Saint Hoel
Prince of Cornouaille & Knight
Died 6th century
Canonized Anglican Communion
Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Patronage Llanhowell
This article is about the legendary 6th-century figure. For other uses, see Hoel (disambiguation).

King Hoel (Breton: Hoel I Mawr, lit. "Hoel the Great"; Latin: Hoelus, Hovelus, Hœlus), also known as Sir Howel and Saint Hywel, was a late 5th- and early 6th-century[1] member of the ruling dynasty of Cornouaille. He may have ruled Cornouaille jointly after the restoration of his father Budic II, but he seems to have predeceased his father and left his young son Tewdwr as Budic's heir.[2]

Hywel appears in Welsh legend and Arthurian legend as a "king of Brittany". A relative of Arthur, he was one of his most loyal allies (or, sometimes, knights) and was said to have helped him conquer "Gaul" (northern France).[1]


The historical Hoel was the son of Budic II, king of Cornouaille in northwest Brittany. For all or most of his childhood, a usurping cousin ruled in Budic's place and the family resided in exile with Aergol Lawhir, king of Dyfed in Britain. He was credited with the foundation of Llanhowell during this time and, as "Saint Hywel", was revered by a local cult as its patron saint.[1] The family was eventually restored to their home in Cornouaille, where Hoel may have ruled jointly with his father. He died shortly before he would have inherited the throne, however,[1] and Budic's attempts to enlist his neighbor Macliau's support for the succession of Hoel's son Tewdwr Mawr ended badly. After Budic's death, Macliau invaded and the boy was forced into exile in Cornwall.[2]


While early Welsh sources say he was the son of King Budic, in later legend he evolves into the son of Emyr Llydaw (and sometimes father of Saint Tudwal) instead.[1] David Nash Ford was of the opinion that "Emyr Llydaw" was a title of Budic's"emperor" of Brittanyeventually mistaken for a name in its own right.[3])

As a son of Budic, he was recorded as a nephew of Arthur. He was said to have visited Arthur's court during his early exile and to have returned to help Arthur against the Saxons after the family's restoration in Brittany. Landing at Southampton, his army was credited with assisting Arthur at the Battle of Dubglas, the Siege of Caer Ebrauc (i.e. York), and the Battle of Celidon Coit. It was then bottled up and besieged in turn at Dumbarton Rock ("Caer-Brithon"). Hoel was also said to have been at Badon before conquering France for Arthur, who then moved his court to Paris. Finally returning to Brittany, he was aided by Tristram of Lyonesse in suppressing a civil war.[1]

Hoel was eventually turned into "Sir Howel" of the Round Table and made a son of "Emyr Llydaw". He appears thus in medieval Welsh sources like The Dream of Rhonabwy, Geraint and Enid, and Peredur son of Efrawg.

A conflation of the two appears prominently in Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical History of the Kings of Britain, where Hoel comes from Brittany to help suppress the revolts which arise after Arthur's coronation. A respected ruler and capable general, his relationship with Arthur is uncertain: he first appears as the son of Budic of Brittany and a sister of Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, making his Arthur's first cousin, but appears later as the son of Budic and Arthur's sister Anna, making him Arthur's nephew. (This confusion reappears in Wace and Layamon but most later sources make him Arthur's "cousin".) In Geoffrey, Hoel's niece is raped and killed by the Giant of Mont Saint-Michel; Arthur sets off to slay him with Sir Kay and Bedivere. Arthur returns to fight his traitorous nephew Mordred and leaves Hoel in charge of "Gaul". Hoel later joins the Round Table and leaves his nephew Joseph in charge of his kingdom.[4]

Hoel was later attached to the Tristan and Iseult legend by such poets as Béroul and Thomas of Britain. In these stories, Hoel is "duke of Brittany" and the father of Tristan's unloved wife, Iseult of the White Hands. Hoel takes Tristan in when the young knight has been banished from King Mark's kingdom, and Tristan later helps him in battle and becomes fast friends with his son Kahedin and his daughter Iseult. Tristan convinces himself to marry this second Iseult, mostly because she shares the name of his first love, Iseult of Ireland. In early versions of the story, Tristan remains in Hoel's land until he dies of poison minutes before Iseult of Ireland, a great healer, arrives to cure him. The prose Tristan has the hero returning to Britain and to his first love, never to see his wife again. This version was followed by the Post-Vulgate Cycle and by Thomas Malory's Death of Arthur.[5]


St Hywel's in Llanhowell.

Llanhowell in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is named in his honor. Llanllowell in Monmouthshire originally was as well, although it is now considered dedicated to Saint Llywel.[6] The present church at Llanhowell (Welsh: Eglwys Llanhywel) was largely refurbished in the 1890s but includes sections dating as early as the 12th century. It is listed as a Grade II* protected building.[7]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ford, David Nash. "Hoel I Mawr" at Early British Kingdoms. 2001. Accessed 1 Dec 2014.
  2. 1 2 Ford, David Nash. "Tewdwr Mawr" at Early British Kingdoms. 2001. Accessed 1 Dec 2014.
  3. Ford, David Nash. "Budic II" at Early British Kingdoms. 2001. Accessed 1 Dec 2014.
  4. Geoffrey of Monmouth, translated by Lewis Thorpe. The History of the Kings of Britain. Penguin Books (London), 1966. ISBN 0-14-044170-0.
  5. Curtis, Renée L. (trans.) The Romance of Tristan. Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1994. ISBN 0-19-282792-8.
  6. Baring-Gould, Sabine & al. The Lives of the British Saints: The Saints of Wales and Cornwall and Such Irish Saints as Have Dedications in Britain, Vol. III, pp. 288 f. Chas. Clark (London), 1908. Hosted at Archive.org. Accessed 2 Dec 2014.
  7. British Listed Buildings. "Church of St Hywel, Llanhowell, Llanrhian".
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