Manawydan fab Llyr

Mana-Wydan, Manawyddan fab Llyr

A Welsh sea god, the son of Llyr and Penardun, daughter of Dôn. Manawydan are probably the Welsh aspect of the Irish Manannán mac Lir. The Mabinogion makes him the brother and heir of Bendigeid Vran and a cousin of Pryderi, while the story of Pa gur and Culhwch and Olwen makes him a follower of King Arthur. In some genealogies Arthur is said to be a descendant of the houses Llyr and Don.

Following the destructive expedition led by Bendigeid Vran to Ireland, Pryderi found that his cousin Manawydan had been disinherited by Caswallawn, son of Beli. Pryderi compensated for the loss by giving Manawydan his mother Rhiannon to be his wife together with the seven cantrefs of Dyfed (literally meaning ‘one hundred’, a cantref was an administrative district).

The Curse

The most famous story concerning Manawydan fab Llyr is that of the curse of Llwyd fab Cil Coed. One night, as Pryderi, Manawydan fab Llyr and their wives were feasting, they heard a loud clap of thunder. This was followed by a dark cloud from which there emanated a brilliant light that enveloped them all. When the light disappeared, they found that all their men, houses and beasts had disappeared, leaving only the four of them alone in the entire realm. For two years they lived quite happily, hunting the game that freely roamed the forests and catching the fish that filled the streams and rivers. At length, growing tired of their solitary life, Pryderi and Manawydan fab Llyr decided to go from to town to town to earn a living.

A short time later, while they were out hunting in the forest, their dogs disappeared into a caer. Against Manawydan fab Llyr’s advice, Pryderi entered to bring them out, but he could not leave because he was bound fast by an enchantment. Manawydan fab Llyr waited until dusk for his cousin to reappear before returning to Rhiannon. She immediately went to the caer and, seeing a door in it, a door that remained invisible to Manawydan fab Llyr, she too entered the caer and was trapped. That night the caer vanished, taking Rhiannon and Pryderi with it.

When Cigfa, Pryderi’s wife, realised that they had been left alone, Manawydan fab Llyr promised to provide for her and, having neither dogs to hunt nor any other means of support, set himself up as a cobbler. So skilful was he that they soon prospered and were, within a year, able to return to establish three crofts. These Manawydan fab Llyr sowed with wheat. When the time came to reap the first, he found that the entire crop had been eaten. The same happened when the second ripened, so he kept a watch on the third. As it ripened he saw a host of mice appear and start to devour every last ear. He caught one of the mice and took it home, vowing that he would solemnly hang it the following day for theft. Cigfa tried to dissuade him from carrying out such a ridiculous punishment, but Manawydan fab Llyr insisted.

The next day, as he was preparing the tiny gallows, a poor clerk came by, then a richly dressed priest and finally a bishop with all his retinue, the first people either Manawydan fab Llyr or Cigfa had seen in over a year. Each offered Manawydan fab Llyr a purse of money to save the life of the mouse. All their offers were refused, but the bishop raised his offer, saying that, in return for the life of the mouse, he would grant Manawydan fab Llyr whatever he wished. Manawydan fab Llyr demanded the return of Pryderi and Rhiannon and that the spell over their land be lifted. The bishop agreed, adding that the mouse was his wife and that he was Llwyd fab Cil Coed, who had cast the spell to avenge Pwyll’s treatment of his friend Gwawl fab Clud. The spell was lifted the moment Manawydan fab Llyr handed the mouse to the bishop. Pryderi and Rhiannon reappeared and the lands of Dyfed were miraculously restored to their former prosperous state of affairs.

Arthurian traditions

Later Arthurian connections say that Manawydan fab Llyr was among the party that accompanied his brother to Ireland to rescue Branwen, and one of the seven who returned with Bendigeid Vran’s head for burial under the White Mount in London. The others who returned with him were Pryderi, Gluneu eil Taran (Glifieu), TaliesinYnawc (Ynawag), Grudyen (Gruddieu), the son of Muryel, and Heilyn, the son of Gwynn Hên, along with the unfortunate and heart-broken Branwen.

Manawydan is probably mentioned, although unnamed, in The Spoils of Annwn.