Hoel Mawr, 'King of Brittany'
(Born c.AD 500)
(Welsh: Hywel; Latin: Hovelius; English: Howel)

Hoel the Great is only known from Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century 'History of the Kings of Britain', where he appears as the son of King Budic of Brittany and the sister of the famous High-King Arthur of Britain. In the Welsh translation of this work, known as the 'Brut y Brenhinedd' (or Chronicle of the Kings), Budic's name is translated as Emyr Llydaw (meaning 'Emperor of Brittany'). Giving Hoel an alternative patronage suggests that he was a distinct character known to Welsh tradition of the time, although he appears in no other surviving works. Geoffrey seems to have seen a pedigree of this man's descendants as he lists several more generations of the family who he took to be Kings of Brittany. There was, however, no overlordship of Brittany in the 7th century and they may perhaps have been a younger branch of the Royal House of Cornouaille.

Hoel's father, Budic of Cornouaille, is probably the man of this name who the 'Life of St. Euddogwy' tells us was exiled to the court of King Aergol Lawhir of Dyfed. For it is in that kingdom that Hoel is revered as a saint at the church he traditionally established at Llanhywel, just north of Solva.

Geoffrey of Monmouth related many stories of Hoel's heroism after he was asked to send an army to help his uncle overcome the Anglo-Saxon scourge. Hoel is said to have landed at Southampton and immediately moved north with a considerable army to assist King Arthur at the Battle of Dubglas, the Siege of Caer-Ebrauc (York) and the Battle of Celidon Coit, before being besieged himself at Caer-Brithon (Dumbarton Rock). Hoel's greatest hour, however, was at the triumphant Battle of Mount Badon. Later he took part in Arthur's continental campaigns, conquering Gaul and enabling Arthur to establish his government in Paris. Hoel then returned to his own Kingdom, where King Tristram of Lyonesse was supposed to have helped him to victory during a Breton Civil War. Whatever estates Hoel owned in Brittany, he was traditionally succeeded in them by his son, Hoel Fychan (the Younger).

Literary writers have transformed this character into Sir Howel, a Knight of the Round Table.

Hoel only appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'History of the King's of Britain' and is generally considered legendary.


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