Branwen: Unravelling the Lessons from the Mabinogi


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4 minutes

The Mabinogion is a collection of Welsh mythological tales and folklore, dating back to the mediaeval period. Within its two main manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest are rabbit holes and winding roads which lead us to a rich and diverse world filled with magic, giants and shape-shifters. Set in the mystical backdrop of ancient Wales, it has continued to intrigue and inspire audiences for hundreds of years. Its influence in Welsh culture is undeniably strong and can be seen through countless creative pursuits as modern day artists attempt to reinvigorate and reimagine the stories.

Today, we’re shining the spotlight on Branwen, one of the central characters in the Mabinogion. Her story is tumultuous but, as with most folklore, gives lessons to the reader which ring just as true now as they did then.

At the outset of Branwen’s tale, we witness the attempt to forge peace between the realms of Britain and Ireland through her marriage to Matholwch, the king of Ireland. This diplomatic alliance ultimately backfires due to the resentment and hostility of Matholwch’s court towards Branwen’s Welsh heritage.

Branwen handles this with a singular aim, to bridge the divide and ensure that her marriage doesn’t become a catalyst for conflict rather than reconciliation. Unfortunately, she is unsuccessful and goes on to face vile mistreatment from the hands of Matholwch’s noblemen. From this tragic president, we can go on to learn a couple of vital lessons from the ways in which Branwen copes in the most unfortunate circumstances. Here are two which we can certainly apply to our day to day lives.

Lesson 1: Asking for help

Throughout her time on Irish soil, Branwen demonstrates unwavering loyalty and devotion to her family, particularly her brother Bran the Blessed, king of Britain. Despite the distance and the obstacles she faces, Branwen never hesitates to call upon her brother for aid when she finds herself in peril. She sends a heartfelt plea for help to her brother Bran who in response, rises to rescue his sister without question or hesitation. This undoubtedly illustrates the deep bond of love and loyalty that exists between them.

Often, myself included, so many people shy away from asking for help. We do not want to share with our nearest and dearest how we may be truly feeling or the barriers we are facing which can seem utterly insurmountable. Branwen does not hesitate, or feel ashamed: in fact she manages to get a secret message across an entire ocean in ancient times which is quite impressive! If she can do it, then so can we.

Unfortunately, not all of us are blessed and privileged with familial bonds as close as hers, but there are other places we can turn to in times of need such as friends, medical professionals or local community groups.

Lesson 2: The Power of Forgiveness

Even in the face of heartbreaking betrayal and suffering, Branwen shows remarkable compassion and forgiveness towards those who have wronged her. Despite all that she goes through, she chooses to forgive her husband Matholwch and his people by seeking true reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict.

In her final moments, Branwen generously expressed a desire for peace to be restored between Britain and Ireland. Her act of forgiveness serves as a powerful reminder that becoming bitter and vengeful towards our past can be unproductive and sometimes, personally exhausting. It is difficult to experience peace whilst harbouring so many negative feelings to ourselves and in our past. Branwen opts to let go and look forward to a new future with the recognition that it is best for not only herself, but also her community.


Branwen’s journey in the Mabinogi offers a timeless reflection on the importance of loyalty, compassion, and the pursuit of peace in the face of adversity. It is in many ways, a monstrous tale, spanning multiple countries and hundreds of centuries. Despite its magnitude however, its vital messaging can be applied to each of our lives.