A century after Geoffrey yet another Welsh scholar and cleric not only helped cement this foundation, but also helped spread it further abroad. Geraldus 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 parents were William de Barri and Angharad, the daughter of Gerald de Windsor and Nest (the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth and the great Lord Rhys).
Educated in Paris, Gerald served as an administrator of the see of St. David's, and a clerk at the court of Henry II. He accompanied Prince John to Ireland and Archbishop Baldwin on his journey through Wales. His 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."
Geraldus is the 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.
It was Geraldus 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 ex-
quisite invention both in the words and the sent-
ences...They make use of alliteration in preference
to all other ornaments of rhetoric, and that partic-
ular kind, which joins by consonancy, the first letters
or syllables of words.
Geraldus also 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 and even Patagonia and Australia or wherever Welsh people or people of Welsh descent congregate:
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
The production of literature in Norman Wales flourished in favorable political conditions. In the year 1200, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, the grandson of Owain Gwynedd, became ruler of the kingdom of Gwynedd, and under his strong and determined leadership, Wales was once more united as a single political unit. In 1204, he was recognized by King John of England, whose daughter Joan he married.
King John's troubles with his barons, and the needless, wasteful wars on the continent, in which he lost Normandy, meant that Llywelyn was ultimately successful in resisting English influence in Wales, and he received homage from the other Welsh princes. At a conference held at Aberdyfi in 1216 he was recognized as their nominal leader, a true Prince of Wales. Modern historians a free that two entries in "Brut y Tywysogion" show Llywelyn's power, influence and confidence.
The first is for the year 1230, following many years of military success during which castle after castle, town after town, fell to his armies. It shows his confidence and strength:
In that year William de Braose the Younger,
lord of Brycheiniog, was hanged by the Lord
Llywelyn in Gwynedd after he had been caught
in Llywelyn's chamber with the King of
England's daughter, Llywelyn's wife.
The second entry is for the year of Llywelyn's death in 1240. It shows his wisdom and political savvy:
He ruled his enemies with sword and spear, gave
peace to the monks...enlarged his boundaries
by his wars, gave good justice to all according
to their deserts, and by the bonds of fear or
love bound all men duly to him.
Known to the future as Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great), he himself paid his respects to the new English king Henry III at John's death in 1216.
But Henry III was no King John; he was determined to show who was master in Wales, and despite all Llywelyn's achievements, after his death, the struggle began anew, quarrels between his two sons Dafydd and Gruffudd undoing practically all that their father had accomplished. The laments of the court poets who had enjoyed something of a cultural renaissance during the great prince's long reign, were also laments for the passing of the old bardic order that died with the death of their patron.
The Welsh were for all intents and purposes now leaderless. Once again, despite their bravery and prowess in battle, their armies had to yield to superior forces. In 1247, at the Treaty of Woodstock, East Gwynedd was ceded to King Henry. Then, in 1254 to rub in his victory, the English king granted control of all the Crown lands in Wales to his young son, Prince Edward.
It was up to another Llywelyn, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the grandson of ap Iorwerth, to restore the situation. Through military conquest, after imprisoning his brothers and taking the kingdom of Gwynedd for himself, Llywelyn was able to re-unite much of his country in order to assert his claim to be called Prince of Wales. The title was accorded him officially by Henry III in 1267 at the Treaty of Montgomery, recognizing the Welsh leader's claim to the three major kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth.
It seemed, for a short time at least, that the dream of the Welsh people had been realized -- they had their own prince, they governed their own territories, under their own laws and were able to conduct their own affairs in their own language free from English influence. Wales was poised to take an early place among the developing independent nation states of Europe. All was changed, however, and all too soon. The accession to the English throne of Edward I in 1272 completely reversed the tide of affairs. The struggle had to begin anew.
Chapter 5: Edwardian Conquest
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