Capturing the Beautiful Mistress

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No man in many years has been more vilified and threatened then I, when I followed my vision, went where my Muse led me. I will complete the portrait of Rena Easton, but I will not title it ‘Fair Rosamond’ but ‘Nesta Rhys’ who must be my kindred. Consider my kin Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor who could have starred in a movie about Nesta. The daughter of Rhys ap Gruffydd begat the Tudor-Windsor line and Harry and William Windsor, whose beautiful wife is in Nesta’s family tree!

Jon ‘The Nazarite Elijah’

Ednyfed was married twice, first to Tangwystl Goch ferch Llywarch of Menai (but perhaps of Rhos?), the daughter of Llywarch ap Brân, then to Gwenllian, daughter of the prince Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth

Another Gwenllian (circa 1178 – 1236) married Ednyfed Fychan, seneschal of Gwynedd under Llywelyn the Great, and through her, Rhys became an ancestor of the Tudor dynasty. Through the Tudors inter-marrying with the House of Stuart Rhys is an ancestor to the current ruling house of the United Kingdom and also an ancestor of several ruling houses in Europe. When Henry Tudor landed in Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1485 to make a bid for the throne, his descent from Rhys was one of the factors which enabled him to attract Welsh support (Henry flew a (Welsh) dragon banner at the battle of Bosworth Field).[65]

Where are you, Hollywood? Where is the dozy BBC? She was a king’s daughter, another’s hostage, and mistress of a third. Her beauty made men tremble at the mention of her name. She was seized from the Celts by the Normans, abducted from her husband’s bed by an infatuated rebel, vanished into the hills with him, and plunged a nation into war. She loved conquerors and conquered alike and had at least seven children by four different men. She was Helen of Troy. But in the pantheon of female history she suffered one handicap. She was Welsh.At last Princess Nest, daughter of King Rhys of Deheubarth, has been given her just deserts, albeit in an academic essay by Kari Maund (published by Tempus). The ancient bards and chroniclers did their best to jazz up her story, but are unreliable. Nest’s clerical grandson, Gerald of Wales, hardly mentioned her, perhaps disapproving of her Norman liaisons. As a result, Maund’s account of her life is mostly surmise. But Nest’s ghost still flits through the castles where she lived, and Welsh girls are called Nesta (Welsh for Agnes) in her honour.

The Princess Nest: a woman of outstanding beauty.

Nest (sometimes called Nesta) was born a princess of one of the many petty kingdoms of Wales in 1080. Her father, Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr, ruled Deheubarth in South Wales, an area which has since become part of modern day Pembrokeshire. After her father’s death fighting against his Norman would-be overlords in 1093, Nest was taken as a hostage by the king, William Ⅱ, known as William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror. As a royal hostage she would have been well treated and she grew to adulthood in the English court. So it was only a matter of time until her developing beauty brought her to the attention of the King’s younger brother, Henry, who took her as his mistress.

The church is associated with the Baskerville family. The line died out in that inauspicious year (at least for Londoners!) of 1666 and the Barnsley family succeeded them as Lords of the Manor.

The Baskervilles (from Basqueville in Normandy) of the c12 had a poor reputation. Henry II reputedly said “If there were only one Baskerville left in Christendom that would suffice to corrupt the whole mass of humanity”. That was the trouble with Henry, he would mince his words so…! Is it coincidence that Conan Doyle chose a Baskerville to own his “Hound”? Anyway, in 1127 Sir Ralph de Baskerville fought a duel in Hereford  with his father-in-law, the Lord Drogo of Clifford Castle whom Baskerville alleged to have stolen some of his land. Baskerville killed his adversary and was forced to buy a pardon (as the rich were wont to do in those days) from the Pope And, it is believed by some – that this battle is commemorated on the Eardisley font! It’s a good story and, who knows, it may be true! Property disputes also blighted the life of William Barnsley who became Lord after the Baskervilles. He was involved in litigation with his son over a period of 34 years and this quarrel is believed to have been the inspiration for Charles Dickens to create the endless disputes of the Jarndyce family in “Bleak House”! William’s memorial tablet wearily records his travails.

Rhys’s grandfather, Rhys ap Tewdwr, was king of Deheubarth, and was killed at Brecon in 1093 by Bernard de Neufmarché. Following his death, most of Deheubarth was taken over by the Normans. Rhys’s father, Gruffydd ap Rhys, eventually was able to become ruler of a small portion, and more territory was won back by Rhys’s older brothers after Gruffydd’s death. Rhys became ruler of Deheubarth in 1155. He was forced to submit to King Henry II of England in 1158. Henry invaded Deheubarth in 1163, stripped Rhys of all his lands and took him prisoner. A few weeks later he was released and given back a small part of his holdings. Rhys made an alliance with Owain Gwynedd and, after the failure of another invasion of Wales by Henry in 1165, was able to win back most of his lands.

His grandfather, Rhys ap Tewdwr, had been king of all Deheubarth until his death in 1093. Rhys ap Tewdwr was killed in Brycheiniog, and most of his kingdom was taken over by Norman lords. Gruffydd ap Rhys was forced to flee to Ireland.[6] He later returned to Deheubarth and ruled a portion of the kingdom, but was forced to flee to Ireland again in 1127. When Rhys was born in 1132, his father held only the commote of Caeo in Cantref Mawr.[7]

Among the Normans who returned to their holdings was Walter de Clifford, who reclaimed Cantref Bychan, then invaded Rhys’s lands in Cantref Mawr. An appeal to the king produced no response, and Rhys resorted to arms, first capturing Clifford’s castle at Llandovery then seizing Ceredigion. King Henry responded by preparing another invasion, and Rhys submitted without resistance. He was obliged to give hostages, probably including his son Hywel.[19]

. The following year Henry II returned to England after an absence of four years and prepared for another invasion of Deheubarth. Rhys met the king to discuss terms and was obliged to give more hostages, including another son, Maredudd. He was then seized and taken to England as a prisoner.[21] Henry appears to have been uncertain what to do with Rhys, but after a few weeks decided to free him and allow him to rule Cantref Mawr. Rhys was summoned to appear before Henry at Woodstock to do homage together with Owain Gwynedd and Malcolm IV of Scotland.[22]

King Henry] gathered an innumerable host of the selected warriors of England and Normandy and Flanders and Gascony and Anjou … and against him came Owain and Cadwaladr the sons of Gruffydd with all the host of Gwynedd, and Rhys ap Gruffydd with all the host of Deheubarth and Iorwerth the Red son of Maredudd and the sons of Madog ap Maredudd with all the host of Powys.[25]

Torrential rain forced Henry’s army to retreat in disorder without fighting a major battle, and Henry vented his spleen on the hostages, having Rhys’s son Maredudd blinded. Rhys’s other son, Hywel, was not among the victims. Rhys returned to Deheubarth where he captured and burned Cardigan Castle. He allowed the garrison to depart, but held the castellan, Robert Fitz-Stephen, as a prisoner. Shortly afterwards Rhys captured Cilgerran castle.[26]

Peace with King Henry (1171–1188)[edit]

In 1171 King Henry II arrived in England from France, on his way to Ireland. Henry wished to ensure that Richard de Clare, who had married Diarmait’s daughter and become heir to Leinster, did not establish an independent Norman kingdom in Ireland.[30] His decision to try a different approach in his dealings with the Welsh was influenced by the events in Ireland, although Warren suggests that “it seems likely that Henry began rethinking his attitude to the Welsh soon after the débâcle of 1165”.[31] Henry now wished to make peace with Rhys, who came to Newnham to meet him. Rhys was to pay a tribute of 300 horses and 4,000 head of cattle, but was confirmed in possession of all the lands he had taken from Norman lords, including the Clares. They met again in October that year at Pembroke as Henry waited to cross to Ireland. Rhys had collected 86 of the 300 horses, but Henry agreed to take only 36 of them and remitted the remainder of the tribute until after his return from Ireland. Rhys’s son, Hywel, who had been held as a hostage for many years, was returned to him. Henry and Rhys met once more at Laugharne as Henry returned from Ireland in 1172, and shortly afterwards Henry appointed Rhys “justice on his behalf in all Deheubarth”.[32] According to A. D. Carr:

The agreement between Henry and Rhys was to last until Henry’s death in 1189. When Henry’s sons rebelled against him in 1173 Rhys sent his son Hywel Sais to Normandy to aid the king, then in 1174 personally led an army to Tutbury in Staffordshire to assist at the siege of the stronghold of the rebel Earl William de Ferrers.[35] When Rhys returned to Wales after the fall of Tutbury, he left a thousand men with the king for service in Normandy. King Henry held a council at Gloucester in 1175 which was attended by a large gathering of Welsh princes, led by Rhys. It appears to have concluded with the swearing of a mutual assistance pact for the preservation of peace and order in Wales.[36] In 1177 Rhys, Dafydd ab Owain, who had emerged as the main power in Gwynedd, and Cadwallon ap Madog from Rhwng Gwy a Hafren swore fealty and liege homage to Henry at a council held at Oxford.[37] At this council the king gave Meirionnydd, part of the kingdom of Gwynedd, to Rhys. There was some fighting in Meirionnydd the following year, but Rhys apparently made no serious attempt to annex it

Rhys founded two religious houses during this period. Talley Abbey was the first Premonstratensian abbey in Wales, while Llanllyr was a Cistercian nunnery, only the second nunnery to be founded in Wales and the first to prosper.[42] He became the patron of the abbeys of Whitland and Strata Florida and made large grants to both houses.[43] Giraldus Cambrensis, who was related to Rhys, gives an account of his meetings with Rhys in 1188 when Giraldus accompanied Archbishop Baldwin around Wales to raise men for the Third Crusade. Some Welsh clerics were not happy about this visit, but Rhys was enthusiastic and gave the Archbishop a great deal of assistance. Giraldus says that Rhys decided to go on crusade himself and spent several weeks making preparations, but was eventually persuaded to change his mind by his wife Gwenllian, “by female artifices”.[44]


Ednyfed Fychan (c. 1170 – 1246), full name Ednyfed Fychan ap Cynwrig, was a Welsh warrior who became seneschal to the Kingdom of Gwynedd in Northern Wales, serving Llywelyn the Great and his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn. He was a descendant (9th in descent) of Marchudd ap Cynan, Lord of Rhos, Lord Protector of Rhodri Mawr, King of Gwynedd and an ancestor of Owen Tudor and thereby of the Tudor dynasty.[1

Ednyfed was married twice, first to Tangwystl Goch ferch Llywarch of Menai (but perhaps of Rhos?), the daughter of Llywarch ap Brân, then to Gwenllian, daughter of the prince Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth (order incorrect?).

Ednyfed probably went on a crusade to the Holy Land around 1235, although the evidence is not conclusive.

Later years and legacy[edit]

Gwenllian died in 1236. On Llywelyn the Great’s death in 1240, Ednyfed continued as seneschal in the service of Llywelyn’s son, Dafydd ap Llywelyn, until his own death in 1246. One of his sons was captured and killed by the English in the war of 1245.

Ednyfed was buried in his own chapel, now Llandrillo yn Rhos Church, Llandrillo-yn-Rhos (Rhos-on-Sea), North Wales, which was enlarged to became the parish church after the previous one (Dinerth Parish Church) had been inundated by the sea during Ednyfed’s lifetime. His tombstone, was reputed to lie near the altar of Llandrillo Church, now in a vertical position in one of the arches.,[6] but this is disputed as the name inscribed is an Ednyfed ap Bleddyn ‘quondam vicarius’ (sometime vicar) of the parish in the 16th century.

Two other sons were successively seneschals of Gwynedd under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. After Llywelyn’s death in 1282, the family made its peace with the English crown, though a descendant joined the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294-5, acting as Madog’s seneschal after his proclamation of himself as prince of Wales. Ednyfed’s son Goronwy gave rise to the Penmynydd branch of the family in Anglesey, from whom Owen Tudor and later Henry VII were descended.

Ednyfed in legend: Ednyfed Fychan’s Farewell[edit]

According to folk tradition, Ednyfed is said to have composed a farewell song to Gwenllian before leaving to take part in the Crusades. He was away for several years, and his family thought him dead. According to an old Welsh tale, Gwenllian accepted another offer of marriage. On the wedding night, a ‘pitiable beggar’ arrived at the house and asked permission to borrow a harp with which to entertain the party with a song. According to this legend the beggar sang Ednyfed’s Farewell song and as he reached the last verse, removed his hat, revealing himself to be Ednyfed. He sang:

A wanderer I, and aweary of strife,

Get ye gone, if ye so desire;
But if I may not have my own wife

I’ll have my own bed, my own house, my own fire!”

Ednyfed then announced to the stunned throng:

“This was the tune ‘Farewell’ to my dear Gwenllian. Hence let her go with her new husband. My faithful harp, come to my arms.”[7]

Strata Florida Abbey (Welsh: Abaty Ystrad Fflur) (About this sound pronunciation (help·info) is a former Cistercian abbey situated just outside Pontrhydfendigaid, near Tregaron in the county of Ceredigion, Wales. The abbey was originally founded in 1164. The name Strata Florida is a corruption of the Welsh Ystrad Fflur, and has a double meaning; “Valley of (the river of) Flowers”. Ystrad corrupts into “Strata”, while Fflur (“Flowers”) is also the name of the nearby river. [1] After the region around St. David’s was firmly occupied by the Norman Marcher lordship of Pembroke by the early 12th century, with St. David’s firmly under Norman influence thereafter, the princely Dinefwr family of Deheubarth transferred their patronage to Strata Florida, interring many of their family members there.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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