Englyn(n)ion Y Beddau

Englyn(n)ion Y Beddau/Bedeu/Beteu/Betev (Stanzas/Verses of The Graves), also known as Beddau Milwyr Ynys Prydain (Graves of Warriors of Isle of Britain) comes primarily from Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin (Black Book of Cærmarthen),  Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest), and Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (White Book of Rhydderch).


Englyn(n)ion Y Beddau/Bedeu/Beteu/Betev (Stanzas/Verses of The Graves) is a Middle Welsh verse catalogue listing the resting places (graves: beddau, bedeu, beteu, or betev) of legendary heroes.  It consists of a series of englyn(n)ion, or short stanzas in quantitative metre, and survives in several manuscripts.  Stanzas of the Graves is thought to be much older than the earliest manuscript in which it appears (the 13th-Century AD Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin (Black Book of Cærmarthen), it provides an early look into the Mediæval Welsh Topological Folklore and Heroic Tradition.

Sources of the Stanzas

The stanzas are transmitted in four classes of mediæval Welsh manuscripts and later transcripts.  Thomas Jones tells us that the earliest, best known, and most reliable version of the text is the collection of 73 stanzas preserved in Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin (Black Book of Cærmarthen).

The first 69 stanzas were copied in the first quarter of the 13th Century AD, while the last four were added at a later stage, probably in the same century.  Five further stanzas survive as part of the poetic cycles of Heledd and Llywarch Hen in Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest) and two transcripts, supposedly from Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (White Book of Rhydderch), made in the decades on both sides of AD 1600.  The third significant group is represented by John Davies’ copy in the National Library of Wales’ Peniarth 98B, and many manuscripts that appear to go back to a 16th-Century AD manuscript, now lost.  Peniarth 98B contains 18 stanzas in a corrupt form, some of which are alternate versions of the stanzas in Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin.

Finally, concludes Jones, there is a single stanza preserved in the Wrexham manuscript (MS 1) and still later manuscripts.  Although the earliest extant manuscript dates to the 13th Century AD, much of the material is thought to be considerably older.  According to Thomas Jones, the language, style, and metre of the verses suggest a date of composition somewhere in the 9th or 10th Century AD.  Likewise, Jenny Rowland has dated some of the stanzas contained in Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin to the 9th Century AD.

Linguistic Structure of the Stanzas

(Disclaimer: Translations are my own)

The core of the text in Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin is the stanzas that employ either of two basic opening formulæ.  The first of these formulæ is (Y/E) bed(d)/bet “(The) grave” (occurring 33 times: 31 as “Bet”, 1 as “E bet”, and 1 as “Bed”; additional variants occur in sources other than in Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin: 2 as “Y bed”, 7 as “Bed”), or other variants thereof, such as Y/E beddau/betev/beteu “The graves” (6 times: 3 as “E betev”, 2 as “E beteu”, 1 “Y beddau”) and (Y) tri bedd/bet “(The) three grave” (2 times: 1 “Tri bet”, 1 “E tri bet”).  The other opening formula takes the form of a question, Pieu/Piev y bedd/bet …? “Whose is the grave …?”, or “Who owns the grave …?”, or “Whose grave is …?” (appearing 18 times: 16 “Piev y bet”, 1 “Pieu yr bet”, 1 “Pieu ir bet”), usually followed by an answer identifying the name of the hero who lies in the grave.

Thirteen (13) stanzas deviate from this pattern.  They may be considered as additions that originate from other sources, though some of them are part of a series that contains one of the sets of formulæ shown earlier. They are given as follows (both in Welsh and in English):

7 (Pryderi and Gwallawg/Gwallauc Hir/(the Tall))

En Aber Gwenoli y mae ber Pryderi,

yn y terev tonnev tir;

yg Karrauc bet Gwallauc Hir.


In Aber Gwenoli is the grave of Pryderi,

Where the waves beat against the land;

In Carrawg is (the) grave of Gwallawg Hir.


14-15 (Owain/Owein and Cynddylan/Kintilan)

Guydi gurum a choch a chein,

a goruytaur maur minrein,

in Llan Helet bet Owein.


After wearing dark-brown clothes, and red, and splendid,

And riding magnificent steeds with sharp spears,

In Llan Heledd is (the) grave of Owain.


Gwydi gweli a gaedlan,

a gviscav seirch, a meirch cann,

neud ew hun bet Kintilan.


After wounds and bloody plains,

And wearing harness and riding white horses,

Even this glossy (thing), is (the) grave of Cynddylan.


17-19, with emphasis on 19 (Meigen, son of Rhun/Run)

Piev y bet in yr amgant,

ae tut mor a goror nant?

Bet Meigen mab Run, rviw cant.


Whose is the grave in the circular space,

Which is covered by (the) sea and (the) border of (the) valley?

Grave of Meigen, son of Rhun, ruler of (a) hundred.


Piev y bet in yr inis

ae tut mor a goror gwris?

Bet Meigen mab Run, rvif llis.


Whose is the grave in the island,

Which is covered by (the) sea and  (a) border of tumult?

Grave of Meigen, son of Rhun, ruler of (a) court.


Es cul y bet ys hir,

in llurv llyaus Amhir,

Bet Meigen mab Run, ruyw gwir.


Narrow is the grave (and) is long,

With much respect in every way to Amhir,

Grave of Meigen, son of Rhun, ruler of right.


28-30, with emphasis on 30 (graves at a site called Gwanas/Guanas)

Bet Gurgi gvychit a Guindodit lev;

a bet Llaur, llu ouit,

yg guarthaw Guanas Guyr yssit!


Grave of Gwrgi, hero and Gwyndodian lion;

And grave of Llawr, regulator of hosts,

In the upper part, Men of Gwanas are!


E beteu hir yg Guanas,

ny chauas ae dioes,

pvy vynt vy, pvy eu neges.


The long graves in the Gwanas,

Their history is not had,

Whose they are, what their deeds.


Teulu Oeth ac Anoeth a dyuu ynoeth,

y eu gur, y eu guas;

ae ceisso vy clated Guanas.


There has been the family of Oeth and Anoeth (the Otherworld),

The men are naked, as are the youth;

Let him who seeks for them dig in Gwanas.


37-38 (Beid(d)awg/Beidauc Rudd/Rut/(the Red), son of Einyr Llydaw)

Pell y vysci ac argut,

gueryd Machave ae cut;

hirguyn bysset Beidauc Rut.


Far the turmoil and seclusion,

Sod of Machawe conceals him;

Long lamentations for (the) prowess of Beidawg Rudd.


Pell y vysci ac anau,

gueryd Machave arnau,

Beidauc Rut ab Emer Llydau.


Far the turmoil and fame,

Sod of Machawe is upon him,

Beidawg Rudd, son of Einyr Llydaw.


42-43 (presumably uttered by Taliesin, about Rwvawn/Ruvaun)

Neum duc i Elffin y prowl vy bartrin,

gessevin vch kinran,

bet Ruvaun ruyvenit ran.


Truly did Elffin bring me to the simple bardic lore,

Over (the) daughter of a chieftain,

Grave of Rwvawn with the royal aspect.


Neum duc i Elffin y browl vy martrin,

vch kinran gessevin,

bet Ruvaun ry ievanc daerin.


Truly did Elffin bring me to attempt the bardic lore,

Daughter of a chieftain over (me),

Grave of Rwvawn, too early gone.


41 (Cynddylig/Kindilic, son of Corcnud/Corknud)

Kian a ud yn diffeith cnud drav,

otuch pen bet alltud,

bet Kindilic mab Corknud.


Separated and howling in the wastes of Cnud,

Yonder above (the) grave of (the) stranger,

Grave of Cynddilig, son of Corcnud.


46-7 (E(i)ddew/Eitew and Eidal, sons of Meigen)

Piev y bet hun?, a hun?

Gowin ymi, mi ae gun;

bet ew bet Eitew oet hun,

a bet Eidal tal yscvn.


Who owns this grave?, and this (one)?

Ask me, I know it;

Grave of gloss, Grave of Eddew was this,

And grave of Eidal with the lofty manner.


Eitew ac Eidal, diessic alltudion,

kanavon cylchuy drei;

mekid meibon Meigen meirch mei.


Eiddew and Eidal, unflinching exiles,

Whelps of Cylchwydrai;

Sons of Meigen bred war-horses.


62 (Bradwen)

Oet ef kyfnissen y holi galanas,

gua[iua]wr [r]ut, grut aten;

a chen bvir but? bet Bradwen.


He was like Cyvnyssen to demand satisfaction for murder,

Blood-stained was his lance, serene his aspect;

Who derived the benefit? Grave of Bradwen.


64 (region of Eivionydd/Eiwonit)

En Eiwonit, Elvit tir,

y mae [bet] gur hyduf hir,

lleas paup pan rydighir.


In (the) soil of Eivionydd,

There is a tall man of fine growth,

Who killed all when he was greatly enraged.

A single stanza may describe up to three different heroes.  Place-names are often missing.  When they are described, the grave-sites are in a variety of locations: mountainous, hilly, or flat landscapes.  Sometimes the graves are near waterways or churches, others are even in the sea.  The verses occasionally refer to the physical condition of the graves, such as their glossiness and the growth of moss.

Natures of the Persons appearing in the Stanzas

Except the four women (unless Rhun/Run is a female) mentioned in stanza 70 (Sanawg/Sanant – a stately maid, and Earwen/Garrwen – daughter of Hennini are female; Lledin and Llywy are assumed to be female) and the possibility of Rwvawn/Ruvaun in stanzas 42-43 being a female, the names of the dead belong to male heroes of Welsh legend (rather than pure history, although some may be mythologised historical figures).  They received lofty praise for the potent strength and superior skill they have shown in battle.  This is evident in Dehewaint, “the support of mighty warriors”.  Although the predominant tone celebrates the heroic, the eulogies are also affected by a touch of sorrow over the certainty of death, as expressed in the gnomic assertion that “a commander of hosts was he, so long as his time lasted” (stanza 53).

Thomas Jones tells us that like Trioedd Ynys Prydein/Prydain (Triads of British Isle, or Welsh Triads), these stanzas are valuable for offering numerous glimpses of the Welsh Heroic Tradition.  They are embedded in snippets of Topographic Folklore, which testify “to the close association between heroes and places in early Welsh literature”, echoes Patrick Sims-Williams.

This work contains an early allusion to Arthur (stanza 44), whose grave is “one of the mysteries of the world” (anoeth bid/byd/bin).  Other translations for “anoeth bid/byd/bin bet/bedd y/u Arthur” are: “impossible to find in this world is the grave of Arthur”, or “unknown is the grave of Arthur”, or “concealed to Doomsday, the grave of Arthur”.  References or allusions to Bedwyr (stanza 12 – “grave of Bedwyr is in Gallt Tryvan”), Gwalchmai (stanza 8 – “grave of Gwalchmai is in Peryddon”), and the Battle of Camlann (stanza 12 – “grave of son of Osvran is in Camlann, after many a slaughter”) also testify to absorption of Arthurian tradition into the text, though the work has little in common with the Arthurian tale Culhwch ac Olwen.

There are references to characters known from the Mabinogi (Mabinogion).  Dylan/Dilan of stanza 4, whose grave is said to be near the church of Llan Beuno (Clynnog Fawr), seems to be Dylan Eil Ton (“Son of Wave”) from the Fourth Branch.  Another character from the Mabinogi is Pryderi.  Also in the Fourth Branch, it is told that he was slain and buried at Maen Tyriawg, above the Felenrhyd.  Stanza 7 places his grave at the merging of the Gwenoli, “in Aber Gwenoli is the grave of Pryderi”, and the Felenrhyd “where the waves beat against the land”.  The relationship between the death of Lleu Llaw Gyffes in the Mabinogi, and his grave “under the protection of the sea, | with which he was familiar, …” (stanza 35), is uncertain.

Valuable Insights

Regardless of the variety of persons, places, and things listed and described in the stanzas, Englyn(n)ion Y Beddau/Bedeu/Beteu/Betev does give a glimpse into the Welsh Heroic Tradition of linking persons to their graves via sometimes enduring place-names that can give clues to the reality behind the verses.  The tricky bit is to differentiate among historical figures, mythologised ones, and re-historicised mythologised historical figures.  All three may be present in these “stanzas of the graves”; but tread lightly, my friends, tread lightly.


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