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Two Tristans were known to Welsh tradition and tended to become conflated: 1) Tristan son of March son of Meirchiawn and 2) Tristan son of Tallwch (= the 8th century Pictish chieftain Drust son of Talorcan). Tristan is usually thought to be a Pictish name (e.g. Drostan drui Cruithnech, a Pictish druid; information courtesy Dennis King via the Old Irish mailing list). If we may go by at least one example, there do appear to have been marital relations between Britons and Picts: Bridei son of Maelcon, a Pictish king whose accession date is c. 550, may very well be the son of Maelgwn Fawr of Gwynedd.
Cunomorus/Cynfawr the "Great Hound" was said by the monk Wrmonoc in his 9th century Life of St. Paul Aurelian to bear the Latin name Marcus and this identification appears to have been taken as gospel by the romancers. Certainly the testimony of the Tristan Stone near Fowey - "Drustans lies here, son of Cunomorus" - is proof that Tristan's real father was Cynfawr/Marcus. Mark would become March ("Horse") in Welsh and Margh in Cornish. Some scholars have proposed that Wrmonoc's Mark was actually March (Marcus) son of King Meirchiawn (Marcian) of Glywysing (part of the later Glamorgan), made the father of Tristan in TRIAD 73, but we never find Tristan associated with south Wales.
A Mote of Mark fort is located in Dumfries, while there is a Trusty's hill-fort in Galloway. Beroul's TRISTAN associates its hero with both Galloway and Dumfries. How can we account for Tristan's and Mark's presence in the far North? By proposing that at some point the Cunomorus/Cynfawr who was also Mark was confused with Cynfarch, father of Urien of Rheged (idea supplied by Sigmund Eisner, University of Arizona, retired). Cynfarch is from either *cintu- (> W. cyn, "former") or *cuno- (perhaps in the sense of "warrior") + -march, "horse" (information courtesy Gareth Bevans of The National Library of Wales).
Geoffrey of Monmouth identified Cynfarch with Cunomorus. He calls the latter Chinmarchocus (variants Chinmarhogus, Chimarcous, Chinmarcus; information courtesy Gregory S. Uchrin, Catholic University of America),i.e. Cynfarch, and makes him ruler of Treguier near Lannion in Brittany. A St. Tudwall founded the bishopric of Treguier and Cunomorus's father is said to have been one Tudwall. Kerduel near Lannion means "Fort of Tudwall" (information courtesy Jean-Yves le Moing).
Within the ancient diocese of Treguier stands the hill-fort Ruvarq or Run Marc'h, "Mark's Hill", yet another site associated with Cunomorus as Mark (information courtesy Christian Rogel of the Breton Library). The father of Cynfarch bears the same name as that of the father of March of Glywysing - Meirchiawn. From the genealogies appended to Nennius:
The Mote of Mark may represent a site associated with Cynfarch, while Trusty's Hill may have been so named because Cynfawr father of Drustanus and Cynfarch were confused, necessitating the transplantation of Drustanus to the north as the supposed son of Cynfarch.
It is my opinion that Wrmonoc or, more likely, his source (which may have contained some English-derived material), wrongly identified Cunomorus with King Mark. Because Welsh March is "Horse, Stallion", and Cynfarch father of Urien (Urien reigned from c. 570 to c. 590), if a historical entity, was a contemporary of Cunomorus, -mor(us) was probably related not to mawr, "great", but to a Germanic word for "horse", e.g. OE mearh, "horse", ON marr, "horse, steed", themselves cognates of Welsh march. Furthermore, Cuno-/Cyn- may have been interpreted as OE Cyne-, a common proper name component. Cyne- (information courtesy Hoyt Greeson, Department of English, Laurentian University, citing Clark-Hall Merritt's Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, and Paul Acker via the Ansax-L mailing list) means "royal" or "kingly". A perceived Cyne + mearh would yield a "Royal or Kingly horse", i.e. King March/Mark.
So when Wrmonoc says, 'fama ejus regis Marci pervolat ad aures quemalio nomine Quonomorium vocant', "his [St. Paul Aurelian's] fame flew to the ears of King Marcus, known also as Cunomorus", he is wrongly interpreting Cunomorus as "King March". If all this is so, then who is Iseult/Isolde/Iseut/Yseut the Fair, the Irish princess who became Mark's wife and Tristan's lover? And, just as importantly, what caused her to be linked to Mark and Tristan?
The answers lie in the Welsh tradition which identified Tristan with Drust son of Talorcan (r.780-781/784) and interpreted March as "Horse". There were several Drusts/Drests, e.g. Drust son of Talorcan, Drust son of Constantine, Drust son of Ferat. The reign of Drust son of Talorcan roughly corresponded with that of the Dal Riadan king Eochaid and a Drust who flourished 665-72 was a contemporary of Eochaid son of Domangart (information courtesy Dr. Katharine Simms, Trinity College Dublin, Jean Wright-Popescul and Robert C. Eickwort).
Eochaid, according to the Royal Irish Academy Dictionary, means "horseman". There were other Eochaids among the Dal Riada as well. In my opinion, Eochaid/"Horseman" became the French Iseut/Yseut, and was made the wife of March the "Horse".
I might also mention an Echaid (726-731), who ruled in the same area.
It is possible that Iseut's uncle Morholt, whom Tristan defeats on St. Samson's Isle, and Iseut's father Anguish, i.e. Oengus, also have their origins in the Scottish and Pictish North. The "Anguish" said to be Iseut's father has sometimes been identified with the Irish king of Munster, Aonghus. This Aonghus had a son named Eochaid. Morholt is from Welsh Mwrheth, Irish Muirchertach. The Dal Riadan king Eochaid (r. 726-733) was a contemporary of another Dal Riadan king named Muiredach. There was also (c. 365 AD) a high-king named Eochaidh son of Muiredach and a king of Ulaid of the same name. Could Morholt be a reflection of one of these Muiredachs? Two kings named Angus are associated with Drusts: Oengus son of Fergus (729-750), who killed a Drust in 728, and Oengus II son of Fergus (d. 834), uncle of Drust son of Constantine (d.837).
Iseut/Yseut was, in turn, identified at some point with Esyllt of Gwynedd. Esyllt (the original spelling of Iseult, Isolde), daughter of Cynan son of Rhodri of Gwynedd, married Gwriad, of the Men of the North, in c. 800 A.D. Cynan (information courtesy Gareth Bevans and Dennis King) is the diminutive of cuno-, "hound".
Confirmation that Iseut was brought into connection with Esyllt daughter of Cynan is suggested in the person of Brangain, Iseult's handmaiden. Brangain has often been identified with the Welsh goddess Branwen of BRANWEN DAUGHTER OF LLYR - and rightly so. In Welsh tradition, Branwen's home is the Gwynedd of Esyllt.
Various elements of the Tristan and Iseult story have their parallels in that of Bran and Branwen:
TRISTAN AND ISEULT BRANWEN D. OF LLYR
The Love of Tristan is Copyright © 2002, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: August Hunt
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