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Gelert: the brave dog from Welsh folklore who saved the life of his master’s son

Tijana Radeska
Gelert
Gelert

Gelert is a legendary faithful dog from Welsh folklore. Gelert was the dog of Prince Llywelyn the Great, who lived in the village of Beddgelert (whose name means “Gelert’s Grave”) in Gwynedd, northwest Wales.

The story of Gelert is a common tale about a faithful hound, classified as type 178A in the Aarne-Thompson system.

Statue of Llywelyn the Great, Conwy

Statue of Llywelyn the Great, Conwy

According to the legend, the Prince was a hunter and spent most of his time in the countryside. In the Welsh version of the story, the dog was a gift to Llywelyn from King John of England. Llywelyn had many dogs but Gelert was his favorite one and he never went hunting without him. However, one day Gelert failed to answer Llywelyn’s horn, which was a sign for the dogs to join him for hunting.

Who Knoweth the Spirit of Man... by Byam Shaw (1901)

Who Knoweth the Spirit of Man… by Byam Shaw (1901)

Llywelyn wasn’t happy that his favorite hound wouldn’t join him but went hunting anyway. When he returned to the house, he was greeted by Gelert, whose jaws were dripping with blood.

The first thought Llywelyn had was that his beloved dog might have killed his one-year-old son. When he got in the house, the whole room was turned upside down and the cradle was overturned with no sign of the baby.

Gelert and the Baby. Illustration by John D. Batten for Celtic Fairy Tales Joseph Jacob (1892).

Gelert and the Baby. Illustration by John D. Batten for Celtic Fairy Tales Joseph Jacob (1892).

 

Gelert by Charles Burton Barber (c.1894)

Gelert by Charles Burton Barber (c.1894)

Fearing the worst, Llywelyn, furious and convinced that Gelert killed his son, took his sword and plunged it into the dog’s heart. While Gelert was dying, a baby’s cry came from beneath the cradle. Confused, Llywelyn picked it up and found his son underneath and a dead wolf lying beside. He finally realized that he killed his most beloved and faithful dog, who bravely killed the wolf and saved his son’s life.

Gelert's Grave, Beddgelert, 1850

Gelert’s Grave, Beddgelert, 1850

Desperate, Llywelyn took the body of Gelert outside the castle’s walls and buried him, making a grave that could be seen by everyone so that all people could know how brave his dog was. Until this day, people who are passing by the village of Beddgelert can visit Gelert’s dog.

That’s the legend. According to another story, a man named David Pritchard moved to the village of Beddgelert in the 18th century. He was the landlord of the Royal Goat Inn and apparently, he knew the story of the Gelert dog and adapted it to fit the village to encourage tourism.

Gelert's Grave, Beddgelert, 2010. Photo credit

Gelert’s Grave, Beddgelert, 2010. Photo credit

Here is another story from us: Who would dare to steal the Crown Jewels of England? Thomas Blood did, and was pardoned by the King

On the supposed grave of Gelert, there are two slate memorials, one in Welsh and the other in English. The latter reads:

GELERT’S GRAVE
IN THE 13TH CENTURY, LLYWELYN, PRINCE OF NORTH WALES, HAD A PALACE AT BEDDGELERT. ONE DAY HE WENT HUNTING WITHOUT GELERT “THE FAITHFUL HOUND” WHO WAS UNACCOUNTABLY ABSENT. ON LLYWELYN’S RETURN, THE TRUANT STAINED AND SMEARED WITH BLOOD, JOYFULLY SPRANG TO MEET HIS MASTER. THE PRINCE ALARMED HASTENED TO FIND HIS SON, AND SAW THE INFANT’S COT EMPTY, THE BEDCLOTHES AND FLOOR COVERED WITH BLOOD. THE FRANTIC FATHER PLUNGED THE SWORD INTO THE HOUND’S SIDE THINKING IT HAD KILLED HIS HEIR. THE DOG’S DYING YELL WAS ANSWERED BY A CHILD’S CRY. LLYWELYN SEARCHED AND DISCOVERED HIS BOY UNHARMED BUT NEAR BY LAY THE BODY OF A MIGHTY WOLF WHICH GELERT HAD SLAIN, THE PRINCE FILLED WITH REMORSE IS SAID NEVER TO HAVE SMILED AGAIN. HE BURIED GELERT HERE. THE SPOT IS CALLED BEDDGELERT.