Born in 1097 in Aberffraw Castle in northwestern Wales, Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd ap Cynan was always destined for great things. As daughter to one of Gwynedd’s greatest warriors she grew up strong and passionate — more than a match for her older brothers.
At sixteen Gwenllian’s life changed forever when she fell in love with Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys, the beleaguered heir to Rhys ap Tewdur of Deheubarth. Together husband and wife fought for and ruled southern Wales, challenging the Norman Conquest of Wales and proving once and for all the nobility and courage of the Welsh people, a courage that endures across the centuries and lives in the heart of every Welsh man, woman, and child.
Includes an extensive timeline covering over 400 years of Welsh and English medieval history.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The inspiring tale of Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd is the stuff of legends across Wales where she is referred to as the Welsh Maid Marion, the Welsh Braveheart, and the Welsh Boudicca. To this day you will hear Welsh patriots cry out "revenge for Gwenllian," a reference to her death in February 1136 at English hands.
But is the real Gwenllian of these legends historical? And why is Gwenllian's name evoked by those seeking Welsh independence? How did centuries long conflicts between Welsh and English begin, conflicts that continue to simmer in British politics today?
These were important questions underlying my research into Gwenllian's fascinating life, research that forced me to look at medieval history from a completely new perspective, to go beyond the memorized dates and stories of William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings, and the Norman Conquest (always taught as if it only happened to England) to find a completely different medieval world than the one taught to me in school from fifth grade through university.
It is a fascinating journey and one I sincerely hope you will take with me, the ultimate escape into a hidden medieval world of myth, mystery, and romance.
Several weeks later two heavily cloaked and hooded men rode silently to the gates of Aberffraw Castle, its wind polished stones wet with light rain. As the horses gently cantered into the centre courtyard a mother duck quacked to the five young ducklings following her. A rooster crowed to his hens as he strutted near the horses. A groom met the men and held the reins for them as they dismounted before leading the tired and hungry horses to King Gruffydd ap Cynan’s stables. Pulling the hoods off their faces the young men finally relaxed. They were safe at last.
“Noswaith dda, f'arglwydd,” bowed Prince Gruffydd Ap Rhys, his short brown hair still damp from the bath he and his brother Hywel took upon their arrival.
King Gruffydd smiled at the young men, “Noswaith dda! I am glad to see you safe in my castle at last.”
Prince Hywel bowed to the king, “We are most grateful for your protection, my lord.”
“Your father was a good friend, Hywel. He was noble and kind. He loved this land and loved freedom as a prince of Wales ought to,” affirmed King Gruffydd.
“We are most grateful you were able to continue resisting King William Rufus’ invasions in our absence,” added Prince Gruffydd.
“We are neighbours, Deheubarth and Gwynedd. We must work together to remain free.”
“Team work is not in our blood, my lord. Though it cost us our freedom it has never been our strength. Even at the height of our liberty –before the Romans came and massacred the druid teachers—we could not manage to put aside our differences for the common defence of our lands. Is not this castle built where the legends say the druids fought to keep us free?” asked Prince Gruffydd.
“If not this spot, then very near,” confirmed King Gruffydd. “Sometimes we find something—a bowl, a cup, a pitcher—from that time.
“I am not saying that unity is easy for us; only that we must work together. To that aim I will do anything within my power to help you.”
Hywel shuffled closer to the king, the agony of his injuries flashing across his face against his will, “You are not afraid of King Henry?”
King Gruffydd picked up his cup and motioned for a steward to hand Prince Gruffydd and Prince Hywel cups of wine, “I am of three royal houses; I fear only slavery. Death in battle is nothing to me, as long as I die with honour like your father.” The king raised his cup high, “To King Rhys ap Tewder! God rest his soul!”
“GOD REST HIS SOUL,” echoed the sons of King Rhys.
That night Hywel came to his brother’s chamber as both readied for bed, a small lamp in his hand, “Gruffydd, do you really think we can trust this king of Gwynedd to keep us safe from the English?”
“Our father trusted him. We trusted him while he lived.”
“That was before the English killed Gronwy in prison and before they tortured and maimed me. I may never recover from these wounds, Gruffydd.”
Gruffydd poured himself a cup of water and took a sip, “I know. I wish I could do more to help your agony.”
“I am a prince of Deheubarth; I can manage.”
“So you are,” agreed Gruffydd.
“Did you hear the gossip from the servants?”
“They say our sister tried on King Gruffydd what she used to do with the English king—only Gruffydd rebuffed her and turned her away.”
“Nest is her own woman.”
“But must she behave so disgracefully?”
“Hywel, surely you understand that neither the Normans nor the English honour and respect women like we Welsh do. Their common law is different than our common law; it’s more patriarchal; women have fewer rights among the English than they do among us. Nest is using the tools she possesses. In her own way, she is fighting them too.”
“Four years as King Henry’s mistress hardly seems like fighting the English,” scoffed Hywel.
“To survive Nest must tread very carefully Hywel. Would you prefer she die at English hands?”
“An honourable princess of Deheubarth would do nothing less, Gruffydd.”
“Yes—death is easy. Cooperation is far more difficult. It does not matter if the compromise is with a friend or a foe. We always prefer to die.”
Three nights later Prince Gruffydd found himself unable to sleep. Dressing himself in the dark he put on his warmest cloak and headed into the main courtyard for some fresh air.
The sky above him glistened with stars that seemed especially bright after the storm that greeted him before. In the starlight stood a lady with red hair neatly braided down her back and covered only with a simple circlet. Gruffydd approached her, “Noswaith dda, f’arglwyddes.”
The lady turned to him, “Noswaith dda, f'arglwydd.”
“You do not cover your hair like most ladies do,” observed Gruffydd.
“Cymraes ydw i. I have no need for English fashions.”
“They say even the great ladies in Scotland wear the veil.”
“The nobles of Scotland care more about money than they do honour. The Normans bought them. You cannot buy me.”
“Spoken like a true lady of this land,” smiled Gruffydd.
“Aberffraw is my home. I need no other.”
“Well said, f’arglwyddes.” Gruffydd took a step closer to her, “May I beg your indulgence and inquire of your name?”
“Gwenllian ydw i,” she smiled. “Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd ap Cynan.”
Gruffydd fell to his knees, “F’arglwyddes!”
“Gruffydd ap Rhys ydych chi?” asked Gwenllian.
“Ydw. How long have you known my name, Your Highness?”
“It is not hard to guess who you are, Gruffydd. And since your brother’s gait is impaired by his injuries it is only logical that you would be the heir to Rhys ap Tewder’s throne.”
“The English are a cruel enemy to fight,” affirmed Gruffydd.
“Do you think I know nothing of warfare? My mother is a daughter of the king of Dublin. My father has fought his entire life to free Gwynedd from English control. Do you think only my brother Owain studies the arts of war? Nay, my lord. I am Welsh, not some Norman lady who lives to breed at her father and husband’s pleasure. When it is time for me to marry it shall be of my own choosing!”
“Of that I have no doubt, Your Highness.”
“Why do you call me that?”
“Why not? You are a princess and if I may be so bold, a very beautiful young woman.”
“Perhaps it is the starlight. Perhaps in the light of day you will think otherwise.”
“I am willing to find out. Are you willing to let me see you by daylight?”
“Before or after you touch me as King Henry touched your sister?” asked Gwenllian astutely.
“I swear to you my lady I shall not touch you in such a manner short of binding myself to you in accord with the laws and customs of this land.”
“So be it then,” agreed Gwenllian as she turned to return inside.
“May I see you another time? By daylight or starlight or candle? I care not how I see you, my lady. Please, I ask you, may I see you again?”
“You are our guest. If it pleases you for me to join you when you dine, you need only ask my father and I will come.”
Born, raised, and educated in Lincoln, Nebraska USA Laurel A. Rockefeller is author of over twenty books published and self-published since August, 2012 and in languages ranging from Welsh to Spanish to Chinese and everything in between. A dedicated scholar and biographical historian, Ms. Rockefeller is passionate about education and improving history literacy worldwide.
With her easy to understand fireside storytelling style, Laurel A. Rockefeller is the historian for people who do not like history.
In her spare time, Laurel enjoys spending time with her cockatiels, attending living history activities, travelling to historic places in both the United States and United Kingdom, and watching classic motion pictures and television series.
Wedi ei geni, ei magu a’i haddysgu yn Lincoln, Nebraska yn UDA, mae Laurel A. Rockefeller yn awdur gyda thros ugain o lyfrau wedi’u cyhoeddi a’u hunan gyhoeddi ers Awst 2012. Yn hanesydd ac ysgolhaig ymroddedig, mae Ms. Rockefeller yn angerddol dros addysg a gwella llythrennedd hanes ledled y byd.
Gydag arddull adrodd stori sy’n hawdd iawn i’w ddeall, Laurel A. Rockefeller yw’r hanesydd ar gyfer pobl nad ydynt yn hoffi hanes.
Yn ei hamser rhydd, mae Laurel yn mwynhau treulio amser gyda’i pharotiaid copog, mynychu gweithgareddau hanes byw, teithio i lefydd hanesyddol yn yr Unol Daleithiau a’r Deyrnas Unedig, a gwylio ffilmiau a chyfresi teledu clasurol.
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