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Princess of Wales

Copyright © 1999 by Sian Beidas

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Gwenllian was only a few months old when her father, Llywelyn the Last, was killed near Irfon Bridge on 11 December 1282. Her mother, Llywelyn's cousin, Eleanor de Montfort, died while giving birth to her in the palace of Pen-y-Bryn, in Abergwyngregyn near Bangor, Gwynedd on 12 June 1282.

Llywelyn and Eleanor (the daughter of Simon de Monfort) were married in Worcester in 1278 following Eleanor's release at the end of a period of about three years as a prisoner of the English crown. Gwenllian was the only child of the marriage.

There were no sons, therefore, to inherit the title of Prince of Wales, but as the daughter of Prince Llywelyn, Gwenllian was the heiress of the Princes of Gwynedd and the royal family of Aberffraw. She was the Princess of Wales and as a result represented considerable danger to the king of England. Were it not for their close family ties it is likely that the king would have arranged for her too to be killed. Instead, she was destined, upon the orders of Edward I, to spend the remainder of her life in a Gilbertine priory at Sempringham in Lincolnshire. Edward kept the title of 'Prince of Wales' for the crown, bestowing it upon his son Edward who was crowned in Caernarfon in 1301 aged 17 years.

Sempringham was far from Wales, and the Gilbertine order was an English order led by a highly respected prior who was requested to take care of the Welsh princess for the princely sum of £20 a year. Although the princess was cloistered at Sempringham to ensure her disappearance from the face of Welsh history, the king of England was not averse to using Gwenllian to his advantage as he saw fit. When Sempringham fell upon hard times the king wrote to the Pope requesting assistance, reminding him that the prior was the guardian of the daughter of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales.

Gwenllian spent her life in the flat fenlands of eastern England rather than amongst the mountains of the land of her birth and, in all likelihood, she never knew the sounds of her native tongue. Throughout her time at the priory the English never succeeded in correctly pronouncing her name; she is listed as 'Wencilian' in the priory's records and it seems that she herself used the signature 'Wentliane'.

According to the priory's records, Gwenllian, daughter of the Prince of Wales, died in 1337 having spent fifty-four years in the order. It seems therefore that Edward succeeded in his aim of ensuring that the heiress of Llywelyn the Last would play no part in the history of Wales. She merits no more than a brief mention in history books and until recently remained forgotten in Sempringham. However, following a campaign by the late Captain Richard Turner of Caernarfon and Angharad Thomas, in 1993 a memorial plaque of Welsh slate was laid bearing the following inscription:


In memory of


Daughter of the last Prince of Wales

Born at Abergwyngregyn 12.6.1282

Died at Sempringham 7.6.1337

Having been held prisoner for 54 years

Below: memorial slab of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd at Abbey Cwmhir in Wales.


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