A Depiction of Craft and Ambition
Throughout the works depicting the Arthurian Middle Ages, women are scarcely even mentioned. However, a few women managed to make it into the pages of history as written by Gildas, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth and transcribed by Richard Loomis. These two women, specifically Renwein, the daughter of Hengist, and Culhwch’s stepmother the queen, are prime examples of how women in middle age stories were used to warn rulers of deception. Both women used their positions near power to influence historical events, and thus attempt to gain political power themselves.
Renwein, as mentioned in Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain, was the daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist. She was brought over in the second wave of Saxon ships from Germany. Upon meeting the then King Vortigern at a feast, her beauty seduced him and they married, thus making her queen, but in exchange for the land of Kent. Renwein, simply by marriage has already gained her family power by gaining rule over the province of Kent. Simultaneously, Renwein created a line of connection between her people and Vortigern, as her father was now Vortigern’s father-in-law and thus able to advise him. Simply by seduction and arranged marriage, Renwein has gained her, and her people power by position and land gain, clearly showing craft in her maneuvering of the political pallet of Celtic royalty.
Renwein again pops her head when Vortigern’s son (not by her), Vortimer gains rule from his father. Vortimer, who was opposed to his father’s tactics, would not benefit Renwein and her people’s ambitions. To change this, Renwein used her position of power to plan and carry out the assassination of Vortimer by poisoning his drink. By doing so, Renwein opened the door so that Vortigern could once again take the crown, and thus concurrently establish her back into the seat of power.
While Vortimer was in power, he pushed...