Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 2, Ch. 7: Of their sins

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Of their sins, and the consequent loss of Britain and of Troy

Moreover, through their sins, and particularly that detestable and wicked vice of Sodom, as well as by divine vengeance, they lost Britain as they formerly lost Troy. For we read in the Roman history, that the emperor Constantine having resigned the city and the Western empire to the blessed Sylvester and his successors, with an intention of rebuilding Troy, and there establishing the chief seat of the Eastern Empire, heard a voice, saying, "Dost thou go to rebuild Sodom?" upon which, he altered his intention, turned his ships and standards towards Byzantium, and there fixing his seat of empire, gave his own propitious name to the city. The British history informs us, that Mailgon, king of the Britons, and many others, were addicted to this vice; that enormity, however, had entirely ceased for so long a time, that the recollection of it was nearly worn out. But since that, as if the time of repentance was almost expired, and because the nation, by its warlike successes and acquisition of territory, has in our times unusually increased in population and strength, they boast in their turn, and most confidently and unanimously affirm, that in a short time their countrymen shall return to the island, and, according to the prophecies of Merlin, the nation, and even the name, of foreigners, shall be extinguished in the island, and the Britons shall exult again in their ancient name and privileges. But to me it appears far otherwise; for since

"Luxuriant animi rebus plerumque secundis,
Nec facile est aequa commoda mente pati;"

And because

"Non habet unde suum paupertas pascat amorem, . . .
Divitiis alitur luxuriosus amor."

So that their abstinence from that vice, which in their prosperity they could not resist, may be attributed more justly to their poverty and state of exile than to their sense of virtue. For they cannot be said to have repented, when we see them involved in such an abyss of vices, perjury, theft, robbery, rapine, murders, fratricides, adultery, and incest, and become every day more entangled and ensnared in evil-doing; so that the words of the prophet Hosea may be truly applied to them, "There is no truth, nor mercy," etc.

Other matters of which they boast are more properly to be attributed to the diligence and activity of the Norman kings than to their own merits or power. For previous to the coming of the Normans, when the English kings contented themselves with the sovereignty of Britain alone, and employed their whole military force in the subjugation of this people, they almost wholly extirpated them; as did king Offa, who by a long and extensive dyke separated the British from the English; Ethelfrid also, who demolished the noble city of Legions, (27) and put to death the monks of the celebrated monastery at Banchor, who had been called in to promote the success of the Britons by their prayers; and lastly Harold, who himself on foot, with an army of light-armed infantry, and conforming to the customary diet of the country, so bravely penetrated through every part of Wales, that he scarcely left a man alive in it; and as a memorial of his signal victories many stones may be found in Wales bearing this inscription:- "HIC VICTOR FUIT HAROLDUS" - "HERE HAROLD CONQUERED." (28)

To these bloody and recent victories of the English may be attributed the peaceable state of Wales during the reigns of the three first Norman kings; when the nation increased in population, and being taught the use of arms and the management of horses by the English and Normans (with whom they had much intercourse, by following the court, or by being sent as hostages), took advantage of the necessary attention which the three succeeding kings were obliged to pay to their foreign possessions, and once more lifting up their crests, recovered their lands, and spurned the yoke that had formerly been imposed upon them.

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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