Renwein (called Ronwen, Rowen, Rovent, Rowenne, Rowena and other similar forms, and named Sard(o)ine in Bauduins Butors’ Le Roman des fils du roi Constant) is Hengist’s daughter (except in the Vita Merlini where she is Hengist’s sister) whom Hengist gives King Vortigern in exchange for rulership over Kent.
The Name RenweinEdit
Neither the name Renwein nor the variants found in different manuscripts of Geoffrey match any name actually used among the Welsh or English so far as is known. Rachel Bromwich (2006, p. 488) points out:
Her [Renwein’s] name was nevertheless understood in Wales to be a compound of rhawn + gwen. The former usually means ‘horsehair’ but was also used of a girl’s hair: Gwaith Dafydd Llwyd o Fathafarn no. VI.13, a choroni merch rawnir.The not uncommon use today of the Rowena form of the name comes from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, as the form Rowena appeared in the best known editions of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae in Scott's day.
The Seduction of VortigernEdit
In the Historia Brittonum, Hengist is purposely attempting to get the Britons drunk to increase Vortigern’s susceptibility to his daughter’s charms, telling his daughter to ply the Britons with wine and ale. When Vortigern becomes drunk, he desires her, whereupon, Satan enters his heart, for he ought not to love a pagan. Having previously taken council with his barons, Hengist promises her to Vortigern in exchange for the province of Kent.
Vortigern accepts, Kent is handed over to Hengist without anyone even informing its local king, Guoyrancgon, and Vortigern obtains Hengist's daughter as his wife. He loves her very much and continues to do so.
In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, it is apparently not so definitely planned, if planned at all. Vortigern sees Renwein approaching with a goblet of wine and curtseying. She says “Laverd King, was hail!” (‘Lord King, be healthy!’) When Vortigern asks his interpreter what this means, he is told he should respond “Drinc hail!” (‘Drink well!’) He does so, ordering Renwein to drink. Then takes, the cup, kisses her, and drinks himself. So, according to Geoffrey, did the wassail tradition enter Britain.
Geoffrey tells that Vortigern asks Hengist for this daughter as a wife, and only now is there consultation with other Saxon notables. They decide that she will be given to Vortigern as wife in return for the province of Kent, and all goes as in the Historia Brittonum.
In the Story of Merlin it is only mentioned, almost casually:
So did Engist, and indeed he did many things of which I need not tell you, but I can well say that he did sufficient for Vertigier that Vertigier took one of his [Hengist’s] own daughters as wife. And all who hear this tale should know that she was the one who first said in this kingdom, “Wassail!”.
Hengist’s Daughter in Bauduins Butors’ First DraftEdit
Bauduins Butors is the writer of four drafts of an incomplete Arthurian romance, which refers mainly to events recorded in the Story of Merlin, on which he elaborates. His first draft introduces King Hengist (Augiers) who has been driven from Britain by the former King of Britain, Constans, and introduces his daughter Sardoine/Sardine, who corresponds to Renwein. Augier is worried because his gods tell him that the man who kill him as already been born. Sardoine reassures her father, and then writes a love letter to Vortigern(Veritgier) with whom she already knows.
After the death of King Constantine, mourning for his wife Ivory, and after the crowning of Constantine’s son Ivoines, who corresponds to the monk king in other accounts, Vortigern removes to Little Britain where he stays in the castle of Sausepierre in Saxony. Learning that Vortigern is there, Sardoine disguises herself as a squire, comes to the castle, is recognized by Vortigern, and they spend three days together in great joy.
Meanwhile, Augier has again invaded Britain, but is defeated by King Ivoines without Vortigern’s help. When Vortigern returns, he reveals to his seneschal Ultius that he would like to become King of Britain in place of Ivoines, and that if he could marry Sardoine, he might also become King of Saxony. Vortigern reveals his plan to King Loth of Orcanie, but Loth is faithful to Ivoines and, instead, encourages Ivoines to stand up to his nobles.
Vortigern, in fear, plans to disguise himself as an old woman and flee to Sardoine for help.
Here the first draft ends and the later drafts make no mention off either Vortigern or Sardoine.
The Poisoning of VortimerEdit
The Historia Brittonum mentions only that Vortimer died soon after he had driven off the Saxons. That no violence is mentioned implies that this was not death in a war or a death of violence. Henry of Huntington in his Historia anglorum says that Vortimer died of illness.
Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae tells that Renwein became envious of Vortimer’s virtuous behavior. This evil stepmother brewed up a poison and gave it to Vortimer through the agency of a bribed servant. Wace tells the same story.
Lawman relates a longer tale. Renwein, hating Vortimer who has driven her father Hengist out of the land, disembles by sendng him rich presents and beseeching him to allow her to remain in Britain with her husband Vortigern. Vortimer suggests that Renwein ought to become Christian, and she consents, riding to Vortimer and saying she will be Christened on whatever day he chooses. During the Christening festival, she takes a bowl of wine and presents it to Vortimer, all the while declaring her joy. But after drinking her portion of wine from the bowl, Renwein secretly drops into it a poison from a phial concealed beneath her breasts. Vortimer, suspecting nothing, drinks the poisoned wine.
Then Renwein quickly flees to Thongcaster with her folk, declaring to Vortigern, who is there, that Vortimer, his son, is planning to besiege them, which Vortigern believes.
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Vita Merlini, in a dialog between Merlin and Taliesin, has Merlin recall:
But Hengist’s sister, Ruena, seeing with indignation these successes, and protected by deceit, mixed poison, becoming on her brother’s account a malignant step-mother, and she gave it to Vortimer to drink, and killed him by the draught. At once she sent across the water to her brother to tell him to come back with so many and such great multitudes that he would be able to conquer the warlike natives.The Vita Merlini is the only extant medieval work in which Renwein is Hengist’s sister rather than his daughter.
Some Name VariationsEdit
LATIN: Renwein, Renwen, Roawen, Rowen, Rouwein, Ronwen, Ronven, Romwenna, Rowena, Renua; FRENCH:Rovent, Roven, Rowens, Sard(o)ine; ENGLISH: Rouwenne, Rouuenne, Rouenne, Rouwen, Reowen, Rouwen, Rowenne, Rowen, Rowenne; WELSH: Ronwen, Ronnỽen, Rhonwen.