Giraldus Cambrensis

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Giraldus Cambrensis, St.David´s Cathedral, Wales

Giraldus Cambrensis (* 1146 in Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire , † 1223 in Lincoln ), Welsh Gerallt Cymro , better known in the translated form of his Latin name, Gerald of Wales , was a Cambro-Norman nobleman. He was an archdeacon , but also a writer, diplomat, church politician, historiographer, folklorist and poet.


He was born Gerald de Barri at Manobier Castle in Wales. His father was the Anglo-Norman nobleman William de Barri , his mother was Anghared , a daughter of the Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys and her husband Gerald of Windsor , the castellan of Pembroke Castle . As the nephew of the Bishop of St David's , Gerald received a religious education in Gloucester and made an early decision to pursue a church career. So he went to Paris to study . It was not until 1172 that he returned from the mainland and initially entered the service of the Archbishop of Canterbury . Eventually he became archdeacon of Brecknock (now Brecon / Wales ). He hoped to inherit his uncle David FitzGerald in office, but his promotion to Bishop of St Davids failed several times, which caused him to leave Wales again and again, even to travel to Rome to meet Pope Innocent III. to appeal. In 1176 Gerald went to Paris again for four years, a third time shortly before 1190.

Despite the above mentioned setback in his career, Gerald did not give up: in 1184 he became chaplain to King Henry II of England and was chosen to accompany the king's son John Ohneland on a warlike expedition to Ireland . This mission, which lasted two full years until 1186, was the starting point of his literary career, because Gerald now wrote the first travel reports with descriptions of local history. The reports were published as Topographia Hibernica in 1188 .

Having demonstrated his usefulness, Gerald was chosen in 1188 to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury , Baldwin of Exeter, on another pastoral journey, now through Wales. This trip served primarily to recruit participants for the Third Crusade . His account of this trip, the Cambriae Itinerarium from 1191, has become a valuable historical document. Gerald completed his opus with an account of King Henry's conquest of Ireland ( Expugnatio Hibernica ).

As a candidate for the Welsh nobility, Gerald tried again in 1198 for the episcopate of St. David, probably with the intention of establishing an archbishopric and thus achieving independence from Canterbury. Without sufficient support from the royal family , he repeatedly challenged the unfavorable decision of Hubert Walters , Archbishop of Canterbury, but finally gave up after an unsuccessful appeal to the Pope and spent the rest of his life from 1203 onwards with academic studies, where he worked on pious instruction and diplomacy.

During this time he even reconciled himself with the royal family, from which he received a small pension. After 1216 his track is lost. Gerald of Wales died in Lincoln in 1223.


Gerald of Wales tended towards anecdotal historiography, so that the historiographical value of his writings by today's standards remains somewhat limited. However, his travel reports on Ireland, the Expugnatio Hiberniae and the Topographia Hiberniae , and those on his Welsh homeland, Descriptio Cambriae and the Itinerarium Cambriae , contain so many local and folkloric details that they are an almost inexhaustible treasure trove for research into everyday British history. In addition to the main works mentioned, Gerald also wrote autobiographical works, descriptions of the lives of important churchmen and saints, pastoral writings, letters, poems, songs and treatises on canon law.

  • Topographia Hibernica (1188)
  • Expugnatio Hibernica (1188)
  • Itinerarium Cambriae (1191)
  • Descriptio Cambriae (1194)
  • De instructione principis
  • De rebus a se gestis
  • De iure et statu Menevensis ecclesiae
  • Gemma ecclesiastica
  • Speculum ecclesiae
  • Symbolum electorum
  • Invectiones
  • Retractationes
  • Vita sancti Hugonis Lindensis
  • Vita Galfridi archiepiscopi Eboracensis
  • Vita sancti Ethelberti
  • Vita sancti Remigii
  • Vita sancti Davidii


  • Duorum speculum
  • Vita sancti Karadoci
  • De fidei fructu fideique defectu
  • Cambriae mappa


  • The history and Topography of Ireland , translated and introduced by John J. O'Meara, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1985 (= "Topographia Hibernica").
  • The Autobiography of Gerald of Wales , ed. and translated by HE Butler, Boydell Press, Woodbridge et al. a. 2005 (reprint of the 1937 edition).
  • The English Conquest of Ireland: AD 1166-1185. Mainly translated from the "Expugnatio Hibernica" and introduced by Frederick J. Furnivall, Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk a. a. 1998 (reprint of the 1896 edition).
  • Description of Wales. An ethnological description from the Middle Ages by Giraldus Cambrensis , ed. and translated by Philipp M. Schneider, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-8280-2668-1 (= "Descriptio Cambriae").


Web links

predecessor Office successor
Peter de Leia Bishop of St. Davids
Geoffrey de Henelawe