So, back to kingship with Gereint. In the Welsh version he accompanies Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) when Arthur and his knights are out hunting. A knight and his dwarf servant insult the queen, and she orders Gereint to follow him. He does and gets lodging from an old man along with a suit of armor and a sword. He goes on to defeat the knight who had insulted Gwenhwyfar. As it turns out, his benefactor used to be the ruler of the area and he has a daughter – Enide. Naturally, Gereint marries Enide and becomes king.
Read the story, the Welsh or the French version, and you won’t be all that impressed. The romance even uses that part as the preliminary for the real story, of how the king shows how he can be in love and be a good knight at the same time. But the first part is the original story. There is a trial by sword, the girl, and the kingship that comes with her just as in Owain. The woman is again the key, the symbol of sovereignty. She lives in a dirty old hovel until the proper king shows up. Once he has proven himself she becomes one of the most beautiful women around.
The same sort of thing shows up with Peredur (Perceval). A Red Knight appears at Arthur’s court just before he does and insults the queen by spilling her cup. Peredur defeats the knight and restores her honor but leaves immediately. Peredur will eventually take a wife and become a king.
The incident with the Red Knight and the cup is found in Chrétien (But not the marriage of course. We in the west think you have to be a virgin to be holy). The cup, like the queen, is a symbol of kingship. In an old Irish myth, the sovereignty of Ireland can only give it to the rightful king. It works on a more local scale too. To take it or even to spill it is a direct attack on the king’s authority to rule.
The Red Knight is a little trickier. In Celtic myth, animals with red ears and/or feet are gateways to the Otherworld. In Arthurian romances, they are a gateway to adventures. And as we’ve already seen, adventures tend seem to gravitate toward kingship. Think of him as a vehicle to get the hero to his destiny. Apart from that you again have two kingship elements, the wife and the cup. Instead of blending them with a romance, though, they are mixed in with a quest. That’s the only reason the themes aren’t clean-cut here, too.
Once you can see how the British stories have a little bit more to them than a simple romance, you can appreciate them better. More importantly, you can appreciate the culture that made them more fully.