Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd: The Warrior Princess of Deheubarth is the sixth installment in Laurel Rockefeller’s The Legendary Women of World History series. It is a brief novelization about the life, legacy and fighting spirit of a Welsh princess (Gwenllian frech Gruffydd) who led her people into battle against the Normans. I have long been an avid reader of historical fiction, and this story is a welcome addition to the genre.
The story excels in portraying the world of Wales during the 1100’s. Simple descriptions about the daily life, the surrounding regions and annual celebrations ground the reader in the time period. Rockefeller also keeps the reader grounded in understanding how the shifting politics throughout the region and in London in particular impacted the Welsh. The most shocking part of the story was the betrayal Gwenllian faced.
Rockefeller’s love of the Welsh language is evident throughout the book. The use of the Welsh names and locations added to the authenticity of the story. However, beyond names and locations, the use of the old language caused confusion for me. Gwenllian frech Gruffydd’s native tongue is frequently interspersed throughout conversations. At one point Gwenllian sings a song while playing the harp, and the song is written entirely in her native language. A typical reader will find this incomprehensible.
The story is brief and lingers longest on the battle and events leading up to Gwenllian frech Gruffydd’s death. She was a heroic fighter and through Rockefeller’s portrayal is it easy to see why the Welsh cried her name into battle for centuries to follow. The ending of the story beautifully nods to the lineage that followed Gwenllian frech Gruffydd and muses what her option on it must be. “Surely in some place beyond this physical world, Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, the warrior princess of Deheubarth watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth Tudor, a woman born of her blood and legacy, and smiled.”
After the story there is a timeline of Welsh history from 844 to 1282 and an extensive suggested reading bibliography that provides a wealth of information for those looking to research the topic further. The timeline was thorough and interesting. In future installments in this series, I would love to see the selected events spaced along a horizontal line. Images of Wales and any remaining structures from the story, as well as artistic renderings of the individuals discussed would also be a welcome addition to the story.