Branwen, also spelled Bronwen, was the daughter of the giant Llyr in Welsh mythology. Branwen was the sister of Manawydan and Bendigeidfran, who were half-brothers through their father Llyr and half-sisters through their mother Penarddun. Branwens story begins after she has been married to one of her brothers rival kings, who are constantly feuding over land rights.
Bronwen is described as a beautiful, mystical woman with a quiet wisdom and beauty. Even after marriage to one of the kings of Dyfed, she maintains her honor as a lady, walking without fear of being captured by her enemies. Bronwen remained hidden in her mothers hall for much of her marriage. On the fourth night of their marriage, Branwen had a vision in which a magical warrior dressed in yellow ran to protect her. He was her half-brother, Manawydan, who had run off to war after losing his post as a knight. Her strange dream encouraged her to escape and she returned home. When Bronwen returned to her husband, she realized he had been cheating on her.
The Welsh Gods
The Welsh Gods took the form of humans as well as animals. Branwen met her husband Gwydion, known in other versions of the story as Gwyddno Garanhir. This version of the tale dates from the later Welsh tale known as Culhwch and Olwen. Branwen is much older than Gwyddno and has endured several unsuccessful husbands throughout her life. He is the son of King Owain, and the youngest of seven brothers. One day, Branwen decides to go and live in the forest, and when she returns, her seven husbands, angered by her absence, challenge each other to a duel. The seven couples each go off to kill each other. As this is happening, Branwen falls in love with her first husband, Gwydion.
According to the legend, Branwen could bring animals back to life with a touch, and some day her husband would get so tired of fighting over land that he will give it up to her. However, Branwens husband is so obsessed with war that he will never give it up to her no matter what she does. One day Branwen thinks she will lose everything she loves. So she feasts on her own babies to try and gain an advantage. She lets the pigs and sheep inside her hut. Her husband takes pity on the tiny lambs and allows them to live on his land, while the baby pigs are trapped in a mire. Branwen does not eat them. Then she transforms herself into a swan to escape. When she returns home, she feasts on her husbands son, who turns out to be a living being who lives forever.
Branwens Tragic Love Story
The little sister of the two princes, Branwen is the light of their lives. When Llyr realizes that she has fallen in love with one of his kings sons, he encourages the relationship and later even gives her to the young man as a wife. Things work out as she thought they would, and when she gives birth to their first child, Tregarth, they get to be married in the coming year. However, Branwens happiness is short-lived. At the wedding feast, the man she married runs out in the middle of the feast and asks her to come with him. She runs from the feast, following her husband and young son, but it is only a short distance before the youngest prince is killed in the battle. He becomes a noxious snake of the field.