Maxen Wledig is the name given to the Galician-born Roman emperor Magnus Maximus (ca.335-388), also known as Maximianus. He became commander of the Roman forces in Britain in 380 and was proclaimed Western Roman Emperor in 384. He was defeated in battle by Theodosius I in 388, and was executed shortly afterwards.
The portrayal of the Romans in Maxen Wledig’s story in The Mabinogion is a positive one. Indeed, several Welsh tribes and royal dynasties claimed descent from the Emperor Maxen.
This positive image of the relation between Wales and Rome, as personified in the figure of Maxen Wledig, is expressed in Dafydd Iwan’s iconic anthem ‘Yma o Hyd’ (‘Still here’) where he suggests that Maxen had a beneficial influence on Wales.
Aber Saint is the mouth of the River Seiont, which reaches the Menai Strait at Caernarfon. As mentioned in the bookmark for page 28, Caernarfon is also referred to in The Mabinogion as Caer Saint (‘The Fort of the Seiont’). The ‘castle' referred to in the text is not the one to be found in present-day Caernarfon, which was built by Edward I in the 13th century.
Prior to the Acts of Union in the 16th century, Welsh and English Law differed. Welsh Law was codified in the 10th century, during the reign of Hywel Dda, and included laws relating to the rights and treatment of women One of these required that the first time a husband slept with his wife, he would make a payment to her called the ‘morning gift’ (cowyll) in recognition of the loss of her virginity. This is probably what is meant here.
The ‘maiden-fee’ (amobr), on the other hand, was the payment a father made to his feudal lord on the same occasion.
Another reference to the maiden fee is to be found in ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen'.
The Welsh word ‘myrddin’, meaning ‘host’, is a component of Caerfyrddin (the Welsh name for Carmarthen in southwest Wales). It has also been suggested that the name Caerfyrddin is linked to the wizard Merlin who is known as Myrddin in Welsh. Generally, however, it is believed that both these suggestions are wrong and that the name Caerfyrddin derives from Maridunum or Moridunum, a Roman fort which stood on the site of present-day Carmarthen.
An explanation for the name Elen Luyddog, as luyddog is the adjectival form of the noun lluydd, meaning host. For this reason, her name in English is sometimes given as ‘Helen of the Hosts’. She is also known as St. Helena of Caernarfon, and is sometimes confused with St. Helena of Constantinople, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. There is a Roman road in Wales called Sarn Helen (‘Helen’s Way’), and this is sometimes used to support the claim made in the story that she was involved with building roads (Ffyrdd Elen Luyddog would translate as ‘Elen Luyddog’s Roads’). However, the validity of the name Sarn Helen is itself questionable.
Llydaw is the Welsh name for Brittany. The implication is that it is composed of the two elements, lled (partly) and taw (silence).
The description of the ‘second plague’ is very similar to a story told by Nennius in Historia Brittonum (History of Britain, c.830), and by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain, c.1138).
In Nennius’ version, the British warlord Vortigern is unable to build a castle at Dinas Emrys (‘Fortress of Ambrosius’) near Beddgelert in Gwynedd because of an underground battle being fought between a red dragon (symbolising the native Britons/Welsh) and a white dragon (symbolising the Saxons). It is foretold by Ambrosius that the white dragon will reign supreme for a long time, but that he will eventually be defeated by the red dragon. In Geoffrey’s version, the story is essentially the same, except that the outcome of the battle is prophesied by Merlin. The telling of the story in ‘Lludd and Llefelys’ is used as the opportunity to explain the place-name Dinas Emrys.
Today, the red dragon is the central feature of the Welsh national flag.
Parallels have been drawn between The Mabinogion’s ‘The Lady of the Well’ and Chrétien de Troyes’ 12th century poem Yvain, le Chevalier au Lion (‘Yvain, the Knight with the Lion'), although (as noted in the case of ‘Peredur fab Efrog’ and ‘Perceval’), the nature of the relationship between the two is not entirely clear.
In the late Middle Ages, Burgundy was one of the largest producers of wool in Europe. The Duchy of Burgundy had control of the flourishing cloth trade in Flanders, and their courts at Bruges, Lille and Brussels were considered to be at the forefront of aristocratic fashion.
A portcullis is a defensive structure found at the entrance to medieval castles. It consists of a latticed grille of wood or iron which could be lowered at a moment’s notice in a crisis.
Some castles had both an inner and an outer portcullis. Lowering both meant that unwanted visitors could be trapped in the space between the two. The picture below shows the double portcullis at Warwick Castle, England.
This is a reference to one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church known as the anointing of the sick. Today it involves placing oil on the forehead of a person who is seriously ill or dying. Previously, however, Extreme Unction was given only when death was imminent, and involved the anointing of severaI parts of the body.
The term last rites is used to describe the anointing of a dying person in conjunction with the administration of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. An individual’s final Holy Communion is known by the Latin term Viaticum, meaning ‘provisions for a journey’.