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Ortelius 1579 British Isles Map

The Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain

The Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain are an extensive series of items appearing in late medieval Welsh tradition. Lists of the items date as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries, and placed the items in the Hen Ogledd or “Old North”. Today the “Old North” refers to certain sections of southern Scotland and Northern England. The number of treasures is almost always given as thirteen, but there isn’t a contention on what those thirteen items are. Some later versions of the list contain different items while retaining the same number of entries by replacing or combining other entries. More recent lists attempt to supplement the plain list by including explanatory comments about each treasure.

Treasures on the list follow no specific type of item and include such things as vessels or utensils for food and drink, objects relating to weaponry and transport, clothing, and several other types of items. The standard version of the list includes the following treasures:

  1. White-Hilt, the Sword of Rhydderch Hael (Dyrnwyn, gleddyf Rhydderch Hael): “if a well-born man drew it himself, it burst into flame from its hilt to its tip. And Rhydderch would never refuse anyone who asked for the sword. If they asked for it, they would receive it.” However, because of the peculiar reaction, everyone it was offered to began to reject it.  Thus, Rhydderch became known as Rhydderch the Generous.”
  2. The Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir (Mwys Gwyddno Garanir): Filling the hamper with enough food for one man and then closing it would result in enough food for a hundred men being found in it when it was reopened.
  3. The Horn of Brân Galed from the North (Corn Brân Galed o’r Gogledd): This horn was said to have the magical trait of providing whatever drink that might be wished for.
  4. The Chariot of Morgan Mwynfawr (Car Morgan Mwynfawr): This chariot is said to be an extraordinary mode of transportation. If a man went in it, he simply had to wish to be wherever he wanted, and he would be there quickly.
  5. The Halter of Clydno Eiddyn (Cebystr Clydno Eiddin), which was fixed to a staple at the foot of his bed: Clydno had simply to wish for a horse and whatever horse he might wish for, he would find in the halter.
  6. The Knife of Llawfrodedd Farchog (Cyllell Llawfrodedd Farchog), which would serve for twenty-four men to eat at table.
  7. The Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant (Pair Dyrnwch Gawr): if meat for a coward were put in it to boil, no matter how long it was left, the meat would never boil; however if the meat was for a brave man and put in it, it would boil quickly (and thus the brave could be distinguished from the cowardly).
  8. The Whetstone of Tudwal Tudglyd (Hogalen Tudwal Tudclyd): Yet again separating the brave from the cowardly. If a brave man sharpened his sword on the whetstone, then the sword would certainly kill any man from whom it drew blood. If a cowardly man used the whetstone, though, his sword would become useless, refusing to draw blood at all.
  9. The Coat of Padarn Beisrudd (Pais Badarn Beisrydd): if a well-born man put it on, it would adjust to become the right size for him; if a churl tried to wear it, it would not fit, no matter his size. .
  10. The Crock of Rhygenydd the Cleric (Gren a desgyl Rhygenydd Ysgolhaig): One of two peculiar items were said to produce whatever food that might be wished for in them.
  11. The Dish Crock of Rhygenydd the Cleric (Gren a desgyl Rhygenydd Ysgolhaig): One of two peculiar items were said to produce whatever food that might be wished for in them.
  1. The Chessboard of Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio (Gwyddbwyll Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio): The board itself was made of gold and the men were formed of silver. Yet this isn’t the only extravagant detail about the set. If the pieces were set on the board, they would play by themselves.
  2. 13 The Mantle of Arthur in Cornwall (Llen Arthyr yng Nghernyw): The wearer of this mantle was given the ability to be invisible to everyone around him, while still being able to see them.

More modern lists also add in two additional treasures. As mentioned, to accommodate this addition some changes must occur in the structure of the original list.

14/15. The Mantle of Tegau Eurfon, and Eluned’s Stone and Ring. The appearance of these causes several things to happen to the list. One of the other treasures is dropped and the Crock and the Dish of Rhygenydd the Cleric are counted as one item in order to ensure that the actual number of the list is kept at thirteen. Newer literature is the source of these additions, rather than traditional, material; the Mantle comes from a version of the Caradoc story, while Eluned’s stone and ring come from the prose tale Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain Tegau’s mantle is said to be a fidelity testing device and is a common substitute for the drinking horn in chastity test stories. The story of the stone and ring of Eluned gives the function of the items as a method of concealment. While wearing the ring, if a man wore the ring’s stone within his hand and closed his fist around the stone, he would be concealed for as long as he concealed the stone.

Each of the items on the list of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain has an extensive history in the lore of the lands and it has become a traditional inclusion in the folklore. Some of the characters mentioned have further interesting folklore surrounding them as well.

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