Last week, I was delighted to be asked back to do another (virtual) talk to a local history society in the next village. This time I talked about not history, but HERstory – wonderful women in Wales’ past.
I was asked if I could keep it as local as possible, so some of the people I talked about included Saint Winefride, Gwenllian (originally from Aberffraw, Anglesey), Dr Kate Roberts and the Ladies of Llangollen – originally Irish but who made a wonderful (and extremely ornate) home together at Plas Newydd, Llangollen.
Around this time last year I wrote my final piece for the Cadw magazine, before my maternity leave and, ultimately, moving on to pastures new to an exciting new job. It was called ‘Women of Few Words’ and talked about some of my discoveries into skilled medieval women workers in castles in Wales, and about the book launch for ‘Menywod Mentrus Cymru / Welsh Women Making History’.
The article for the magazine was called Women of Few Words because, essentially, they’ve been written out of the history books. You can read a bit more about this here: http://idigarchaeology.co.uk/welsh-women/
As well as being written out of the history books, for those who made it into them, some words are definitely missing…
The Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, were both upper-class ladies who ran away together from Ireland to Wales in order to escape arranged marriages. Essentially, they eloped.
They settled in Llangollen, where they bought a little cottage and did it up over the years, until it became the lavish black and white hall still standing today, full of beautiful carved woodwork and stained glass; Plas Newydd. Although their diaries reveal a very mundane day-to-day life, they had a number of interesting visitors including Shelley, Lord Byron, Wordsworth, Wedgwood, the Duke of Wellington, most on their way between London and Dublin on the ‘A5’ coach road. They even attracted the interest of Queen Charlotte who arranged, via her husband King George III, for them to get a pension. Another person of note to visit the two ladies in their Welsh home was Anne Lister from Yorkshire – also known as ‘Gentleman Jack’.
Escaping arranged marriages together, setting up home in the country and living together for 50 years, entertaining guests, but otherwise living a very normal, boring life together and then buried together at nearby St Collens Churchyard.. If this were a man and a woman, there would be no doubt that they were married in all but name.
Next time you read a history book, ask yourself this – where were all the women? And not just the posh ones with the money and status, but the normal ones like you and me. And which words have been lost? Several spring to mind when I think about the wonderful women in Wales’ past: strength, courage, determination, intelligence, skill. And one word in particular which is often left out when it comes to the Ladies of Llangollen is the word ‘love’.
They may all be women of few words, but let’s make those few words really count.