King of Gododdin
(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
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.