Myths & Legends of Medieval Wales
By Mark Noce
What is a myth, really? Just a bunch of lies, right? Well, maybe not. If you think about it, a myth is basically a hypothetical scenario from a different era and culture. Even if the plot of the story may be fabricated, it still provides very real information. It shows you what the people of that time and place believed was right and wrong. It tells you how they thought people should act, what they feared, loved, and a whole host of psychological and societal information. This is very real data that can inform researchers, for both novels and archaeology.
One of the big issues I faced with researching the early Dark Ages of Wales was that very little textual and physical material survived the period. Myths and legends, however, helped fill in many of those missing gaps for me. Oral legends that later were written down by medieval monks, helped preserve aspects of this time period, even when much of the primary history for that time and place were incomplete in modern historical records.
The Tale of Olwen is one of the oldest Arthurian legends and probably originated as an oral tale right around the year 600 AD, if not earlier. This story is a prime example of how myths and legends provided a useful backdrop when construction the Welsh world of the early 600s. In the Tale of Olwen, things like kinship, bravery, and fairness are clearly valued. A mix of humor and tragedy also pervades the tone of several early Welsh texts. Their Celtic roots were apparent even when they were Christianized. The very names of their monarchs and nobles inscribed in churchyards is a testament to this. Old Celtic names actually resurged in popularity after the Roman period, showing a continuity with their Celtic ancestors. While at the same time their legends are also full of the importance of holy clerics and Christian teaching. It’s an interesting mix, and provides wonderful inspiration for an author like myself.
Other Welsh legends contained in the Mabinogion, also offer tantalizing clues regarding this “lost” world of early medieval Wales. We see strong heroines, like Rhiannon, and mention of long lost queens who ruled equally beside their husbands. These often overlooked details offers new conceptions of gender roles in Wales, especially when contrasted with the more male-dominated societies of the waning Romans and the invading Saxons. As alien as an ancient culture may seem, there are elements that we can relate to today that they would have also valued. Things like family, justice, independence, and equality did exist in various measures in the dangerous world of medieval Wales.
I hope you enjoy reading Dark Winds Rising! It was a joy to write and will hopefully give you a new perspective of the Welsh, and the history of the early medieval period. Dark Winds Rising is the second novel in the Queen Branwen Series, the first book being Between Two Fires. Both are published via St. Martin’s Press and are available wherever books are sold. Thanks for reading!
Dark Winds Rising
Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war, and Branwen must attempt to stop her before her country threatens to tear itself apart. All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin. Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and a mysterious assassin threaten to destroy their lives from the inside out.
“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter
“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin
Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family. Find out more at Mark's website Marknoce.com and find him on