Pwyll and Rhiannon

By Terry John Calendar

One of the most famous Welsh legends is that of Prince Pwyll and his bride Rhiannon. Pwyll one day walked to the top of a mound which lay behind his palace at Arberth (Narberth).

One of his courtiers warned him that whoever sat upon the mound would be unable to leave it until he had received wounds, or had seen a wonder. Pwyll was not afraid and chose to sit at the top of the mound. No sooner had he done so than he saw a lady riding slowly towards him on a white horse. He was so struck by her beauty that he sent one of his noblemen to ask her name. The lady took no notice of him and rode past. Pwyll ordered the noble to take the fastest horse in the stables and pursue the lady. However quickly the man rode, he could not catch her, though she seemed to be riding at a slow pace.

On the next day, the same thing happened and on the third day, Pwyll himself set off in pursuit of the mysterious visitor, who stopped only when he called out to her. She explained that it was Pwyll himself with whom she wished to speak. Her name was Rhiannon and she had refused to marry the suitor chosen by her father because of her love for Pwyll. The prince, smitten by her beauty, agreed to marry her. To do so, explained Rhiannon, he must visit her father’s palace in twelve months’ time, where she would arrange a great feast to welcome him.

On the appointed day, accompanied by one hundred knights, Pwyll rode up to the palace gates. He was welcomed by Rhiannon’s father, Heveydd Hen, but during the feast that followed a tall young man approached and asked Pwyll for a favour. Pwyll agreed to grant the stranger whatever he wished, to the great distress of Rhiannon, for the young man was Gwawl, to whom she had been promised in marriage. Pwyll was devastated, but Rhiannon gave him a small magic bag, advising him to return in a year and giving him certain instructions as to what he must do then.

A year later Pwyll came to a feast held in Gwawl’s honour. He was dressed as a beggar, carrying the bag that Rhiannon had given him. He begged Gwawl to fill the bag with food, as he was poor and starving. Gwawl willingly agreed, but however much was put into it, the bag never became full. Gwawl was astonished, but Pwyll explained that it would never be full until a nobleman stepped into it to press down the food with both feet. Rhiannon persuaded Gwawl to step into the bag and Pwyll quickly tied the bag tightly over his head. He was only released when he promised never to seek revenge for what had been done. In this way Pwyll won his bride.

To find out more about the Legends of Pembrokeshire be sure to check back to our blog!

Be sure to set some time aside during you break to learn about the area surrounding Bluestone and join our Historian Terry on a Thursday and Saturday morning to walk in the footsteps of lots of important historic events!