Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Of Noble Descent

Gerald of Wales in 1188 AD kept a travel-diary of his preaching-tour through Wales which Archbishop Baldwin used to raise support for the Third Crusade. Being Welsh himself, [some writers count "three parts Norman and one part Welsh"], he records his view of the Welsh nation of his day which would be during the last years of Henry II. In Chapter 17, entitled, "Their respect for noble birth and ancient genealogy", he expresses the following opinion :

"The Welsh value distinguished birth and noble descent more than anything else in the world. They would rather marry into a noble family than into a rich one. Even the common people know their family-tree by heart and can readily recite from memory the list of their grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-great-grandfathers, back to the sixth or seventh generation, as I did earlier on for the Welsh princes: Rhys son of Gruffydd, Gruffydd son of Rhys, Rhys son of Tewdwr, and so on."

Thus Gerald expresses the view that before the death of Henry II, who died 6 July 1189, the Welsh still maintained their Celtic roots, with the family unit being the center of social structure. In the same chapter he goes on to write:

"As they have this intense interest in their family descent, they avenge with great ferocity any wrong or insult done to their relations. They are vindictive by nature, bloodthirsty and violent. Not only are they ready to avenge new and recent injuries, but old ones, too, as if they had only just received them."

The title "Family Feud" might be applied. It was this continual tribal warfare that gave Edward I the edge to begin his conquest of Wales.

A source for "Gerald of Wales" is found:

"Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales", translated with an introduction by Lewis Thorpe, Penguin Books, 2004, London. Reference quoted above are on page 251.

P.S. Just in case some readers might feel that Gerald had an opinion which just applied to his time period in Welsh history, I quote Roman historian writing 98 AD regarding the Britons:

"Nature has willed that every man's children and kindred should be his dearest objects. Yet these are torn from us by conscriptions to be slaves elsewhere. Our wives and our sisters, even though they may escape violation from the enemy, are dishonored under the names of friendship and hospitality." From: Tactitus, The Life of Agricola. Found in "The Historians of Ancient Rome", edited by Ronald Mellor, Routlede, NY, 1998. p. 400.

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