Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

King Arthur and Guinevere

(This extract is taken from the medieval Welsh poem: Gereint son of Erbin. The poem celebrates the hero Gereint and his deeds at the Battle of Llongborth. The earliest surviving version is in the Black Book of Carmarthen, completed around 1250, though the poem may have been composed in the 10th or 11th century. The poem is significant for its early mention of King Arthur. - EH)

It was Arthur's custom to hold court at Caer Llion (Caerleon - EH) on Usk, and he held it continually for seven Easters and five Christmasses. And once upon a time he held a court there at Whitsuntide; for Caer Llion was the most accessible place in his dominions, by sea and by land. And he gathered about him to that place nine crowned kings who were vassals of his, and along with them earls and barons; for these would be his guests at every high festival unless sore straits prevented them. . . .

And Whit Tuesday as the emperor was sitting at his carousal, lo, a tall auburn-haired youth coming in, with a tunic and surcoat of ribbed brocaded silk upon him, and a gold-hilted sword about his neck, and two low boots of cordwain upon his feet; and he came before Arthur.

‘All hail, lord,’ said he.

‘God prosper thee,’ he replied, ‘and God’s welcome to thee. And hast thou fresh tidings?’

‘I have, lord,’ he replied.

‘I know thee not,’ said Arthur.

‘Now I marvel thou dost not know me. And a forester of thine am I, lord, in the Forest of Dean. And Madawg is my name, son of Twrgadarn.’

‘Tell thy tidings,’ said Arthur.

‘I will, lord,’ said he. ‘ A stag have I seen in the Forest, and I never saw the like of it.’

‘What is there about it,’ asked Arthur, ‘that thou shouldst never have seen its like?’

‘It is pure white, lord, and it goes not with any animal for presumption and pride, so exceeding majestical it is. And it is to ask counsel of thee, lord, that I am come. What is thy counsel concerning it?’

‘I shall do what is most fitting,’ said Arthur; ‘go to hunt it tomorrow in the young of the day, and have that made known tonight to each one from the lodgings, and to Rhyferys (who was the head huntsman to Arthur) and to Elifri (who was Arthur’s head groom), and to every one besides those.’

And on that they determined; and he sent the groom on ahead.


And then Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere – EH) said to Arthur, ‘Lord,’ said she, ‘wilt thou give me leave to go tomorrow and see and listen to the hunting of the stag that the youth spoke of?’

‘I will, gladly,’ said Arthur.

‘Then I shall go,’ said she.

Now this is how Arthur hunted the stag. They apportioned the hunting stations for the men and dogs, and loosed the dogs upon it; and the last dog that was loosed upon it was Arthur's favourite dog. Cafall was his name. And he left all the dogs behind and caused the stag to turn; and on the second turn the stag came to Arthur's hunting station. And Arthur set upon it, and or ever a man might kill it Arthur had cut off its head. And then the horn was sounded for the kill; and then they all assembled together. And Cadyrieith came to Arthur and said to him, ‘Lord,’ said he, ‘yonder is Gwenhwyfar, and no one with her save one maiden.’ ‘Then do thou ask,’ said Arthur, ‘Gildas son of Caw and all the clerics of the court to proceed with Gwenhwyfar towards the court.’ And that they did.


And then they set forth each one, and they debated concerning the stag's head, to whom it should be given; one desiring to give it to the lady he loved best, another to the lady he for his part loved best, and each one of the household and the knights bickering over the head. And with that they came to the court. And Arthur and Gwenhwyfar heard the bickering over the head, and Gwenhwyfar said then to Arthur, ‘Lord,’ said she, ‘this is my counsel concerning the stag's head, that it be not given until Gereint son of Erbin come from the quest he has gone on.’ And Gwenhwyfar told Arthur the reason for the quest. ‘Let that be done gladly,’ said Arthur. And that was determined on.

  The above text is from:
                "The Mabinogion"
                translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones
                publisher: Everyman 1949

 See also:

          The Ancient Books of Wales


Edward Hunt