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WELSH TKADITIONS IN LAYAMON'S "BRUT." 

Most careful students of the metrical chronicle written by the 
English priest Layamon, son of Leovenath, agree that it embodies 
here and there bits of Welsh tradition which its author, who dwelt 
near the border of Wales, either heard directly from his Welsh- 
speaking neighbors or got at second-hand from his English 
parishioners, among whom legends of Welsh origin were doubtless 
popular. Sir Frederic Madden, the learned editor of Layamon's 
Brut, says:' "That Layamon was indebted to Welsh traditions, 
not recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth, or in Wace, is scarcely to 
be questioned." Ten Brink, in his History of English Litera- 
ture,^ remarks: "Some of Layamon's interpolations can have 
been derived from traditions clinging to places not far distant 
from the poet's home," and Wfllker, in another History of Eng- 
lish Literature, declares:' "[Layamon] wohnte dicht an der 
Grenze von Wales und scheint von dort manche Sage gehort zu 
haben, die er in seiner Dichtung verwertete." 

Though professed students of Layamon have agreed that the 
additions he has made to his French original sometimes contain 
Welsh traditions, advocates of the theory that the legends of 
Arthur were developed in Brittany have neglected the English 
chronicle and have failed to observe its important bearing on the 
question in dispute. To call attention to the neglected impor- 
tance of Layamon for the vexed question of the development of 
the Arthurian legend is the object of the following pages. 

Layamon, writing about the year 1205, in the main translated 
the Norman-French chronicle of Wace, which was written in 
1155,' but he expanded its 15,300 lines to 32,250. Part of this 
great expansion is due to Layamon's love for detailed description 

'Layamon's Brut, London, 18i7, Vol. I, p. xvi. Madden's text is used throughout 
this article. 

2 Kennedy's translation (1889), Vol. I, p. 190. 

3 Gesch. der englischen Litt., Leipzig:, 1896, p. 81. 
* So Madden, Brut, Vol. I, pp. six and xiii. 

95] 1 



2 Arthur 0. L. Brown 

and comes from his own fancy. I quote, for example, Merlin's 
splendid prophecy of Arthur's greatness : ' 

So long as is eternity he shall never die; while the world standeth 
his glory shall last; all shall bow to him that dwell in Britain; of him 
shall gleemen sing; of his breast noble poets shall eat; of his blood shall 
warriors be drunk; from his eyes shall fly fiery embers; each finger of 
his hand shall be a sharp steel brand; stone walls shall before him 
tumble; barons give way and their standards fall; 

the account of how the youthful Arthur received the news of his 
succession to the kingship:^ 

He sat very still; for a while he was wan and exceeding pale of hue; 
for a while he was red and was moved at heart; 

the ghastly details of the slaughter made by Childric:' 

All the good wives they sticked with knives; all the maidens they 
killed with mtirder; and all the learned men they laid on burning coals; 
all the domestics they killed with clubs. They felled the castles; the 
land they ravaged; the churches they burned down; grief was among 
the folk; the sucking infants they drowned in the water; 

the fantastic description of Loch Lomond:* 

Nikers dwell there; there is a play of elves in the hideous pool. 

Especially noteworthy are Layamon's accounts of hunting and 
of the sea. His description of a fox hunt^ is too long to quote, 
but observe three splendid lines about the voyage of Oadwalon:' 

Both were calm; the sea and the sun; 

The wind and the wide ocean; both together. 

The flood bare the ships; minstrels there sang. 

All this is developed from the bald statement in Wace that 
Oadwalon put his ships to sea. 

So clever is Layamon in transforming a brief hint, dropped by 
Wace, into a vivid picture, that a feeling might arise in one's 
mind that perhaps Layamon invented all his additions to Wace, 
the more important as well as the mere expansions of his original. 
To dispel this doubt, one has but to see how closely most of the 
noteworthy additions made by Layamon are connected with Wales 
and with Welsh tradition. 



I Vss. 18848-69. 


» Vss. 20961-74. 


5 Vss. 20840-70. 


2 Vss. 19887-91. 


< Vss. 21746-8. 

96 


e Vss. 30610-15. 



Welsh Traditions in Layamon's "Beut." 3 

Layamon adds to Wace's account of Queen Judon the remark 
that she was put to death by drowning. Madden has pointed out 
that this is in agreement with Welsh tradition.' Welsh legend has 
it that Queen Judon was sewed up in a sack and drowned in the 
Thames. Layamon puts into the mouth of Merlin the explicit 
prophecy, "Arthur shall come again to the help of the Britons." 
This is not in Wace, but as Madden has again noted,'' is in accord 
with Welsh tradition. The case is similar with Layamon's change 
of the name of Arthur's last battlefield from Camblan to Camel- 
ford.' Layamon's circumstantial account of the arms and dress 
of Irish warriors. Madden has shown,* agrees exactly with descrip- 
tions given by Giraldus Cambrensis and by Froissart. Evidently 
Layamon's statements regarding Celtic matters are not spun out 
of his own fancy. 

In an article entitled, " The Round Table before Wace," * I 
have called attention to the way in which Layamon sometimes 
changes Wace's proper names to make them accord with Welsh 
forms: Genievre becomes Wenhauer (Welsh Gwenhwyfar);Hoel 
becomes Howel (Welsh Howel); Holdin becomes Howeldin, as if 
Layamon were attempting a Welsh etymology for it ; Guenelande 
in the "Round Table" passage" becomes Winet-londe, showing 
apparently that Layamon understood it as the name of Gwynedd 
or North Wales; Hiresgas, Layamon changes to the sufiiciently 
Celtic looking Riwaddlan. Wace's Cadval, Layamon changes to 
Cadwadlan. To this list let me add two names, Gille Callcet, a 
Pict,' and Gille Caor, a king in Ireland,* which are new in Lay- 
amon. They mean respectively "prudent gillie" and "mighty 
gillie," and seem to have come straight out of Celtic folk-tales.' 

Layamon always presents the Welsh in a favorable light. A 
good example occurs at the end of his history. Wace's state- 
ment that the Welsh are all changed and degenerated from the 

1 Vs. 4033, and the note, Vol. Ill, p. 321. 
2Vss. 28650, 286S1, and the note. Vol. Ill, p. 412. 
3 Vol. Ill, p. 408. 4 Vol. Ill, p. 366. 

^Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, Vol. VII (1900), p. 189. 
6 Vs. 22788. ' Vs. 1K64. 8 Vs. 10061. 

9 Cf. Gilla Decair (slothful gillie), O'Gkady, Silva Gadelica, Vol. I, pp. 257 B. ; Oille Glas 
(gray gillie) , Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Vol. I, pp. 102 ff., etc. 

97 



4 Aethur C. L. Brown 

nobility, the honor, and the manners of their ancestors, he alters 
to: "The Britons moved to Welshland, and lived in their laws 
and their popular manners, and yet they dwell there as they shall 
do evermore.'" 

With a presumption of Welsh influence on Lay^imon estab- 
lished by this mass of cumulative evidence I go on to several 
new points which, if they can be maintained, make very definite 
the connection between Layamon and Welsh tradition. 

Layamon tells us that Carrie, the last Welsh king to rule over 
any considerable part of what is now England, was derisively 
called by his Anglo-Saxon enemies Kinric. The passages in 
question are as follows: 

Carrie took this kingdom and with sorrow dwelt therein; a strong 
knight was Carrie, but he was not prosperous because foreigners destroyed 
all his nation. This king was a noble British man; derision and eon- 
tempt men threw on him; they renounced the name of Carrie and called 
him Kinric, and yet in many books, men so write his name. People 
began to abase him, people hated him, and sang contemptuous songs of 
the odious king. Then began war over all this country; and Saxon men 
sailed to this land and took their station beyond the Humber and the 
king began to live in exile wide over this nation; hateful he was to all 
folk that looked on him.^ .... The Saxon men sent messengers to 
Carrie the king and said that they would make peace with him; they 
would prefer to obey Carrie rather than another.' .... And Carrie 
believed all their falsehood and granted them peace. Then was Carrie 
betrayed by their craft. Carrie has ever since been called Kinric. All 
with contemptuous words the king they derided. Carrie believed the 
Saxon men's words.* .... The Saxon men assembled forces innumer- 
able in the land, and marched toward Carrie the king of this kingdom; 
and ever they sang with contempt of Kinric the king. Carrie gathered 

his Britons^ .... [he was defeated] As many of his wretched 

folk as could fled out of the country. Some went to Wales, some to 
Cornwall, some to Neustrie that now is called Normandy; some fled 
beyond sea to Brittany and dwelt afterwards in the land called Armorica.' 

No oile has hitherto commented on this incident, or attempted 
to explain what derisive force there is in the name Kinric. 
Carrie, which in Welsh means a rock, is a suflBciently dignified 
name. I venture to suppose that Kinric is an English tran- 

1 Vss. S2226 fl. 3 Vss. 28992-7. 6 Vss. 29081-8. 

2 Vss. 28858-83. « Vss. 29012-23. « Vss. 29143-52. 



Welsh Traditions in Layamon's "Brut." 5 

scription' of Cymraeg, and is the name that the Anglo-Saxons 
applied to Carrie when they refused to have him any longer for 
king over them. He is Cymraeg, they said, "a Welshman," and 
they called him "Welsh" in derision.^ 

Layamon has added to Wace's mention of Arthur's coat-of- 
mail the information that it was made "by an elvish smith who 
was named Wygar, the witty wright."' Madden thought that 
this name Wygar was a corrupted form for Weland, the well 
known Germanic smith-god.* It is likely that Weland has in 
this passage been substitued for Oof an (Irish Oobhan),^ the Celtic 
smith -god who corresponds roughly to the classic Vulcan and the 
Germanic Weland. In Irish and Welsh, wonderful arms are 
regularly said to be the work of Gobban. He would therefore be 
the natural artificer of Arthur's magic accoutrements. English 

' Oynric was a royal name among the Anglo-Saxons at the time of Arthur. Cf. Anghh 
Saxon Chronicle, years 495 B. May not the transcription of the simken word Cymraeg have 
got confused with this well-known name? 

2 Compare what happens in our schools. A German lad gets the nickname of " Dutch," 
or a Norwegian that of " Norsk." The opprobrious name, it will be noticed, is given in the 
form peculiar to the language of the person ridiculed (cf . Cymraeg) , not in its English form. 

sVss. 21131-4. Madden 's translation. 

♦ Vol. Ill, p. 376. Madden's view has not hitherto been assailed (cf. Binz, Beitr., Vol. 
XX, p. 187). I am indebted to Professor F. G. Hubbard for calling my attention to the 
extreme difflculty of maintaining with Madden that Wygar is merely a corrupted form for 
Weland. Professor Hubbard, adopting Madden's translation, suggests as a more probable 
origin for the form the name of Widia, or Wudga, Weland's son (cf. Gbein-WOlckee, Bib. 
der angelsdch. Poesie, Vol. I, pp. 6, 12), probably confused with that of the father in popular 
story. Professor Kittredge, who has very kindly looked over the proof-sheets of these pages, 
suggests a translation of the passage entirely different from Madden's. Layamon says: 
Text A. " he wes ihate Wygar Text B. "he was i-hote Wigar 

te witeje wurhte." l>e wittye wrohte." 

Professor Kittredge proposes to translate: "It [the coat-of-mail or bumy] was named 
Wygar which Wite^e wrought." Wygar would then be the Anglo-Saxon wigheard (battle 
hard), an appropriate name for the bumy. TTtteje would stand for the Anglo-Saxon Widia, 
the name of Weland's son. Wideje, the regular Middle-English equivalent for Widi{g)a, 
may have passed into the form Witeje through popular etymology, or scribal error, influ- 
enced by the well known word witeje (prophet) which occurs repeatedly in Layamon. (The 
form wittye of text B is found elsewhere in that text, meaning " prophet ;" one is not obliged, 
however, to explain text B in harmony with text A, for the scribe of B may have misunder- 
stood A.) Professor Kittredge by this translation avoids several difficulties. Witeje is 
probably not " witty," for, as he observes, words of the kind do not in Layamon end in -eje, 
but in simple -i. " Smith " is, of course, not the most natural meaning of the word wurhte. 

5Cf. Guest's Mabinogian, ed. Ndtt (London, 1902), pp. 122 and 67; Windisch, Irische 
Texte, Vol. I, p. 319; Keatino, History of Ireland (Irish Texts Society, Vol. IV), p. 219. With 
reference to the substitution of Weland for a Celtic smith Professor Kittredge compares 
the way in which Alfred translates " Ubi nunc fidelis ossa Fabricii manent " (Boeth. II, 
metr. 7), taking Fabricius asfaber: "Hwter synt nu fas foremeeran and Jmbs wisan gold- 
smi6es ban Welondes?" (ed. Sbdoefield, chap, xix, 11. 15, 16). Cf. also the Vita Merlini 
ascribed to Geoffrey: "pocula quae sculpsit Guielandus in urbe Sigeni" (vs. 235). 

99 



6 Arthur C. L. Brown 

narrators may easily have substituted Weland or Wudia for the 
unfamiliar Oof an of Welsh legend.' 

Indeed we find in Layamon what is perhaps distinct evidence 
that the arms of Arthur were at first said to be the work of Oof an. 
Some verses beyond the passage just quoted Layamon has another 
occasion to mention Arthur's spear and he declares that it "was 
made in Caermarthen by a smith called Griffin.'''' It had once, 
he adds, belonged to King Uther.^ All the belongings of Uther 
were in the beginning undoubtedly magical, like the Round 
Table which would seat sixteen hundred men and more, and yet 
Arthur could carry it with him wherever he rode,' or like the 
sword Galiburn {Excalibur).* This smith, added by Layamon to 
Wace's narrative, ought then to be possessed of magical powers. 
No one has hitherto explained his name. It is hard to imagine 
any reason for his being named after the fabulous griffin of 
classic antiquity. An extract recently published by Professor 
R. H. Fletcher, from the Polistorie del Eglise de Christ de 
Caimterbyre, an inedited chronicle extending to the year 1313, 
makes perfectly clear that the name of the Welsh smith Gofan or 
Govan, in slightly distorted form, passed into general Arthurian 
tradition. The Polistorie says that Gawain's sword bore an 
inscription declaring it to be the work of Gaban.^ The passage 
is of great interest because it shows the survival of an hitherto 
unnoticed bit of Celtic folk-lore in a late Arthurian legend. It 
makes easy the supposition that Gofan, through some intermediate 
form like Gaban, got changed by an English writer to Griffin.^ 

1 It is important to note that the assumption of a reference in the passage from Lay- 
amon to the Germanic Weland is in no way essential to ray proposed identification in the 
following paragraph of Griffln with Gofan. Wygar may be left unexplained without 
impairing conclusions about Griffin, 

2 Vss. 23781-6. 3 Vss. 22911-22. * " Made in Avalon with magic craft," vss. 21137-40. 

5 Pub. of the Mod. Lang. Assoc, of America, Vol. XVIII (1903) , p. 90. The inscription is 
said to read : 

" Jeo su forte trenchaunte e dure. 

gaban me fist, per mult graunt cure. 

xiii. anns auoyt ihesu crist. 

kaunt gaian (original reading gaban) metrempa e fist." 
Professor Fletcher notes the similarity of the figure of Gaban to Layamon 's Wygar and 
Griffin, but he has not perceived the identity of Gaban with the Welsh Gofan. 

6 Students of mediaeval literature will see no difficulty in supposing that Griffln, a form 
that has meaning in old English, was derived by some Englishman from the to him incom- 
prehensible Gofan. An adventitious r is particularly likely to creep in. I need only cite the 

100 



Welsh Teaditions in Layamon's "Beut." 7 

The distortion of Cymraeg to Kinric assumed above could 
have occurred only under the conditions of oral transmission. 
This agrees with historical requirements. The English warriors 
who applied the term Cymraeg to the Welsh king cannot be 
supposed to have read the word, but only to have heard it pro- 
nounced. On the other hand, the distortion of Oofan to Griffin 
could only occur in written transmission. Layamon evidently 
drew from English tales about Arthur, founded on earlier Welsh 
tradition and handed down, in part at least, in writing. This 
opinion has been already expressed by Ferdinand Lot in a review 
of my article referred to above. Lot's words,' "Comme il est 
totalement impossible que Layamon connut la phon^tique du 
vieux-gallois, il faut qu'il ait puis6 son r^cit h une source d'origine 
celtique et h une source ^crite," accord exactly with the idea 
that Layamon's Griffin, the smith of Caermarthen in Wales, is a 
distorted survival of the Welsh Gofan. 

Layamon gives to Arthur's helmet a particular name, "Gos- 
whit." '' Madden has conjectured that this is a traditional name, 
and must be explained as the translation of a Welsh epithet." I 
believe that I have found curious evidence that such is really the 
case. In Kulhwch and Olwen of the Eed Book of Hergest, a 
Welsh tale which is so archaic in character that it is admitted on 
all hands* to represent genuine Welsh tradition, we have the 
names of a number of Arthur's magic belongings. These names, 
it must be observed, almost invariably contain the meaning 
"white." Pridwen^ (the name of Arthur's ship) means "white 
form." Wynebgwrthucher (Arthur's shield) means "night gain- 

well known variants : Guingalet, Grlngalet; Quin{iam&re^ Qringamore ; Gifflet^ Grifflet. Cf. 
SCHOFIELD, Pub. 0/ Mod. Lang. Assoc.. Vol. XV (1900), p. U3. It is fair to add that the well- 
known Welsh name Griffith, " ruddy," might give rise by corruption to the form Griffin. 
Griffith, however, seems not specially applicable to a smith. 

1 Le Moyen Age, Vol. VI (1892), pp. 115, 116. Ct. the opinion of Gaston Paris, Romania, 
Vol. XXIX (1900), p. 634, though this review is not explicit on the question of written sources. 

2 Vs. 211«. 

3 Vol. Ill, p. 377. The text of Layamon indicates, I think, clearly enough that he 
understood "Goose-white" to be the translation of a Welsh epithet. In the next line, 
after the account of the helmet, he describes Arthur's shield, and adds : " Its name was in 
British called Pridwen," implying, of course, that the name of the helmet had not been 
given in British (Welsh), but in English. 

* Cf. ZiMMEE, GOtt. gel. Anz. (1890), p. 524. 

' Gxjest's Mabinogion, ed. Nutt, p. 106 (for Pridwen cf. p. 142). 

101 



8 Abthub C. L. Bbown 

sayer." Carnwenhau (Arthur's dagger) means "white haft." 
Ehangwen^ (Arthur's hall) means "broad white," and even 
Owenhwyfar (Arthur's wife) means "white enchantress." Surely 
it is no mere coincidence that Layamon's name for Arthur's hel- 
met is "Goose- white." Probably all the belongings of the Celtic 
Other World had whiteness or luminosity attributed to them.^ 
The name Ooswhit occurs nowhere else, but I do not see how one 
can doubt but that it goes back to Welsh tradition. The coinci- 
dences between Layamon and Welsh tradition form a mass of 
cumulative evidence, the combined weight of which is almost 
irresistible. 

Students of Arthurian romance have hitherto neglected Lay- 
amon. It was perhaps natural that they should. Layamon wrote 
about 1205, probably fifty years after traditions about Arthur were 
widely popular in France. At first thought it seems impossible 
that his chronicle could throw light on the history of the early 
development of the Arthurian legend. His additions to Wace 
might come, apparently, from the French romances. This, how- 
ever, is not the case. Layamon lived in the wild borderland 
between Wales and England. The situation was evidently too 
remote for him to be acquainted with the romances current at 
Paris and London. Names like Goswhit have not passed through 
any French intermediary. The Round Table incident, with its 
archaic features of a combat with knives at a royal feast, and of 
the brutal punishment of nose cutting, is not from any chivalric 
French source.^ It betrays its origin by its connection with 
Gwynedd or North Wales* and with Cornwall, whence the work- 
man who made the Round Table is said to have come. 

Layamon's additions to Wace, especially the account of Arthur's 

1 Op. cit., p. 110. 

2 In the Bevue Celtique, Vol. XXII (1901), pp. 339 ff., I have shown that Manannfin, the 
Celtic sea-god and lord of the Other World, was almost certainly known by the epithet 
£ari«tu«, " white-haired " or "white-topped." It is important to add that Manann&n has 
in Irish legend a marvelous steed, Enbarr, " foam of the water " (evidently a personifica- 
tion of the crest of a storm wave).— Joyce, Old Celtic Romances, p. 38, from the Book of Lecan 
compiled about 1416 ; and a helmet Cannbarr that glittered with dazzling brightness, op. 
cit, p. 19. 

3 Vss. 22737-974; cf. " The Bound Table before Wace," referred to above. 

* Professor Kittredge first pointed out to me the Identity of Layamon's " Winet-lond " 
(vs. 22788) and Gwynedd. 

102 



Welsh Traditions in Layamon's "Bbut." 9 

departure to Argante the queen' (perhaps a corruption for Mor- 
gan, the fay), and the Round Table story, the longest and most 
splendid of all, prove that the Welsh had a romantic Arthur about 
whom tales and legends were clustered. These additions made 
by Layamon are fatal to any theory which assumes that the Arthur 
stories were developed exclusively in Brittany, and that the Welsh 
knew only a heroic, not a romantic, Arthur. It is with the hope 
of calling attention to the importance of Layamon that these pages 
have been written. Layamon's Brut shows that at least some 
Arthur stories were developed in Wales, and passed directly from 
Welsh into English. 

Aethub C. L. Bbown. 
The University op Wisconsin. 

1 Vss. 28610-51. 



103