Described as a Welsh warrior princess, Gwenllian verch Gruffudd (Gruffydd) was the daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan the king of Gwynedd. She spent her early years at Aberffraw, where, according to tradition a Welsh lullaby was written for her. An excerpt says, ‘Sleep, Gwenllian, my heart’s delight, Sleep on through shivering spear and brand…mid all our woe…’
Her father had fought hard for his kingdom and in later years allied with another Welsh ruler, Gruffudd ap Rhys. Gruffudd ap Rhys had also spent his early years away from his kingdom, after his father had been killed by the Normans and his kingdom overrun. His sister, Nest, married Gerald of Windsor.(Nest has her own story to tell at a later date.) When Gruffudd ap Rhys returned to Wales, he spent time with his sister and brother-in-law, but eventually ran afoul of the king. He escaped to the north, where he took refuge in the court of Gruffudd ap Cynan.
The older king eventually betrayed Gruffudd and he was forced to flee the country once again. It wasn’t long until he was back, and soon he and the king of Gwynedd were allies once more. As part of the alliance, Gruffudd married Gwenllian.
Life was not easy for the couple. Due to the activity of the Normans in the area, they often lived in remote areas. During their marriage, they had at least three sons (most sources say four). In 1136 a Welsh revolt began brewing and Gruffudd went north to enlist the help of his brothers-in-law. While he was away, the Norman lord Maurice of London (Lord of Kidwelly) led a raid against Deheubarth. Given little choice, Gwenllian raised her men and fought against the Normans. She fought bravely, but she and one of her sons were killed in a field near Kidwelly Castle.
Today the field where she supposedly died is called Maes Gwenllian. A monument to the brave princess stands in front of Kidwelly Castle.
This Gwenllian should not be confused with a later Gwenllian, the daughter of Llywelyn the Last.
Sources: T. F. Tout, ‘Gruffudd ap Rhys (d. 1137)’, rev. Huw Pryce, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11699, accessed 19 April 2015]
Evans, Gwynfor. Wales: A History (1996).
Transactions of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Carnarvon, 1894