Gerald of Wales

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Gerald of Wales (c. 1146 – c. 1223) was a churchman and writer of Welsh birth, and of mixed Welsh and Norman ancestry. He was born Gerald de Barri, but as an author is usually known as Giraldus Cambrensis or as Gerald of Wales.


  • Qui cum ex fratribus quatuor germanis pariter et uterinis natu minor existeret, tribus aliis nunc castra nunc oppida nunc palatia puerilibus, ut solet haec aetas, praeludiis in sabulo vel pulvere protrahentibus construentibus, modulo suo, solus hic simili praeludio semper ecclesias eligere et monasteria construere tota intentione satagebat.
    • Giraldus was the youngest of four blood-brothers. And when the three others in their childish games used to build castles and cities and palaces in the sands or mud, as a prelude to their future life, he, as a like prelude, always devoted himself entirely to building churches and to constructing monasteries.
    • De Rebus a Se Gestis (Autobiography), chapter 1; translation from James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin (eds.) The Portable Medieval Reader ([1949] 1977) p. 344.
  • Hoc autem mihi notabile videtur, quod sicut nationis istius homines hac in vita mortali prae aliis gentibus impatientes et praecipites sunt ad vindictam, sic et in morte vitali meritis jam excelsi, prae aliarum regionum sanctis, animi vindicis esse videntur.
    • This seems to me a thing to be noticed, that just as the men of this country are, during this mortal life, more prone to anger and revenge than any other race, so in eternal death the saints of this land, that have been elevated by their merits, are more vindictive than the saints of any other region.
    • Topographia Hibernica Part 2, chapter 55 (83); translation from Gerald of Wales (trans. John J. O'Meara) The History and Topography of Ireland ([1951] 1982) p. 91. (1188).
  • In musicis solum instrumentis commendabilem invenio gentis istius diligentiam. In quibus, prae omni natione quam vidimus, incomparabiliter instructa est. Non enim in his, sicut in Britannicis quibus assueti sumus instrumentis, tarda et morosa est modulatio, verum velox et praeceps, suavis tamen et jocunda sonoritas. Mirum quod, in tanta tam praecipiti digitorum rapacitate, musica servatur proportio; et arte per omnia indemni inter crispatos modulos, organaque multipliciter intricata, tam suavi velocitate, tam dispari paritate, tam discordi concordia, consona redditur et completur melodia.
    • It is only in the case of musical instruments that I find any commendable diligence in the [Irish] people. They seem to me to be incomparably more skilled in these than any other people that I have seen. The movement is not, as in the British instrument to which we are accustomed, slow and easy, but rather quick and lively, while at the same time the melody is sweet and pleasant. It is remarkable how, in spite of the great speed of the fingers, the musical proportion is maintained. The melody is kept perfect and full with unimpaired art through everything – through quivering measures and the involved use of several instruments – with a rapidity that charms, a rhythmic pattern that is varied and a concord achieved through elements discordant.
    • Topographia Hibernica (The Topography of Ireland) Part 3, chapter 11 (94); translation from Gerald of Wales (trans. John J. O'Meara) The History and Topography of Ireland ([1951] 1982) p. 103.

Itinerarium Cambriae (The Journey Through Wales) (1191)


Translations and page-numbers are from Gerald of Wales (trans. Lewis Thorpe) The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales (1978).

  • Exemplum autem de responso Ricardi regis Anglorum, facto magistro Fulconi viro bono et sancto…et hic interserere praeter rem non putavi. Cum inter cetera vir ille sanctus regi dixisset; "Tres filias habetis, quae quamdiu penes vos fuerint, nunquam Dei gratiam habere poteritis, superbiam scilicet, luxuriam, et cupiditatem." Cui rex, post modicam quasi pausationem, "Jam," inquit, "maritavi filias istas, et nuptui dedi; Templariis superbiam, nigris monachis luxuriam, albis vero cupiditatem."
    • I have thought it relevant to include here an exemplum found in the answer which Richard, King of the English, made to Fulk, a virtuous and holy man…This saintly man had been talking to the King for some time. "You have three daughters," he said, "and, as long as they remain with you, you will never receive the grace of God. Their names are Superbia, Luxuria nd Cupiditas." For a moment the King did not know what to answer. Then he replied: "I have already given these daughters of mine away in marriage. Pride I gave to the Templars, Lechery I gave to the Black Monks and Covetousness to the White Monks".
    • Book 1, chapter 3, pp. 104-5.
  • De duobus tamen ordinibus istis, Cluniacensi scilicet et Cisterciensi, hoc compertum habeas. Locum aedificiis egregie constructum, redditibus amplis et possessionibus locupletatum, istis hodie tradas; inopem in brevi destructumque videbis. Illis e diverso eremum nudam, et hispidam silvam assignes: intra paucos postmodum annos, non solum ecclesias et aedes insignes, verum etiam possessionum copias, et opulentias multas ibidem invenies.
    • As far as the Cluniacs and the Cistercians are concerned, what follows is a fair appraisal of the two orders. Give the Cluniacs today a tract of land covered with marvellous buildings, endow them with ample revenues and enrich the place with vast possessions: before you can turn round it will all be ruined and reduced to poverty. On the other hand, settle the Cistercians in some barren retreat which is hidden away in an overgrown forest: a year or two later you will find splendid churches there and fine monastic buildings, with a great amount of property and all the wealth you can imagine.
    • Book 1, chapter 3, pp. 105-6.
  • Librum quoque mendosum, et vel falso scriptum, vel falsum etiam in se continentem inspiciens, statim, licet illiteratus omnino fuisset, ad locum mendacii digitum ponebat. Interrogatus autem, qualiter hoc nosset, dicebat daemonem ad locum eundem digitum suum primo porrigere…Contigit aliquando, spiritibus immundis nimis eidem insultantibus, ut Evangelium Johannis ejus in gremio poneretur: qui statim tanquam aves evolantes, omnes penitus evanuerunt. Quo sublato postmodum, et Historia Britonum a galfrido Arthuro tractata, experiendi causa, loco ejusdem subrogata, non solum corpori ipsius toti, sed etiam libro superposito, longe solito crebrius et taediosius insederunt.
    • Although he was completely illiterate, if he looked at a book which was incorrect, which contained some false statement, or which aimed at deceiving the reader, he immediately put his finger on the offending passage. If you asked him how he knew this, he said that a devil first pointed out the place with its finger…When he was harried beyond endurance by these unclean spirits, Saint John’s Gospel was placed on his lap, and then they all vanished immediately, flying away like so many birds. If the Gospel were afterwards removed and the History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth put there in its place, just to see what would happen, the demons would alight all over his body, and on the book, too, staying there longer than usual and being even more demanding.
    • Book 1, chapter 5, pp. 117-18.

Descriptio Cambriae (The Description of Wales) (1194)


Translations and page-numbers are from Gerald of Wales (trans. Lewis Thorpe) The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales (1978).

  • Hodie scripta nemo remuneret.
    • Nowadays no one ever pays for books.
    • Second Preface, p. 215.
  • In musico modulamine, non uniformiter, ut alibi, sed multipliciter, multisque modis et modulis, cantilenas emittunt. Adeo ut in turba canentium, sicut huic genti mos est, quot videas capita, tot audias carmina discriminaque vocum varia.
    • When they come together to make music, the Welsh sing their traditional songs, not in unison, as is done elsewhere, but in parts, in many modes and modulations. When a choir gathers to sing, which happens often in this country, you will hear as many different parts and voices as there are performers.
    • Book 1, chapter 13, p. 242.
  • Felix est illa civitas quae in pace bellum cogitat.
    • Happy the state which in times of peace is yet prepared for war.
    • Book 2, chapter 9, p. 271.
    • Compare Vegetius De Re Militari: "Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum" (Let him who desires peace prepare for war).
  • Nec alia, ut arbitror, gens quam haec Kambrica, aliave lingua, in die districti examinis coram Judice supremo, quicquid de ampliori contingat, pro hoc terrarum angulo respondebit.
    • Whatever else may come to pass, I do not think that on the Day of Direst Judgement any race other than the Welsh, or any other language, will give answer to the Supreme Judge of all for this small corner of the earth.
    • Book 2, chapter 10, p. 274.
    • Giraldus quotes these words from an unnamed Welshman.


  • Giraldus, garrulous, egotistic, spiteful, as he is, makes us half forget his faults in the endless instruction, the endless amusement, of his pages.
    • Edward A Freeman The History of the Norman Conquest of England Vol. 5 (1876) p. 579.
  • To his industry we are exclusively indebted for all that is known of the state of Ireland during the whole of the middle ages, a few barren Chronicles excepted.
  • Giraldus mingles in the crowd, catches its accents, is borne along by its changing passions, and thus becomes a very mirror of that fighting, chaffering, praying age.
    • Sir John E Lloyd A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest (1912) Vol. 1, p. 564.
Wikipedia has an article about: