Little Princess Gwenllian

Gwenllian was the only child of Llywelyn ab Gruffuddd, also known as Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales. Her mother was Eleanor de Montfort, who was the daughter of Eleanor of England, sister of Henry III, and Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Llywelyn and Eleanor had married in Worcester Cathedral in October 1278, in a lavish ceremony attended by Edward I, King of England, and Alexander III, King of Scots.

Memorial to Gwenllian, Sempringham, Lincolnshire

Gwenllian, a descendant of both Welsh and English royalty, was born in June 1282 at the palace of Garth Celyn, Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor; her mother died giving birth to her. Shortly after her birth, Edward I concluded his conquest of Wales. Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn, was killed in an ambush on 11 December 1282 – and just six months after her birth, Gwenllian was an orphan. Her uncle Dafydd, Llywelyn’s younger brother, became the little princess’s legal guardian. After his brother’s death, Dafydd continued the fight for Welsh independence but was betrayed to the English, in June 1283.

Dafydd, his wife, children and little Gwenllian were captured at Bera Mountain in Snowdonia, where they had been in hiding. At just one year old, Gwenllian was taken, by sea, probably to thwart any attempt at rescue, from Wales, the land of her birth. She would never see her homeland again. The baby girl was placed behind the high walls of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham, in Lincolnshire, just south of the great city of Lincoln. Her female cousins, the seven daughters of Dafydd, were also placed in various nunneries, so it is possible some of her cousins were with her. Dafydd’s legitimate daughter, Gwladus, who was a similar age to Gwenllian, was placed in Sixhills, another Gilbertine priory, in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Statue of Gwenllian’s father, Llywelyn the Last at Cardiff City Hall

Dafydd’s two sons, Llywelyn and Owain, were imprisoned in Bristol Castle; the eldest, Llywelyn, died there in 1287, just four years after his capture. Owain was still living in 1325, every night securely incarcerated in a specially constructed timber cage within Bristol Castle. Dafydd himself suffered the horrendous ‘traitor’s death’; he was hung, drawn and quartered at Shrewsbury.

The Gilbertines were the only wholly-English monastic community. Their founder, St Gilbert, had some form of physical deformity, which prevented him from pursuing a career as a knight. He trained as a clerk in France, studying under Master Anselm at Laon. He eventually entered the household of the Bishop of Lincoln and, in 1129, was appointed Vicar of Sempringham and West Torrington. He established the first priory there in 1131, with seven local women vowing to live a life of chastity, poverty and obedience. Sempringham Priory was a double-house, housing both men and women in segregated quarters.

At its height, the priory housed 200 nuns and forty canons. The order followed strict rules, based on those of the Augustinian and Premonstratensian monasteries. By the time of Gilbert’s death in 1189 there were thirteen priories in England; this number had risen to twenty-five at the time of the Reformation. [1]

Gwenllian was a prisoner at the Gilbertine Priory of St Mary, at Sempringham, for the rest of her life. A prisoner of three English kings, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, she was a rallying figure for the subjugated Welsh and too valuable to ever be freed. Edward I wrote to the Prior and Prioress of Sempringham of his decision to place Gwenllian in their custody, on 11 November 1283: ‘… 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 in your Order’. [2]

Memorial plaque to Gwenllian on the memorial at Sempringham

Although Edward wanted Gwenllian to be forgotten, he could not afford to forget about her himself, and four years after she was placed in the convent, Edward ordered Thomas Normanvill to ‘go to the places where the daughters of Llewellyn and of David his brother, who have taken the veil in the Order of Sempringham, are dwelling, and to report upon their state and custody by next Parliament’. [3] The extent of Gwenllian’s knowledge of her own history and homeland is far from certain. Having been taken from Wales at six months old, she is said not to have spoken a word of Welsh and may not have even known how to spell her name; she is referred to as ‘Wencillian’, in a document sent to Edward III at the time of her death, although spelling was far from uniform in the 14th century.

Gwenllian was probably well-cared for. Edward III endowed her with a pension of £20 a year, which was paid to the priory for her food and clothing. Whether Gwenllian was treated according to her rank at the priory is unknown; however, it is highly likely that she was aware of her importance and her family connections, especially when she was older, given the attention paid to her by subsequent kings. She is said to have received gifts from her cousin the king, and may have spent time in Edward III’s company, when he visited the priory at Easter-time in 1328; the young king issued a charter from Sempringham on 2 April of that year. [4]

St Andrew’s Church, Sempringham stands close to the site of the Gilbertine priory of Sempringham

Gwenllian may also have spent time in the company of Joan Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, supposed lover of Isabelle of France, Edward III’s mother, and ruler of England after the deposition of her huusband, Edward II. Joan was held at Sempringham following her father’s downfall in 1330. She was only eighteen at the time, however, so may have had little in common, beyond their joint status as prisoners of the crown, with Gwenllian, who was a woman now in her late forties who had spent her entire life in conventual seclusion. The profound difference between Joan and Gwenllian, of course, is that Joan was released after a short time.

Gwenllian only found release in death. The on 7 June 1337, the same month as her fifty-fifth birthday. She was buried at the priory where she had spent all but eighteen months of her life. Her grave was lost at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, in the 16th century. However, a memorial plaque was placed near St Andrew’s Church in Sempringham in 1993, stating:

In memory of Gwenllian, daughter of the last Prince of Wales. Born at Abergwyngregyn 12.06.1282. Died at Sempringham 7.6.1337. Having been held prisoner for 54 years. [5]

Although she left very few physical marks on the world, a child whose very future was stolen by Edward I, Gwenllian’s remarkable story has not been forgotten. In 2009 a mountain in Snowdonia in Wales, formerly known as Carnedd Uchaf, was renamed Carnedd Gwenllian in the lost princess’s honour.

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Footnotes: [1] David Ross, editor, Sempringham Priory, Church and Holy Well, britainexpress.com; [2] englishmonarchs.co.uk; [3] ibid; [4] Calendar of the Charter Rolls. 1-14, Edward III; [5] The Princess Gwenllian Society, Princessgwenllian.co.uk

Sources: castlewales.com; snowdoniaheritage.info; Marc Morris A Great and Terrible King;David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; britainexpress.com; englishmonarchs.co.uk; princessgwenllian.co.uk; Calendar of the Charter Rolls

Images: Photos of Sempringham Church and memorial copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly. Llywelyn the Last courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Lady Rose

Lady Rose

Lady Rose

Rose Locke was born in London on 26 December 1526. She was the daughter of Sir William Locke and his 2nd wife, Katherine. The 3rd of 11 children, her family were some of the earliest Protestants in England, and staunch supporters of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The family lived in Cheapside in the 1530s, with Rose’s father and several brothers serving as agents of the king in France and Flanders during the 1540s. A mercer and alderman of London, Rose’s father was a gentleman usher of the chamber to Henry VIII and was appointed sheriff of London in 1548; he was knighted by Edward VI in 1549.

According to Rose her father, Sir William Locke, a merchant with strong links to Antwerp, had smuggled ‘herectic’ Protestant writings from abroad for Queen Anne Boleyne herself. Rose had long been familiar with the new learning and wrote in 1610: “My mother in the dayes of King Henry the 8th came to some light of the gospel by means of some English books sent privately to her by my father’s factor from beyond the sea: where upon she used to call me with my 2 sisters into her chamber to read to us out of these same good books very privately for feare of troble because these good books were then accepted hereticall…”¹

On 28 November 1543, just a month short of her 17th birthday, Rose married London merchant Anthony Hickman. They had as many as 7 children together and their eldest daughter, Mary, was born in 1547 and a son, William, was born in 1549. Sons Walter and Anthony were born in 1553 and 1560 respectively. Another son, Eleazar, born in 1562, was named after John Knox’s son, and the last, Matthew, was born in 1563. There were two other daughters, Frances and Rose, though their birth dates are unclear.

Anthony Hickman owned several ships, including the Great Christopher, given to Queen Elizabeth I’s navy in 1560 and renamed Victory; and had property in London, Essex and Antwerp. He had a business partnership with Rose’s brother, Thomas Locke, and both were favourites of Henry VIII and Edward VI, growing rich through their mercantile endeavours. The Hickmans entertained such eminent clergymen as John Foxe and John Knox; Rose’s sister-in-law Anne Locke was a correspondent of John Knox and he mentioned the family a number of times in his letters to her between 1556 and 1560.

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Gainsborough Old Hall

However, the advent of the reign of Mary I, and the resurgence of the Catholic faith in England, meant that the staunchly Protestant family fell out of favour with the catholic queen. They defied Mary by holding private religious services in their homes.  Anthony and Thomas were both arrested and held in the Fleet prison for a time, before being released to house arrest. Anthony eventually escaped to Antwerp, with Rose and the children following him shortly after; the family would remain on the continent until after Queen Mary’s death.

They returned to England shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I. However, religious divisions were becoming more pronounced as Queen Elizabeth’s reign advanced, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but within Protestantism itself.

After Anthony’s death in 1573, Rose married again. Her 2nd husband was a widower, Simon Throckmorton of Brampton, who died in 1585. Rose rarely used the Throckmorton surname, possibly because of its association with plots to rescue Mary Queen of Scots by disaffected Catholics; the Throckmorton Plot being led by Sir Francis Throckmorton, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth’s lady in waiting, Bess Throckmorton.

The Hickman family had become known for their Puritan leanings; Puritans were those who wanted the ‘purer’ church as envisaged in the reign of Edward VI, rather than the compromise established by Elizabeth I. In 1593, in order to curb the activities of such religious dissidents, Elizabeth I’s government had approved the ‘Act Against Puritans’, whereby it became illegal to become a Puritan or encourage others to that tendency.

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Gainsborough Old Hall

As a result, official appointments at court, for those known to have Puritan connections, suddenly dried up. Rose’s son Walter, deeply entrenched in court circles and an old hand at brokering appointments for friends and family (usually with a financial incentive) discovered the implications of the new stance in 1594. The Cecil Papers show that Walter was refused when he applied for the position of Receiver of the Court of Wards for his brother William, despite offering an inducement of £1,000.² The increasing hostility towards Puritans, and the possibility of escalating religious persecution, may well have persuaded William to move his family north; away from the prying eyes of the authorities and into Lincolnshire.

With the encouragement of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, ministers with Puritan leanings had been appointed to various churches throughout Lincolnshire. Several of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, would come from the region, including William Brewster and William Bradford. Families with strong ties to service at the Tudor court, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were moving south, closer to London and the person of the Queen, while other families were moving north.

In 1596 William Hickman bought the Old Hall at Gainsborough, which provided the merchant with his very own port on the River Trent. The move to Gainsborough was not without its challenges. With the Burgh family having essentially left the town to its own devices for the last 30 years, Hickman’s attempts to collect market revenues and port tolls met with opposition, including the apparent murder of one of his servants, who was stabbed to death. It may well have been that William’s puritan leanings exacerbated the situation, but the main unrest seems to have stemmed from relatives and retainers of the outgoing Burgh family. A Mr Topliff, who tried to stop William obtaining justice for his servant, was the son-in-law of Thomas Burgh III (himself the father-in-law of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr).

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The great hall of Gainsborough Old Hall viewed from the solar

Now approaching her 80s, Rose moved to Gainsborough with her eldest son. In 1610, at the age of 84, she wrote an account of her early life, from 1534, when her father removed the papal bull, which had been posted in Dunkirk, against Henry VIII. Her recollections ended in 1558, with the death of Mary I and her family’s return to England on the accession of Elizabeth.

Lady Rose Hickman died on 21 November 1613, a month short of her 87th birthday. She was buried in the Hickman Quire of the former Burgh chantry chapel in the parish church of All Saints in Gainsborough, just across the road from her home, Gainsborough Old Hall. Her epitaph was written in 1637 and reads:

God gave unto this matron in her days
Such pledges firm of his affliction dear
Such happy blessings as the psalmist says
They shall receive as serve the Lord in fear
Herself in wedlock as the fruitful vine
Her children like the olive plants to be
And of her issues in descendant line
She did her childrens childrens children see
And freed from the Babylonish awe
Peace permanent on Isreal saw
Now having fought a good and Christian fight
Against the spiritual common enemy
And exercis’d herself both day and night
In oracles divine continually.
And kept the sacred faith with constancy
Even in the midst of persecutions rage
Express’d by worthy works of peity
From time to time as well in youth as age
She finished her course and doth possess in heavenly bliss the crown of righteousness”³

 

 

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Footnotes:

¹A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; ²ibid; ³MS C Folio 7, deposited in the British Museum in 1935, quoted by gainsborougholdhall.co.uk/throckmorton

Images:

Rose Hickman from gainsborougholdhall.com; Gainsborough Old Hall photos ©SharonBennettConnolly 2017

Bibliography:

John Leland Leland’s Itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Oxforddnb.com; Tudorplace.com; gainsborougholdhall.com.

Lady Rose also features in Marie McPherson’s novel on the life of John Knox, The Second Blast of the Trumpet.

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Heroines of the Medieval World:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly