Princess Gwenllian

I’ve previously written of a princess buried in an obscure place. This week, I visited another. Her grave is long lost, but a stone memorial was erected to her memory in the mid-nineties.

Her name was Gwenllian, princess of Wales. Her father had been the last Welsh prince, and the English king, Edward I, had kidnapped her aged 18 months, sending her from the mountains of Wales to the flatlands of Lincolnshire. Her home-cum-prison for the next fifty years would be Sempringham Priory. Tucked away, she could not become a focus for Welsh ‘rebels’ wishing to continue the dynasty. This building, along with her grave, is long gone; only a remote parish church remains, affectionately called ‘the abbey’. Welsh nationalists and folk of a romantic bent have made this captive nun a focus of their attention, founding a society in her honour. A poem by T. James Jones, laments the melancholy which probably attended her days:

Ein hangof a'i tynghedodd

i rythu a rhythu ar furiau

heb fenest.

Jon Dressel translates:

We forgot, and ordained her

to stare at stone walls

down windowless days.

Did she know she was a captive princess? Like Oliver Twist at the workhouse, she may have been fed untruths and rumours surrounding her family and origins. Some medieval nuns had pleasant enough lives, shielded from the burden of hard manual work and the dangers of child-birth; for others, it was a lonely confinement with no prospect of release. Gwenllian’s voice cannot be heard; whether she knew of her original prospects and regretted their loss, or whether her ignorance did little to tame her obscure circumstances, one cannot tell.

I sometimes marvel at some of the people to whom the New Testament was written: slaves. These people’s lives were spent serving others for no reward and often in unsavoury conditions. Few gained freedom ahead of their premature deaths. Yet these folk were Christ’s precious possessions, sons brought to glory, a holy nation, a royal priesthood.

I do not know if the last, real princess of Wales, whose memorial is above, found gospel salvation among the clutter of medieval Catholicism and the pain of her tragic life. I do know that all who now labour and toil as drudges and nobodies but who know Christ, will one day be welcomed into His presence. There, the least of His elect will be far richer and happier than the greatest of earthly kings and emperors. Though our original inheritance and dignity were stolen in Eden,

In Him the tribes of Adam boast more blessing than their father lost

-Isaac Watts