Gwenllian, The Last Princess of Wales
by Maureen Jenner
Llewelyn the Last had only one child, the infant Princess Gwenllian, (her mother having died in childbirth). Gwenllian was captured in her cradle; taken from Snowdonia and subsequently placed in the care of the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham at the age of just seventeen months. She would remain there as a nun until her death fifty-four years later on June 7th 1337.
Edward I, having just completed his conquest of Wales, required that the child disappear and on November 11, 1283, the king dictated a letter to the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham in Lincolnshire making a request which was to ensure just such a result. " ... Having the Lord before our eyes, pitying also her sex and her age, that the innocent may not seem to atone for the iniquity and ill-doing of the wicked and contemplating especially the life of your Order ..."
Edward promised a pension of £20 a year (a very large sum indeed at the time). The king was making an offer to the Prior and Prioress they could not refuse in return for the requested disappearance.
It would seem that Gwenllian died never having spoken the language of her birth and never learning to say her own name correctly for she is referred to as Wencilian in a document written at the time of her death reporting the matter to Edward I's grandson Edward II.
The little girl cousins of the baby princess were also to disappear and were never heard of again. The boy cousins were to suffer worse fates; perpetual imprisonment.
Indeed, Edward I at the end of his own life, instructed that one of these boys, aged seven at the time of his capture but a grown man at the time of Edward's instructions, was to be shut, like a mouse, in a wooden box at night.
Even so, that same man contrived to write in French (the letter still exists) "Owain, son of David ap Griffin, shows that whereas he is by Order of the King detained in the Castle of Bristol in strong and close prison, and has been since he was seven years old for his father's trespass. He prays the King that he may go and play within the wall of the castle if he cannot have better grace of the King."
This was written by a man of thirty years who had not seen daylight since his imprisonment as a child. The King's Council must have been startled because a Latin inscription appears across the letter " Let it be enquired who sues this petition."
The child had been forgotten and this unwanted apparition from the past was not to be allowed to surface; rather let it be left to rot; his petition was ignored and his silence assured.
In 1301, Edward created his own son Prince of Wales; a tradition that continues to this day.
Gwenllian's story has a strange ending: in 1995 a memorial stone was unveiled in her memory on the old road leading to the Priory which was totally destroyed at the time of the Dissolution and has become something of a shrine visited by people from all over the world.