11th December: The Last Princess

Do you not see the path of the wind and the rain?
Do you not see the oak trees in turmoil?
Cold my heart in a fearful breast
For the king, the oaken door of Aberffraw

From: ‘An Elegy on Llywelyn’ by Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch (13th Century)

Did I tell you we lived in Wales when I was young? I seem to have made a habit of living in the far west - odd when I was born as virtually as far east as you can get in England. Anyway we lived it a small and wonderful town in the centre of Wales, not far from the village of Cilmery. And in Cilmery is this….

It’s the memorial to the last Welsh Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffyth, sometimes called ‘Llywelyn Ein Llyw Ola’ – ‘Our Last Leader’. Prince Llywelyn was killed near here in 1282. I think that’s 730 years ago today. It was a bloody time and Llywelyn was part of that constant friction between the Barony and the Crown that erupted in the De Montfort rebellion of 1265.

In 1275, Llewelyn married Eleanor, the daughter of Simon de Montfort - by proxy.  After the wedding, as she sailed from France to Wales to meet Llewelyn for the first time, King Edward I had Eleanor seized by pirates who attacked her ship off the Isles of Scilly. Edward imprisoned her in Windsor Castle for three years, until Llewelyn signed the Treaty of Aberconwy. After he did so, Edward released Eleanor and she and Prince Llywelyn were formally married in a ceremony at Worcester Cathedral in 1278.  

Like the Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, they were married outside the door of the Church, so that all could see that the ceremony was legally performed.  Although the marriage was dynastic, once they met, it seems to have become a genuine love match. Llywellyn had no previous children – a hugely unusual circumstance, given that in Welsh Mediaeval law, (which incidentally, I studied at University) illegitimate sons could also inherit land and titles and Llywelyn was already fifty-five years old when he married Eleanor.

In the summer of 1282, Eleanor 'Lady of Wales', died giving birth to their daughter, the Princess Gwenllian. War broke out again and although Llywelyn had no part in its inception he supported his fellow Welsh Barons against the King. Following a skirmish near to Builth Wells, where there is a remote cave reputedly used as his hiding place, Llywelyn was killed.

Tradition says he is buried at the Cistercian Abbey of Abeycwmhir, one of the most beautiful and atmospheric places I have ever been. A ruin now....

At the age of four, Gwenllian, the last Princess of Wales was sent to a remote Gilbertine Priory in the Lincolnshire Fens. She lived behind its high walls as a nun for fifty years - a virtual prisoner, denied the chance to marry and raise a new generation of Welsh Princes. She died in 1337, having never seen the outside world from the day of her incarceration. Poor woman! I hope she was able to reconcile herself to her fate. Actually thinking about it a bit more, I hope she raged against it and made herself a bloody nuisance.

I like a good soup in a cold day. I nicked the flavourings for this one from Sarah Brown's Vegetarian Cook Book published in 1984. I've been revisiting it and it's really good, if a bit worthy, but much better than many 'weave-your-own-windmill' health food books of the time. I mock, but I was very much part of that era -  just an old hippy at heart.

Leek and Flageolet Soup with juniper.

1 fat leek - about 8oz, chopped finely, using as much of the green as possible.

I tablesp neutral oil - I used extra virgin rapeseed
20ml (or so) white vermouth (optional)
12oz cooked flageolet beans, you could use a white bean but the flageolets give a lovely pale green colour to the soup.
1 fat clove garlic
1 clove (the spicy sort)
5 juniper berries 
1-1/4 pints of water or light chicken stock
Salt, white pepper, parsley.

Cook the chopped leeks in the oil until they turn bright green and soften slightly. Add the garlic and the vermouth and let it simmer until the vermouth has nearly disappeared. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not overcook, you're trying to keep a fresh colour. Fish out the juniper berries (I forgot) and the clove, then blitz three quarters of the soup in a blender and return to the rest of the soup in the pan, the soup should be a good consistency but not blandly smooth. Taste and season well. It will need quite a lot of seasoning if you used water. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Fit for a Welsh Princess.

P.S. I think I must have been unusually prescient here, I wrote this post several days before a certain pregnancy was announced. Maybe they'll call her Gwenllian - Queen Gwenllian - sounds good. 

Here's Fluellen, Shakespeare's attempt at the comic Welshman:

I beseech you heartily, scurvy, lousy knave, at my 
desires, and my requests, and my petitions, to eat, 
look you, this leek: because, look you, you do not 
love it, nor your affections and your appetites and 
your digestions do not agree with it, I would 
desire you to eat it.

Henry V, Act V, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Toffeeapple said...

What a lovely post. I adore leeks and beans, and in a soup they will be divine.

I had an Aunt Gwenllian, I can't imagine her being reconciled to imprisonment. Neither my Aunt Ceridwen or Aunt Blodwen would be either. Though I can see Aunt Blod talking the guards into submission...

Liz Woods said...

Oh the power of Aunts, I am one, I know.... and it was a divine soup, do try it. X