Father of Rhiannon, in the First Branch of the Mabinogi.
Pronunciation: HIV – ayth Henn.
Etymology: Modern spellings: Hyfaidd / Hefeydd/ Hefaidd, the H can also disappear in mutations. A common name in Mediaeval Wales. ‘Hen’ means ‘old’ so he is The Old XXX. ‘Hy-‘ has roots with words for vigour or health. The modern ‘hyfaidd’ means ‘bold, daring, adventurous, dauntless, audacious’ from the root ‘baidd.’ (GPC) If this had older roots it would present Rhiannon’s father as a suitably bold adventurer for such a daighter.
A link with ‘defaid’ sheep, suggested elsewhere is incorrect because that ending has only a single D (Welsh D and DD are two separate letters of the alphabet).
HYFAIDD HEN AND HIS COURT
Hyfaidd Hen has only a small and formal role to play, which is entirely in the First Branch (see note below on a similar name in the Second Branch).
Rhiannon has two wedding feasts held at Hyfaidd Hen’s llys, court, location unspecified. Hyfaidd Hen is noted as seated at his high table, Pwyll in the centre as guest of honour to marry Rhiannon, she is on the other side from Hyfaidd. However, the feasts themselves are organised and provided by Rhiannon: she says so when explaining her plans when things go wrong. She was either independently wealthy or Hyfaidd was a wealthy and generous father, or both. Mediaeval Welsh women were supported by the law to own wealth, and well able to handle it in their own right.
Gwawl is Rhiannon’s unwanted suitor, with whom she has an existing betrothal. She seeks to free herself from him, which was a very serious undertaking indeed. A betrothal between nobles meant political alliance, exchanges of wealth, and legal contracts. Rhiannon appeals to Pwyll to replace Gwawl, and so free her, as she says the betrothal was against her will. Although an extremely powerful, dominant, wealthy person, Rhiannon as a woman in her society, cannot make or unmake a formal marriage agreement without a male guarantor.
Possibly the Gwawl betrothal was made by Hyfaidd Hen when Rhiannon was a child, which would not be unusual. It should be noted there is nothing wrong with Gwawl as a contracted husband. He is young, noble, wealthy, and behaves in a courteous manner at all times. He says Rhiannon is the woman he loves the most, although that may be no more than courtly manners, meaning she is simply who he wants to marry.
Rhiannon’s talk of being compelled implies Hyfaidd Hen held her to the Gwawl betrothal against her will, a common stereotype in mediaeval romance of a bullying father with his eye on money and rank. However that cannot be quite right, as Hyfaidd Hen is clearly supporting his daughter’s new betrothal by presiding at the wedding feast with Pwyll. Perhaps Rhiannon has at last been able to persuade him to lend his authority to her plans, because she has now secured a more advantageous marriage to the greatest hero of the times, the rich and mighty warrior prince Pwyll.
When Gwawl prevents the first wedding from completing, Rhiannon arranges a second, where Hyfaidd hen also appears. As Rhiannon planned, Gwawl is trapped in her ‘small bag’ and then is being beaten to death by Pwyll’s men. Gwawl appeals to his tormentors’ sense of justice. He claims this is not a fitting death for one of his status. It is Hyfaidd Hen who adds the gravitas of his senior voice, to agree with Gwawl, and restrain the excited young generation from killing the man in the bag by being carried away in their sport.
HYFAIDD AND CYFRAITH CYMRU (LAW)
Continuing his role as elder, Hyfaidd Hen then stands as guarantor for Gwawl’s good faith in the contract with Gwawl which Rhiannon designs and advises. This is a formal legal contract, verbal not written, but witnessed by its guarantors. Pwyll’s respect for Rhiannon’s legal expertise is very clear. As Hyfaidd Hen acts throughout this sequence like a judge or druid who knows the Cyfraith Cymru (Welsh Laws), and is respected as such, it suggests he ensured his daughter was well educated in law.
That investment in advanced education for his daughter could happen for a number of reasons.
1. Intelligent Rhiannon would have desired legal training to serve her ambitions. This fits well with her character as a strategist so we can take it as definite.
2. Hyfaidd would have been upholding the distinctive Welsh tradition of a noble Welsh lady as expert adviser to her lord: seen for example in Teyrnon’s wife, the Lady of Gwent. (On this advisory partner tradition see Miles-Watson, 2009)
3. Hyfaidd very probably had no son. What supports this, is firstly there is no mention of any son/ brother to Rhiannon, at either of Rhiannon’s wedding feasts. Secondly, had she had a brother she would not have needed to recruit the mighty hero Pwyll with his band of warriors to back her in facing down Gwawl. Thirdly, years later, when Rhiannon faces disaster, no brother appears to aid her with his teulu, warband. Compare Branwen in the Second branch, whose brother does come to aid her, which was proper in a strongly kin based society.
HYFAIDD HEN’S FAREWELL
Hyfaidd Hen later bids Pwyll, his daughter’s new husband, a formal farewell. There is a cryptic exchange where Hyfaidd assumes Rhiannon will follow on separately after Pwyll. This may have been a custom to allow a bride to have some time to rest after her wedding, and have a final period with her birth family. Distance could often mean a bride’s next meeting with her birth kindred would be years ahead, if ever. But Pwyll declares they will travel together. This contrasts Hyfaidd Hen following a convention, against Rhiannon and Pwyll as the younger generation, and unconventional.
It also shows Rhiannon and Pwyll acting closely together in making the decision, as it is difficult to conceive of strong willed Rhiannon wanting to stay behind, over ridden by Pwyll. Their close partnership is already evident in how they outwit Gwawl, and it fits with their strong marriage later when Pwyll is loyal to her in adversity.
With the long drawn out courtship, and two wedding feasts a year apart, no doubt Rhiannon was very keen to stay with hero prince Pwyll as her prize, to step up in status to being a wife, and to take command of her own realm as co-ruler. On that last point, it is explicitly stated as the couple begin the next tale.
DYFED GENEALOGY CONNECTION
There is an ancestor of the Dyfed royal house recorded in its genealogies named Hyfaidd.
Hywel Dda who is famed for compiling the Cyfraith Cymru (Welsh Laws), acquired Dyfed by marrying its heiress Elen verch Llywarch in the year 904. Elen’s grandfather’s name was Hyfaidd, so he would have been regarded as an elder of Dyfed by the time the Branches were recorded.
The parallel is further interesting because Elen, like Rhiannon, would have been a stranger queen in her husband’s homelands. Their combined domains plus more conquest, built Deheubarth, literally the Southern Region (of Wales). This was one of the best periods in Welsh mediaeval history as it extended for several generations under strong rulers.
There is another Mabinogi parallel with the historical house of Dyfed, in that Hywel Dda made a strategic move to build peace by vowing homage to the king of the English. This benefited both parties as they could each turn their attention to guarding their other frontiers. In the Third Branch Rhiannon’s son Pryderi makes a similar strategic move to ensure peace for Dyfed, by vowing homage to the king of Britain.
In the Second Branch of the Mabinogi Hefydd Hir (Hefydd the Tall) is mentioned.
GPC: hir – long, tall, lengthy, extensive, far-reaching, long-lasting.
He is one of seven elders left to govern the country of Britain while the nobles and their warbands of warriors are away at war in Ireland. Rhiannon’s father Hyfaidd Hen was already titled as Hen (Old) when Rhiannon married, and by now her son is not only an adult prince, ruler of Dyfed, but has completed years as a proven, successful war leader. So this is unlikely to be the same person.
A hero similarly called Hefeydd Hir (Hefeydd the Tall) appears in the 6th century epic poem Y Gododdin, by the British bard Aneurin of the Old North. Unless Rhiannon’s background can be placed in the north on further evidence, this is unlikely to be her father.
(First published 28/07/2014, edit 28/05/2016: Shan Morgain)