Rhiannon, a pivotal character in Welsh lore, is prominently featured in the Mabinogi’s First and Third Branches. She is the daughter of Heveydd Hen.

In the Mabinogi’s First Branch, Rhiannon emerges at Gorsedd Arberth, intriguing Pwyll, Dyfed’s prince, with her captivating appearance on a white horse, dressed in golden silk brocade. Despite repeated attempts by Pwyll’s horsemen, she remains unattainable until Pwyll himself engages her. She reveals her intent to marry him, rejecting Gwawl ap Clud, her betrothed. Pwyll, however, inadvertently promises her to Gwawl during their wedding, leading to Rhiannon devising a plan to reclaim her autonomy, involving a magic bag and a ruse that humiliates Gwawl.

And upon the mound he sat. And while he sat there, they saw a lady, on a pure white horse of large size, with a garment of shining gold around her, coming along the highway that led from the mound; and the horse seemed to move at a slow and even pace

The First Branch of the Mabinogi: Pwyll Pendeuc Dyfed

She is portrayed as a formidable, wise, and alluring Otherworld woman. Preferring Pwyll, the prince of Dyfed in western Wales, over a pre-arranged suitor, she showcases her intelligence, strategic acumen, beauty, and renowned generosity.

“I am Rhiannon, the daughter of Heveydd Hen, and they sought to give me to a husband against my will. But no husband would I have, and that because of my love for thee, neither will I yet have one unless thou reject me. And hither have I come to hear thy answer.”

The First Branch of the Mabinogi: Pwyll Pendeuc Dyfed

Together with Pwyll, she has Pryderi, a son who eventually inherits Dyfed’s leadership. Her life is marked by sorrow when she’s wrongly accused of infanticide following her child’s mysterious disappearance. The child, is eventually found and returned by Teyrnon. Pryderi then ascends as the ruler of Dyfed.

In the Third Branch, following Pryderi’s return from war, Rhiannon marries Manawydan Son of Llŷr. Together, they face a land desolated by enchantments and embark on various ventures across England. Their journey involves mystical occurrences, including Pryderi’s and Rhiannon’s disappearance in a mist-shrouded tower, eventually leading Manawydan to outwit the sorcerer Llwyd ap Cilcoed, culminating in a joyful reunion and the restoration of Dyfed.

Where does the name Rhiannon come from?

Rhiannon is speculated to be a homage to an ancient Celtic goddess, with her name likely stemming from the Brittonic *Rīgantonā, meaning “queen”. Her and her son Pryderi’s narrative involves a significant equine element, drawing parallels with Epona, the Gaulish horse goddess. Despite widespread scholarly agreement on this connection, historian Ronald Hutton expresses doubt.