Rhydderch Hael

‘Rhydderch the Generous’
Riderch I of Alt Clut, Rhydderch of Strathclyde, Rodarchus

King of Cumbria in Myrddin legend, probably based on a historical sixth-century ruler of Stratchclyde.

Rhydderch is mainly remembered for his association with the legendary figure of Merlin, who was said to have been his adviser and counsellor. According to some accounts, Rhydderch was one of the four kings who participated in the Battle of Arfderydd, a major conflict that took place in 573 or 574 and is said to have resulted in the deaths of many warriors and leaders, including Rhydderch’s own brother.

Nennius names him as one of the kings who fought alongside King Urien against the Saxons in the sixth century. According to the Myrddin poems, Rhydderch was one of the leaders at the Battle of Arfderydd, where he fought alongside King Peredur of North Wales, and opposed King Gwenddolau of Scotland. Rhydderch was victorious.

Merlin, who had fought on Gwenddolau’s side in Welsh legend, and on Rhydderch’s side in Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini, went insane at the battle and fled to the Forest of Caledon. Rhydderch’s wife, Ganieda, was Merlin’s sister. In his moments of insanity, Merlin told Rhydderch that Ganieda was adulterous, but Ganieda managed to convince her husband that Merlin could not be trusted because of his madness. Rhydderch died during Merlin’s life, and his widow went to live with her brother in the forest. A Welsh poem places his grave at Abererch.

Rhydderch is also mentioned in a number of early Welsh poems, such as the Elegy for Owain, which laments the death of one of Rhydderch’s sons.

His sword, Dyrnwyn, is said to number among the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, and Rhydderch the Generous, son of Tudwal Tudglyd, is one of the Three Generous Men of the Island of Britain.


The historical Rhydderch Hael

He was a ruler of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, an area that encompassed parts of what is now Scotland and northern England, between 580-612 AD. He is remembered as a powerful and generous king who was a patron of the arts, and is said to have supported the early Welsh bard Taliesin.

Some historical sources suggest that he may have been involved in the conversion of the Kingdom of Strathclyde to Christianity, although the details of this process are not well-documented.

Rhydderch is also remembered for his role in the Battle of Arfderydd, which took place in around 573 AD. According to Welsh sources, Rhydderch was one of the commanders of a coalition of Brythonic kings who fought against the forces of Gwenddolau, a warrior king of the Old North. The battle was said to be fierce and bloody, and both Gwenddolau and Rhydderch are said to have died in the fighting.

Rhydderch is also associated with a number of other legendary figures from Welsh mythology, including the sorceress Gwenddydd and Arthur. He is said to have fought alongside Arthur in a number of battles, although the historicity of these accounts is disputed.


Sources
Various; all Myrddin poems | 12th century to 15th century
Historia Brittonum | Probably Nennius, early 9th century
Vita Merlini | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1150