Rience of North Wales
In the period following the battle of
Bedegraine, Arthur, Ban, and Bors take their armies to the rescue of Leodegrance of
Cameliard. King Rience of North Wales has entered the country and has laid siege to
Leodegrance. Arthur's forces soundly defeat Rience's army. There are indications
that Arthur has had earlier troubles with Rience.
At least a year later in the time following Arthur's getting of the
sword Excalibur, Rience sends a messenger to Arthur asking for truage in the form of
demand that Arthur send him his beard. The messenger proclaims that Rience, king of
North Wales, Ireland, and of many isles had overcome eleven kings and as part of
their homage, he had taken their beards and purfled a mantle; but that he had just
enough room on the mantle for Arthur's beard. Either Arthur will comply or Rience
would enter his lands and burn, slay, and takes his head and beard. Arthur sends the
messenger away stating that he owes Rience no homage and that Rience will soon do
Arthur homage on his knees. Malory adds that upon learning of the killing of the
innocent children born on May-day, Rience is woode out of measure and raises his army
to attack Arthur. Here we are presented with the conflicting plots - who is Rience
that he can withstand the rightful king and even ask for truage; why is he Arthur's
enemy but yet for the early story separate from the rebelling barons and kings
surrounding Lot; and while arrogant in his demands for truage, is he not right to
oppose Arthur for the killing of the May-day born innocents if such an event happened.
Malory's placement of Rience's lands and his rebellion seem more like the
rebellion of the Welsh kings against their Norman overlords than a Dark Age struggle.
If Rience is from Northern Wales, the claim to Ireland and many isles would more
likely mean areas in Wales and its coastal islands still controlled or peopled by
Irish invader/ settlers.
A short time later, we learn in the story of Balin that Rience has kept
his threat and had laid siege to Castle Terrabil. At this stage in Malory's
story, we can conjecture that Arthur is not high king in the full sense but holds
kingship over the territories surrounding southern Britain from London into the
interior, South Wales with Camelot (which must be Caerwent even
if Malory mistakenly associates it with Winchester via a misunderstanding
of the name) and around his mother's Cornish lands
near Terrabil and Tintagil. He might claim over lordship, but his enemies claim much
of the North, the West, and even parts of Cornwall.
One of the area that I have always found as a problem with Malory is his
geography. There are times when it seems that he does not even know his own country.
Balin sets out from Arthur's court being held at Camelot and with Merlin and his
brother, they capture Rience (who was invading Cornwall) while on his way to an assignation with a Lady de Vance.
In one day's time, Balin brings Rience back to face Arthur's justice. The
only way this would have been possible is if they took ship from Cornwall up the
coast of the Severn but Malory states they used a horse litter. Malory talks of the
rebelling kings as the northern kings but they control not only the northern lands
often associated with the post Roman military Coeling dynasty of Eboracum (York) and
Strathclyde / Dal Riata but also territories of Wales, Rheged, and Cornwall. From my
own viewpoint this indicates that one of Malory's sources was written from the
vantage point when the English and Norman kings ruled and had pushed their enemies
into the west and north. From a Norman's point, any Welsh, British, or Scottish king
is a northern king.
With the capture of Rience by Balin and the defeat of his army led by
Nero and Lot, Rience disappears from the story. It would seem plausible that the
reason Rience disappears at this point is a mixing of sources and that he does not
disappear, he is actually an earlier Uriens or Urien Rheged.