I see you. I watch you searching for me, excited and hopeful yet scared of finding me. I hear your chatter, reading aloud from the guide book. I feel the anxiety of the tour guide who knows I am close by tonight. Will it be a shadow on the smooth, stone wall? Or a face at an empty window? Will it be a gentle touch on the shoulder or a footstep on the turret stair? I am here but you will not see me for I am hidden in another century. I am Princess Nest of Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire and this is my story.
Do you know what love is? Have you experienced that passion? Felt the arms of a strong man around you? If you have, then you will understand me.
In Wales, as in other places I believe, princesses are born to be items of trade – married into other noble families for the benefit of their House. We are the peace offerings that end wars; we forge power between our menfolk, but we are humbled. We are creatures without choice, driven by the will of the men who own our lives.
I am Nest, daughter of King Rhys ap Tewdwr, one of the four kings of Wales. I am also considered to be the most beautiful and desired of women. Twenty years before my birth, William of Normandy had conquered England but his son, King William II, was still fighting for sovereignty of that fierce and beautiful land to the west.
My father was killed in battle when I was a but a girl and I was taken into the care of the English king. There I became the young mistress of his brother, later to become Henry I, and bore him a son.
My family’s kingdom was given to the Norman knight Gerald of Windsor and I was given in marriage to Gerald as part of the settlement. He was good to me and built Carew Castle for me. During our years together, I gave him three sons and one daughter.
However, to conquer is one thing, to hold is another. It was a time of conflict and there were constant battles between the usurping Norman lords and the noble Houses of Wales. People changed allegiances and you knew not friend from foe. My cousin Owain, the son of Cadwgon, King of Powis, came to visit and he fell in love with me. He devised a plot to storm the castle and kidnap me. I had been forewarned of the event and helped my husband to escape before I was captured by Owain’s men. I was not an unwilling prisoner and during the time I spent with Owain I bore him two children.
Following reprisals, Owain fled to Ireland and I returned to my husband, Gerald, and bore him one more son. It is a woman’s duty to bear sons, or daughters who will be the mothers of sons.
When Gerald died in battle, I had a choice to make. A woman may not own property so, to either remarry, or to enter a convent are the only options for her. I chose the former and married Hait, the sheriff of Pembrokeshire. We had one son. On Hait’s death, I married Stephen, Constable of Cardigan Castle and with him I also had a son.
It is recorded that I have born twenty children during my lifetime, but records are not always accurate.
So, why am I telling you this? Because I am the one you have come to see.
I am the shadow glimpsed on a bare wall.
I am that low sigh heard in a silent room.
I am the soft fabric that touches you when no one is near.
I am a memory.
I am Nest, Princess of Pembrokeshire.