"Let us kill some of the pups, and smear Rhiannon's face and hands with the blood, and throw the bones beside her, and swear that she herself destroyed her son."
Illustration of Rhiannon riding at Arberth from 'The Mabinogion' (1877) - trans: Charlotte Guest - Credit: unknown
Rhiannon’s story may be seen as an illustration of the ‘Calumniated
Wife Theme’ (sometimes known as ‘The Constance Theme’ after the character Constance in Chaucer’s 'Lawyer’s Tale'
), which can be found in the folklore of many different cultures. The general theme is the persecution and rejection of a wife who is often an outsider to the community she has married into. A common feature of the theme sees the wife being accused of murdering and eating her own children, and this seems to be what is being suggested in the case of Rhiannon. In the 'Second Branch', we see another version of the calumniated wife theme in the punishing of Branwen following her marriage to Matholwch.
An article by Juliette Wood entitled, 'The Calumniated Wife in Medieval Welsh Literature' appears in the book The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays (edited by Charles William Sullivan),
An e-version of the article may be found here.