Just who was Gwenllian?

The more observant of you might have noticed that there is a large slate plaque on the north-east side of Yr Wyddfa‘s (Snowdon’s) summit cairn, a tribute to the Princess Gwenllian.

The bilingual plague states: “Gwenllian – a tribute to the Princess Gwenllian (1282-1337), only child of Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, Lord of Snowdonia, Prince of Wales.”  This plaque was placed here by the Princess Gwenllian Society, with permission from the Park authorities, but what exactly was her connection with Yr Wyddfa?

Interestingly, other than the fact that her father was Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, later known as Llywelyn the Last (Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, lit. ’Llywelyn, Our Last Leader’), Lord of Snowdonia, and that her grandfather (Llywelyn Fawr) was self-styled as Lord of Snowdon, she has no direct – or even tenuous – connection with Yr Wyddfa whatsoever.

Gwenllian was the second daughter of Llywelyn, who was the last sovereign prince of Wales before its conquest by Edward I, the King of England. A few months after Gwenllian’s birth, northern Wales was encircled by Edward I, and in December 1282 Llywelyn was killed in battle. Gwenllian’s uncle, Dafydd ap Gruffudd, assumed her guardianship, but six months later he was captured, imprisoned and executed.

Gwenllian’s mother had died during, or soon after, childbirth and the infant Gwenllian (together with the daughters of her uncle Dafydd ap Gruffudd) were all confined for life in remote priories in Lincolnshire and never allowed freedom. This was partly to stop them from becoming a focus for Welsh discontent, and also to prevent them from ever marrying and having sons who could then lay claim to the Principality of Wales. Gwenllian herself was descended from dual royal bloodlines: not only was she the daughter of the Prince of Gwynedd and heiress of the royal family of Aberffraw, but her maternal great-grandfather was King John of England.

Gwenllian was sent to the Gilbertine Priory at Sempringham, where she remained until her death 54 years later. Today there is also a memorial plaque to her there.

The plaque on Yr Wyddfa was placed there in 2008, but was removed and damaged in 2018 (it was found down by the old stables below Bwlch Glas), after which it was replaced by an almost identical plaque.

As an aside, Gwenllian also gives her name to Carnedd Gwenllian in the Carneddau, formerly known as Carnedd Uchaf. This followed campaigning – again by the Princess Gwenllian Society – and the Ordnance Survey agreed in September 2009 to add the name on its maps. It is probably a coincidence that the plaque on Yr Wyddfa, facing north-eastish, faces roughly in the direction of Carnedd Gwenllian.

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