Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd (Gwenllian, daughter of Gruffydd, c. 1100 –
Princess consort of
Deheubarth in Wales, and married to
Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth. Gwenllian was the daughter of
Gruffudd ap Cynan
Gruffudd ap Cynan (1055–1137),
Prince of Gwynedd
Prince of Gwynedd and Angharad ferch
Owain, and a member of the princely
Aberffraw family of Gwynedd.
Gwenllian's "patriotic revolt" and subsequent death in battle at
Kidwelly Castle contributed to the Great Revolt of 1136.
There are several notable artistic depictions of Gwenllian, often
depicting her with a sword in hand, or riding a chariot into battle in
the style of Boudicca. She is sometimes confused with Gwenllian ferch
Llywelyn, who lived two centuries later.
1 Early life
2 Great Revolt 1136
4 Authorship of the Mabinogi
Gwenllian was the youngest daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, Prince of
Gwynedd, and his wife, Angharad. She was born on Ynys Môn at the
family seat at Aberffraw, and was the youngest of eight children; four
older sisters: Mared, Rhiannell, Susanna, and Annest, and three older
brothers: Cadwallon, Owain and Cadwaladr. She was the
great-great-great-granddaughter of Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig, High
King of Ireland.
Gwenllian grew to be strikingly beautiful. After Gruffydd ap Rhys, the
Prince of Deheubarth, ventured to
Gwynedd around 1113 to meet her
father, Gwenllian and Deheubarth's prince became romantically involved
and eloped. Gwenllian and Gruffydd had the following children:
Morgan ap Gruffydd (c. 1116,
Carmarthenshire – 1136)
Maelgwyn ap Gruffydd (c. 1119,
Carmarthenshire – 1136?)
Rhys "Fychan" ap Gruffydd (c. 1132, Dynevor Castle, Llandeilo,
Carmarthenshire – after 24 April 1197)
Gwenllian joined her husband at his family seat of Dinefwr in
Deheubarth was struggling against the Norman invasion in
South Wales, with Norman, English, and Flemish colonists in footholds
throughout the country. While the conflict between the
Normans and the
Welsh continued, the princely family were often displaced, with
Gwenllian joining her husband in mountainous and forested
strongholds. From here, she and
Gruffydd ap Rhys led retalitory
strikes, aka "lightning raids" against Norman-held positions in
Great Revolt 1136
See also: Wales and the Normans: 1067–1283
By 1136 an opportunity arose for the Welsh to recover lands lost to
Marcher Lords when Stephen de Blois displaced his cousin, Empress
Matilda, from succeeding her father to the English throne the year
prior, sparking the Anarchy in England. The usurpation and
conflict it caused eroded central authority in England. The revolt
began in South Wales, as Hywel ap Maredudd, Lord of Brycheiniog
(Brecknockshire), gathered his men and marched to Gower, defeating the
Norman and English colonists there at the Battle of Llwchwr.
Inspired by Hywel of Brycheiniog's success,
Gruffydd ap Rhys hastened
to meet with
Gruffudd ap Cynan
Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, his father-in-law, to
enlist his aid in the revolt.
While her husband was in
Gwynedd seeking an alliance with her father
against the Normans, Maurice of London and other
Normans led raids
against Deheubarth's Welsh and Gwenllian was compelled to raise an
army for their defence. In a battle fought near Kidwelly
Castle, Gwenllian's army was routed, she was captured in battle and
beheaded by the Normans. In the battle her son Morgan was also
slain and another son, Maelgwyn captured and executed.
Though defeated, her patriotic revolt inspired others in South Wales
to rise. The Welsh of Gwent, led by Iowerth ab Owain (grandson of
Caradog ap Gruffydd, Gwent's Welsh ruler displaced by the Norman
invasions), ambushed and slew Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, the
Norman lord who controlled Ceredigion.
When word reached
Gwynedd of Gwenllian's death and the revolt in
Gwent, Gwenllian's brothers Owain and Cadwaladr invaded Norman
controlled Ceredigion, taking Llanfihangel, Aberystwyth, and
Gwenllian's actions can be compared to another Celtic leader: Boadicea
(Buddug). This is the only known example of a medieval period woman
leading a Welsh army into battle. The field where the battle is
believed to have taken place, close to
Kidwelly Castle and north of
the town, is known as Maes Gwenllian (Welsh: Field of Gwenllian). A
spring in the field is also named after her, supposedly welling up on
the spot where she died.
For centuries after her death, Welshmen cried-out Revenge for
Gwenllian when engaging in battle. Gwenllian and her husband also
harassed Norman, English, and Flemish colonists in Deheubarth, taking
goods and money and redistributed them among the
Deheubarth Welsh who
were themselves dispossessed by those colonizers, like a pair of
"Robin Hoods of Wales", as historian and author Philip Warner
Gwenllian's youngest son went on to become a notable leader of
Deheubarth, The Lord Rhys.
Authorship of the Mabinogi
Dr Andrew Breeze has argued that Gwenllian could have been the author
of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.
16. Idwal ap Meurig ap Idwal Foel
8. Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig
4. Cynan ab Iago
2. Gruffudd ap Cynan
20. Sigtrygg Silkbeard
10. Amlaíb mac Sitriuc
21. Sláine daughter of Brian Boru
5. Ragnhilda of Ireland
1. Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd
24. Einion ab Owain
12. Edwin ab Einion
6. Owain ab Edwin
3. Angharad ferch Owain
Davies, John (1994). A History of Wales. New York: Penguin.
Lloyd, J.E (2004). A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the
Edwardian Conquest. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.
Lloyd, J.E (1935). A History of Carmarthenshire. Cardiff.
Warner, Philip (1997). Famous Welsh Battles. New York: Barnes &
Noble Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7607-0466-X.
Spring, Helen (2010). Memories of the Curlew. United Kingdom:
youwriteon,. ISBN 978-1-84923-490-0.
^ a b Gwenllian verch Gruffydd (1085–1136) – Mathematical.com.
Accessed 19 April 2013.
Brian Boru ->
Sláine ingen Briain -> Óláfr Sigtryggsson
-> Ragnhilda Olafsdottir -> Gruffydd ap Cynan -> Gwenllian
^ a b c d e f Warner, Philip. Famous Welsh Battles, pg 79. 1997.
Barnes and Noble, Inc.
^ a b c d e f g h i Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman
Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing,
Inc. 2004. pp. 80, 82–85.
^ Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, p. 124
Kidwelly Castle by C.A. Ralegh Radford
Kidwelly Castle by C.A. Ralegh Radford: "The account speaks of
Maurice de Londres, Lord of Kidwelly, and Geoffrey, Constable of the
Bishop, as leaders of the Norman army. Maurice, who is mentioned for
the first time in connection with this district, already possessed
Ogmore in Glamorgan, where his father William de Londres appears to
have been one of the original conquerors. The coupling of the two
names suggests that Roger of Salisbury, while retaining possession of
the castle, had granted the lordship of the district to Maurice de
Londres, who probably acquired the castle also when the bishop died in
the following year."
^ McCarthy, James. "Experts clash over theory of female author of
Mabinogion", Western Mail, 6 July 2009