‘The Cloak of Kings’ Beards’ is taken from the manuscripts of Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams, 1747-1826), and is retold by Rob Mimpriss.
While other versions of the legend of Rhitta the Giant exist, this one reflects Iolo Morganwg’s Welsh nationalist and internationalist values in its concluding prayer for the peace and unity of the European continent. Only minor changes are made to tighten the story and to simplify its geographical references.
The Cloak of Kings’ Beards
There were once two kings on the Island of Britain whose names were Nynniaw and Peibiaw. One bright, star-lit night these kings went walking in the fields, and Nynniaw said, ‘See what a rich and beautiful field is mine.’
‘What field is that?’ asked Peibiaw, and Nynniaw replied: ‘The night sky.’
‘Then see,’ said Peibiaw, ‘the flocks and herds grazing the night sky, for all of them are mine.’
‘What flocks and herds are these?’ asked Nynniaw, and Peibiaw replied:
‘All the stars you see: a blazing fire, each one; and the moon standing guard over them is their shepherd.’
Nynniaw said, ‘They shall have no pasture in any field of mine.’
‘They shall graze their fill,’ said Peibiaw.
‘They shall not graze at all,’ said Nynniaw. Thus each king contradicted the other, until there was a blazing row between them, and the row grew into a deadly war, and the hosts and realms of each were all but laid waste in the fighting.
The King of Wales, Rhitta the Giant, heard about the the carnage wrought by those foolish kings, and resolved to mount an expedition against them. And with the support of his army and the consent of his people, he arose and marched against those kings in their pride and rage and pillage, vanquished them, and broke their swords. But when the twenty-eight remaining kings of Britain heard what he had done, they mustered their armies to avenge the disgrace that Nynniaw and Peibiaw had suffered. They advanced, attacking Rhitta the Giant and his men, but although they fought bravely, Rhitta and his army took the field. ‘This is my fair and ample field,’ said Rhitta, and he and his men cut off the beards of Nynniaw and Peibiaw and all those other kings.
The kings of France and Spain and Ireland heard what he had done, and they also took arms to avenge the humiliation of the British kings. Again there was fierce combat, but Rhitta and his men won the field unscathed, and shaved the beards of these kings also. ‘These are the livestock that grazed my field,’ said Rhitta, ‘and I have driven them all away: they shall have no pasture here.’
Then, with the beards of the kings he had shaved, Rhitta made himself a cloak which covered him from head to toe, and he was twice the size of the largest man ever seen. And by his victory, law and order, wisdom and righteousness were established between princes and their rivals, peoples and their neighbours, throughout the British Isles and even the whole of Europe. So may this peace endure over rulers like those foolish kings, lest they wage war again without need or cause; and may it always be so.