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Nest: The Helen of Wales

Above: Among her many lovers, Princess Nest attracted the attentions of King Henry I.

From the Cadw guidebook for Cilgerran Castle

Nest, the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr and wife of Gerald of Windsor, was renowned for her beauty. As a princess of Deheubarth she was a notable 'catch' for Gerald in his bid to establish himself more firmly in Dyfed. There were three sons from the union and a daughter, Angharad, who became, in turn, the mother of Gerald of Wales.

The abduction of Nest in 1109 from the castle of Cenarth Bychan by her second cousin, Owain ap Cadwgan, is fully documented in the medieval 'Chronicle of the Princes'. According to the chronicle, when

'Owain had heard that Nest was in the castle, he went with but a few men in his company to visit her as a kinswoman. And after that he came of a night to the castle and but few men with him, about fourteen, unknown to the keepers of the castle. And then he came to the chamber in which Gerald and Nest were sleeping. And they raised a shout around and about the chamber in which Gerald was, and kindled tapers and set fire to the buildings to burn them. And when he heard the shout, Gerald awoke, not knowing what to do. And then Nest said to him, "Go not out to the door, for thine enemies await thee, but follow me".

And that he did. And she led him to the privy which adjoined the chamber. And there, as is said, he escaped by way of the privy hole. And when Nest knew that he had escaped, she cried out from within and said to the men who were outside, "Why do you cry out in vain? He whom you seek is not here. He has escaped". And when they did not find them, they seized Nest and her two sons and her daughter and another son of his by a concubine, and they sacked and plundered the castle'.

It was not the first, nor the last, of Nest's amorous adventures. She is reputed to have told Owain: 'If thou wouldst have me faithful to thee and keep me with thee, have my children escorted to their father'. It is impossible to know, at this distance of time, whether this was guile or a desire to stay with Owain. Nest became the mistress of a number of lovers, including King Henry I, earning herself notoriety as the 'Helen of Wales'.


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