The three Merlins

As first stated by Giraldus Cambrensis, Merlin of the Historia Regum Britanniae was not the same individual as Myrddin Caledonius.[1] But whereas he stated there were two Merlins in fact there were three.

Gildas’s Ambrosius Aurelianus was known to the Welsh as Emrys Wledig. Geoffrey or a later copyist called him Ambrosius Merlinus. This Merlin was a boy during Gwrtheyrn’s reign and so belonged to gen -2. His father is likely to have been Constantine III. His mother may have been Gwledyr ferch Clydwyn. If so, his name appears in ABT 18d as Amwerydd ap Custennin.

Emrys was the father of Uthr Bendragon and not his brother as claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Also, Geoffrey created a doublet of Emrys by inverting the two Latin elements and thus producing the name for this supposed brother as Aurelius Ambrosius.

The second Merlin was An, the son of a daughter of Helig ap Glannog, see Myrddin Emrys, and consequently of gen. -1. He was the one who articulated the prophecy in HRB VII 3 and was involved in the deception played on Eigr.

The third Merlin is he of the Vita Merlini, known as Myrddin Caledonius, son of Morfryn and king of Dyfed. His sister, Ganieda, was married to Rhydderch Hael who was of gen. 0, see Rhydderch Hael and Rhydderch Hen. He may well have been a contemporary of the adult Arthur, being of gen. 1.

It is generally held that the name Merlin was created to avoid the association with the Latin equivalent of Myrddin, namely Merdinus. However, in reality, the name originated in the HRB as a corruption of Aurelianus.

[1] Rhys, E., 1908, 125.

Myrddin Emrys

Gen. PP1 63 seg. MG 3 seg. HG 16a seg. ByS L 42 seg. PP1 12
4 Seissyllt Eorf Caurtam Braint hir
3 Kynvynn Kaenawc Serguan Nevydd
2 Kynann kanhysgwydd Tegonwy Letan Geraint
1 Sawyl velyn Teon Catleu Garanawc
0 Mevric brenin Dyfed Gwineu Catel Glewddigar
-1 Maredudd brenin Dyfed Howyr leu Decion Anan Kynwas
-2 Predri How dec Cinis scaplaut [daughter] Rychwin varfoc
-3 Pliws hen brenhin Dyved Run rudpaladyr Lou hen Helic Helic
-4 Llara Guidgen Glynnawc Glanawc
-5 Kasnar wledic Caratauc
-6 Gwynn gohoyw Gloyw gwlat lydan Cinbelin
-7 Tenewan Teuhant

The genealogical table above exhibits the names as they appear in the various manuscripts. The name in gen. 0 of the list PP1 63 is Meurig who the document states was present at Arthur’s coronation. This is in accord with some other manuscripts, including the Brut y Brenhinedd :

“And before him [Arthur] were four men bearing four naked swords (namely Arawn Kynvarch’s son, King of Albany, and Caswallaun Longhand, King of Venedotia, and Merrick King of Demetia, and Cador Earl of Cornwall), for this was their privilege by the custom of the emperor.”

The name in gen. -2 is the Demetian Pryderi, son of Pwyll and Rhiannon, and the main character of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion. The name exhibits a number of variations including: Blitri, Bletri, Bledri and Bledri hir. I believe this is the individual that Robert de Boron called Blaise. That he should be the grandfather of a contemporary of Arthur, tallies with the belief that his foster-son, Merlin, should be at least one generation earlier than Arthur.

Bromwich says of Blaes, son of the Earl of Llychlyn, one of the Three Just Knights in Arthur’s Court mentioned in triad 6 of the Pedwar Marchog ar Hugain:

“The name appears to be derived from that of the hermit Bla(i)se in the Prose Merlin …”[1]

The triad states:

“Blaes [preserves justice] by earthly Law …”

This corresponds well to the fact that Blaise defended Merlin’s mother in court.

Confirmation of this analysis is provided by Le chevalier aux deux epées which gives Maredudd of gen -1 the form Mériadeuc and states that he is the son of Bleheri, a name which corresponds to Blaise. Bromwich gives the following footnote:

“K.Jackson discussed the name Bledhericus as a latinization of Ml.W. Bleddri (‘king of wolves’) in a brief note in Les Romans du Graal dans les litteratures des XIIc et XIIIc siècles (Paris, 1956), p. 148. In this he showed that the Welsh name Bleddri becomes easily corrupted to Bleri and then by assimilation to Breri and Bleheris in the continental romances.”[2]

Clearly, if this process could have occurred with the name of Bleddri ap Cydifor then it could also have occurred with Bledri ap Pwyll.

According to the First Branch of the Mabinogion, Pryderi was married to Cigfa, the daughter of Gwyn Gohoyw, son of Gloyw Walltlydan, son of Casnar Wledig. The last two names appear in reverse order in MG 3. However, whichever scheme is correct, Run rudpaladyr of gen. -3 would have been a brother of Gwyn Gohoyw and uncle to Cigfa, confirming the chronological correlation between PP1 63 and MG 3.

Further confirmation of the soundness of the dating is provided by HG 16a which shows Lleu Llaw Gyffes in gen. -2 and his uncle Gwydion, who killed Pryderi, in gen. -3. Note, Cadlew of gen. 1 appears in the HRB IX 12 as Cathleus map Catel and as being present at Arthur’s coronation.

After listing the 7 sons of Helig ap Glannog, not shown in the table above, and mentioning the submerged kindom, ByS L 42 states:

“… ac Anan ap y lleian nai uabchwaer.”

This is similar to the first verse in stanza 17 of Pen. 98B:

“Bedd Ann ap lleian ym newais fynydd,
lluagor llew Ymrais,
Prif ddewin Merddin Embrais.”

This is an englyn penfyr. The rhyme is at the 8th syllable of verse 1 and at the end of the other two verses. The “fynydd”, the final word of line 1, is an addendum known as a gair cyrch. “Lluagor” may be a description of Myrddin’s military skill or a reference to his birth occurring at the same time as that of a certain war-horse. The stanza says “newais” is the name of a mountain, perhaps, it is the Welsh equivalent of Gaelic “Nibheis”, as in Ben Nevis. There is, however, one problem, namely the first verse should contain 11 syllables. It is conjectured that the first line was originally:

“Bedd An anap lleian ym newais fynydd”

The text appears in a number of corrupted forms.

Corruption sequence one: An anap → Ananap → Ananan.
Corruption sequence two: An anap → Ananap → Annap → Airap.
Corruption sequence three: An anap → Ananap → Annap → Ann ap.

“Ananan” appears in ByS K, M 42, “Airap” appears in an englyn milwr transcription and “Ann ap” appears in the englyn penfyr transcription shown above. So, a translation of the text would be:

“The grave of An, the misfortune of the nun, on Ben Nevis,
Host-splitter, lion of Emrais,
Chief magician, Myrddin Emrys.”

Confirmation that the generational dating for ByS L 42 is correct is provided by PP1 12 which shows the descendants of Glannog who was the great-grandfather of Anan, this being the diminutive form for An. One of these is Braint Hir who was a nephew of Cadwallon ap Cadfan and consequently correctly appears in gen. 4.

[1] Bromwich, R., 2006, 289.
[2] Ibid., xciv.