Wife of Pryderi, in the Third Branch, also mentioned at the end of the First Branch when Pryderi marries.
Cigfa is not a prominent person in the tales. She is a classic female foil. She exists almost entirely to provide literary service to the men in her life.
Cigfa was presumably a princess, and she came from Gloyw, Gloucester in what is now England, but in older times was part of the Brythonic/ British domains.
For Pryderi Cigfa provides the essential component of mature adulthood, a wife, for a noble or prince was not a complete person without one cf. Lleu. There is no mention of the couple having children.
Cigfa accompanies her husband, her mother-in-law Rhiannon, and Rhiannon’s husband, on their adventures in the Third Branch. The four are good friends.
When their magical sitting on Gorssedd Arberth (the Mound of Arberth) begins the Devastation of Arberth, they at first live alone by hunting, then travel to England to live by craftwork. It is a curiosity that they do not go to Cigfa’s family in Gloucester. This would have been the normal thing to do for nobles who lacked income, or wanted a change. That is what family connections were for, to provide support for each other, and hospitality to a traveling noble was a courteous duty cf Blodeuedd.
Instead the four Dyfed royals travel to Henford (Hereford), and then on to two other unnamed cities. In each city they set up making a different product: saddles, then shields, then shoes, respectively.
When their excellence at their chosen craftwork each time causes envy to the point of endangering their lives, Pryderi’s response is that of the classic noble hero: violence as deterrent. Though willing to do the craft work, he sees the other craftworkers as mere peasants, to be cowed by bullying, including killing them. Manawyddan elects instead to move away.
In a later stage of the tale, Cigfa sustains her husband’s proud attitude, once her husband is lost to her. She reproaches Manawyddan for choosing to set up once more as a shoemaker because it does not suit a man of high rank. Here she acts as a foil to Manawyddan, showing he is unlike other nobles as he is pragmatic, and rejects their code of snobbery which Cigfa does not.
Later still Cigfa again reproaches him for fiddling about with the hanging of a mouse to punish it. Here she represents the common sense attitude, but also acts as foil to Manawyddan, as he demonstrates his superior understanding that the mouse is part of a magical plot.
The most famous exchange Cigfa has is about her vulnerability as a woman. When both Rhiannon and her husband disappear, she is left alone with Manawyddan, and without guards or servants. Cigfa laments that her life is ruined. Manawyddan gives a long speech reassuring her that he will treat her with all courtesy, and not violate her. She accepts his reassurance.
Here Cigaf acts as a foil to Manawyddan, showing how he is a true gentleman who does not abuse a helpless girl. Much is made of this in analyses of Manawyddan, praising his self restraint. This kind of self discipline is a Four Branches theme, promoting restraint in a period of war, and consequent rule of strength. Unless her family had the power to avenge her, a noble in Manawyddan’s place would be highly likely to use the girl’s body as he wished. But as the four friends did not go to Cigfa’s family they do not seem to be a powerful clan.
Cigfa’s fear is therefore completely realistic that she faces disaster, not only rape, but lifelong ruin. Welsh laws reflect a far stronger emphasis on virginity and chastity than Irish laws do, so she is right that her life will be ruined if Manwayddan forces her.
However all ends happily for her in this Branch as Manawyddan negotiates with the vengeful magician who abducted her husband for the family to be restored, and Dyfed also.
In the Fourth Branch Pryderi, her husband, is killed when away at war, a not unusual fate for a noble husband. There is no mention of Cigfa at that time. She may have died of disease, or childbirth as was commonplace for young wives. Or else she was left a widow, in which case she was likely to marry again as Rhiannon did.
At the end of the First Branch, Cigfa’s genealogy is given. She is daughter of Gwynn Gohoyw, son of Gloyw Wallt, son of Casnar Wledic. Gloyw Wallt was the legendary founder of Gloucester.
Her name derives from ‘cig’ meat, feast. She could be called ‘Lady of the Feast.’ This suggests her family was a wealthy one with large herds. The older or alternate spelling is Kicva.
Pron. KIG – vah.
(First published 28/07/2014: Shan Morgain)