Who Married Mordred?
Who was Mordred's wife? Mordred is the son and eventual doom of King Arthur in Arthurian legend. Several retellings give that Mordred had sons of his own, so there must have been a wife or something out there. But her name and identity slips through our fingers. Even her existence is only inferred.
Or is it?
In some of the earliest versions, Mordred's wife is Guinevere. Yes, that Guinevere. In the Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) (c. 1136), Mordred weds Guinevere as part of his takeover. He has Arthur's lands, Arthur's throne, and Arthur's queen. The Historia leaves it unclear how Guinevere felt about this, but later versions varied. She might be happy to comply, or she might flee and barricade herself in the Tower of London. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure (c. 1400), Guinevere even bears children to Mordred - although based on the timeline, these cannot be the grown sons of Mordred seen in other sources.
In the romance Escanor (c. 1280), Mordred has an "amie" or love who is a vain and evil maiden. We do not hear her name, or any other details, though.
Then there is Hector Boece's History and Chronicles of Scotland (c. 1527). Here, we here of "Modred and his Gude-father Guallanus." Gude-father means father-in-law; thus, Mordred married a daughter of Guallanus or Gawolane. I have seen this name interpreted as Gawaine, Cadwallon Lawhir of Gwynedd, or Caw of Prydyn. This will be important in a moment.
Now we get to the big ones: Gwenhwyfach and Cwyllog.
Gwenhwyfach or Gwenhwyvach is a woman who appears briefly in the Welsh Triads. When she slapped Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), one of the "Three Harmful Blows of the Island of Britain," it led to the battle of Camlann, the civil war and final implosion of Arthur's reign. In the early Arthurian work Culhwch and Olwen, Gwenhwyach is briefly mentioned as Gwenhwyfar's sister.
Around 1757, a Welsh scholar named Lewis Morris wrote the encyclopedic Celtic Remains, listing many personages from Welsh tradition. He listed Gwenhwyfach as the wife of Medrod (Mordred). He combines the different causes for Camlann, making her Mordred's queen. The quarrel between the two queens (over some nuts, of all things) leads the two kings to battle and ruin. Other writers picked up this tack, as in Thomas Love Peacock's novel The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829).
Marrying Guinevere’s quarrelsome sister to Arthur’s evil son at least makes narrative sense. Each tied to the civil war that ends Arthur’s reign, Gwenhwyfach and Mordred are a natural match.
It also ties into the idea that Mordred sought to marry Guinevere. Gwenhwyfach's name may be derived from her sister and at one point they may even have been the same character.
However, the origin of Gwenhwyfach as Mordred's wife seems to have originated with Morris. There are no older sources or legends to connect the two characters. According to A Welsh Classical Dictionary, the confusion may have arisen over a late version of the genealogy Bonedd y Sant. One of the people listed is Saint Dyfnog, son of Medrod. Medrod is a common alternate spelling for Mordred in these sources. The mother of this Dyfnog is given as Gwenhvawc, daughter of Ogvran Gawr. Only one problem: it's the wrong Medrod. This Medrod is the son of Cawrdaf, not Arthur. True, Mordred was originally just Arthur's nephew, but even before that he would have been associated with Arthur's family, Arthur's sister.
But the confusion's not over yet. Lewis Morris returns with... Cwyllog.
Remember the daughter of Gawolane? Gawolane was interpreted by some as Caw of Prydyn, who had a bevy of children, including the famous historian Gildas. This would make Mordred and Gildas brothers-in-law. The Mordred/Gildas connection "explained" why Gildas gave an unflattering portrayal of Arthur's successor, Constantine, who killed Mordred's sons. This was the tack Morris took in Celtic Remains.
He returned to this idea in his 1760 manuscript of the "Alphabetic Bonedd." But this time, he gave a different identity for Mordred's wife. This time she was Kwyllog or Cwyllog, a Welsh saint.
Here is a suggestion of a very different story. Gwenhwyfach was violent and unsympathetic, but Cwyllog’s story holds more tragedy. This wife of Mordred was a holy woman. After her villainous husband's death, she entered religious life, and the parish of Llangwyllog (supposedly built around 605) was named after her. Her feast day is January 7.
There are some issues. In 1907, Sabine Baring-Gould recounted this version but remarked that Cwyllog's feast day "does not occur in any of the calendars." In addition, Caw of Prydyn's multitudinous children were listed in Culhwch and Olwen, but Cwyllog is not among them.
Cwyllog's name may in fact be a back-formation from the place-name Llangwyllog. The actual saint would be Gwyrddelw - a son of Caw of Prydyn. His feast day falls on January 7 in two existing calendars, that being the date of the local festival for the parish of Llangwyllog.
So Cwyllog and Gwenhwyfach are later tie-ins, both of which seem to have originated from the pen of the same 18th-century author.
First, Lewis Morris may have seen a genealogy which mentioned a Gwenhvawc who was married to a Medrod and combined that with Gwenhwyfach's connection to Camlann - never mind it was the wrong Mordred. He later revised this, or added a second wife, when he connected Mordred's "gude-father" Gawolane to Caw of Prydyn, and thus to an apocryphal daughter of Caw. In fact, not only is Cwyllog possibly fabricated, but there's nothing to connect Gawolane to Caw. Both explanations are clever, but probably in error.
The earliest tradition we have is that Mordred married or sought to marry Guinevere. He may have been connected to stories where Guinevere was kidnapped, or he may have been her lover, a predecessor to the later character of Lancelot.
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Researching folktales and fairies, with a focus on common tale types.