GIRALDUS CAMBRENSIS OR GERALD OF WALES (continued)
Contents of this section
The Crusades and Archbishop
Baldwyn of Canterbury
Itinerary of the
The Crusades and Archbishop Baldwyn of Canterbury.
By 1187 Henry II had decided to heed the appeals of Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem,
who had come to England in 1185, following the example of his son Richard, the King
himself took the Cross, and at the Council of Eddington in February 1188 Archbishop
Baldwyn of Canterbury and other magnates, lay and clerical followed. The Archbishop
was sent to preach in Wales to muster support for a further crusade to liberate Jerusalem.
The Archbishop chose as his chaplain Gerald known as Gerallt y Cymro, a scholar and
diplomat who had the office of Archdeacon of Brecon. Supported by a troop of armed
men some 3000 strong the expedition started out on Ash Wednesday of that year of
Though the Archbishop was to celebrate Mass in the four cathedrals in Wales, he was
assisted by the worthy Gerald who could summon up a sermon with a fluency of speech
in both Latin and French; though how much of these tongues was familiar to the local
knights and common folk is not in evidence. The jester at the court of Rhys ap Gruffudd
was of the opinion that if Gerald had preached in Welsh there would not have been
a man left who would not have joined the cause.
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The itinerary was to proceed around the periphery of Wales and was to take some
six weeks. Starting from Hereford at the beginning of March, they entered Wales at
New Radnor, thence to Hay, Brecon, along the river Usk to Abergavenny and Caerleon,
thence along the coast to Llandaf, Margam Abbey, The journey from Margam was fraught
with danger. The party had to cross both the river Afan and river Nedd, crossing
beaches which were capable of swallowing the riders. It was good to have someone
who could show them the way. Unfortunately a man named Rhydderch who had been hired,
had fallen foul of the Archbishop, who had thrown him out of the church for some
misdeed. 'Lend me your horse and I'll go forward to show you the firm passage across
the sand'. This was done and the man went ahead, but after going some way Rhydderch
turned and shouted, 'Now then, take me back into the church or I'll leave you there.'
But then there came another named Morgan, the eldest son of Caradog, Arglwydd Afan,
who brought them through safely to Swansea, from there they travelled on to Llwcher,
crossing the river Wendraeth to Cydweli and crossing the Tywi they came to Carmarthen
and so to St. Davids where they spent a few days in late March. From Cardigan they
followed the Teifi to Lampeter, then to Llanddewi Brefi where Dewi's cult was centred,
on to the Cistercian abbey of Strata Florida founded by Rhys ap Gruffudd, they continued
along the Ystwyth valley to Llanbardan. Their path then hugged the coast; across
the Dyfi to Tywyn, over the Mawddach to Llanfair, and then across the Traeth Mawr
and Traeth Bychan. Gerald's notes here seem a bit incomplete as he locates Carn Madryn
on the Arfon side of the estuary when it was in fact about midway on their path across
the Llyn peninsula. The band must have followed the southern coast as far as Pwllheli
and then turned northwards to Nefyn where they spent the night before riding on to
Caernarfon and Bangor. They paid a fleeting visit to Anglesey and the went on their
way to Conwy, Rhuddlan, St Asaph and to Basingwerk Abbey. The crossed the Dee to
Chester where they spent Easter and following the March of Wales returned to Hereford.
It is estimated that the journey would have covered over 760 miles.
It was, as Gerald confesses, a tiring itinerary. They were accompanied
by the four bishops, at abbeys (Whitland, St. Dogmael's, Strata Florida, Basingwerk),
and by local rulers, most especially perhaps, Rhys ap Gruffudd. The party, which
in addition to an established nucleus also included local church leaders en route
who also shared in the preaching, spending more time in south Wales than in the north.
The easier terrain made it possible to cover a wider area in a more leisurely way;
the party may also have felt more at home in the south than in the less Normanised
and more forbidding Gwynedd. Bangor and Anglesey provided little enough welcome,
while Powys was left unvisited, and the party was ignored by Prince Owain Cyfeiliog.
The purpose of the journey was to raise interest among the Welsh gentry in supporting
the Archbishop Baldwyn in his crusade to the Holy Land. A number promised to go,
but when the time came, almost all those who had agreed to join the crusade found
some excuse not to go. No one made more fuss about this than Gerald ñ but even he
stayed at home after all. But the saintly Baldwyn went under Richard the Lionheart's
banner to the Land of Canaan, only to die there, at the foot of the walls of Acre.
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Gerald had given Archbishop Baldwyn a copy of his newly 'published' Topography
of Ireland. Baldwyn was so impressed with this book that he asked Gerald to write
a similar report on the journey through Wales. Gerald duly did this and embroidered
his account with many personal observations about the folklore, and customs of Wales.
He also wrote in 1194 a companion volume, which he called the Descriptio Cambriae,
this work followed the Itinerarium Cambriae of 1191.
Gerald had more diplomatic duties as he accompanied Baldwyn to France in 1189. On
Henry's death, Richard the first sent Gerald back once more to Wales to try and ensure
peace there and he was appointed to the staff of the new justiciar William de Longchamp.
For Gerald these were barren years; he came to hate William de Longchamp. A victim
of scheming at court and lost favour with Richard and the powerful Longchamp and
Hubert Walter, future Archbishop of Canterbury. Gerald had been offered the bishopric
of Bangor by Longchamp, and of Llandaf by John, (who had offered him two Irish bishoprics
earlier). But the intrigue of court life began to pall on him. He wanted, he said,
to return to his books, these were his treasure house where he wished both to live
He had left his books 'which he collected since his youth, as a guarantee at Strata
Florida, safe from English hands when he went to Rome in 1199, but on his return
the monks blandly informed him that their Book of Uses permitted them only to buy
books, not to hold them in pawn, and thus, since necessity knows no law, he left
his books to their greed as if his entrails and been torn from his belly, seeing
such priceless treasure gathered for so long with such loving care commuted to cheap
He went on his way in unbelievable grief and anguish. So he wrote in his last
book Speculum Ecclesiaie about 1220, as yet another example of monkish cupidity and
In the year 1193, Giraldus Cambrensis in his "Descriptio Cambriae"
recorded the following speech of an old man of Pencader to Henry II of England:
This nation, O King, may now, as in former times be harassed, and in a great measure
weakened and destroyed by you and other powers, and it will also prevail by its laudable
exertions, but it can never be totally subdued through the wrath of man, unless the
wrath of God shall concur. Nor do I think that any other nation than this of Wales,
or any other language, whatever may hereafter come to pass, shall on the day of severe
examination before the Supreme Judge, answer for this corner of the earth.
It was Giraldus who also wrote (of the Welsh) "If they would be inseparable,
they would be insuperable," and that, unlike the English hirelings, who fight
for power or to procure gain or wealth, the Welsh patriots fight for their country.
He had pleasant things to say about the poetic talents of his people, too:
In their rhymed songs and set speeches they are so subtle and ingenious that they
produce, in their native tongue, ornaments of wonderful and exquisite invention both
in the words and the sentences...They make use of alliteration in preference to all
other ornaments of rhetoric, and that particular kind which joins by consonancy the
first letters or syllables of words.
Giraldus, of course, could not have predicted the later perfection of cynghanedd,
the complex system of sound correspondence that has characterized the strict-meter
poetry of the Welsh for so many centuries and that is still practiced today, especially
in competitions for the eisteddfod chair. Cynghanedd did not become a formal system
with strict rules until the fourteenth century, but its uniquely Welsh forms had
been honed for centuries before that.
Finally, Giraldus penned the following words that give so much pride to Welsh singers
of today, especially those who participate in the immensely popular Cymanfaoedd Ganu
(hymn-singing festivals) held throughout Wales and North America:
In their musical concerts they do not sing in unison like the inhabitants of other
countries, but in many different parts. . .You will hear as many different parts
and voices as there are performers who all at length unite with organic melody.
("Descriptio Cambriae" 1193).
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