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Gawain Gwalltafwyn,
King of Gododdin
(born c.491)

(Welsh-Gwalchmai, Latin-Walganus, English-Gavin)

Gawain of Green Knight fame was the eldest son of King Lot Luwddoc (of the Host) of Gododdin. He is often mentioned in early Welsh literature as Gwalchmai, the Hawk of May. After his baptism as a child, Gawain was set adrift in a casket, being eventually rescued by a poor fisherman. In youth, he made his way to Rome where he obtained his education. Having been knighted by Pope Sulpicius, he returned to Britain and the court of the High-King, Arthur, where he was re-united with his parents. A handsome young man, he was well received at court and his name acquired the appendage of Gwalltafwyn or "hair like rain". From here, he underwent many adventures in King Arthur's name: the Green Knight episode, his battle with Carl of Carlisle and his famous marriage.

Gawain's marriage to the loathly Lady Ragnell came about in a most curious manner. While staying with King Urien at Caer-Ligualid (Carlisle), High-King Arthur was overpowerd, outside the city walls, by a local knight who spared his life on the condition that he return in a year with the answer to the riddle:

What is it that women most desire?

If he did not answer correctly, his life would be forfeit. A year passed, but Arthur was unable to find a satisfactory reply. Solemnly, he travelled to Caer-Ligualid once more; but, on the way, he met a hideous old hag sitting by the side of the road. Hearing of the High-King's plight, she promised an answer to his riddle, if he would find her a husband. King Arthur eagerly agreed, and was immediately told that what all women desire most is their own way! Arthur delivered his message, and returned to court in triumph. However, he now had to find someone willing to marry his saviour, the loathly lady. Gawain eventually stepped forward to save the High-King's embarrassment, and the two were wed among little celebration. Then came the wedding night, when the old woman revealed that she was, in fact, a beautiful maiden cast under a spell. She could be hideous by day and beautiful at night, or vice versa, the choice was Gawain's. Torn by the selection, Gawain suddenly remembered King Arthur's riddle and told his wife she must have her own way and choose herself. Delighted, the lady declared that Gawain's answer had broken the spell, and from then on she remained beautiful forever.

Gawain appears to have taken on his father's kingdom upon the latter's death, though these tales of his knightly exploits abroad may indicate that he was an absentee-king for much of his reign. In later years, he is said, by some, to have abdicated in order to lead a saintly life on the Pembrokeshire Coast. Irish pirates once pursued him along the shore here until he managed to hide in a cleft in the rock. The fissure closed up to conceal Gawain and, in thanks, he established his small hermitage on the spot still known at St. Govan's head. Nearby is Huntsman's Leap, a deep chasm between the cliffs. The Devil is said to have told a man, who had sold him his soul, that he would forgo payment if the fellow could ride across this impossible jump. The canny debtor persuaded St. Govan/Gawain to bless his horse and thus made it clean across the divide!

When Gawain died, he is said to have been buried under the altar in his little chapel. He was succeeded in Gododdin by his son, Cawrdaf, though little is known of his descendants who appear to have continued to rule the kingdom for a number of generations.

  

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