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Riderch Hael, King of Strathclyde
(c.532-612)
(Welsh: Rhodri; Latin: Rodericus; English: Roderick)

King Tutgual Tutclyd of Strathclyde's son, possibly the eldest. Called Hen, "the Old" in Wales, but Hael, "the Generous" in Strathclyde, Riderch was one of the great British leaders of the North who made a concerted push against both invaders and internal dissidents. He was an insecure King with many enemies, yet he managed to rule Strathclyde for several decades. Chief amongst his foes were Morcant, probably his brother King Morcant Mwynfawr, and his ally, Aedan mac Gabhran, King of Scottish Dalriada. Early in Riderch's reign, these two conspired to expel him from the kingdom. Aedan torched the capital, Caer-Alclud, leaving "neither food nor drink nor beast alive". Other centres, like Caer-Riderch (Carrutherstown), also fell and Riderch was forced to flee to Ireland.

Riderch was baptised a Christian while sojourning in the Emerald Isle and, upon his triumphant return, he wished to have his people evangelized. He called St. Kentigern (or Mungo as he was affectionately called) to his court and he established the first See of Strathclyde at Glasgow. The saint became a close confidant of the King's wife, Languoreth, whom he cured of her barrenness. She subsequently produced a large family of several daughters as well as Prince Constantine, the heir of Strathclyde.

There is an old story, similar to that told of the wife of King Maelgwn Gwynedd, that this queen was once unfaithful to King Riderch and gave away, to her lover, a ring that had been a present from her husband. While walking by the Clyde, the King came across this young man sleeping on the riverbank. He immediately recognised his wife's ring and, tearing it from the gigolo's finger, he flung it into the river. Later that day, he insisted that his wife produce the ring as a sign of her fidelity. Languoreth was distraught and turned to St. Kentigern for help. The two prayed together and, at that very moment, the queen's servants, who were fishing for dinner, caught a large Salmon in the Clyde. In its mouth, they found the ring! Riderch's command was thus satisfied and he was obliged to accept his wife's innocence.

During the AD 560s, Riderch allied himself with his cousins, Nudd and Morfael Hael, as well as Clydno Eityn of Din-Eityn, in order to invade Gwynedd in revenge for the killing of another cousin, Elidyr Mwynfawr. They devastated the country around Caer-Segeint (Caernarfon) but were eventually driven out by King Rhun Hir. Riderch's reputation as a 'bright and splendid hero' had begun to take shape. By AD 573, a dispute had arisen with his unwanted neighbour, King Gwenddoleu of Caer-Wenddoleu, over the township of Caer-Laverock. As the latter was an ally of Aidan mac Gabhran, an ideal opportunity for revenge had presented itself. With his new partners, Kings Peredur and Gwrgi of Ebrauc (York), moving up from the south, Riderch was able to attack his enemies in a pincer movement. The armies clashed at Arderydd (Arthuret), Gwenddoleu was killed and his troops crushed. It was after this famous battle that Myrddin - the original of Merlin the Magician - first appeared at Riderch's Court. His sister, Gwenddydd, whom the King had by this time married, rescued him from a mad screaming frenzy in the Caledonian Forest and brought him to the safety of Caer-Alclud.

In the latter years of his reign, Riderch became well known for rallying the Northern British forces against the Saxon invaders, particularly the forces of King Hussa of Bernicia.

King Riderch had once asked St. Columcille (Columba), one of his many friends in the Church, if he would be killed by his enemies. Columcille prophesied that he would "die at home on his pillow"; and so he did, around AD 612. Welsh legend has him buried at Aberech on the Llyn Peninsula, perhaps under the cromlech at Y Ffor (Four Crosses). Glasgow Cathedral would seem a much more likely spot. Riderch was succeeded by his son, Constantine.

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.