Lady of Gwent

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Lady, wife to Teyrnon Twryf Lliant in the First Branch, third episode. They rule the eastern land of Gwent-ys-Coed, today named Wentwood, in amicable partnership. She remains nameless, but has the important role of adopting the foundling who grows up to be Pryderi. The Lady is ambitious and materialistic.

The Lady has an apparently happy marriage for although she is barren her husband Teyrnon has not rejected her. When he rescues a baby from a monster he brings the child to her. She recruits other women to help her make it seem she has given birth to him.
Her sense of status is strong for she points out the child is of noble background as he is wrapped in gold silk.
The child grows at a heroic pace, and his foster mother arranges for him to be given the foal born the night he was found in the stable. The horse affinity of the child is clear.
When Teyrnon proposes to do the right thing, by returning the child to his birth parents, his wife agrees. But her reasoning is pragmatic, that it will result in political advantage. This it does, building an even closer alliance between Gwent and Dyfed.
When the child is restored to the Dyfed royal house, we learn he was named Gwri Goldenhair while growing up in Gwent. Since he is described as resembling his father we might conclude that Pwyll too was a fair haired man, although the resemblance may also habe been in shape of face and body rather than colouring.

The Lady of Gwent is a cryptic figure because she is left nameless. This is an oddity which only one other important Branches character shares, the Queen of Annwfn.
Their anonymity may be due to their gender, as there is a European tradition of obscuring women’s identities which goes back to Roman custom. It was considered shaming for a respectable woman to be named in public, a custom which reinforced the concept of woman as essentially a man’s daughter, sister, mother or wife.
However there may be a more interesting explanation, as the Four Branches are not generally given to obscuring their women.

The Lady of Gwent shows close connections and similarities to Rhiannon. Both are barren wives. Both have sympathetic, supportive husbands about it. Both women are in affinity with horses, Rhiannon appearing as a magical rider at Gorssedd Arberth and other connections; the Gwent queen married to a horselord, a breeder of fine horses. She also instigates the boy being given the special foal born on the night he arrives with her. Her house is used as a stable, as the mare is brought inside to protect her from the abductor of her foals.

Teyrnon, as the husbband, has a name which shows close similarities to Rhiannon. It has the same suffix -non, indicating divinity. The Teyr- component means a ruler, so the name means Divine King. This is a very close parallel to Rhiannon, meaning Divine Queen.
They both have similar archaic Celtic deity roots as well: Tigernos, Great Lord; and Rigantona, Great Queen.
Teyrnon’s name, together with his affinity with horses, can suggest him as an alternate or earlier consort of Rhiannon. This is supported by all the information about Teyrnon’s queen, as above, and by her provocative anonymity.

The Lady of Gwent can therefore be interpreted as an avatar, or alternate, of Rhiannon. Possibly the author of the Four Branches was weaving together different local traditions of Rhiannon and her consort in different kingdoms of a greater Wales (the region of Welsh or Brythonic culture). There may once have been a religion of Rhiannon with different consorts in different regions: Pwyll in Dyfed, Teyrnon in Gwent, Gwawl in the Old North, and Manawyddan in Manaw or the Isle of Man.

Note, the title ‘Lady of Gwent’ is not part of the classic Mabinogi tradition. I use it to identify the person concerned accurately, and to point up how her anonymity is suggestive.

(First published 28/07/2014:  Shan Morgain)

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