Giraldus Cambrensis's Historical Works.
GIRALDUS CAMBRENSIS, so called from the country of which he was a native, was born about the year 1146, and belonged to a distinguished family in South Wales. A Norman, or Anglo-Norman, chieftain had established himself in that district, and left to his family a name taken from the little island of Barri, on the coast of Glamorganshire. William de Barri, the head of this family in the reign of king Stephen, was lord of the castle of Manorbeer, in Pembrokeshire, and became allied with other powerful families in Wales by marrying Angharad, the daughter of Gerald de Windsor and the princess Nesta, daughter of Rhys ap Tudor, prince of South Wales in the reign of William Rufus. In this way, the Barris became related both to the powerful Norman family of the Fitzgeralds, and to the princes of South Wales and the numerous families of Welsh chieftains who claimed kindred with them. Giraldus was the youngest of the sons of William de Barri and Angharad; and was no doubt named after his maternal grandfather, the castellan of Pembroke.
His education was entrusted to the care of his mother's brother, David Fitzgerald, bishop of St. David's, with whom he remained until he had reached his twentieth year when he repaired to Paris, and gained distinction in that University. He returned to England in 1172, and obtained ecclesiastical preferment as archdeacon of Brecknock, coming home again in 1180.
King Henry, visiting the borders of Wales in 1184, became acquainted with Giraldus, and, admiring his learning, took him to his royal court. He employed him on several occasions in diplomatic negociations with the Welsh, made him one of his chaplains, appointed him preceptor to his son, prince John, and, in 1185, sent him with the young prince to Ireland, in the job of secretary. The result was Giraldus' "Topography of Ireland", which he began to compose soon after his return to Wales, a little after the Easter of 1186, and completed in 1187. In the latter part of this year news arrived of the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin; preparations were made throughout Western Europe on every side for a new crusade, and, Baldwin, archbiship of Canterbury, was sent to preach it in Wales. Giraldus was appointed to accompany the archbishop and this expedition is the subject of the most interesting of his books, the "Itinerary of Wales", which was compiled with the avowed intention of immortalizing the acts of the archbishop, and especially of his companion, the archdeacon. We know nothing of the later history of Giraldus toward the end of his life, but he appears to have died in the year 1223.
Giraldus repeats some of the "fabulous fiction" of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and fills his volumes with admiration of his own knowledge, learning, and skill as a writer, but this book is still well worth reading.Return to top of page