Hu Gadarn
Welsh: "Hu the Mighty"; literally "good [and] strong"

Welsh Pseudo-Deity

In Iolo Morgannwg's forged "third" series of Triads in the Myvyrian Archaiology, much is made of a figure called Hu Gadarn, who is said to have brought the Cymry from the Summer Country (called Deffrobani) to Britain. This "legend" also says that, after Hu had become king of the first Britons, there were a great many floods caused by an afanc (a type of water monster). He drew the afanc out of Llyn Llion by use of his yoked oxen, and is credited with inventing the yoke. Hu and the oxen then dragged the afanc to Llyn y Ffynnon Las, where it is magically imprisoned.

There's only one problem with this: there's no reliable evidence that most of this story was ever an authentic tradition.

However, Hu himself was not invented by Morgannwg, but has his origin in a French romance of Charlemagne, which in turn was probably Celtic in origin, making Hu Gadarn an inadvertantly authentic figure, but with a questionable backstory.

Why should a character from a French romance suddenly become the settler of Britain? Aside from Morgannwg's heavy opiate use, there may be other reasons Iolo was inspired; indeed, there may have been some native folklore regarding Hu Gadarn, particularly attributing the invention of the yoke to him.

Hu in French Romance
Now, in the Welsh Charlemange cycle, evidenced in the White Book of Rhydderch and Red Book of Hergest, there is a romance titled Pererindod Siarlymaen: "The Expedition of Charlemagne to Jerusalem and Constantinople, and his adventures with Hu Gadarn," a translation of the twelfth-century romance Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. In this humorous tale, Charlemagne's wife unfavorably compares him to Emperor Hugon of Constantinople, and so Charlemagne and his retinue, while on Crusade in Jerusalem, spend time in Constantinople and proceeds to best the emperor. In the tale, Hugon is associated with plowing, which seems an odd detail.

The story, quite different from the usual Charlemagne cycle, has a lot in common with several Celtic stories, and Rejhon believes source for the tale to have been Celtic--whether through Breton or Welsh storytellers is unknown, but both of course had extensive contact with and influence on French romance writers of the period.

In a varient version of Pèlerinage found in Jean d'Outremeus's fourteenth century Myreur des Histors, Charlemagne's rival calld Gadars, not Hugon--which, given the nature of Welsh names moving into French, would point to the name "Gadarn" (i.e. Strong)--the same Welsh ephitet applied to Hu.

Hu in Welsh Literature
Iolo Goch's poem "Y Llafurwr" on the Plowman specifically references Hu Gadarn, and is presumably inspired by the Welsh version of the Pèlerinage story.

In the Book of Taliesin's poem "The Elegy of Aeddon" there might be mention of a Hu:

Echrys ynys gwawt hu ynys gwrys gobetror.
Mon mat goge gwrhyt eruei. menei y dor.

Disturbed is the isle of the praise of Hu,
the isle of the severe recompenser;
Mona of the good bowls, of active manliness.

However, it is uncertain just who this Hu is or what the poem even refers to; medieval Welsh is notoriously difficult to translate, and the only translation I know of--Skene's 19th century translation--is notably faulty. Hu may not even refer to the king, but be the Welsh word hu, meaning "good", so that the isle may simply be "good".

There are, to my knowledge, no other mentions of Hu Gadarn in Welsh literature before the time of Iolo Morgannwg.

Hu's origin as a Celtic giant rival
Rejhon has pointed to a possible Celtic origin for the Pèlerinage; for while it has no real analogues in Continental literature, it has several in Insular literature, once we look at the specific pattern of the tale. It's also important to remember that it was not unusual for Celtic motifs to find their way into French romances via the Breton and Welsh storytellers, though a Celtic origin of a Charlemagne romance is unusual.

As we've seen, aCharlemagne's wife unfavorably compares him to the bforeign king Hu Gadarn; cCharlemagne and his knights go off to challenge Hu; dthey come to Constantinople, an opulant city; eHu is found plowing a field in imitation of Adam; fthey are accomidated, and drunkenly boast of the ways they will show their superior strength to Hu; gHu is alerted by his spies, and in the morning challenges them; hthe knights proceed to destroy the city walls and flood the city; iHu surrenders to Charlemagne; jHu's giant stature shrinks, and he now stands a foot lower than Charlemagne; kCharlemagne returns home and reclaims his wife's affections.

The first text Rejhon compares this with is "King Arthur and King Cornwall", a fragmentary Middle English ballad: athe Round Table--which was given as part of Guenever's dowry--is stolen by bKing Cornwall; cArthur and his knights go off to challenge King Cornwall; dthey come to Cornwall's castle in disguise; ethey are given accomidations; aCornwall claims to have a daughter by Guenevere; ewhile they plan, gthey find Cornwall's spy, a sprite; they subdue the sprite and htake control of Cornwall's castle; i-kthey slay Cornwall, and take his posessions, kand return to "Little Britain".

Rejhon notes that the most common name for the ruler of Cornwall at the time of Arthur is "Cador" duke of Cornwall. He draws a comparison between the name Cador, it's possible Welsh form Cadwr and the word cadarn, i.e. warrior, obviously related to gadarn. Cadwr could have been carelessly contracted into cawr, i.e. "giant", at some point, though this isn't necessary to explain the giant status of an Otherworldly rival. But even "King Arthur and King Cornwall" has its antecedants, not only in French romance, but Irish and Welsh literature that can be dated to the 10th-11th century.

Guenevere's extra-marrital associations are familiar territory, but should be noted to fall into two types; the first is the famous Arthur-Guenever-Lancelot triangle, with its parallels in the Tristan story and the Diarmait story. However, there is also the less-familiar (to contemporary audiences) "abduction" story: aGuenevere is abducted by bking of the Summer Country (sometimes identified with Glastonbury, not far from Cornwall), and and must be crescued by Arthur and his knights. hThey pursue him to his island (like Constantinople, surrounded by water), and kliberate the queen.

This episode has often been compared to the Irish story of Étaín. Étaín Echraide is the daughter of Ailill, and Midir falls in love with her. He has his foster-son Oengus win her from Ailill by plowing the land, and they live happily--except for Midir's other wife, Fuamnach, who turns her into water; the water turns into "a worm", and the worm into a fly, and the fly eventually falls into the glass of the wife of Étar, who swallows Étaín, concieving her. At this time, Eochaid Airem became high king of Ireland, and marries the reborn Étaín. Meanwhile, his brother Ailill Ánguba falls in love with her; they agree to meet, but he never appears, while Midir, who has sought Étaín, does so. Étaín agrees to return with Midir, but doesn't do so right away. Midir then appears to Eochaid as a young warrior, and challenges him to a game of chess, and wins Étaín. In retaliation, Eochaid, learning who Midir is, attempts to raze Sídhe Brí Léith. Midir produces fifty women identical to Étaín, and allows Eochaid to choose, but Eochaid chooses the wrong Étaín--he in fact chose his own daughter--and Midir and Étaín return to the Otherworld.

Naturally, with "Tochmarch Étaín" we have a difficult situation, as both Eochaid and Midir seem to fit both the role of antagonist and protagonist depending on where in the story we stand--aboth have a wife abuducted, dboth are identified with plowing; c, g-iboth pursue the other and attempt to destroy the other's kingdom; but it's easier to see Midir in the role of the Protagonist, jas he is the one who wins Étaín in the end.

The Giant Lover and the Abducted Queen
The Giant Lover has certain characteristics: he is a giant (Hu, ?Cornwall); a plowman (Hu, Eochaid/Midir); a king; sometimes associated with horses (Eochaid, Melwas); and has his home--near or on water--destroyed.

The story also points to certain characteristics of the queen: Étaín was onece a fairy and had a fairy husband; Guenevere is in some traditions the daughter of a giant, and likely was also once a fairy. There is some confusion between the giant lover and giant father; Guenever's father in Welsh lore is Gogfran the giant; Cornwall is father of Guenevere's daughter; Eochaid is father of Etain's daughter.

The pattern seems to be that the earthly king has a fairy wife; she also has a previous relationship with an otherworld giant king; the earthly king is jealous, and in some versions, the fairy wife is abducted by her giant lover. The earthly king must then win her back. The pattern can be found not only in the story of Hu and Charlemagne, but in several Arthurian texts ("Cornwall" and the "Vita Gildae"), the Irish "Tochmarch Etain", and the Welsh "Mabinogi":

Hugon Constantinople Charlemagne Queen Pèlerinage Charlemagne
Hu Gadarn Summer Country Charlemagne Queen Pererindod Siarlymaen ca. 14th C
Cornwall Cornwall Arthur Guenevere King Arthur and King Cornwall
Mardoc   Artus Winlogee Modena archivolt ca. 1130
Melwas Summer Country Arthur Gwenhyfar Vita Gildae ca. 1150
Meleaganz Gorre Arthur Guenivere Le Chevalier de la Charrete 1160s
Midir Brí Léith Eochaid Etain Tochmarch Etaine
Eochaid of the plow Ireland Midir Etain Tochmarch Etaine 11th C.
Gwawl Dyfed Pwyll Rhiannon Mabinogi, I 10th C?
Llwyd Dyfed Manawydan Rhiannon Mabinogi, III 10th C?

Hu as culture hero and founder of Britain
Iolo's identification of Hu Gadarn as a culture hero is not entirely baseless, if he was originally a Brittonic figure. The assocation between Hu and the plow, if authentic, might make him a type of culture hero who introduced agriculture to the Britons. Already noted is Eochaid of the plow, who introduced agriculture, learned from the sídhe, to the Irish.

The only argument for Hu being a founder of Britain or leader of the Cymru is infered by his status as a giant and innovator of the plow. Of course, an otherword giant/god with the name "Good [and] Strong" who is master of fertility (i.e. plowing) does bring to mind the Dagda, refered to as "Great Father (Ollathair)".

However, Iolo's story of Hu arriving from across the sea with the Britons is not in any known pre-Iolo Welsh text concerning Hu.

Why Constantinople?
In "Peredur" we have an "Empress of Constantinople" who makes the title character her lover for fourteen years. Constantinople (or really the Byzantine Empire) was often incorporated into Arthurian legend, and so it was also incorporated into this Charlemagne romance. The comparison with Peredur is significant, as Peredur is also said to have drawn an afanc out of a lake, this time with the help of a stone that rendered him invisible. The stone was given to him by the Empress of Constantinople. It is likely that Iolo borrowed elements of the Peredur story, perhaps remembering the story of Charlemagne and Hu Gadarn in Constantinople.

Identifying Constantinople with the Summer Country and Defrobani is logically tied up with the identification of Melwas and Hu.

Hu Gadarn post-Iolo
At any rate, when Robert Graves wrote The White Goddess, he based much of his "information" on Iolo Morgannwg's forgeries, as well has his own imagination. Graves proceeded to identify Hu with the horned god Cernunnos by way of St. Derfel Gadarn, a Welsh saint of the sixth century who may or may not have fought at Camlann. Supposedly, like there was some sort of deer tradition connected to Derfel, who is usually depicted in armor with a red stag at his feet. Graves works in references (true or not) to sun worship, horned gods, the usual suspects.

Hu was also rather creatively identified with Esus, and thus was sometimes called "Hu Hesus"--and identified by Romantics with Jesus as a savior and bringer of light. It has gotten to the point that many books on Celtic mythology and neopaganism usually claim that Hu Gadarn was a Welsh horned god. This, of course, is as faulty as the Celtic tree calendar and it's supposed zodiac, which Hu shows up in as the Sun.


"Hu the Mighty" The Welsh Fairy Book. ed. W. Jenkyn Thomas. 1907. Available as a Dover edition, or on the web at:

Rejhon, A.C. "Hu Gadarn: Folklore and Fabrication" Celtic Folklore and Christianty: Studies in Memory of William W. Heist. Los Angeles: University of California, 1983. pp 201-212

Taliesin. "The Elegy of Aeddon" The Four Ancient Books of Wales. ed. W.F. Skene.

Williams, Edward. The Triads of the Britons. Translation based on William Probert (1823).

The Hu Gadarn Triads

In some cases, namely those where Hu is mentioned first, I have truncated the rest of the triad. These are gathered from the Iolo triads:

4 There are three pillars of the nation of the Isle of Britain. The first was Hu the Mighty, who brought the nation of the Cambrians first to the Isle of Britain; and they came from the Summer Country, which is also called Defrobani (that is, where Constantinople now stands); and they came over the Hazy Sea to the Isle of Britain, and to Armorica, where they settled.

5 There were three social tribes on the Isle of Britain. The first was the tribe of the Cambrians, who came to the Isle of Britain with Hu the Mighty, because he would not possess a country and lands by fighting and pursuit, but by justice and tranquility.

54 The three over-ruling counter energies of the Isle of Britain: Hu the Mighty, who brought the Cambrian nation from the Summer Country, called Defrobani, unto the Isle of Britain;

56 The three benefactors of the Cambrian nation. First, Hu the Mighty, who first taught the Cambrians the way to plough, when they were in the Summer Country, before they came to the Isle of Britain.

57 The three primary inventors of the Cambrians. Hu the Mighty, who formed the first mote and retinue over the nation of Cambria;

92 The three inventors of song and record of the Cambrian nation: Gwyddon Ganhebon, who was the first in the world that composed vocal song; Hu the Mighty, who first applied vocal song to strengthen memory and record;

97 The three primary and extraordinary works of the Isle of Britain: the ship of Nwydd Nav Neivion, which brought in it a male and female of all living things when the lake of floods burst forth; the large horned oxen of Hu the Mighty, that drew the crocodile from the lake to the land, so that the lake did not burst any more; and the stone of Gwyddon Ganhebon, upon which all the arts and sciences in the world are engraved.

1. That the Summer Country and Nwydd Nav Neivion were later used in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles

An afanc is not a crocodile, but is translated as "beaver"

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Mary Jones © 2009