Bran the Blessed by Thomas Wentworth
The mighty king Bran, a being of gigantic size, sat one day on the cliffs
of his island in the Atlantic Ocean, near to Hades and the Gates of Night,
when he saw ships sailing towards him and sent men to ask what they were.
They were a fleet sent by Matholweh, the king of Ireland, who had sent to
ask for Branwen, Bran's sister, as his wife. Without moving from his rock
Bran bid the monarch land, and sent Branwen back with him as queen.
But there came a time when Branwen was ill-treated at the palace; they
sent her into the kitchen and made her cook for the court, and they caused
the butcher to come every day (after he had cut up the meat) and give her
a blow on the ear. They also drew up all their boats on the shore for
three years, that she might not send for her brother. But she reared a
starling in the cover of the kneading-trough, taught it to speak, and told
it how to find her brother; and then she wrote a letter describing her
sorrows and bound it to the bird's wing, and it flew to the island and
alighted on Bran's shoulder, "ruffling its feathers" (says the Welsh
legend) "so that the letter was seen, and they knew that the bird had been
reared in a domestic manner." Then Bran resolved to cross the sea, but he
had to wade through the water, as no ship had yet been built large enough
to hold him; and he carried all his musicians (pipers) on his shoulders.
As he approached the Irish shore, men ran to the king, saying that they
had seen a forest on the sea, where there never before had been a tree,
and that they had also seen a mountain which moved. Then the king asked
Branwen, the queen, what it could be. She answered, "These are the men of
the Island of the Mighty, who have come hither to protect me." "What is
the forest?" they asked. "The yards and masts of ships." "What mountain is
that by the side of the ships?" "It is Bran my brother, coming to the
shoal water and rising." "What is the lofty ridge with the lake on each
side?" "That is his nose," she said, "and the two lakes are his fierce
Then the people were terrified: there was yet a river for Bran to pass,
and they broke down the bridge which crossed it, but Bran laid himself
down and said, "Who will be a chief, let him be a bridge." Then his men
laid hurdles on his back, and the whole army crossed over; and that saying
of his became afterwards a proverb. Then the Irish resolved, in order to
appease the mighty visitor, to build him a house, because he had never
before had one that would hold him; and they decided to make the house
large enough to contain the two armies, one on each side. They accordingly
built this house, and there were a hundred pillars, and the builders
treacherously hung a leathern bag on each side of each pillar and put an
armed man inside of each, so that they could all rise by night and kill
the sleepers. But Bran's brother, who was a suspicious man, asked the
builders what was in the first bag. "Meal, good soul," they answered; and
he, putting his hand in, felt a man's head and crushed it with his mighty
fingers, and so with the next and the next and with the whole two hundred.
After this it did not take long to bring on a quarrel between the two
armies, and they fought all day.
After this great fight between the men of Ireland and the men of the
Isles of the Mighty there were but seven of these last who escaped,
besides their king Bran, who was wounded in the foot with a poisoned dart.
Then he knew that he should soon die, but he bade the seven men to cut off
his head and told them that they must always carry it with them—that it
would never decay and would always be able to speak and be pleasant
company for them. "A long time will you be on the road," he said. "In
Harlech you will feast seven years, the birds of Rhiannon singing to you
all the while. And at the Island of Gwales you will dwell for fourscore
years, and you may remain there, bearing the head with you uncorrupted,
until you open the door that looks towards the mainland; and after you
have once opened that door you can stay no longer, but must set forth to
London to bury the head, leaving it there to look toward France."
So they went on to Harlech and there stopped to rest, and sat down to eat
and drink. And there came three birds, which began singing a certain song,
and all the songs they had ever heard were unpleasant compared with it;
and the songs seemed to them to be at a great distance from them, over the
sea, yet the notes were heard as distinctly as if they were close by; and
it is said that at this repast they continued seven years. At the close of
this time they went forth to an island in the sea called Gwales. There
they found a fair and regal spot overlooking the ocean and a spacious hall
built for them. They went into it and found two of its doors open, but the
third door, looking toward Cornwall, was closed. "See yonder," said their
leader Manawydan; "that is the door we may not open." And that night they
regaled themselves and were joyful. And of all they had seen of food laid
before them, and of all they had heard said, they remembered nothing;
neither of that, nor of any sorrow whatsoever. There they remained
fourscore years, unconscious of having ever spent a time more joyous and
mirthful. And they were not more weary than when first they came, neither
did they, any of them, know the time they had been there. It was not more
irksome for them to have the head with them, than if Bran the Blessed had
been with them himself. And because of these fourscore years, it was
called "The Entertaining of the Noble Head."
One day said Heilwyn the son of Gwyn, "Evil betide me, if I do not open
the door to know if that is true which is said concerning it." So he
opened the door and looked towards Cornwall. And when they had looked they
were as conscious of all the evils they had ever sustained, and of all the
friends and companions they had ever lost, and of all the misery that had
befallen them, as if all had happened in that very spot; and especially of
the fate of their lord. And because of their perturbation they could not
rest, but journeyed forth with the head towards London. And they buried
the head in the White Mount.
The island called Gwales is supposed to be that now named Gresholm, eight
or ten miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire; and to this day the Welsh
sailors on that coast talk of the Green Meadows of Enchantment lying out
at sea west of them, and of men who had either landed on them or seen them
suddenly vanishing. Some of the people of Milford used to declare that
they could sometimes see the Green Islands of the fairies quite
distinctly; and they believed that the fairies went to and fro between
their islands and the shore through a subterranean gallery under the sea.
They used, indeed, to make purchases in the markets of Milford or
Langhorne, and this they did sometimes without being seen and always
without speaking, for they seemed to know the prices of the things they
wished to buy and always laid down the exact sum of money needed. And
indeed, how could the seven companions of the Enchanted Head have spent
eighty years of incessant feasting on an island of the sea, without
sometimes purchasing supplies from the mainland?
The story of Bran and his sister Branwen may be found most fully given in
Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the "Mabinogion," ed. 1877, pp. 369,
384. She considers Harlech, whence Bran came, to be a locality on the
Welsh seacoast still known by that name and called also Branwen's Tower.
But Rhys, a much higher authority, thinks that Bran came really from the
region of Hades, and therefore from a distant island ("Arthurian Legend,"
p. 250, "Hibbert Lectures," pp. 94, 269). The name of "the Blessed" came
from the legend of Bran's having introduced Christianity into Ireland, as
stated in one of the Welsh Triads. He was the father of Caractacus,
celebrated for his resistance to the Roman conquest, and carried a
prisoner to Rome. Another triad speaks of King Arthur as having dug up
Bran's head, for the reason that he wished to hold England by his own
strength; whence followed many disasters (Guest, p. 387).
There were many Welsh legends in regard to Branwen or Bronwen (White
Bosom), and what is supposed to be her grave, with an urn containing her
ashes, may still be seen at a place called "Ynys Bronwen," or "the islet
of Bronwen," in Anglesea. It was discovered and visited in 1813 (Guest, p.
The White Mount in which Bran's head was deposited is supposed to have
been the Tower of London, described by a Welsh poet of the twelfth century
as "The White Eminence of London, a place of splendid fame" (Guest, p.