Is this Welsh princess the first British woman author?
Saturday 11 January 1997
In his book to be published later this month, Dr Andrew Breeze argues that Gwenllian is the author of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the main tales of the Mabinogion, which tells of princes and princesses and daring deeds in a Celtic world of heroism, chivalry and magic.
Dr Breeze, a Celticist and English literature lecturer, says Gwenllian is one of the greatest writers. "It is sad to think that the remains of the finest of Welsh prose writers lies in an unknown spot in the battlefield where she was killed," he said.
The Four Branches of the Mabinogi (tales of youth) is considered to be the greatest work of Welsh literature and one of the finest surviving pieces of Celtic mythology. The oldest copy is the priceless White Book of Rhydderch, dated at 1300, which is in the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. A second version, the Red Book of Hergest, dated 1375, is kept at Jesus College, Oxford. It contains seven other tales, some of which refer to King Arthur.
Dr Breeze says that after analysing the original manuscript of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, he has no doubt the author is Gwenllian.
"Until now everyone has always assumed they were written by a man," Dr Breeze says. "There have been suggestions it might have been a monk, but I do not accept that on the textual evidence I have collected. It is difficult to believe that a monk would have the concerns of a woman writer in matters like child-bearing, childlessness, wet-nursing, fostering and the upbringing of children, all of which figure in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. The author is also very good at describing women who get men out of mess.
"The Four Branches can be seen as that very rare thing, a feminist fairy story in which the roles are reversed and it is resourceful princesses who rescue princes." In his book, Mediaeval Welsh Literature, Dr Breeze details 11 key arguments in favour of the text being written by Gwenllian, a mother of four who died leading an attack on the Normans near Kidwelly in 1136. He dates the authorship to 1128.
Dr Rhiannon Ifans, a specialist in the Mabinogion at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, said: "There is no known author and never has been. I have not seen the arguments and I keep an open mind because there are so many possibilities. This will be the first time a woman has been suggested."
Dr Sioned Davies, senior lecturer in Welsh at the University of Wales, Cardiff, who is translating the Mabinogion, said: "I'd like to think it was a woman, but there is no firm evidence on authorship and a lot of prose of this period is anonymous. He is bringing up some very interesting points and I do not rule it out but I really need to see his arguments first."
Saga of the warrior princess
Princess Gwenllian, daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd, was born in 1098, when Wales was under attack by the Normans. Gwenllian's brother, Owen Gwynedd, took over from his father and became one of the great Welsh princes. Gwenllian married and lived in the valleys around Dinefwr, then dense with protective forests. Here she raised her four sons, Morgan, Maelgwn, Maredued and Rhys. On New Year's Day 1136 an attack was launched on the Normans and her husband left to join the battle. While he was away, the Norman-backed Lord of Kidwelly attacked, and Gwenllian led the defence, although her youngest son was only four. Gerald Cambrensis, writing later that century, said: "She marched like the Queen of the Amazons and a second Penthesileia leading her army." Gwenllian was killed on the battlefield, Maes Gwenllian, which has never been fully excavated. The naming her as author of The Four Branches of the Mabinogi is likely to renew interest in a woman whom some historians have compared to Boudicca.
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 3 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 4 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 5 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
Perez Hilton apologises for publishing Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
Jennifer Lawrence 'nude photo hacker' claims there are hundreds more celebrity images to come
Victoria Justice on naked photo leak: 'Let me nip this in the bud right now – pun intended'
Ariana Grande nude photos leak: Pictures are completely fake, say representatives
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...
£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...
£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...