Monday, January 04, 2010

MEDIEVAL MONDAY: The poisoned pen of Gerald of Wales

Today's excerpt is from the preface to Gerald of Wales' The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, another work from which I will often be quoting because it is so fascinating.
Gerald was born at Manorbier in Wales and was of Normo/Welsh extraction. There's an excellent page on Wikipedia about his background
From what I have observed of Gerald, he was a tad self-important and nurtured grudges that he tended to pay back in pen and ink, thus fixing his opinions of certain people for future generations to read. After he was passed over for the bishopric of Saint David's, his ire turned upon the royal House of Anjou where he had served as a court chaplain and diplomat for many years.

'Since, among so many different sorts and conditions of men, my own particular choice is the pursuit of letters, by which I hope to please generations yet unborn. Life here below lasts a brief moment and is always in a state of flux. It is then, a pleasant thought that one's name will live for ever and that, having won the right to eternal fame, one will always be praised and honoured. It is a sure indication of an elevated mind to strive to achieve something which, even if it produces only hostility in this life, will ensure one's lasting glory after death.... I completely wasted my time when I wrote my Topography of Ireland for Henry II, King of the English, and the companion volume, my Vaticinal History, for Richard of Poitou, his son, and successor in vice, although I would prefer not to have to say it. But these princes had little or no interest in literature, and both were preoccupied with other matters.'

I was always under the impression that Henry II, at least, was a devotee of the written word, and I detect a decidedly miffed tone here! Gerald I suspect, was suffering from rejection letter syndrome. Henry II might have enjoyed reading, but Gerald of Wales wasn't one of their favourite authors!

Before next Medieval Monday, I hope to have a blog post up showing off my latest research work buys!


Anne Gilbert said...

My impression is similar to yours, that Henry II was "interested in the written word". He showed that, though, by paying attention to laws and customs, and trying AFAIK, to make them "nationwide". I don't know if he succeeded or not and that, in any case, is another story. Whether he was interested in literature or not, I don't know. Richard I apparently liked to compose poetry and was, I understand, fairly good at it.So Gerald of Wales may have been underestimating Richard, although there may have been other reasons why Gerald took a dislike to the Angevin father and son.
Anne G

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Neither Henry nor Richard would let him be Bishop of St. David's. He was part Welsh and distrusted by the Normans and part Norman and distrusted by the Welsh. I've come across him being snide before and describing people in opposite or unflattering terms that obviously stick for posterity, but are hardly the truth. He was extremely talented, but something of a poisoned package was our Gerald!

Anne Gilbert said...

I'll have to admit I don't know much about Gerald of Wales, other than he was a chronicler, of sorts, of his time and place. OTOH, if neither Henry II nor Richard I would let him be Bishop of St. David's, that must have been something of a blow to his pride. I can therefore see how someone with a certain kind of personality, would "fight back" the only way he could. It's also too bad they wouldn't let him be Bishop of St. David's; he might have made a perfectly good one, after overcoming the "distrust" of various parties(if he was good at winning people over). Perhaps his real problem was his personality, not his "ethnic origins".
Anne G

Rowan said...

Oooh, poor Gerald. ;)
And I think that Henry II. (and Richard and John, too) loved the written word. I have the impression that he was a very well educated man.

Anne Gilbert said...


Yeah. Whatever his other faults, John was certainly well-educated and quite literate.
Anne G

4everQueen said...

yes, poor Gerald, he didn't feel appreciated. I think it's funny that he says "I completely wasted my time..." such arrogance I find hilarious.

Jules Frusher said...

Yup, from that excerpt he certainly comes over as completely up himself and extremely miffed at being snubbed. You can just imagine him in a bar, having a pint and complaining to anyone who'd listen (and the other punters gradually moving away to other, more distant tables).

Anne Gilbert said...

Well, like I said, it sounds like Gerald of Wales had a "personality problem", and a grudge. and he wrote about it. . .
Anne G

librarypat said...

Times haven't changed. There are still self important individuals that over estimate the importance of their work and their opinions. Dare to disagree with them or not recognize their "greatness" and they will be certain to paint you with an unfavorable brush.

Anne Gilbert said...


No,times haven't changed much. Only nowadays, they're called "fatheds". Some of them turn around and write "tell-all" memoirs or autobiographies. Maybe Gerald of Wales was doing the medieval equivalent.
Anne g