Video interview with me by Ellie Daniels on researching my latest historical novel, The Anarchy, is here.
We discuss the story of Nest ferch Rhys, the heroine of my story, and how I set about researching early medieval Welsh history. I drew on the scant primary sources on Nest – Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes) and Gerald of Wales. And then I researched around Nest, finding out about the people she encountered including Henry I, King of England; reading medieval historians such as Orderic Vitalis and William FitzStephen; looking at medieval objects and manuscript illuminations; visiting medieval castles in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.
Dinefwr was the chief seat of the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. Nest’s father, Rhys ap Tewdwr was the last independent king of Deheubarth and was killed by Normans in 1093. Nest’s brother Gruffudd ap Rhys fought to regain his father’s kingdom. Nest’s sister-in-law Gwenllian led a Welsh army against the Normans at Kidwelly Castle, was defeated in the battle, and beheaded along with two of her sons. However, Gwenllian became the battlecry for the Welsh warriors and her widower and Nest’s brother, Gruffudd, along with the princes of Gwynedd, achieved a notable victory against the Normans at Crug Mawr in 1136. Rhys ap Gruffudd, Gruffudd and Gwenllian’s son and Nest’s nephew, later retook much of Deheubarth from the Normans and rebuilt Dinefwr.
Nest herself was mistress of the Norman king, Henry I; wife of the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, Gerald FitzWalter; kidnapped by the Welsh prince, Owain ap Cadwagn; and then wife to a second Norman, Stephen de Marais, steward of Cardigan Castle. My trilogy, Conquest, gives a fictional account of her turbulent life.