14 March, 2019
The Power of a Woman
With International Women’s Day having just been celebrated, it seems perfect timing to talk about the inspiration for our new design – Cofion Becca.
The design motif features the iconic National Welsh costume for women – now most commonly worn in celebration of St. David’s Day on March 1st. However the classic black hat, shawl and gown outfit is more than just an image of traditional dress – it has had an impact on major events in Welsh history like the Rebecca Riots and the Last Invasion of Britain .
The Rebecca Riots
Welsh dress also played an important role in the early 19th century Rebecca Riots, which took place in rural parts of west Wales – including Pembrokeshire – between 1839 and 1843. The main trigger for the riots were the road tolls charged to farmers, but this was a final straw for the discontented rural communities struggling with tithes, bad harvests, increased unemployment and poverty, resulting from an unfair system.
The rioters were men, dressed in women’s clothes, who called themselves ‘Rebecca and her daughters’. Being dressed as women was a form of disguise, but perhaps was also inspired by the idea that women have the right and resolve to defend their families.
The Rebecca Riots have become one of the most famous protest movements in modern Welsh history, and the name ‘Rebecca’ has lived on in further protests over the years. Although the riots did not result in any immediate changes, over the years things did improve for the communities, with rate reductions and law reforms.
So our Cofion Becca – a nod to the traditions of Welsh culture – is a little celebration of what the power of Welsh women can achieve or, in the case of Rebecca, the power that dressing as a Welsh woman can imbue. This amazing new double cloth design with a stylized Welsh Lady motif celebrates Welsh women with ‘attitude’ and is now available to buy online
Another feisty Welsh woman was Jemima Nicholas (c. 1750 – July 1832), also known as Jemima Fawr or ‘Jemima the Great’, a heroine from Fishguard, Pembrokeshire who played a significant role in what is now known as the Last Invasion of Britain, which took place in 1797.
The Battle of Fishguard was a military invasion of Great Britain by French soldiers, and took place between 22nd and 24th February. The planned invasion was rather ill-fated – hindered by adverse weather, ill-disciplined ‘irregular’ troops and a taste for the local wine!
On 24th February the British forces lined up in battle order on Goodwick Sands, while above them on the cliff the inhabitants of the town gathered to watch events unfold. It is said that the many women amongst this crowd – in their red shawls – were mistaken by the French for reinforcing British troops, scaring the French into surrender, which they did that afternoon.
Jemima’s own part in the story is that she reportedly single-handedly rounded up 12 of the French soldiers – persuading them to accompany her back into town and then locking them up in St. Mary’s church, before setting out to look for more. Jemima – and the local Welsh women – are celebrated in local history for the part they played in averting this last attempt at invading Britain.
This story is celebrated in the embroidered tapestry commissioned by the Fishguard Arts society and made by local Fishguard women in the 1990’s. Click on the image below for their Facebook page.
A very funny account of Jemima’s role in the Last Invasion is given below by the late Welsh comedian Ryan Davies