One of the most influential writers of his age, Geraldus Cambrensis - the name translates simply as "Gerald of Wales" - was born at Manorbier in Dyfed, the son of William of Barri, and the great-grandson of Rhys ap Tewdwr.

He was, in some respects, caught between two cultures. He, himself, complained that he was too Welsh for the Normans, and too Norman for the Welsh. That may be an over-simplification, for Gerald emphasized the deeds of the Marcher Lords in his writings, and sought the patronage of the English crown.

Geraldus is best known for his works "A Journey Through Wales" and "A Description of Wales". The first was an account of his travels with Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1188. Baldwin travelled through Wales in an attempt to exert his authority over the Welsh Church.

The second work is a vivid account of daily life and work in Wales at the end of the 12th century. It provides an entertaining and detailed picture of the Welsh world in the medieval period.

Gerald wanted to boost the power and prestige of the church in Wales. He was trained in Canon Law, and wanted to extend the benefits of that universal theology to his fellow Welsh - whether they wanted it or not.

He believed that the heritage of Wales illustrated the Welsh reliance on ancient customs and thinking which were unsuitable for a Christian country. Yet Gerald was also a natural storyteller, and though he had an obvious ulterior motive for telling many of the legends of his own country - to illustrate the Welsh need for salvation through the Latin Church and adherence to Canon Law - his accounts are some of our best records of Welsh history and culture.

Though he first supported Canterbury against the Welsh church, Geraldus underwent a change of heart, and later campaigned vigorously to have St. David's named an archbishopric. He made four journeys to Rome to lobby the pope on behalf of St. David's and Welsh autonomy from Canterbury. He failed to convince Rome of the legitimacy of Welsh claims, and the Church in Wales remained under the thumb of England.

History of Wales - main index