Welsh: Hound-Prince of Gwynedd
mael --> prince
gwn --> cwn --> hound
aka. Maelgwn Vawr (the Great), Maelgwn Hir (the Tall), Malgo (in History of the Kings of Britain), Malgocunos (in Nennius), Malcune (in Gildas), and Malcolm (in modern English).
King of Gwynedd
Powerful king of Gwynedd, variously called a hero and a villain. Son of Cadwallawn Llawhir and descendant of Cunedda and Coel (and thus supposedly of the Children of Llyr and relative to King Arthur). According to Gildas, he murdered his uncle Owain in order to gain the crown, but even Gildas acknowledges that Maelgwn had the support of the lords, and was called "Dragon of the Isle" (isle here being Anglesey?). Geoffrey of Monmouth makes him the second High King after Arthur, which is up to debate.
One legend says that he kept his crown against rebelling lords by forming a contest--he who could float to shore on his throne would then become king. Maelgwn modified his chair by adding water-wings. Another legend says that when his nephew Elphin ap Gwyddno boasted of having the most beatiful wife and wisest bard, he threw the young man in jail. At this point, Taliesin, who was Elphin's bard, shows up to rescue the prince through the magic of his songs. (Or so says the Hanes Taliesin in Guest's version of The Mabinogion).
Other people had run-ins with the king. Maelgwn once heard that St. Padarn had a large store of gold, and so devised a plan to trick him out of it. He sent messengers to the bishop with sacks of moss and pebbles. Pretending this was the content of the treasury they asked Padarn to retain it in safe keeping while Maelgwn and his armies went off to war. Months later, the messengers returned to collect their sacks but, of course, found them filled with grass and stones. Padarn was immediately dragged before the king and accused of theft. Upon refusing to replace the treasure, the bishop was forced to undergo a trial by ordeal. Both he and his accusers were obliged to plunge their arms into a pot of boiling water. After a period of healing time, their wounds were examined. The messengers' arms were still raw and painful, but Padarn's burns were completely healed. The saint was declared innocent and Maelgwn was forced to admit his plot. As penance, the King gave Padarn a grant of land.
Or the time Maelgwn sent his best white horses to St. Tydecho for stabling. Instead of setting the animals out to pasture, the saint let them run wild in the mountains, eating the heather. When Maelgwn called for his horses' return, he was shocked to find that they had all turned yellow. He confiscated Tydecho's oxen as punishment, but the saint charmed some woodland stags to pull his plough instead. Later Maelgwn was hunting in the area when he rested on a large rock. He became stuck to the spot, until St. Tydecho arrived to free him.
Or the story about his first marriage, which is a familiar folktale: Maelgwn had presented Nesta with a gold ring. Soon afterwards, however, the new queen lost the ring while bathing in a pool on the River Elwy. Afraid of what her husband would say, she visited St. Asaph to ask for his help. The saint invited the couple to dinner, where he explained to Maelgwn what had become of the Queen's ring. Maelgwn was furious and immediately accused Nesta of giving the ring away to an impoverished lover. Asaph managed to calm the situation enough for them to sit down to eat, and they all prayed to God that the ring might be found. Fresh fish, caught in the River Elwy, was served first and when the king cut into his dish, there was the ring inside.
Maelgwn had at least three wives, and according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, also had male lovers. On top of that, he was selected by the Picts to impregnate their queen to produce a royal heir, as both his grandmothers were Picts, and through their matriarchal system, considered Maelgwn a Pict. The daughter Domelch married Aidan mac Gabhran, king of Dalriada, who fought on Maelgwn's side during the Battle of Arthuret. Also on his side was Peredur and Rhydderch Hael; they battled Gwenddoleu the pagan king whom Myrddin fought under. This was the battle that drove Myrddin mad, and his sister Gwenddydd and friend Taliesin had to go into the woods to bring him out.
At one point, Maelgwn decided to enter a monestary, but found the lifestyle too restrictive. He went back to court, killed his second wife and nephew, and married the nephew's widow.
In 547, there was a plague affecting Britain; Maelgwn sought to escape it in another monestary, but it was no use; according to the Annales Cambriae, he died soon after.
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Mary Jones © 2003