Queen of Wales 1st Queen - 6th Monarch of Wales
Elen of Wales.jpg
Queen of Wales
House of Glyndwr
Reign 7th June 1554 - 4th November 1598
Coronation 11th August 1554 at St Davids Cathedral
Predecessor Rhodri
Successor Marc
Spouse Earl Lennox MacGregor
Issue Prince Marc

Prince Rhys, Duke of Deheubarth

Full name
Elen ferch Rhodri ap Hywel
Posthumous name
Elen Eirian (the Beautiful)
House House of Glyndwr
Father Rhodri ap Hywel ap Owain
Mother Sian of Crickhowel
Born 8th May 1538
Harlech Castle
Died 4th November 1598
Archbishops Palace at St. Asapth
Burial Royal Crypt at St Davids Cathedral
Religion Roman Catholic
The period of 1554-1598 is known in Wales as the Reign of the Three Queens as during this period England was ruled by both Mary and then Elizabeth, whilst Scotland was ruled by Mary Queen of Scots. It was not an easy period for Wales with the Protestant Reformation sweeping across England and Scotland, leading to Wales being isolated in its remaining Catholic loyalties to Rome. It was also a period of increased prosperity. Trade flourished in this period with both England and Europe and the integrity of the Queens position was kept with the canny marriage of Elen to a minor foreign nobleman (Lennox MacGregor) to provide the throne with a male presence but someone who could not claim the title of King.

The Early Life of Princess Elen 

Born on the 8th May 1538 in Harlech Castle to an abandoned wife, the Princess had an early freedom which escaped most of her ancestors. Even at that stage not expected to inheirit the throne she was indulged by her mother until Princess Sian's early death in 1543. Thereafter with the growing realisation that he must become king, Rhodri, who without taking on another wife fairly broadcast his sexual inclinations, knew that he must act to ensure that his daughter could and would inheirit the throne.

Upon his ascention to the throne Elen found herself moved from Harlech where she had spent most of her young life to the court of the Prince of Glamorgan, much as her father had done beforehand. The court of Prince Dafydd was female dominated, with his eldest heir, Heledd 17 years elder than Elen and able therefore to act as a surogate mother and sister to the young Royal Princess. Elen would idolise the urbane Heledd and these were happy years for Elen, safe from the intrigues of her fathers court in Caernarfon.

It was not until 1553 and Elen's 15th birthday that she would meet her father again, face to face, when he moved the Royal Court to his beloved South Wales. Elen's reunion with her father was not a happy event. Dour, gruff, tired from both court intrigues and illness, the young spritely and spirited young Princess was everything her father was not. However, her father did now devote time to educating her on the various nobles of the court as well as arranging her marriage to the muted satisfaction of the senior Welsh nobles.

Elen, Queen of the Welsh

In 1554, Rhodri died, leaving his 17 year old daughter as an unmarried Queen. The year before had seen Mary succeed to the English throne, bring some semblance of religious order to the island. Now there were three (or four depending on your view) female rulers in the British Isles. In Scotland the two Mary's ruled. Mary Queen of Scots in name, Mary of Guise as Regent. In England Queen Mary Tudor and in Wales Queen Elen was at least nominally on the throne. The Welsh nobility were more chauvinistic and chaffed under the idea of a Queen Regnant. As a result, led by Powys, the nobility demanded and got a Regency Council declared in 1556, the same year as the Treaty of Harlech was signed between Mary Tudor and Elen. The Council officially was there to aid the Queen, but in reality it attempted to keep control of the reins of power.

The Council itself only lasted until 1559. In that year Elizabeth came to the throne of England, and in Wales this reverberated through the political corridors. The Welsh trioka of Duchess Catherine of March, Princess Heledd of Glamorgan and the Queen had been scheming to remove the Council. The Queen was aided in this by her husband, the Earl MacGregor. He was understanding of his position as Prince Consort (Lenocs, Tywysog Ngwr in Welsh) led to him acting to preserve and extend the powers of his wife.

In the December of 1559, Powys attempts to rebel against the crown and set up an independant Principality. In this he had popular support, the Protestant faith had been spreading across the English border into the Marches and Powys, but the Queen acted quickly and firmly. The Prince Consort, Lennox, led an army and defeated Prince Morgan in the Battle of Montgomery, with the captured prince submitting to the Catholic faith in order to preserve his throne.

Elen's reign then settled down to become one of the more peaceful reigns of any Welsh monarch. From 1563 to 1585 Wales saw unparalleled economic growth, with trade between Wales, England and Europe growing strongly year on year.

It is during this period that the Bible is translated into Welsh, first as a tool of the Protestant missionary's in Y Mers (the March) and then by the Queen in her attempts to combat the growth of protestantism within the Kingdom.

The economic upsurge also sees a major growth in the towns of Wales, with many new charters granted to towns throughout the kingdom.

In 1568, her second son, the Prince Rhys is born and he is raised to the now vacant title Duke of Dyfed (north eastern Pembrokeshire, and in 1580, Greys College, Ludlow opens, showing again the richness of Welsh life during this period, with arts, crafts and trade flourishing.

Relations with England

In 1587, relations with England take a downward turn. The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, a fellow Catholic and Queen is a bitter blow both to Elen and the Welsh Ruling Class. Parliament allows the raising of an army and the allocation of a tax to pay for it, though through diplomacy peace remains between the two kingdoms. The following year sees the Treaty of Madrid with Spain and the Treaty of Constantinople with the Ottoman Empire (one a military treaty the other a trade one allowing Welsh merchants to trade within the Islamic Empire).

The last 10 years or so of Elen's reign are one of gradual decline of Elen herself and the growth of the power of both her son, the Crown Prince Marc, the regrowth of the power of the Prince of Powys and the death of the stabilising figure on both, the Prince Consort, who dies in 1589. The 51 year old Queen withdraws slightly with the death of her husband and the Prince of Powys slips easily into the fatherly breach, slowly winning the Crown Prince to Protestantism, though he loses him to Calvinism with the entry into Wales in 1596 of Calvinist preachers.

The 1590's also see's Wales continue to export men-at-arms, both to Europe and to Ireland. The Elizabethan plantations also see numbers of Irish settlers moving to Wales where they enjoyed a Catholic monarchs support.

The final two years of her life were spent trying to ensure the succession of Marc, Elen knew that he had, at worst, Calvinist sympathies, but she hoped that the throne would mean more to him than religious turmoil, in this she was thwarted by Heinrich of Swabia, the leading Calvinist preacher in Wales and now Marc's mentor.

Elen, moves the court in the March of 1598 to St Asaph's in northeastern Gwynedd, and there she died on the 4th November 1598 in the Archbishop's Palace, her death triggering the Protestant Uprising and the death of her son, her grandson and her dynasty, with her grandson Dafydd eventually succeeding

Preceded by:
Queen of Wales
Succeeded by:


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