Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Holly, the Ivy, the Yew

by | December 29, 2011

While researching for my family saga, Pendyffryn, I read several interpretations of The Mabingoi – including Gwyn Jones and Elizabeth Walton.

Yew Tunnel at Aberglasney

1000 year old Yew Tunnel at Aberglasney

My 1955 copy of Welsh Legend and Folk-Tales is tattered and spent but gave me a fresh look at one story I thought I knew until I read the source legend. I included this story in my contribution to Celtic Queens, Donna Goode and Lisa Campbell’s blog in June 2010.

The source legend is Welsh and forms part of the tales of Arthur. The story of Trystan and Esyllt is life-affirming and perfect for this holiday season. My inspiration for my interpretation of this love story is from Welsh Legend and Folk-Tales, by Gwyn Jones, (1955, Oxford University Press):

Trystan & Esyllt by Leighton (1902)News reached Arthur that Trystan and Esyllt were wandering together as outlaws in the oakwoods. Esyllt’s husband, March, Arthur’s nephew, came to the court to demand vengeance, claiming that his kinship to Arthur made his case of higher merit. Trystan was only the son of one of Arthur’s cousins. Arthur agreed that he would hear the case.

March and his warband surrounded the oakwoods. Esyllt was frightened but Trystan hid her in the hollow of an oak, concealed by ivy, holly and a nearby yew tree, telling her that his destiny would prevent harm to him. March knew that any man who drew blood from Trystan would die so he sent his men to bring Trystan out, but the men refused to do what their war-lord would not.

Robert Silyn Roberts's Book (1904)March complained again to Arthur who sent harpists and poets to placate Trystan so that he could be draw into discussion. Both men refused to give up Esyllt and Arthur pronounced that she would be shared: with one when the leaves were full on the trees and with the other when the trees were bare. Her husband was given the first choice and claimed his wife when the winter nights seemed longer than all the days of summer.

Arthur went with his warband to tell Esyllt of the decision. She interpreted the pronouncement as best suited her and rejoiced in his judgment, singing:

“Three trees there are, all good and true:
Holly and ivy and yew are they:
They keep their leaves the whole year through,
And Trystan shall have me for ever and aye.”


And that is the Welsh legend of how Trystan won Esyllt and how they lived happily ever after. In the first book of Pendyffryn, Gwennan tells this story at her wedding feast. How her new husband interprets this tale forms the substance of their first year of marriage.  Gwennan likens her new husband to the yew, powerful but poisonous. Whether Gwennan and Jehan-Emíl’s love story will have a similar outcome will be revealed in 2012.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi i gyd.




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