In the mid-twelfth century, a Welsh princess named Gwenllian led an army that included her two teenage sons Morgan and Maelgwyn, in the defense of her country from Anglo-Norman invaders. An unlikely scenario that no one might have envisioned for Gwenllian when she came into the world forty years earlier. Born on the island of Anglesey, just off the northwest coast of Wales, she was the youngest daughter of the half-Irish, half-Welsh prince of Gwynedd, Gruffydd ap Cynan. She was also a younger sister to Owain Gwynedd, who would become one of the most successful Welsh rulers.
|An artist's rendering of Gwenllian|
The nature of politics in Wales meant that the rulers of various principalities often found themselves divided; it would be several generations before the Welsh consented to leadership by one figurehead. In a rare instance of comradeship Gruffydd once formed an alliance with Prince Rhys of Deheubarth. Years later when Gwenllian was a teenager, Rhys' son, Gruffydd (yes, another one) sought a union with the north against their common adversaries. Gwenllian and the young prince of Deheubarth fell in love, eloped and had several children together. Increased fighting with the invaders mired their happiness and threatened to undo the relationship between Gwenllian's husband and father. Constantly on the run, Gwenllian settled into a meager existence, in which she and her husband raided settlements near the Marcher lord's castles.
Early in 1136, Gwenllian's husband rode north to encourage his father in-law to join in the uprisings against their foes. Later, Gwenllian received word that one of the Marcher lords, Maurice of London, was pillaging the homes of her countrymen. She raised her forces and advanced to a position just north of Kidwelly Castle, part of Maurice of London's domain. Welsh scouts reported that the enemy was far away, but they were proved wrong when mounted knights charged across the field. Gwenllian fought them, only to see one of her sons killed and the other wounded. In her desperation to protect him, she was captured. Maurice of London ordered her beheaded shortly afterward.
|Monument at Maes Gwenllian|
Although Gwenllian's valiant stand ended in defeat, the Welsh did not forget her bravery. Within months, her husband and her brother Owain allied in brutal attacks against the invaders; Gwenllian's remaining sons soon joined them. For centuries afterward, the Welsh adopted the battle cry, "Revenge for Gwenllian" to honor her sacrifice. The field where the battle took place became known as Maes Gwenllian.
Most recently, Gwenllian's life inspired my contribution to the HerStory anthology, the short story "The Legend Rises" which is available now from Pagan Writers' Press.
Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the medieval period. She is the author of historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers. Lisa has also written Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy, novels set during a turbulent period of thirteenth century Spain,where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family.