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  • Writer's pictureGraham Watkins

King Tewdrig's Return

Dear as remembered kisses after death,

And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd

On lips that are for others; deep as love,

Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;

O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

‘Tears, Idle Tears’ – Alfred Lord Tennyson.

The ancient Book of Llandaff tells of the 6th Century when King Tewdrig was the ruler of Gwent. Tewdrig was a pious man and a good King. His people loved and respected him. He reigned for many years. Tewdrig had a son named Meurig. Prince Meurig enjoyed being a loyal prince but, like others since, he coveted the throne for himself. One day Meurig went to his father.

'Father, do you like being the king?' he asked.

'Yes. I do like being the king. Besides, it’s my job. Why do you ask such a question?' replied his father.

'It must be very tiring having to look regal and give orders all the time,' said Meurig.

Death of King Tewdrig

'I don’t mind,' replied the king.

'Why don’t you retire? Then you could spend more time enjoying yourself, doing things you want to do instead of working all the time. I would be happy to do the job for you,' suggested Meurig helpfully.

'I’ll think about what you have said,' replied King Tewdrig.

A few days later King Tewdrig summoned his son.

'I have carefully considered what you said and have decided to renounce the throne. Here is the royal crown. I give it to you,' said Tewdrig and handed the crown to his son. A royal coronation was arranged and Meurig was formally crowned as the new King of Gwent.

'What are you going to do now that you are retired?' King Meurig asked his father.

'I am going to live in a little place I know by the River Wye called Tyndyrn. It’s a calm place where I will meditate and the fishing is quite good,' replied Tewdrig. He left the royal court quietly the following day and made his way to his new home. Tewdrig soon found that he liked not being king anymore and was glad. He spent his days happily fishing, praying and resting.

'Life is good,' he said to himself.

At first, King Meurig found his royal duties quite easy. The people obeyed their new king and everything went well until one day a messenger arrived.

'I bring dire news, Majesty. A Saxon army is approaching from the east. It will be here in three days,' announced the messenger.

'Why does a Saxon army come here?' asked the King.

'They mean to seize your kingdom, Sire,' replied the messenger. King Meurig summoned his advisors.

'What are we to do?' he cried.

'You are the king. You must lead our army into battle and drive the Saxons away,' replied the advisors. Suddenly, King Meurig did not want to be king any more.

'I abdicate,' he wailed and snatched the crown from his head.

'You cannot abdicate. There is no one else to do the job,' replied the advisors. King Meurig knew they were right. Then an idea came to him. He travelled to Tyndyrn and found his father sitting by the river.

'Father, I have come to ask you to return. I am not ready to be king,' said Meurig and handed the crown to his father. Tewdrig looked up at his son and saw fear in his eyes.

'What is wrong?' he asked.

'A Saxon horde is approaching. The heathens mean to steal the kingdom from us,' said Meurig. Tewdrig stood up.

'I will return. Gather our army and meet me at Pont-y-Saeson as the sun comes up tomorrow. We will stand and fight together,' said Tewdrig and placed the crown on his head.

Welsh Legends and Myths

'I will do as you command, Sire,' replied Meurig and bowed to his father. King Tewdrig slept badly that night and dreamed of the coming battle. He saw himself lying injured on the ground then being carried to safety on a cart. He watched as men at arms bathed his bleeding head. Then, he saw himself laid in a bed with clean blankets. Outside the sun was shining and birds were singing. King Tewdrig woke with a start. The room was dark and his bed was wet; soaked with perspiration.

The army was ready when King Tewdrig arrived. The men cheered as Tewdrig and his son rode forward, towards the enemy. The battle was fierce and the army of Gwent, led by King Tewdrig, won the day but they did not celebrate. Their king had fallen. A Saxon axe had split his skull and he lay mortally wounded on the ground. Meurig tenderly lifted his father onto a cart.

The men hitched oxen to the cart and slowly took the wounded king away. King Tewdrig cried in pain with every jolt of the wagon. Hearing his terrible cries the men stopped repeatedly and lifted the stricken king from the cart to rest. Each time his body touched the ground, a spring appeared and fresh water bubbled up. The men used the water to wash the blood from the gaping wound. They travelled for three days until they reached the village of Mathern, the place of King Tewdrig’s birth.

When King Tewdrig woke he was in a bed. His head lay on a pillow filled with goose feathers and fine woollen blankets covered his body. Outside birds sang in the sunshine. King Tewdrig smiled. He was content. He had returned. Then, with a quiet sigh, he died.

Meurig honoured his father’s memory by giving the land at Tyndyrn to the church and today, 1500 years later, visitors flock to view the ruin of the great abbey that is known as Tintern, unaware of how King Tewdrig returned from there, to save his kingdom.

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