Gerald of Wales
Medieval clergyman and historian
Gerald of Wales
Gerald of Wales, also known as Gerallt Gymro in Welsh or Giraldus Cambrensis in Latin, archdeacon of Brecon, was a medieval clergyman and chronicler of his times. Born around 1146 at Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales, he was of mixed Norman and Welsh blood, his name being Gerald de Barri.
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  • 1223
    Age 77
    He died in about 1223 in his 77th year, probably in Hereford and he is, according to some accounts, buried at St David's Cathedral.
    More Details Hide Details There is a statue, by Henry Poole of Gerald in City Hall, Cardiff, and he was included in the vote on 100 Welsh Heroes for his Descriptio Kambriae and Itinerarium Kambriae. His reputation in Ireland, due to his negative portrayal of the Irish, is much less friendly. Gerald's writings in good quality Latin, based on a thorough knowledge of Classical authors, reflect experiences gained on his travels as well as his great knowledge of the standard authorities. He was respected as a scholar in his time and afterwards. The noted scholar Edward Augustus Freeman, in his Norman Conquest, said he was "the father of comparative philology," and in the preface to the last volume of Gerald's works in the Rolls Series, he calls him "one of the most learned men of a learned age," "the universal scholar." His writings were prolific, running to about ten volumes in modern printed editions. Gerald was a man of strong opinions whose works are frequently polemical, including bitter attacks on his enemies, but he also had an intense curiosity, recording much valuable detail of everyday life in his ethnographic works.
  • 1206
    Age 60
    He spent two years (1204–6) in Ireland with his relatives and made a fourth visit to Rome, purely as a pilgrimage, in 1206.
    More Details Hide Details The controversy over St David's soured his relationship with the crown. In 1216 a baronial plan to put Louis VIII of France on the throne of England in the First Barons' War was warmly welcomed by him.
  • 1202
    Age 56
    In 1202, Gerald was accused of stirring up the Welsh to rebellion and was put on trial, but the trial came to nothing in consequence of the absence of the principal judges. After this long struggle, the chapter of St. David's deserted Gerald, and having been obliged to leave Wales, he fled to Rome. The ports had been closed against him so he travelled in secret. In April 1203 Pope Innocent III annulled both elections, and Geoffrey of Henlaw was appointed to the See of St. David's, despite the strenuous exertions of Gerald.
    More Details Hide Details Travelling back to France, he was briefly imprisoned in France for these actions. He afterwards reconciled with the king, and was forced to make a vow never to support the primacy of St David's over Canterbury ever again. The expenses of his unsuccessful election were paid by the crown. Gerald maintained that fear of the effect that his appointment would have on the national politics in Wales had prevented his appointment. He famously complained in a letter to Innocent III "Because I am a Welshman am I to be debarred from all preferments in Wales? On the same reasoning so would an Englishman in England, a Frenchman in France, and Italian in Italy. But I am sprung from the Princes of Wales and the Barons of the Marches, and when I see injustice in either race I hate it". At this point he resigned his position as archdeacon of Brecon.
  • 1198
    Age 52
    In 1198 the archbishop, however, had anticipated him and his agents in Rome undermined Gerald's case, and, as the pope was not convinced that St. David's was independent of Canterbury, the mission of Gerald proved a failure.
    More Details Hide Details Gerald had pleaded not only his own cause, but that of St David's as a Metropolitan archbishopric (and thus of the same status as Canterbury) reviving the earlier claims of Rhygyfarch and Bernard, Bishop of St David's. It was in connexion with this cause that he wrote his books "De jure Menevensis Ecclesiâ" and "De Rebus a Se Gestis". Gerald returned, and his cause was now supported by the Princes of Wales, most notably Llywelyn the Great, and Gruffydd ap Rhys II, while King John, frequently in conflict with the Welsh, warmly espoused the cause of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
    On the death of Peter de Leia in 1198, the chapter of St. David's again nominated Gerald for the bishopric; but Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury, refused confirmation.
    More Details Hide Details Representatives of the canons followed Richard I to France, but before they could interview him he died; his successor, King John, received them kindly, and granted them permission to hold an election. They were unanimous in their selection of Gerald, and Gerald acted as bishop-elect for much of the next four years; and, as Hubert still refused to confirm the election, Gerald started for Rome to have his election confirmed, where he had an interview with Pope Innocent III. He visited Rome on three occasions (1199–1200; 1201; 1202–3) in support of his claims.
    Retiring from royal service, he lived in Lincoln from to 1198 where his friend William de Montibus was now chancellor of the Cathedral.
    More Details Hide Details It was in this period that De instructione principis was probably first written, a useful historical source on contemporary events. It was an influential work at the time, spreading, for example, the legend of MacAlpin's treason. Here Gerald is frequently critical of the rule of the Angevin kings, a shift from his earlier praise of Henry II in the Topographia. He also wrote a life of St Hugh of Lincoln.
  • 1191
    Age 45
    As a royal clerk, Gerald observed significant political events at first hand, and was offered appointments as bishoprics of Wexford and Leighlin, and apparently at a little later time the bishopric of Ossory and the archbishopric of Cashel, and later the Welsh Bishopric of Bangor and, in 1191, that of Llandaff.
    More Details Hide Details He turned them all down, possibly in the hopes of landing a more prominent bishopric in the future. He was acquainted with Walter Map whose career shares some similarities with Gerald.
  • 1188
    Age 42
    Having thus demonstrated his usefulness, Gerald was selected to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin of Forde, on a tour of Wales in 1188, the object being a recruitment campaign for the Third Crusade.
    More Details Hide Details His account of that journey, the Itinerarium Cambriae (1191) was followed by the Descriptio Cambriae in 1194. His two works on Wales remain very valuable historical documents, useful for their descriptions – however untrustworthy and inflected by ideology, whimsy, and his unique style – of Welsh and Norman culture. It is uncertain whether Gerald was a Welsh speaker; although he quotes Welsh proverbs and appears familiar with the language, he seems not to have been employed as an interpreter for the expedition.
  • 1185
    Age 39
    He was chosen to accompany one of the king's sons, John, in 1185 on John's first expedition to Ireland.
    More Details Hide Details This was the catalyst for his literary career; his work Topographia Hibernica (first published 1188, and revised at least four more times) is an account of his journey to Ireland; Gerald always referred to it as his Topography, though "History" is the more accurate term. He followed it up, shortly afterwards, with an account of Henry's conquest of Ireland, the Expugnatio Hibernica. Both works were revised and added to several times before his death, and display a notable degree of Latin learning, as well as a great deal of prejudice against a foreign people. Gerald was proud to be related to some of the Norman invaders of Ireland, such as his maternal uncle Robert Fitz-Stephen and Raymond FitzGerald, and his influential account, which portrays the Irish as barbaric savages, gives important insight into Anglo-Norman views of Ireland and the history of the invasion.
  • 1184
    Age 38
    Gerald became a royal clerk and chaplain to King Henry II of England in 1184, first acting mediator between the crown and Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd.
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  • 1180
    Age 34
    In 1180, he received a minor appointment from the Bishop of St. David's, which he soon resigned.
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  • 1176
    Age 30
    Upon the death of his uncle, the Bishop of St David's, in 1176, the chapter nominated Gerald as his successor.
    More Details Hide Details St David's had long-term aims of becoming independent of Canterbury, and the chapter may have thought that Gerald was the man to take up the cause. Henry II of England, fresh from his struggle with Thomas Becket, promptly rejected Gerald, possibly because his Welsh blood and ties to the ruling family of Deheubarth made him seem like a troublesome prospect, in favour of one of his Norman retainers Peter de Leia. According to Gerald, the king said at the time: "It is neither necessary or expedient for king or archbishop that a man of great honesty or vigour should become Bishop of St. David's, for fear that the Crown and Canterbury should suffer thereby. Such an appointment would only give strength to the Welsh and increase their pride". The chapter acquiesced in the decision; and Gerald, disappointed with the result, withdrew to the University of Paris. From -8, he studied and taught canon law and theology. He returned to England and spent an additional five years studying theology.
  • 1174
    Age 28
    He was appointed in 1174 archdeacon of Brecon, to which was attached a residence at Llanddew.
    More Details Hide Details He obtained this position by reporting the existence of the previous archdeacon's mistress; the man was promptly fired. While administrating this post, Gerald collected tithes of wool and cheese from the populace; the income from the archdeaconry supported him for many years.
  • 1146
    Age 0
    Born in 1146.
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