replied Pwyll, 'perhaps you are of a rank that you are not obliged to.' 'God knows,' said the huntsman, 'it is not the dignity of my rank that holds me back from that.' 'Chieftain,' said the other, 'what else?' 'Between me and God,' said the stranger, 'your own ignorance and your discourtesy.' 'What discourtesy, chieftain, have you seen in me?' 'I have not seen discourtesy greater in a man,' said he, 'than driving off the pack that had killed the stag, and baiting your own pack on it. That,' said he, 'was discourtesy, and although I will not avenge myself on you, between me and God,' said he, 'I will shame you to the value of an hundred stags.' 'Chieftain,' said Pwyll, 'if I have done ill, I will redeem your friendship.' 'How,' said the other, 'will you redeem it?' 'According to your rank; but I do not know who you are.' 'A crowned king am I in the land that I come from.' 'Lord,' said Pwyll, 'good day to you.6 And from what land do you come?' 'From Annwn,7' said the other, 'Arawn, a king of Annwn am I.' 'Lord,' said Pwyll, 'how will I obtain your friendship?' 'This is how you will get it,' said the other, 'A man there is, whose territory borders on my territory, who is warring on me constantly. He is Hafgan, a king of Annwn. For the removal of that oppression on me - and that you can easily do - you will get my friendship.'

'I will do that,' said Pwyll, 'with pleasure. And tell me how I can do that.' 'I will tell you,' replied Arawn, 'This is how you can. I will make a strong bond of friendship with you. This is how I will do it; I will put you in my place in Annwn, and I will give you the fairest woman that you have ever seen to sleep with you every night, and my face and my form on you so that there may be neither chamberlain nor officer nor other man that ever followed me who might know that you are not me. And that,' said he, 'until the end of a year from tomorrow, and our meeting then in this place.'

'Well,' said Pwyll, 'though I might be there until the end of the year, what guidance will I have for finding the man you speak of?' 'A year from tonight,' said the other, 'there is a meeting arranged between me and him at the ford. Be you in my form there,' said he, 'and one blow you may give to him; he will not survive that. And though he might ask you to give a second, do not give it, even if he begs you. I used to give further blows to him, but he fought with me as good as before on the next day.'8 'Well,' said Pwyll, 'what will I do about my lands?' 'I will bring it about,' said Arawn, 'that there will be in your dominions no man or woman who might know that I am not you, and I will go in your place.' 'Willingly,' said Pwyll, 'I will go.' 'Unhampered will be your path, nothing will hinder you, until you will come to my territory; and I will be a guide for you.'

Arawn guided Pwyll until he saw the court and the dwellings. 'There is the court,' said Arawn, 'and the territories in your power. Head for the court; there is no one in it who will not know you, and just as you will see the usage in it, you will know the custom of the court.'

He made for the court; and in the court he saw sleeping quarters and halls and chambers and the fairest show of buildings anyone had seen. And he approached the hall to take off his boots. There came lads and young men to remove his boots, and everyone as they came made to greet him. Two knights came to remove the hunting clothes from him, and placed a silken garment with gold thread upon him. And the hall was made ready. There he saw a household troop and retinues, and the fairest and best equipped company that anyone had ever seen came within, and the queen together with them, who was the fairest woman anyone had seen, and a shining silken garment with gold thread was upon her. And thereupon they went to wash, and approached the tables, and sat down as follows - the queen on the one side of him, and the earl, he supposed, on the other side.9 And he began to converse with the queen. And, out of all those he had ever seen to converse with, she was a woman most natural of manner and most noble her disposition and her discourse. And they ate and drank and passed time in songs and drinking. From those he had seen of all the courts of the earth, this was the best furnished court for food and drink and gold dishes and lordly jewels.

A time came for them to go to bed, and so they did, Pwyll with the queen. As soon as they got to bed he turned his face to the bedside, with his back to her. From then until the next day, he did not say a word to her. The next day, tenderness and very loving converse was between them. Whatever affection might have been between them during the day, there was not one night until the end of the year that was different from the first night.

He spent a year in hunting and songs and carousal and affection and conversing with companions, until the night of the encounter. At the appointed time that night, the memory of it came to the furthest man in the whole kingdom as well as it came to the man in Arawn's place. And he came to the arranged meeting with noblemen of his dominions. As soon as he came to the ford, a horseman rose up, and spoke like this; 'Nobles,' said he, 'listen well. This fight is between the two kings, and that between their two bodies. And each one of them is a claimant upon the other, and that for land and territory. Be still, every one of you, except those two.'

And then the two kings approached the middle of the ford to engage together. And at the first onset, the man that was in the place of Arawn struck Hafgan on the centre of his shield boss so that it split in two halves, until the whole broke, and then went Hafgan the length of his arm and his spear across the crupper of his horse to the ground with a mortal wound upon him. 'Chieftain,' said Hafgan, 'what right had you to my death?10 In no way was I claiming anything from you. Neither do I know a cause for you to kill me; by God, since you have begun my death, end it!' 'Chieftain,' said the other, 'it could be I may regret doing what I have done to you. Seek who might kill you; I will not.' 'My trusty nobles,' said Hafgan, 'carry me from here; indeed my death is completed. I have not the means to support you further.' 'My nobles,' said the man who was in the place of Arawn, 'take counsel, seek knowledge of who might be obliged to be vassals to me.' 'Lord,' said the nobles, 'everyone has that obligation, since there is no king over the whole of Annwn except you.' 'Then,' he declared, 'he who comes submissively will be well received. He who does not come obediently, will be compelled by the strength of swords.' And then taking homage of the men, he began to subdue the country. And by midday the next day he was in possession of the two kingdoms.

Then he journeyed from the region of the meeting-place, and came to Lynn Cuch. And when he came there, Arawn king of Annwn was there to meet him. They welcomed each other. 'Well,' said Arawn, 'God repay you for your friendship; I have heard of it.' 'Indeed,' said Pwyll, 'when you yourself come to your country, you will see what I have done on your behalf.' 'And what you have done,' said Arawn, 'on my behalf, may God repay you for it.!'

Then Arawn gave Pwyll Prince of Dyfed his own form and appearance, and took back his own form and appearance. And Arawn journeyed towards his court in Annwn, and he rejoiced with those he saw and his host and his household troops, since he had not seen them for a long time. They however had not known the lack of him and his arrival was not more novel than before. That day he spent in pleasure and happiness, and sitting in converse with his wife and with his nobles. And when it was more timely to sleep than drink, to sleeping they went. He made for his bed, and his wife went to him. First he conversed with his wife and engaged in loving pleasantness and lovemaking with her. These things she had not been accustomed to for a year, and these things she thought; 'God! What a different mind is in him tonight than that there has been a year to tonight!' And long she thought. And after that thought, he awoke, he spoke to her, and a second time, and a third. And no answer did he get from her then. 'From what cause,' said Arawn, 'do you not talk to me?' 'I say to you,' said she, 'as much as this I have not said for a year in such a place as this.' 'Why?' said he, 'we have talked continually.' 'Shame on you,' said she, 'in the year to last night, from when we have gone between the folds of the bed clothes, there was between us neither pleasantness, nor conversation, nor turning by you of your face to me, still less anything more than that.' And then he thought, 'Lord God, a man uniquely strong and unswerving in his friendship have I got as a companion.' Then Arawn said to his wife, 'Lady, don't blame me. Between me and God,' said he, 'I have not slept nor lain down with you in the year to last night. And then he related the whole tale to her. 'To God I bear my confession,' she replied, 'he had a strong grasp on friendship in respect of battle and bodily temptation, and keeping faith to you.' 'Lady,' said he, 'I was thinking that while I spoke to you.' 'No wonder,' said she.

Meanwhile Pwyll Prince of Dyfed came to his dominions and his country, and began to inquire of the nobles of the land what might have been the governing of them that year as compared to how it had been earlier. 'Lord,' said they, 'never was your discernment so good; never were you so amiable with your fellows; never were you so generous in disposing your possessions; never was your discernment better than this year.' 'Between me and God,' said Pwyll, 'it is a fine thing for you to thank the man who was with you. And this is the story as it was.' - and Pwyll told them all of it. 'Well, lord,' said they, 'thanks to God for granting that friendship to you. And the governing we got that year, we are sure you will not take from us.' 'I will not take it back, between me and God,' said Pwyll for his part.

From then onwards, they began to confirm the friendship between them, and send each other horses, hunting dogs, hawks and every sort of jewel that each thought would please the other. And because of his sojourn that year in Annwn, and his ruling then as prosperously, and bringing the two kingdoms into one through his valour and his strength, his name Pwyll Prince of Dyfed fell into disuse, and he was called Pwyll Pen11 Annwn thereafter.



(1) The titles of the Four Branches do not appear in the original manuscripts. I am reliably informed by Mark Williams that the titles, except for Branwen, were probably named by Dr William Owen-Pughe (1759-1835) who undertook the translation of these tales before Lady Charlotte Guest (The Mabinogion, with an English Translation and Notes, London, 1849). His drafts are now in the NLW MSS 13242-13244; they tell us that his intended Second Branch title was 'Brân the Blessed'. Sioned Davies ('Ail Gainc y Mabinogi - Llais y Ferch', Ysgrifau Beirniadol 16, 1990, p. 15-27) suggests that Lady Charlotte created the Branwen title out of feminist concerns. The present titles give us the impression that the Branches are the life-stories of the characters concerned and so are thus a little misleading. (back)

(2) The White Book of Rhydderch (Peniarth MS4, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, f.1r-f.10r, cols 1-38) dates from around 1350, the Red Book of Hergest (Jesus College, Oxford, MS111, f.175r-f.179v, cols. 710-726) dates from between 1382 and c.1410. For practical purposes this translation has been made from the annotated text of the First Branch in R L Thomson's Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 2003). (back)

(3) A cantref was an administrative area similar in size and purpose to the English hundred. The name comes from cant, one hundred, and tref, in Modern Welsh a town but in medieval times a settlement or steading. (back)

(4) Fed. (back)

(5) Under Welsh Law Pwyll, as lord of the land he was hunting, was entitled to take any stag roaming his territory and drive off another pack before it was killed. But once it was killed it was the property of the owner of the pack that killed it. However, it would be a brave subject to pursue a claim against his prince. But Arawn was a 'crowned king' and therefore outranked Pwyll, so he had prior right in any case. Pwyll had therefore doubly wronged Arawn. The fact that Pwyll did not know a superior was hunting his own land is no real defence since the colour of the dogs should have told him this was no ordinary huntsman. See 'Honour and Status in some Irish and Welsh Prose Tales', T M Charles-Edwards, Ériu 29 (1978) pp.124-5. (back)

(6) By referring to each other as 'unben', 'chieftain', the equivalent of the modern 'sir', Pwyll and Arawn are being strictly polite to each other whilst Pwyll works out who is challenging him. Arawn well knows he is a 'brenhin coronawc', whereas Pwyll is a mere 'pendefig', but he waits to tell him until he knows he has Pwyll over a barrel. Pwyll then greets him formally as 'arglwyd', 'lord'. See: 'Honour and Status in some Irish and Welsh Prose Tales', T M Charles-Edwards, Ériu 29 (1978). (back)

(7) Spelt Annwfyn in the text. Note by Mark Williams: The etymology of the word is uncertain, as it could come from either Celtic *an-dumnos (not-world) or *an-dubnos (very-deep) or possibly a form of the preposition yn + dumnos 'the in-world'. There is a Gaulish phrase attested: 'antumnos' which would be from and(e)-dubnos 'under-depths/world' and would yield Annwfn in Welsh. The confusion between dubnos and dumnos is unfortunate because 'bn' could assimilate to 'mn' at any stage, so dumnos 'world' and dubnos 'deep' were probably confused even in British and Gaulish. (back)

(8) This is the stuff of folktale. Only a mortal can solve this otherworld conflict. The second blow, if given, will reverse the effect of the first, so it may not be given. (back)

(9) The appearance of the earl is something of a puzzle. There is no office of iarll, 'earl', listed in a princely household in the Welsh laws, the name being Norse in origin. W J Gruffydd in Rhiannon (Cardiff, 1953), pp.45-6, suggested he was Pwyll's opponent in an older version of the tale. However, this may simply be a phrase to balance the one when Pwyll dines with Rhiannon's father, he is placed between Hefydd Hen on the one side and Rhiannon on the other. (back)

(10) Hafgan clearly realises this is not Arawn facing him. (back)

(11) Head of. (back)


Translation and notes © Angela Grant 2008