Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia


Rhonewen, Ronwen, Ronix, Rowan, Rowen, Rowenne, Roxiena

The daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist, given in marriage to King Vortigern of Britain by Hengist in exchange for the country of Kent. She is first found in Nennius.

Vortigern’s marriage to Rowena horrified many of Vortigern’s subjects – as well as the British clergy – because Rowena was a heathen and Vortigern was a Christian, and also because the union cemented an uncomfortable alliance between the British and the Saxons.

When Vortigern’s son, Vortimer, took the throne from his father and defeated the Saxons, Rowena pretended that she wished to convert to Christianity. She was able to get close to Vortimer, and she then poisoned and killed him, allowing Vortigern to reclaim the throne and the Saxons to return. Her character is found in Godfrey of Viterbo’s Pantheon as Angria and in Baudin Butor’s romance as Sardoine.

Rowena appears as the main character in Thelwall’s The Fairy of the Lake. A heathen sorceress, she falls in love with Arthur (here presented as the contemporary of Vortigern and Ambrosius) and embarks on an elaborate scheme to seduce him by magic, calling upon her supernatural allies such as Queen Hela of the Infernal Regions and the demon Incubus. Thwarted by the Lady of the Lake, Arthur’s guardian, she murders her husband Vortigern and offers Arthur the crown along with herself. Arthur, horrified at her crime, burns Rowena and her castle to the ground.

See also
Ronwen | The Legend of King Arthur

Historia Brittonum | Probably Nennius, early 9th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
The Fairy of the Lake | John Thelwall, 1801