Uriens of Rheged

Uriain, Urian, Urience, Uriene, Uriens, Uriien, Urijan, Urjen, Uryen, Uryens, Vrien, Vrweyn

A historical king of Rheged and father of Owain who ruled around 570, but was made Arthur’s contemporary by later legends.

A number of early Welsh poems glorify his various victories without connecting him to Arthur. In Nennius, he is mentioned as one of the kings who continued the battle against the Angles in the north, but was assassinated by his fellow, King Morcant (Morgant Hael). He first appears as Arthur’s warrior in Welsh legend, in which he is the son of Cynfarch and Nefyn, the brother of Efrddyl, Arawn, and Lleu, and the father of Owain, Morfudd, Rhiwallawn, Pasgen, and Run.

Owain, his most important son, becomes Yvain in the French romances, and Welsh legend makes him Urien’s son by the Celtic goddess Modron. The Triads name Urien’s assassin as Llofan Severing Hand.

Geoffrey of Monmouth says that Urien was the brother of Loth (Lot) and Angusel, but most later legends make the three unrelated except by marriage. Geoffrey also makes him King of Moray rather than Rheged. In Geoffrey, Urien is Arthur’s supporter, and he assist the king in his campaigns against Gaul and Rome.

Beginning with the Vulgate Cycle, however, he becomes an antagonist to Uther and Arthur. Descended from Joseph of Arimathea, Urien ruled the land of Gorre and the city of Sorhaut. Urien went to war with Uther over Gorre, and Uther was victorious. Urien eventually reclaimed the land, however, and appointed his nephew Bagdemagus to the throne.

When Arthur drew the sword from the stone, Urien refused to accept Arthur as his overlord. He joined King Lot and a number of other kings in a rebellion against Arthur, he was probably one of the ringleaders. In one source, he kidnaps Guinevere during the revolt. Arthur defeated them at the battle of Bedegraine and afterward Urien hosted his fellow rebels in his city of Sorhaute. The kings had to cancel their rebellion when the Saxons invaded their lands.

After experiencing several defeats against the Saxons, Urien and his companions allied with Arthur and crushed the Saxons at the battle of Clarence. Urien swore fealty to Arthur and married Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s half-sister. He was reconciled with Arthur, either between the two rebellions or when he came with his wife to the rich funeral Arthur gave Lot and the other kings who died in battle before Castle Terrabil.

He had two sons named Yvain (Ywaine) and Yvain the Bastard. Urien participated in Arthur’s war against Rome and in his battle against the five kings at Humber River. On the advice of King Pellinore, Uriens was made a companion of the Round Table after the decisive battle on the Humber against the kings of Denmark, Ireland, the Vale, Soleise, and Longtains.

Uriens went hunting with Arthur and Sir Accolon of Gaul on the expedition that led into Morgan’s engineered attempt on Arthur’s life, but, after the three hunters had fallen asleep aboard the mysterious boat, Uriens woke up next morning in his wife’s arms, abed in Camelot. After the failure of her attempt on Arthur’s life, Morgan attempted to salvage something by killing her husband, at least, with his sword as he slept, but their son, Ywaine le Blanchemains, prevented her. Although Ywaine promised to keep the secret, on condition his mother try no such thing again, the incident seems to have marked a permanent separation between Urien and his wife; Morgan shortly thereafter left court and it appears likely that the royal couple never met again. Urien remaind faithfully with Arthur, being listed among those who attempted to heal Sir Urre of Hungary.

His death is not described in the Vulgate romances.

In Welsh tradition Urien of Rheged fathered the twins Morfudd and Owain.

Most variations to Urien’s Vulgate character involve giving him different kingdoms. In Meriadoc, he is the King of Scotland and he becomes steward of Wales upon marrying Orwen, the sister of King Meriadoc of Wales. In Claris et Laris, he has a daughter named Marine. In Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône, his land is called Lof, and in Palamedes, he conquers Ireland. In Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, he invades the land of King Leodegan, his brother, taking the role of Rions in the Vulgate Merlin.


See also
Galeguinant | The Legend of King Arthur
Yvonet li Avoutres | The Legend of King Arthur


Sources
Historia Brittonum | Probably Nennius, early 9th century
Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
Triads of the Island of Britain (Welsh ”Triads”) | 11th century to 14th century
Vulgate Lancelot | 1215-1230
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
Le Livre d’Artus | Early 13th century
Post-Vulgate Suite du Merlin | 1230-1240
Diu Crône | Heinrich von dem Türlin, c. 1230
Palamedes | c. 1240
Claris et Laris | 1268
Arthour and Merlin | Late 13th century
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470
Idylls of the King | Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1859-1886