The medieval era
While generally, these women do not share the same profile in history as their princes, there are one or two exceptions. One such woman to become famous in her own right is Joan. In the twentieth century, Joan became ‘Siwan’, the central character and eponymous heroine of Saunders Lewis’ famous play.
A deadly love triangle lies at the heart of the play. Married to the much older Llywelyn, Joan had an affair with Gwilym Brewys, or William de Braose as he was known in English. The relationship came to an end with the death of William, who was found out by Llywelyn and hanged. Llywelyn appears to have forgiven Joan – he even changed the law of the land so that his children by Joan would inherit his title, rather than his older illegitimate children.
Joan was important in other ways too. She influenced the content of the law books, having passages inserted into them regarding the status of her household and the members of staff it should contain.
Llywelyn’s great-granddaughter, Gwenllian, the daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (‘the Last’) and his wife, Eleanor de Montfort, has also struck a chord. She has a historical society founded in her honour and a memorial raised in Sempringham, Lincolnshire, where she spent her life incarcerated as a nun. She was taken there when she was six months old, a ‘guest’, for her own safety, of King Edward I. The lives of her female cousins, the six daughters of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s younger brother, however, go almost unrecorded. All we know is that they ended their lives in a nunnery in Sixhills, Lincolnshire.
Other women are slowly emerging as we begin to understand more about their respective husbands. Cecilia, the wife of Thomas ap Rhodri (Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s nephew) may well have been French. Despite the famine and plague of the fourteenth century, she lived until she was well into her 70s, dying in 1361. Two skeletons found buried in the chancel of the church in Tatsfield, Surrey in the 1960s - where Thomas had his court - are believed to be those of her and her husband.