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Chapter 4: Giraldus Cambrensis

Geoffrey of Monmouth's works helped put Wales on the literary map of Europe; he wrote in Latin. A century later yet another Welshman helped cement this foundation. Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) or Gerald De Barri, to give his Norman name, one of the greatest Welsh writers in Latin, was born at Manorbier, Pembrokeshire around 1146. His father, Gerald de Windsor had married Nest, the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth; the family also claimed a relationship with the family of The Lord Rhys (Rhys ap Gruffydd). Gerald was educated in Paris; he served as an administrator of the see of St. David's and as a clerk at the court of Henry II, accompanied Prince John to Ireland, and traveled with Archbishop Baldwin through Wales.

Gerald's writings reflect experiences gained on his travels as well as his knowledge of the authorities on learning. Repeatedly rejected for the bishopric of his beloved St. David's, Gerald pleaded not only his own cause, but that of St. David's as an archbishopric, visiting Rome on three occasions in support of his claims. Failing to be appointed to St. David's, Gerald maintained that it was the fear of the effect that it would have on the national politics in Wales that prevented his appointment. (The Pope was not too anxious to have a Welsh Church independent of Canterbury).

The Welshman's writings were prolific, but it is generally agreed that his most distinguished works are those dealing with Wales and Ireland, with his two books on his beloved Wales the most important: "Itinerarium Kambriae" and "Descriptio Kambriae". Professor Davies tells us that Giraldus, whom he calls "an admirable story-teller," is the only source for some of the most famous of the Welsh folk tales including the declaration of the old man of Pencader to Henry II: This nation, O King, may now, as in former times, be harassed, and in a great measure weakened and destroyed by your 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, nor 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. (John of Salisbury: recorded in "Descriptio Kambriae" 1193) by Giraldus Cambrensis). It was Giraldus who also wrote (of the Welsh) that "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 Kambriae" 1193).
Around the same time that Giraldus Cambrensis was making the name of Wales famous throughout the Anglo-Norman world, another writer was hard at work producing a masterpiece that had to wait many centuries to be appreciated outside the borders of Wales.

Chapter 5: The Mabinogion

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