1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Giraldus Cambrensis

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20060291911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12 — Giraldus Cambrensis

GIRALDUS CAMBRENSIS (1146?–1220), medieval historian, also called Gerald de Barri, was born in Pembrokeshire. He was the son of William de Barri and Augharat, a daughter of Gerald, the ancestors of the Fitzgeralds and the Welsh princess, Nesta, formerly mistress of King Henry I. Falling under the influence of his uncle, David Fitzgerald, bishop of St David’s, he determined to enter the church. He studied at Paris, and his works show that he had applied himself closely to the study of the Latin poets. In 1172 he was appointed to collect tithe in Wales, and showed such vigour that he was made archdeacon. In 1176 an attempt was made to elect him bishop of St David’s, but Henry II. was unwilling to see any one with powerful native connexions a bishop in Wales. In 1180, after another visit to Paris, he was appointed commissiary to the bishop of St David’s, who had ceased to reside. But Giraldus threw up his post, indignant at the indifference of the bishop to the welfare of his see. In 1184 he was made one of the king’s chaplains, and was elected to accompany Prince John on his voyage to Ireland. While there he wrote a Topographia Hibernica, which is full of information, and a strongly prejudiced history of the conquest, the Expugnatio Hibernica. In 1186 he read his work with great applause before the masters and scholars of Oxford. In 1188 he was sent into Wales with the primate Baldwin to preach the Third Crusade. Giraldus declares that the mission was highly successful; in any case it gave him the material for his Itinerarium Cambrense, which is, after the Expugnatio, his best known work. He accompanied the archbishop, who intended him to be the historian of the Crusade, to the continent, with the intention of going to the Holy Land. But in 1189 he was sent back to Wales by the king, who knew his influence was great, to keep order among his countrymen. Soon after he was absolved from his crusading vow. According to his own statements, which often tend to exaggeration, he was offered both the sees of Bangor and Llandaff, but refused them. From 1192 to 1198 he lived in retirement at Lincoln and devoted himself to literature. It is probably during this period that he wrote the Gemma ecclesiastica (discussing disputed points of doctrine, ritual, &c.) and the Vita S. Remigii. In 1198 he was elected bishop of St David’s. But Hubert Walter, the archbishop of Canterbury, was determined to have in that position no Welshman who would dispute the metropolitan pretensions of the English primates. The king, for political reasons, supported Hubert Walter. For four years Giraldus exerted himself to get his election confirmed, and to vindicate the independence of St David’s from Canterbury. He went three times to Rome. He wrote the De jure Meneviensis ecclesiae in support of the claims of his diocese. He made alliances with the princes of North and South Wales. He called a general synod of his diocese. He was accused of stirring up rebellion among the Welsh, and the justiciar proceeded against him. At length in 1202 the pope annulled all previous elections, and ordered a new one. The prior of Llanthony was finally elected. Gerald was immediately reconciled to the king and archbishop; the utmost favour was shown to him; even the expenses of his unsuccessful election were paid. He spent the rest of his life in retirement, though there was some talk of his being made a cardinal. He certainly survived John.

The works of Giraldus are partly polemical and partly historical. His value as a historian is marred by his violent party spirit; some of his historical tracts, such as the Liber de instructione principum and the Vita Galfridi Archiepiscopi Eborecensis, seem to have been designed as political pamphlets. Henry II., Hubert Walter and William Longchamp, the chancellor of Richard I., are the objects of his worst invectives. His own pretensions to the see of St David are the motive of many of his misrepresentations. But he is one of the most vivid and witty of our medieval historians.

See the Rolls edition of his works, ed. J. S. Brewer, J. F. Dimock and G. F. Warner in 8 vols. (London, 1861–1891), some of which have valuable introductions.