Making Medieval History: Gwenllian and Matilda
The Norman Conquest. When most people hear those words the 15th of October battle of 1066 between William Duke of Normandy and King Harold Godwinson immediately comes to mind. But the Norman Conquest did not stop with 1066; it encompassed the entire Angevin dynasty as William and his family worked to not only secure the English throne but conquer the entire British islands. In 1067 William began work on the first of a ring of castles designed to force both north and south Welsh kings and princes into submission.
These wars were not simply about territory. Welsh and English common laws treated marriage, inheritance, and women’s rights in particular completely differently. It was a culture war with high stakes for the Welsh whose secular approach to laws governing marriage, inheritance, and women’s rights clashed with the papal supported Norman style of government. Enter in William I’s youngest son Henry. A shrewd politician, William had himself crowned just hours after the hunting “accident” that claimed the life of his hated homosexual brother, King William Rufus. Within weeks of his coronation King Henry married the half-Saxon Princess Edith Matilda of Scotland while simultaneously taking to his bed Welsh Princess Nest ferch Rhys of Deheubarth. The move gave him a male heir under Welsh law born just weeks after his queen gave him his strong-willed daughter, Matilda.
Ten years later Nest’s brothers returned to Wales after suffering imprisonment and exile in their efforts to keep south Wales free from Norman control. In 1113 Nest petitioned the mighty King Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd for sanctuary for her brothers. There, in the king’s mighty castle in Aberffraw, Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys met the king’s feisty daughter, the beautiful Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd. A romance quickly blossomed. Two years later the couple married, making her aunt to King Henry’s son by Princess Nest. Gwenllian moved to Dinefwr Castle to rule as Deheubarth’s co-sovereign princess.
Meanwhile in England, King Henry’s need for alliances sent Princess Matilda to Germany to wed the much older Kaiser Heinrich V. Upon coming of marriageable age, Matilda was crowned Empress (German: Kaiserin; Latin: Imperatrix) of the Romans, a title she would use long after Heinrich’s death in 1125 from cancer. Now a childless widow, King Henry recalled Empress Matilda to England, quickly marrying her off to the count of Anjou, Geoffrey Plantagenet, a man whose own sexual conquests gave him a daughter, Emme, who in turn married Gwenllian’s nephew Dafydd ap Owain ap Gruffydd.
Though Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd and Matilda of England never met, blood, marriages, and history entwined their lives. Gwenllian’s descendants continued after the English conquest of Wales as House Dinefwr while Matilda’s ruled as the Plantagenets. In 1457 these bloodlines converged through Margaret Beaufort (Plantagenet) and Edmund Tudor (Dinefwr). Their son Henry defeated King Richard III to found the Tudor dynasty as King Henry VII of England.
Both directly and indirectly Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd and Empress Matilda of England transformed our world. Discover their stories today!
Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd: The Warrior Princess of Deheubarth by Laurel A. Rockefeller
Queen Elizabeth Tudor’s Heroic Welsh Foremother! Born in 1097 in Aberffraw Castle, 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 English and Welsh medieval history.
Top customer reviews
The story excels in portraying the world of Wales during the 1100’s. Simple descriptions about the daily life, the surrounding regions and annual celebrations ground the reader in the time period. Rockefeller also keeps the reader grounded in understanding how the shifting politics throughout the region and in London in particular impacted the Welsh. The most shocking part of the story was the betrayal Gwenllian faced.
Rockefeller’s love of the Welsh language is evident throughout the book. The use of the Welsh names and locations added to the authenticity of the story. However, beyond names and locations, the use of the old language caused confusion for me. Gwenllian frech Gruffydd’s native tongue is frequently interspersed throughout conversations. At one point Gwenllian sings a song while playing the harp, and the song is written entirely in her native language. A typical reader will find this incomprehensible.
The story is brief and lingers longest on the battle and events leading up to Gwenllian frech Gruffydd’s death. She was a heroic fighter and through Rockefeller’s portrayal is it easy to see why the Welsh cried her name into battle for centuries to follow. The ending of the story beautifully nods to the lineage that followed Gwenllian frech Gruffydd and muses what her option on it must be. “Surely in some place beyond this physical world, Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, the warrior princess of Deheubarth watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth Tudor, a woman born of her blood and legacy, and smiled.”
After the story there is a timeline of Welsh history from 844 to 1282 and an extensive suggested reading bibliography that provides a wealth of information for those looking to research the topic further. The timeline was thorough and interesting. In future installments in this series, I would love to see the selected events spaced along a horizontal line. Images of Wales and any remaining structures from the story, as well as artistic renderings of the individuals discussed would also be a welcome addition to the story.
Princess Gwenllian was a woman ahead of her time. Proud, courageous and a warrior, this woman learned to protect her people early on. At sixteen she fell in love with Prince Gruffydd. Together they ruled and fought for Southern Wales. Right to the bitter end, Princess Gwenllian proved just how strong she was.
Well written, interesting and informative. This book is a quick read but well worth the time. For those history buffs, it will transport you to a time and place where strong women were not the norm. I was amazed and delighted to discover the character of this Princess. Give it a read and I know you’ll enjoy it.
I found no issues.
I gave this one 5 cheers out of 5 because it introduced me to someone I’d never heard of.
Empress Matilda of England by Laurel A. Rockefeller
Born in 1102 to King Henry of England and Queen Matilda of Scotland, Matilda’s uniquely royal Norman, Saxon, and Scottish heritage was meant to unify an England still divided by her grandfather’s conquest in 1066. When the 1120 White Ship Disaster made her the only surviving child of her parents, Matilda suddenly became heiress to the English throne in a time when the old Saxon Witan, not the king’s Will, still decided the succession.
Discover the true story of the first woman to claim the throne of England in her own right and be inspired!
Includes Matilda’s family tree, a detailed timeline, and a suggested reading list so you can keep learning.
About the Author: Laurel A. Rockefeller
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 classic television series.