Giraldus de Barri (DNB00)
|←Gipps, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21
Giraldus de Barri
GIRALDUS de Barri, called Cambrensis (1146?–1220?), called also Sylvester by his enemies, was born at the castle of Maenor Pyr or Manorbeer in Pembrokeshire, of which he gives an elaborate description (Itin. Cambriæ, p. 92, Dimock), in 1146 or 1147 (Wharton, Anglia Sacra, ii. xx). He was the youngest son of William de Barri, by his second wife Nesta, granddaughter of Rhys ap Theodor, prince of South Wales. As a child he showed early aptitude for learning, and was remarked for his veneration for the church and church matters, influenced by his uncle, David Fitzgerald, then bishop of St. David's [see David, d. 1176]. Though he was at first slow at learning, he must have made up for this by diligence, as his early Latin poems (Opp. i. 341–84), written probably in 1166, indicate a careful study of many of the Latin poets. While still young he made three journeys to Paris, studying, and lecturing on the Trivium, and obtaining especial praise for his knowledge of rhetoric. He was probably ordained soon after his return to England in 1172, when he was appointed by the archbishop to secure payment of tithes from the Welsh. He soon made a mark by his vigour in such cases as that of the sheriff of Pembrokeshire, who was excommunicated for seizing the cattle belonging to the priory of Pembroke, and that of the archdeacon of Brecknock, who was suspended for concubinage. The result of this was that the archbishop took the archdeaconry into his own hands and gave it to Giraldus. He relates in his ‘De Rebus a se gestis’ various instances of his energy in his new office: continuing to insist on the payment of tithes, risking the resentment of the Flemings, a colony settled on the borders by the English kings, disregarding all comfort when he had to perform severe duties in rough weather, resisting and even excommunicating the Bishop of St. Asaph when he attempted to trespass on the rights of St. David's, and giving the king a pretty strong opinion on the character of the people, the bishops being thieves of the churches, as the laymen were of the property of others. On the death of his uncle, the bishop of St. David's, in 1176, the Welsh hoped to see the restoration of a metropolitan of their own, and to make the see independent of Canterbury. The canons nominated Giraldus, with three other archdeacons, for presentation to the king, intending to secure him for their bishop. But the king, who had always followed the Norman policy of appointing Norman bishops to Welsh sees, would not listen to them. The people who heard the Te Deum sung expected that Giraldus had been elected. But he saw that it would not do, and repudiated the nomination. The king's anger, however, fell upon him; he consulted with the archbishop (Richard), refused to follow his advice to nominate Giraldus, and spoke of his fear of the archdeacon from his connection with the royal blood of Wales. The canons gave way at once, and in spite of Giraldus's exhortations to the papal legate and the archbishop for the appointment of a man of good character, who had acquaintance with the habits and language of the people, Peter de Leia was elected. Giraldus left the country and went to Paris to study canon law and theology. He tells us of his large audiences, gives an account of his first lecture (De Rebus a se gestis, i. 46), and was even supposed by some who heard him to have studied many years at Bologna. Want of money prevented his return to England for some time; but in 1180 he returned by Arras, where he saw Philip, count of Flanders, playing at the quintain, and reached Canterbury, where he was entertained by the archbishop. He proceeded at once to Wales, and was appointed commissary to the bishop of St. David's, who had ceased to reside in his diocese; but finding that the bishop suspended and excommunicated the canons and archdeacons, while he left plunderers of monasteries and robbers of churchyards unpunished, Giraldus gave up the charge and obtained from the archbishop the reversal of the sentence on the canons. In 1184 he was made one of Henry II's chaplains, and was sent by the king to accompany his son John in his expedition to Ireland. While there he preached at the council of Dublin, giving a very severe review of the character of the clergy and the low state of the people (ib. p. 67). He was offered while in Ireland the bishoprics of Wexford and Leighlin, and apparently at a little later time the bishopric of Ossory and the archbishopric of Cashel (ib. p. 65; De jure Menevensis ecclesiæ, p. 338), but declined them all. It is to this journey that we owe the treatise ‘Topographia Hibernica,’ dedicated to Henry II, which appeared in 1188. It gives an account of the general features of the country, its productions, climate, &c., mixed up with many marvellous stories. The ‘Expugnatio Hibernica,’ which probably appeared the same year, dedicated to Richard, though containing much that is interesting and valuable, can scarcely be considered as ‘sober, truthful history’ (Dimock, preface, p. lxix). He remained in Ireland till 1186, and on his return read his work publicly at Oxford, entertaining all his hearers on three successive days (De gestis, p. 72). In 1188, after the king had taken the cross, Archbishop Baldwin preached the crusade; the king sent him especially into Wales for this purpose. He took with him Giraldus and the justiciary, Ranulph de Glanville [q. v.] Giraldus tells us that the archbishop produced little effect till he bade Giraldus take up the preaching; then, although he spoke in French and Latin, which the people did not understand, such crowds came to take the cross that the archbishop could scarcely defend himself from the pressure, and compelled the archdeacon to pause for a time. He compares the tears which his exhortations produced with those which followed St. Bernard's preaching in French to the Germans, and adds that John afterwards attacked him for emptying Wales of its defenders by his preaching. He gives a full account of his journey in the ‘Itinerarium Cambriæ,’ which appeared in 1191 (DIMOCK, pref. p. xxxiii). Soon after this he crossed to France in company with the archbishop (who intended him to write a history of the Crusade) and Ranulph de Glanville. But on the death of Henry II he was, by the archbishop's advice, sent to keep the peace in Wales, lest it should be disturbed at that critical time. He arrived there, after having had a narrow escape from the loss of all his property at Dieppe, was joined as justiciary with the chief justice (Longchamp), and managed to keep the country at peace. He now obtained absolution from his crusading vow. He was offered the bishopric of Bangor, vacant by Bishop Guy's death in 1190, and of Llandaff by John in 1191. These offers, though in addition to what had been offered in Ireland they greatly pleased him, ‘secura quidem et alta mente calcavit.’
In 1192 he turned his back on the court, took advice from an anchoret, and as the war between Richard and Philip prevented his going to Paris, where he had hoped to go with his books and devote himself to study, he went to Lincoln and remained there till the death of Peter de Leia, bishop of St. David's, in 1198, probably then writing his ‘Gemma Ecclesiastica’ and his lives of the Lincoln bishops. The chapter of St. David's again nominated him with three others, Giraldus the first and foremost, for their bishop. The archbishop (Hubert) refused to listen to the election; he was determined no Welshman should have the bishopric. Six, or at least four, of the canons were ordered to cross the sea and present themselves before Richard in Normandy; they followed him from place to place; before they reached him he was dead. They met John, were well received by him, and were given letters to the justiciary, bidding him not to molest them in their election. They returned and saw Giraldus at Lincoln; he went back to St. David's, and was unanimously elected to the bishopric on 29 June, the canons requesting him to go to Rome and receive consecration from the Pope, so as to obtain the dignity of a metropolitan. In spite of the archbishop's opposition, Giraldus accepted the suggestion, started for Rome in August, and arrived there with some difficulty in November. He saw the pope (Innocent III), presented him with six of his works, ‘quos ipse studio magno compegerat,’ and had the satisfaction of learning that the pope read them carefully, and showed them to the cardinals, giving the preference to the ‘Gemma Ecclesiastica.’ But his suit was a failure; the archbishop had sent letters beforehand to the pope and cardinals, stating that Giraldus had been elected by three only of the canons, the rest of the chapter refusing their consent, and that he did not think him fit for the post (De gestis, p. 122). Giraldus has preserved his lengthy answer to this in the first book of his treatise ‘De Invectionibus’ (Opp. iii. 16). The pope required evidence of the fact that St. David's was independent of Canterbury. Giraldus's arguments on his side will be found in his treatise ‘De jure Menevensis ecclesiæ,’ which exhibits (to use Mr. Brewer's words) a ‘strange mixture of antiquarian research with a total absence of all historical criticism.’
To give full details of the process of the suit would be impossible within the present limits; they may be studied in his treatise just mentioned. Some few of the leading facts may be told. He went to the Welsh laity for support, and the princes of North and South Wales threatened the clergy who would not support him with the loss of their friendship. Then in 1202 the king took the lands belonging to the bishopric into his own hands, and the revenues of Giraldus in his archdeaconry were seized. He was accused of stirring up the Welsh to rebellion. The justiciary proceeded against him; he was summoned to appear before a commission at Worcester; on his appearing there the trial came to nothing in consequence of the absence of the principal judges. He went to Canterbury, asserted that the archbishop, not he, was the king's enemy; returned to Wales, excommunicated two of his chief opponents, was cited to appear before the papal commissioners, and appealed to the pope. The sheriff of Pembroke was ordered to attach the goods and chattels of all his clerical adherents; Giraldus endeavoured to summon a general council of the clergy of the diocese, and with some difficulty obtained this at Brecknock; but it came to nothing (his account of this in his book De Gestis Giraldi is lost). At length a commission was held at Brackley; the canons of St. David's disowned his election. He had now to conceal himself; no one in Wales was allowed to harbour him, and the ports were watched to prevent his crossing. After a variety of adventures (De jure Menevensis ecclesiæ, pp. 224–38), he crossed from Dover to Gravelines, and, going by St. Omer and Cambray, reached Spoleto, and finally Rome. Here the pope received him kindly; he presented the letters of the princes of Wales in his favour, impeached the witnesses against him, defended the priority of his own election to the subsequent one, and detailed all his sufferings and oppressions. The pope at length gave sentence, annulling both the elections that had taken place. Thus after the suit had continued for four years, during which Giraldus had twice visited England, three times going to Rome, it was no nearer a settlement. He had now no course but to return; he did not get home without difficulty, being taken prisoner in France and carried to Châtillon on the Saone as an English subject. When he regained his liberty he went to Rouen, where he found the Bishop of Ely, sent to settle the matter of the election to St. David's, to which the chapter had nominated again. Giraldus impeached their nominees on various grounds; he repeated his charge before the archbishop's officials at Canterbury. He went to Brecknock, then to St. David's, then to London; at Lambeth he again protested against the election made in his absence; at the meeting of the canons in St. Catharine's chapel at Westminster he proposed Walter Map, archdeacon of Oxford, and Roger, dean of Lincoln. At length Geoffrey Henlaw, prior of Llanthony, was elected, and Giraldus gave way. He was at once reconciled with the king and the archbishop, the expenses of the suit were repaid him, and he was promised an ecclesiastical income of sixty marks a year (ib. p. 324). He then resigned his archdeaconry, which was given at the request of the archbishop to Giraldus's nephew. He lived to see yet another election to St. David's, on the death of Geoffrey Henlaw in 1214. He begins his treatise ‘De jure Menevensis ecclesiæ’ by discussing the question why he was then passed over. He states that Welshmen were never promoted to Welsh sees, that he was unpopular with the Welsh clergy because he was known to be opposed to their evil habits; but yet that the better portion of the chapter asked him to allow himself to be nominated. Had they been unanimous, and the king and archbishop agreed, he would have accepted the bishopric, in spite of its poverty (p. 134); but he foresaw the troubles in which he would have been involved, and refused his consent.
We have, of course, only Giraldus's own account of his career, which it is likely enough his excessive vanity and self-confidence may have coloured. His pen in writing of his enemies, as of Bishop Longchamp of Ely for instance, is very bitter. Still, on the whole, there is no reason to doubt the truth of his statements. His contemporaries did not take the same view of the chief object of his life. Gervase of Canterbury puts it down as Archbishop Hubert's greatest merit that he had retained seven bishops in subjection to Canterbury and put down the rebel cleverness (‘rebellem astutiam’) of Giraldus (Actus Archiepiscoporum, Rolls Ser. ii. 412).
On the death of St. Hugh of Lincoln, some of the canons of Lincoln thought of electing Giraldus to that see, if they had free election (De jure Menevensis ecclesiæ, p. 340); he mentions also that there was talk in the Roman curia of his being made a cardinal. The closing years of his life seem to have been spent in peace and retirement. He would take no part in the troublous time following the election of Stephen Langton. He lived certainly till 1216. He had begun a treatise, ‘De instructione Principum,’ at an earlier date, but since he speaks in it of John in such a way as leaves no doubt that John was dead, Giraldus could not have completed it before 1216. He was buried in the cathedral of St. David's. His works have been edited in the Rolls Series (7 vols.) by J. S. Brewer and J. F. Dimock, 1861–77. All are included, except the ‘De Instructione Principum,’ which is to appear in an eighth and concluding volume, edited by Mr. G. F. Warner. Full accounts of probable dates of composition and publication will be found in the prefaces to the volumes. Giraldus's separate works were: 1. ‘Topographia Hibernica’ (in Camden's ‘Anglica, Hibernica, Normannica, Cambrica, a veteribus scripta,’ Frankfort, 1602, and in Opp. v. by Dimock). 2. ‘Expugnatio Hibernica’ (in Camden's collection and Opp. v. Dimock). 3. ‘Itinerarium Cambriæ’ (by Powel, London, 1585; by Camden; by Sir R. C. Hoare, with a translation, London, 1806; and Opp. vi. Dimock. A portion is in Wharton's ‘Anglia Sacra,’ ii. 447). 4. ‘Descriptio Cambriæ’ (published as the last). 5. ‘Vita Galfridi Arch. Eboracensis’ (Wharton, ii. 375, and Opp. iv. Brewer). 6. ‘Symbolum Electorum’ (Opp. i. Brewer). 7. ‘Invectionum Libellus’ (Books 1–4, in Opp. iii., Books 5, 6, in Opp. i. Brewer). 8. ‘Speculum Ecclesiæ’ (Opp. iv. Brewer). 9. ‘Vita S. Remigii,’ with lives of bishops of Lincoln and others (Wharton, ii. 408; Opp. vii. Dimock). 10. ‘Vita S. Hugonis’ (Opp. vii. Dimock). 11. ‘Gemma Ecclesiastica’ (Opp. ii. Brewer). 12. ‘Vita S. Davidis archiepiscopi Menevensis’ (Wharton, ii. 628; Opp. iii. Brewer). 13. ‘Vita S. Davidis II episcopi Menevensis’ (Wharton, ii. 652; Opp. iii. Brewer). Brewer, though a little doubtful, is inclined to think that this is by Giraldus. Wharton gives a different opinion. 14. ‘Vita S. Ethelberti’ (Opp. iii. Brewer). 15. ‘De rebus a se gestis’ (Wharton, ii. 457; Opp. i. Brewer). The third book of this is but a fragment of the whole, containing only nineteen out of 236 chapters, of which the titles are preserved. 16. ‘Epistola ad Stephanum Langton’ (Wharton, ii. 435; Opp. i. Brewer). 17. ‘De Giraldo Archidiacono Menevensi’ (Opp. i. Brewer). 18.‘De libris a se scriptis’ (Wharton, ii. 439; Opp. i. Brewer). 19. ‘Catalogus brevior librorum’ (Wharton, ii. 445; Opp. i. Brewer). 20. ‘Retractationes’ (Wharton, ii. 455; Opp. i. Brewer). 21. ‘De jure et statu Menevensis ecclesiæ’ (Wharton, ii. 514; Opp. iii. Brewer). 22. ‘De instructione principum,’ in three parts (the last two edited by Brewer for the Anglia Christiana Society, 1846).[Giraldus, De rebus a se gestis and De jure Menevensis ecclesiæ; Chronology of his life in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ii. 374; Wharton's preface, ii. xx; Life of Giraldus Cambrensis prefixed by Sir R. C. Hoare to his translation of the Itinerarium Cambriæ, London, 1806; Brewer's preface to vol. i. of his edition of the works, to which the present writer is greatly indebted.]