The Welsh Triads

Oxford, Jesus College MS 111, folio 146r. Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY 4.0)

The Welsh triads (in Welsh, Trioedd Ynys Prydein; that is, Triads of the Island of Britain) survive in several medieval Welsh manuscripts. The earliest collection is found in National Library of Wales MS Peniarth 16, dating to the third quarter of the 13th century. There are more comprehensive collections in the later White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, dating to c. 1325 and after 1382 respectively. The image to the left is taken from the Red Book of Hergest, where the Triads are found on folios 144r – 147r. There is a transcription at the Welsh Prose 1350-1425 project.

For a complete edition, translation and commentary, see Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein. The Welsh Triads (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1961). A second edition appeared in 1978, and a third, expanded and revised edition in 2006.

Rachel Bromwich, whose edition and study remains the standard reference, argues that while none of the Triads in their current form is much older than the 9th century, it is clear that at least some of them offer a medieval Welsh view of pre-Saxon history, characters and events of the British heroic age of the 6th and 7th centuries. She points to the “marked predilection for triple groupings” among Celtic peoples, and argues that the triads (and perhaps the related grave stanzas) are used as “a means of cataloguing the early traditions of Wales.”

Many of the Triads refer to King Arthur or to characters, like Drystan, who came to be associated with him. This page, however, offers a few of the triads that feature characters from the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.

The Triads are arranged below as they appear in the Red Book, but I have used Bromwich’s numbering system for ease of reference. The transcriptions use “w” for the variant character common in the Red Book, and they separate some particles for ease of reading. The translations are my own, though they are necessarily very close to Bromwich’s, and a serious student would do well to make use of Bromwich by preference.

Aberystwyth, Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/ National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 16, folio 50r. Public domain
Aberystwyth, Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/ National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 4, folio 55r. Public domain

52. Three Exalted Prisoners of the Island of Britain. Llyr Half-Speech, and Mabon son of Modron, and Gwair son of Geirioedd

Tri goruchel garcharawr ynys prydein. Llyr lledyeith. a mabon uab modron. a geir uab geiryoed

37. Three Fortunate Concealments of the Island of Britain. The head of Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran), son of Llyr, which was hidden in the white hill in London, with its face towards France. And while it was in the position in which it was placed in there, no oppression of the Saxons would ever come to this island

Tri matkud ynys prydein. penn bendigeituran uab llyr a gudwyt yn y gwyn uryn yn llundein. ae wyneb at ffreinc. a hyt tra uu yn yr ansawd y dodet yno. ny doei ormes y saesson vyth yr ynys honn

53: Three Harmful Blows of the Island of Britain. The first of them Matholwch the Irishman struck upon Branwen daughter of Llyr. The second Gwenhwyfach struck upon Gwenhwyfar, and for that reason the Battle of Camlan happened afterwards. And the third Golydan the Poet struck upon Cadwaladr the Blessed

Teir gwith baluawt ynys pridein. Vn onadunt a trewis matholwch wydel ar branwen uerch lyr. ar eil a drewis gwenhwyfach ar wenhwyuar. ac o a achaws hynny y bu weith kat gamlan wedy hynny. Ar dryded a drewis golydan uard ar gadwaladyr vendigeit

28: Three Great Enchantments of the Island of Britain. The Enchantment of Math son of Mathonwy and he taught it to Gwydion son of Dôn. And the enchantment of Uther Pendragon and he taught it to Menw son of Teirgwaedd. And the third was the enchantment of Rudlwm the Dwarf and he taught it to Coll son of Collfrewy his nephew

Teir prif hut ynys brydein. hut mat uab mathonwy. a dygawd y wydyon uab don. a hut uthur penndragon. a dylgawd y uenw uab teirgwaed. ar dryden hut rudlwn gorr a dygawd a dygawd y goll uab collurewy y nei

8: Three Prostrate Chieftains of the Island of Britain. Manawydan son of Llyr. And Llywarch the Old. And Gwgon Gwron son of Peredur son of Eliffer

Tri lledyf unben ynys prydein. manawydan uab llyr. a llywarch hen. a gwgon gwron uab peredur uab eliffer

26: Three Powerful Swineherds of the Island of Britain. Pryderi son of Pwyll, Lord (literally “head”) of Annwfn, tending the swine of Penndaran Dyfed his foster-father. These swine were the seven animals which Pwyll Lord of Annwfn brought and he gave them to Penndaran Dyfed his foster-father. And this is the place where he used to keep them, in Glyn Cuch in Emlyn. And this is why he was called a powerful swineherd: because no one was able either to deceive or to force him. And the second was Drystan son of Tallwch, tending the swine of March son of Meirchyawn, while the swineherd went with a message to Essyllt. Arthur and March and Cei and Bedwyr all four were there. But they did not succeed in seizing even one pigling, not by force, nor by deception, nor by stealth

Tri gwrueichyat ynys brydein. Pryderi uab pwyll penn annwn. wrth noch penndaran dyuet y datmaeth. ac ysef moch oedynt y seithlydyn a duc pwyll penn annwn. ac ae rodes y pendaran dyuet y datmaeth. ac ysef y lle y katwei y glynn cuch yn emlyn. ac y sef achaws y gelwit hwnnw yn wrueichat. kany allei neb na thwyll na threis arnaw. ar eil drystan ub tallwch wrth voch march uab meirchyon. tra aeth y meichyat yn gennat ar essyllt. arthur. a march. a chei. a bedwyr. a uuant ell petwar. Ac ny chawssant kymmineint ac un banw. nac o dreis. nac o dwyll. nac o ledrat y gantaw

67: Three Golden Shoemakers of the Island of Britain. Caswallawn son of Beli. When he went to Rome looking for Fflur. And Manawydan son of Llyr, when there was an enchantment on Dyfed. And Lleu Skilful-Hand, when he and Gwydion were seeking a name and arms from Arianrhod his mother

Tri eurgryd ynys brydein. Casswallawn uab beli. pan aeth y geisaw flut hyt yn ruuein. a manawydan uab llud pan uu hut ar dyuet. a lleu llaw gyffes pan uu ef a gwydyono yn keissaw enw ac aruey y gan arianrot y uam