The Celtic Literature Collective

Short Biographies of Taliesin
From the Iolo MSS, as recounted by Lady Charlotte Guest.

In Guest's endnotes for The Mabinogion, she quotes several short extracts which attempt to give a more plausible biography of Taliesin than that found in the Hanes Taliesin. Now, whether or not these are forgeries of Iolo Morgannwg or not is hard to say; I do not know that the extracts appear anywhere else, though they claim to be copied from other manuscripts.

The following is taken from Anthony Powel of Llwydartys MS.

Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, the son of Saint Henwg of Caerlleon upon Usk, was invited to the court of Urien Rheged, at Aberllychwr. He, with Elffin, the son of Urien, being once fishing at sea in a skin coracle, an Irish pirate ship seized him and his coracle, and bore him away towards Ireland; but while the pirates were at the height of their drunken mirth, Taliesin pushed his coracle to the sea, and got into it himself, with a shield in his hand which he found in the ship, and with which he rowed the coracle until it verged the land; but, the waves breaking then in wild foam, he lost his hold on the shield, so that he had no alternative but to be driven at the mercy of the sea, in which state he continued for a short time, when the coracle stuck to the point of a pole in the weir of Gwyddno, Lord of Ceredigion, in Aberdyvi; and in that position he was found, at the ebb, by Gwyddno's fishermen, by whom he was interrogated; and when it was ascertained that he was a bard, and the tutor of Elffin, the son of Urien Rheged, the son of Cynvarch :-'I, too, have a son named Elffin,' said Gwyddno, 'be thou a bard and teacher to him, also, and I will give thee lands in free tenure.' The terms were accepted, and for several successive years he spent his time between the courts of Urien Rheged and Gwyddno, called Gwyddno Garanhir, Lord of the Lowland Cantred; but after the territory of Gwyddno had become overwhelmed by the sea, Taliesin was invited by the Emperor Arthur to his court at Caerlleon upon Usk, where he became highly celebrated for poetic genius and useful, meritorious sciences. After Arthur's death he retired to the estate given to him by Gwyddno, taking Elffin, the son of that prince, under his protection. It was from this account that Thomas, the son of Einion Offeiriad, descended from Gruffydd Gwyr, formed his romance of Taliesin, the son of Cariadwen-Elffin, the son of Goddnou-Rhun, the son of Maelgwn Gwynedd, and the operations of the Cauldron of Ceridwen.

Next follows the Pedigree of Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, from Thomas Hopkin of Coychurch's MS.:-

Taliesin, Chief of the Bards of the West, the son of Saint Henwg, of Caerlleon upon Usk, the son of Fflwch, the son of Cynin, the son of Cynvarch, the son of Saint Clydawc, of Ewyas, the son of Gwynnar, the son of Caid, the son of Cadren, the son of Cynan, the son of Cyllin, the son of Caradog, the son of Bran, the son of Llyr Llediaith, King Paramount of all the Kings of Britain, and King, in lineal descent, of the country between the rivers Wye and Towy. Taliesin became Chief Bard of the West, from having been appointed to preside over the chair of the Round Table, at Caerlleon upon Usk.

A manuscript once in the Havod Uchtryd collection gives the following particulars:-

Taliesin, Chief of the Bards of the West, the son of Henwg the Bard, of the College of Saint Cadocus, the son of Fflwch Lawdrwm, of Caerlleon upon Usk, in Glamorgan, the son of Cynvar, the son of Saint Clydog, the son of Gwynnar, the son of Cadrain, the son of Cynan, the son of Caradog, the son of Bran the Blessed, the son of Llyr Llediaith.

Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, erected the church of Llanhenwg, at Caerlleon upon Usk, which he dedicated to the memory of his father, called Saint Henwg, who went to Rome on a mission to Constantine the Blessed, requesting that he would send Saints Germanus and Lupus to Britain, to strengthen the faith and renew baptism there.

Taliesin, the son of Henwg, was taken by the wild Irish, who unjustly occupied Gower; but while on board ship, on his way to Ireland, he saw a skin coracle, quite empty, on the surface of the sea, and it came closely to the side of the ship; whereupon Taliesin, taking a skin-covered spar in his hand, leaped into it, and rowed towards land, until he stuck on a pole in the weir of Gwyddno Garanhir; when a young chieftain, named Elphin, seeing him so entangled, delivered him from his peril. This Elphin was taken for the son of Gwyddno, although in reality he was the son of Elivri, his daughter, but by whom was then quite unknown; it was, however, afterwards discovered that Urien Rheged, king of Gower and Aberllychwr, was his father, who introduced him to the court of Arthur, at Caerlleon upon Usk, where his feats, learning, and endowments were found to be so superior that be was created a golden-tongued Knight of the Round Table. After the death of Arthur, Taliesin became Chief Bard to Urien Rheged, at Aberllychwr in Rheged.

Another extract, given in the above volume [the Iolo MSS--MJ], is from a manuscript by Llywelyn Sion, of Llangewydd:--

Talhaiarn, the father of Tangwn, presided in the chair of Urien Rheged, at Caer-Gwyroswydd, after the expulsion of the Irish from Gower, Carnwyllion, Cantrev-Bychan, and the Cantred of Iscennen. The said chair was established at Caer-Gwyroswydd, or Ystum Llwynarth, where Urien Rheged was accustomed to hold his national and royal court.

After the death of Talhaiarn, Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, presided in three chairs, namely: the chair of Caerlleon upon Usk, the chair of Rheged, at Bangor Teivy, under the. patronage of Cedig ab Ceredig, ab Cuneddav Wledig; but he afterwards was invited to the territory of Gwyddnyw, the son of Gwydion, in Arllechwedd, Arvon, where he had lands conferred on him, and where he resided until the time of Maelgwn Gwynedd, when he was dispossessed of that property, for which he pronounced his curse on Maelgwn, and all his possessions; whereupon the Vad Velen came to Rhos, and whoever witnessed it became doomed to certain death. Maelgwn saw the Vad Velen through the keyhole, in Rhos church, and died in consequence. Taliesin, in his old age, returned to Caer-Gwyroswydd, to Riwallon, the son of Urien; after which he visited Cedig, the son of Ceredig, the son of Cunnedav Wledig, where he died, and was buried with high honours, such as should always be shown to a man who ranked among the principal wise men of the Cymric nation; and Taliesin, Chief of the Bards, wag the highest of the most exalted class, either in literature, wisdom, the science of vocal song, or any other attainmeint, whether sacred or profane. Thus terminates the information respecting the chief bards of the chair of Caerlleon upon Usk, called now the chair of Glamorgan.

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