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Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd

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Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd
Princess consort of Deheubarth
Bornc. 1097
Aberffraw, Anglesey (Ynys Môn), Kingdom of Gwynedd
Died1136 (aged 38–39)
Kidwelly Castle, Kidwelly (Cydweli), Wales
SpouseGruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth
IssueMorgan ap Gruffydd
Maelgwyn ap Gruffydd
Gwladus ferch Gruffydd
Nest ferch Gruffydd
Owain ap Gruffydd
Maredudd ap Gruffydd
Rhys ap Gruffydd
Sion ap Gruffydd
FatherGruffudd ap Cynan
MotherAngharad ferch Owain

Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd (audio) (Gwenllian, daughter of Gruffydd; c. 1097 – 1136) was a 12th century Welsh rebel and Princess consort of Deheubarth. The daughter of Prince of Gwynedd Gruffudd ap Cynan and member of the House of Aberffraw, she married Gruffydd ap Rhys, the Prince of Deheubarth, and would lead a "patriotic revolt" with him during the Great Revolt of 1136 until her death at the battle at Kidwelly Castle.

Her death would serve as a rallying cry for Welsh rebels, and she became a symbol of Welsh independence. 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.

Early life[edit]

Gwenllian was the youngest daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, Prince of Gwynedd, and his wife, Angharad. She was born on Ynys Môn (now also known as Anglesey) 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[1] and Cadwaladr. She was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig, High King of Ireland.[2]

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.[3] She married Gruffydd ap Rhys shortly after 1116.[4] Gwenllian and Gruffydd had the following children:[1]

  • Morgan ap Gruffydd (c. 1116, Carmarthenshire – 1136)
  • Maelgwyn ap Gruffydd (c. 1119, Carmarthenshire – 1136)
  • Gwladus ferch Gruffydd (between 1120 and 1130, Carmarthenshire - after 25 July 1175)[5][6][7]
  • Nest ferch Gruffydd (between 1120 and 1130, Carmarthenshire - after 25 July 1175)
  • Owain ap Gruffydd (c. 1126, Carmarthenshire - after 1155)[8]
  • Maredudd ap Gruffydd (c. 1130/1, Carmarthenshire – 1155)[9]
  • Rhys "Fychan" ap Gruffydd (c. 1132, Dynevor Castle, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire – after 24 April 1197)[10]
  • Sion ap Gruffydd (c. 1134, Carmarthenshire - after 1155)[8]

Gwenllian joined her husband at his family seat of Dinefwr in Deheubarth. 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.[3] From here, she and Gruffydd ap Rhys led retaliatory strikes, aka "lightning raids" against Norman-held positions in Deheubarth.[3]

Great Revolt 1136[edit]

By 1136 an opportunity arose for the Welsh to recover lands lost to the 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.[11][12] The usurpation and conflict it caused eroded central authority in England.[11] The revolt began in South Wales, as Hywel ap Maredudd, Lord of Brycheiniog, gathered his men and marched to Gower, defeating a smaller Norman force there at the Battle of Llwchwr, killing 500 Normans.[3][11] Inspired by Hywel of Brycheiniog's success, Gruffydd ap Rhys hastened to meet with Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, his father-in-law, to enlist his aid in the revolt.[11]

While her husband was in Gwynedd seeking an alliance with her father against the Normans, Maurice de Londres and other Normans led raids against Deheubarth's Welsh and Gwenllian was compelled to raise an army for their defence.[11][13][14] In a battle fought near Kidwelly Castle, Gwenllian's army was routed, she was captured in battle and beheaded by the Normans.[11] 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.[11] The Welsh of Gwent, led by Iorwerth 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.[11]

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 Llanbadarn.[11]

Gwenllian's youngest son went on to become a notable leader of Deheubarth, The Lord Rhys.


Gwenllian's actions have been compared with those of another Celtic leader: Boadicea (Buddug). Gwenllian is also the only woman of the medieval period who is known to have led a Welsh army into battle. For centuries after her death, Welshmen cried-out 'Dial Achos Gwenllian' (Eng: Revenge for Gwenllian) when engaging in battle.[3] Gwenllian and her husband also attacked Norman, English, and Flemish colonists in Deheubarth, looting goods and money and redistributing them among the Deheubarth Welsh. These actions led historian and author Philip Warner to described Gwenlliann and her husband as a pair of "Robin Hoods of Wales".[3]

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. The field is said to be haunted by her headless ghost.[15]

Dr Andrew Breeze has argued that Gwenllian could have been the author of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.[16]


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. ISBN 0-14-014581-8.
  • Lloyd, J.E. (2004). A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest. New York: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-7607-5241-9.
  • Lloyd, J.E. (1935). A History of Carmarthenshire. Cardiff.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • 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.
  • Rockefeller, Laurel A (2015). Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd: The Warrior Princess of Deheubarth. CreateSpace Publishing.


  1. ^ a b Gwenllian verch Gruffydd (1085–1136) – Mathematical.com. Accessed 19 April 2013.
  2. ^ Brian Boru -> Sláine ingen Briain -> Óláfr Sigtryggsson -> Ragnhilda Olafsdottir -> Gruffydd ap Cynan -> Gwenllian verch Gruffyd
  3. ^ a b c d e f Warner, Philip. Famous Welsh Battles, pg 79. 1997. Barnes and Noble, Inc.
  4. ^ Pierce, T. J., (1959). GWENLLIAN (died 1136),. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 10 Aug 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s-GWEN-FER-1100.
  5. ^ Pierce, T. J., (1959). GWENLLIAN (died 1136). Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 4 Jan 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s-GWEN-FER-1100
  6. ^ Pierce, T. J., (1959). GRUFFYDD ap RHYS (c. 1090 - 1137), prince of Deheubarth. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 10 Aug 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s-GRUF-APR-1090.
  7. ^ Lewis, Anna. WalesOnline. The untold story of Wales' Joan of Arc - the sword-wielding heroine you've probably never heard of. 1 May 2019, (https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/gwenllian-ferch-gruffydd-wales-boudica-16147944). (author states: “By the year 1130 the prince and princess had also welcomed twin daughters Nest and Gwladus.”).
  8. ^ a b Cadw (Llywodraeth Cymru Welsh Government), April 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2020, from https://cadw.gov.wales/sites/default/files/2019-04/20140916gwenlliancardsen.pdf.
  9. ^ Pierce, T. J., (1959). MAREDUDD ap GRUFFYDD ap RHYS (1130 or 1131 - 1155), prince of Deheubarth. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 24 Jan 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s-MARE-APG-1130
  10. ^ Pierce, T. J., (1959). RHYS ap GRUFFYDD (1132 - 1197), lord of Deheubarth, known in history as ‘Yr Arglwydd Rhys’ (‘The lord Rhys’).. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 24 Jan 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s-RHYS-APG-1132
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, p. 124
  13. ^ Kidwelly Castle by C. A. Ralegh Radford
  14. ^ From 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."
  15. ^ "The top 10 most terrifying ghosts and ghouls in all of Wales". Nation.Cymru. 31 October 2019. Retrieved 4 July 2024.
  16. ^ McCarthy, James. "Experts clash over theory of female author of Mabinogion", Western Mail, 6 July 2009