With the exception of ‘The Four Branches of the Mabinogi’ (which may be viewed as a unit), there is no doubt that the individual stories in The Mabinogion were written by different authors in different periods. The stories are recorded in two medieval Welsh manuscripts known as the White Book of Rhydderch (Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) and the Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest). The first dates from around 1350, and the second from around 1400, but certain stylistic features suggest that the manuscripts are copies of material first written down at an earlier date. Furthermore, the stories were no doubt passed down via a centuries-old oral tradition before ever being recorded in writing. The only exception is Rhonabwy’s Dream which, as is noted at the end of the story itself, is an original literary work.
It is usually assumed that the various authors were male. However, Dr Andrew Breeze in his book The Origins of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi (Herefordshire: Gracewing, 2009) puts forward the theory that these four stories were written by Princess Gwenllian (c.1097-1136), daughter of Gruffudd* ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd, and wife of Gruffudd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth.
Click here to read more about Dr Breeze's theory.
*sometimes written Gruffydd.
Sioned Davies is Professor of Welsh at the University of Cardiff. Her research interests lie in the field of medieval Welsh prose in general, and The Mabinogion in particular. She publishes academic work in both Welsh and English.
Click here for Professor Davies' webpage at the University of Cardiff.
Click here to listen to Professor Davies reading extracts from her translation of The Mabinogion (left side of webpage).