Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales).

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Geraldus Cambrensis birthplace was Manorbier  c.1146.

Son of William de Barri and the lovely Angharad. She was the daughter of Nest who was the wife of Gerald de Windsor. Nest was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr prince of South Wales.

Manorbier was "alarmed" during his boyhood, probably when Tenby was taken by the Welsh in 1153. He is reputed to have taken refuge in the Church. He was the youngest of four Brothers; two of which took part in the Anglo Norman conquest of Ireland.

Began his studies under guidance of his Uncle David fitzGerald Bishop of St Davids then St Peters Abbey, Gloucester and then Paris.

1172. Returned to Dyfed and successfully executed a minor mission for Archbishop Richard.

1175. Made archdeacon of Brechnock plus additional holding at Mathry, Llanwnda and Tenby.

1176. Hoped to succeed his Uncle as Bishop of St David's but was disappointed. For next few years moved from place to place Paris.

1183. Administrator of the See of St Davids visited Ireland. Cleric at Court.

1183. Another visit to Ireland. Published "The Topography of Ireland".

1185. Spent 2 years in Ireland.

1188. Tour of Wales with Archbishop Baldwin.

1191. Published his "Itinerary through Wales".

1194. Published his "Description of Wales".

1196. Left King's service to study Theology at Lincoln.

1198. Began his great fight for the independence of St David's. (IN VAIN).

Resigned the Office of Archdeacon devoted his remaining years to study.

1223. Died.


Gerald of Wales: The Journey through Wales 1188 AD.

The Description of Wales

His first stay in France seems to have lasted till 1174, he then returned to Britain and was immediately given livings in England and Wales. According to W. L. Williams he held the livings of Llanwnda, Tenby and Angle and afterwards the prebend of Mathry, the living of Chesterton in Oxfordshire, was also prebendary of Hereford, canon of St David's and in 1175, when only 28 years old became Archdeacon of Brecon.

“We crossed the River Tywi in a boat and travelled to Carmarthen, leaving Llanstephan and Laugharne on the rocks by the seashore on our left. These were the two castles which Rhys ap Gruffydd took by assualt after the death of Henry II,... the garrisons being forced to capitulate. Rhys then ravaged the provinces of Pembroke and Rhos with fire and sword, completely devastating the whole neighbourhood and besieged Carmarthen, but failed to take it. (Immediately after the death of Henry II in July 1189, Rhys ap Gruffydd attacked and captured the two castles of Laugharne and Llanstephan, ravaged Pembroke and Rhos and beseiged Carmarthen, Gerald had been sent home from Normandy by Richard I to promote peace in Wales. According to him he had some success.) (Carmarthen is the site of a hill fort of the Demetae known by the latinised Celtic name of Maridunum. Under the Romans it was an important centre where many roads met. In Gerald’s day part of the Roman walls was still standing.)


When we were travelling from Carmarthen to the Cistercian monastery called Whitland (Whitland Abbey had been moved from Little Trefgarn near Haverfordwest C1151) the Archbishop was told by messengers of how a young Welshman, who was coming to meet him in all devotion , had been murdered on the way by his enemies. He turned aside from the road, ordered the bloody corpse to be wrapped in his almoners cloak and with pious supplication commended the soul of the murdered youth to heaven. The next day twelve archers from the nearby castle of St Clears, who had killed the young man, were signed with the Cross in Whitland as a punishment for their crime.


The folk who live in the neighbourhood came from Flanders, for they had been sent there by Henry I .... to colonize the district (The flemings seem to have come at various times, in 1105, 1107 and 1111. They are a brave and robust people but very hostile to the Welsh and in a perpetual state of conflict with them. They are highly skilled in the wool trade, ready to work hard and face danger by land or sea in the persuit of gain, and, as time and opportunity offer, prompt to turn their hand to the sword or the ploughshare.


A strange habit of these Flemings is that they boil the right shoulder blades of rams, but not roast them, strip off all the meat and, by examining them, foretell the future and reveal the secret of events long past.


The province of Pembroke comes next after Rhos, lying towards the south and by the sea: indeed, a branch of the sea divides the two. Its main town, also called Pembroke, is the capital of Dyved. It is built high up on an oblong plateau of rock, and it extends along the north and the south of an inlet of the sea which runs down from Milford haven. Hence it’s name Pembroke, which means the head of the estuary.

Arnulf de Montgomery was the first to build a fortification here, from wooden stakes and turf, in the days of Henry I, king of the English. (Arnulf de Montgomery, younger son of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, built his first fortress at Pembroke c.1091, in the reign of William Rufus.) It was not very strong and it offered little resistance. When he went back to England, Arnulf left the fortress and a small garrison in the charge of Gerald of Windsor, a stalwart cunning man, who was his constable and lieutenant. (Grandfather of Gerald of Wales).

Without more ado the inhabitants of South Wales began to lay siege to the place (This was the uprising of 1096. The Welsh leaders of the attack on Pembroke were Uchtryd ab Edwin and Hywel ap Gronw.) They had just lost their prince, Rhys ap Tewdwr, a warlike leader, who had been betrayed by his own troops in Brecknockshire, and they were left with his son Gruffydd, who was still a boy. (Rhys ap Tewdwr was killed near Brecon in April 1093). Under cover of darkness 15 knights deserted the fortress in desperation, clambered into a boat and tried to escape over the water. The very next morning Gerald transferred their estates to 15 of their own men-at-arms, dubbing them there and then as knights. The siege lasted a long time, and those inside were greatly reduced and near the end of their tether. When they had hardly any provisions left, Gerald, who, as I have said was a cunning man created the impression that they were still well supplied and expecting reinforcements at any moment. For he took four hogs, which were all that they had, cut them into sections and hurled them over the palisade at the besiegers. The following day he thought of an even more ingenious stratagem. He signed a letter with his own seal and had it placed just outside the lodging of Wilfred, Bishop of St David's who chanced to be in the neighbourhood (This was at Llamphey, two miles away. Wilfred seems to have been Bishop of St David's from c.1083 onwards).

There it would be picked up almost immediately, and the finder would imagine that it had been dropped accidentally by one of Gerald's messengers. The purport of the letter was that the constable would have no need of reinforcements from Arnulf for a good four months. When this dispatch was read to the Welsh, they immediately abandoned the siege and went off home.

The next thing Gerald did was to marry Nest the sister of Gruffydd, Prince of South Wales, with the object of giving himself and his troops a firmer foothold in the country (he married her c1100, she was the maternal grandmother of Gerald of Wales) In the process of time she bore him a large number of children, both boys and girls. With the help of this family the sea coast of South Wales was held secure by the English and Ireland too, was stormed, as is narrated in my “Vaticinal History”. (The Conquest of Ireland).


Only about 3 miles from Pembroke Castle is the fortified mansion known as Manorbier, that is the house of one Pyrrus. The same man also owned Caldy Island, called by the Welsh Ynys Byr, which means the Island of Pyrrus. There the house stands, visible from afar because of its turrets and crenellations, on the top of a hill which is quite near the sea and which on the western side reaches as far as the harbour. To the north and north-west, just beneath the walls there is an excellent fish pond, well constructed and remarkable for its deep waters. On the same side there is a most attractive orchard, shut in between the fish pond and a grove of trees, with a great crag of rock and hazel nut trees which grow to a great height. At the east end of the fortified promontary, between the castle, if I may call it such, and the church, a stream of water which never fails winds its way along a valley, which is strewn with sand by the strong sea winds. It runs from a large lake, and there is a water mill on its bank. To the west it is washed by a winding inlet of the Severn Sea which forms a bay quite near the castle and yet looks out toward the Irish Sea. If only the rocky headland to the south bent round northwards a little farther, it would make a harbour most convenient for shipping. Boats on their way to Ireland from almost any part of Britain scud by before the east wind, and from this vantage point you can see them brave the ever changing violence of the winds and the blind fury of the waters. This is a region rich in wheat, with fish from the sea and plenty of wine for sale. What is more important than all the rest is that, from its nearness to Ireland, heaven's breath smells so wooingly there.

Of all the different parts of Wales, Dyved, with its seven cantrefs, is at once the most beautiful and the most productive.

Of all Dyved, the province of Pembroke is the most attractive:

and in all Pembroke the spot which I have just described is most assuredly without its equal. It follows that in all the broad lands of Wales Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far. You will not be surprised to hear me lavish such praise upon it, when I tell you that this is where my own family came from, This is where I myself was born. I can only ask you to forgive me.


(Henry II arrived in Pembroke on 21st September 1171 on his way to Ireland . He was delayed by contrary winds for nearly a month).


The King (Henry II) had left the following garrisons behind him in Ireland: in Dublin, Hugh de Lacy (assassinated in 1186) to whom he had given Meath in fee, with twenty knights to support him, FitzStephen (Robert FitzStephen was the son of the Princess Nest by Stephen, constable of Cardigan, and thus an uncle of Gerald.) and Maurice Fitzgerald (Maurice Fitzgerald was the son of the Princess Nest by her husband Gerald of Windsor and thus both a half brother of Robert FitzStephen and an uncle of  Gerald) together with twenty more knights.


Two great noblemen were sent to the island (Anglesey) by the King (Henry II). They were my own uncles: Henry, son of Henry I and Uncle of Henry II, the child of Nest, the noble born daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Dyved in South Wales: and Robert FitzStephen, Henry's brother, but by a different father. Robert was a man who, in our own time, led where others followed, for it was he who soon afterwards invaded Ireland. I have recorded his deeds in my “Vaticinal History”. Henry behaved far too rashly and, with no support from his troops, fell in the first line of  battle, pierced by a number of spears, to the great grief of his soldiers. Robert was badly wounded and escaped with great difficulty to his ships, abandoning all hope of defence.


...." long before the fall of Britain, the Welsh were instructed and confirmed in the Christian Faith by Faganus and Duvainus who at the request of King Lucius, were sent to the island by Pope Eleutherius.

Later on, Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes were sent over because of the corruption which had gradually resulted from the invasion of the pagan Saxons and more especially to put an end to the Pelagian heresy, but they found nothing heretical or contrary to the articles of true faith." (Gerald’s references are Bede “Historia Ecclesiastica” I.4, I.17 and Geoffrey of Monmouth, “The History of the Kings of England” IV.19, VI.13)

“Welsh religious practices which Germanius and Lupus taught them”


Welsh Bishops meeting with Augustine at Aust. p164

How the Welsh people live     p251

c1174  Gerald as personal legate of Archbishop Richard of Canterbury (to insist on the payment of tithes of cheese and wool in the diocese of St David's*) excommunicated William Carquit, Sheriff of Pembrokeshire and Constable of Pembroke Castle, for removing eight yoke of Oxen from Pembroke Priory.

* The Flemings established by Henry I in Rhos had been granted immunity from the tithes of cheese and wool, but Gerald made sure that their fellow nationals outside Rhos should pay.

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