Letter: Anglo-Saxons beat the Welsh

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The Independent Online
Sir: Dr Andrew Breeze (report, 11 January) may or may not be right about Gwenlliant ferch Gruffudd's authorship of The Four Branches of the Mabinogi (I have my doubts about his arguments to date), but either way she is still not "Britain's earliest known woman writer".

That claim may belong to any of five Anglo-Saxon women who composed letters (then a literary genre in its own right) to St Boniface in the eighth century (lffled, Egburg, Eangyth, Bugga and Lioba), or to another nun, Berthgyth, who wrote letters and poetry to her distant brother, or to Hugeburc, abbess of Heidenheim in Germany, who wrote saints' lives in the 770s. Peter Dronke has studied the work of these women in Women Writers of the Middle Ages, and while their Latin is not as much fun to read as Mabinogi, it is well-crafted writing and worthy of notice.


Department of Celtic

University of Glasgow