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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 12: Oswestry and Shrewsbury

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Of the journey by the White Monastery, Oswaldestree, Powys, and Shrewsbury

The feast of Easter having been observed with due solemnity, and many persons, by the exhortations of the archbishop, signed with the cross, we directed our way from Chester to the White Monastery,174 and from thence towards Oswaldestree; where, on the very borders of Powys, we were met by Gruffydd son of Madoc, and Elissa, princes of that country, and many others; some few of whom having been persuaded to take the cross (for several of the multitude had been previously signed by Reiner,175 the bishop of that place), Gruffydd, prince of the district, publicly adjured, in the presence of the archbishop, his cousin-german, Angharad, daughter of prince Owen, whom, according to the vicious custom of the country, he had long considered as his wife. We slept at Oswaldestree, or the tree of St. Oswald, and were most sumptuously entertained after the English manner, by William Fitz-Alan,176 a noble and liberal young man. A short time before, whilst Reiner was preaching, a robust youth being earnestly exhorted to follow the example of his companions in taking the cross, answered, "I will not follow your advice until, with this lance which I bear in my hand, I shall have avenged the death of my lord," alluding to Owen, son of Madoc, a distinguished warrior, who had been maliciously and treacherously slain by Owen Cyfeilioc, his cousin-german; and while he was thus venting his anger and revenge, and violently brandishing his lance, it suddenly snapped asunder, and fell disjointed in several pieces to the ground, the handle only remaining in his hand. Alarmed and astonished at this omen, which he considered as a certain signal for his taking the cross, he voluntarily offered his services.

In this third district of Wales, called Powys, there are most excellent studs put apart for breeding, and deriving their origin from some fine Spanish horses, which Robert de Belesme,177 earl of Shrewsbury, brought into this country: on which account the horses sent from hence are remarkable for their majestic proportion and astonishing fleetness.

Here king Henry II. entered Powys, in our days, upon an expensive, though fruitless, expedition.178 Having dismembered the hostages whom he had previously received, he was compelled, by a sudden and violent fall of rain, to retreat with his army. On the preceding day, the chiefs of the English army had burned some of the Welsh churches, with the villages and churchyards; upon which the sons of Owen the Great, with their light-armed troops, stirred up the resentment of their father and the other princes of the country, declaring that they would never in future spare any churches of the English. When nearly the whole army was on the point of assenting to this determination, Owen, a man of distinguished wisdom and moderation - the tumult being in some degree subsided - thus spake: "My opinion, indeed, by no means agrees with yours, for we ought to rejoice at this conduct of our adversary; for, unless supported by divine assistance, we are far inferior to the English; and they, by their behaviour, have made God their enemy, who is able most powerfully to avenge both himself and us. We therefore most devoutly promise God that we will henceforth pay greater reverence than ever to churches and holy places." After which, the English army, on the following night, experienced (as has before been related) the divine vengeance.

From Oswaldestree, we directed our course towards Shrewsbury (Salopesburia), which is nearly surrounded by the river Severn, where we remained a few days to rest and refresh ourselves; and where many people were induced to take the cross, through the elegant sermons of the archbishop and archdeacon. We also excommunicated Owen de Cevelioc, because he alone, amongst the Welsh princes, did not come to meet the archbishop with his people. Owen was a man of more fluent speech than his contemporary princes, and was conspicuous for the good management of his territory. Having generally favoured the royal cause, and opposed the measures of his own chieftains, he had contracted a great familiarity with king Henry II. Being with the king at table at Shrewsbury, Henry, as a mark of peculiar honour and regard, sent him one of his own loaves; he immediately brake it into small pieces, like alms-bread, and having, like an almoner, placed them at a distance from him, he took them up one by one and ate them. The king requiring an explanation of this proceeding, Owen, with a smile, replied, "I thus follow the example of my lord;" keenly alluding to the avaricious disposition of the king, who was accustomed to retain for a long time in his own hands the vacant ecclesiastical benefices.

It is to be remarked that three princes,179 distinguished for their justice, wisdom, and princely moderation, ruled, in our time, over the three provinces of Wales: Owen, son of Gruffydd, in Venedotia, or North Wales; Meredyth, his grandson, son of Gruffydd, who died early in life, in South Wales; and Owen de Cevelioc, in Powys. But two other princes were highly celebrated for their generosity; Cadwalader, son of Gruffydd, in North Wales, and Gruffydd of Maelor, son of Madoc, in Powys; and Rhys, son of Gruffydd, in South Wales, deserved commendation for his enterprising and independent spirit. In North Wales, David, son of Owen, and on the borders of Morgannoc, in South Wales, Howel, son of Iorwerth of Caerleon, maintained their good faith and credit, by observing a strict neutrality between the Welsh and English.


174 Some difficulty occurs in fixing the situation of the Album Monasterium, mentioned in the text, as three churches in the county of Shropshire bore that appellation; the first at Whitchurch, the second at Oswestry, the third at Alberbury. The narrative of our author is so simple, and corresponds so well with the topography of the country through which they passed, that I think no doubt ought to be entertained about the course of their route. From Chester they directed their way to the White Monastery, or Whitchurch, and from thence towards Oswestry, where they slept, and were entertained by William Fitz-Alan, after the English mode of hospitality.

175 By the Latin context it would appear that Reiner was bishop of Oswestree: "Ab episcopo namque loci illius Reinerio multitudo fuerat ante signata." Reiner succeeded Adam in the bishopric of St. Asaph in the year 1186, and died in 1220. He had a residence near Oswestry, at which place, previous to the arrival of Baldwin, he had signed many of the people with the cross.

176 In the time of William the Conqueror, Alan, the son of Flathald, or Flaald, obtained, by the gift of that king, the castle of Oswaldestre, with the territory adjoining, which belonged to Meredith ap Blethyn, a Briton. This Alan, having married the daughter and heir to Warine, sheriff of Shropshire, had in her right the barony of the same Warine. To him succeeded William, his son and heir. He married Isabel de Say, daughter and heir to Helias de Say, niece to Robert earl of Gloucester, lady of Clun, and left issue by her, William, his son and successor, who, in the 19th Henry II., or before, departed this life, leaving William Fitz-Alan his son and heir, who is mentioned in the text.

177 Robert de Belesme, earl of Shrewsbury, was son of Roger de Montgomery, who led the centre division of the army in that memorable battle which secured to William the conquest of England, and for his services was advanced to the earldoms of Arundel and Shrewsbury.

178 This expedition into Wales took place A.D. 1165, and has been already spoken of.

179 The princes mentioned by Giraldus as most distinguished in North and South Wales, and most celebrated in his time, were, 1. Owen, son of Gruffydd, in North Wales; 2. Meredyth, son of Gruffydd, in South Wales; 3. Owen de Cyfeilioc, in Powys; 4. Cadwalader, son of Gruffydd, in North Wales; 5. Gruffydd of Maelor in Powys; 6. Rhys, son of Gruffydd, in South Wales; 7. David, son of Owen, in North Wales; 8. Howel, son of Iorwerth, in South Wales.

1. Owen Gwynedd, son of Gruffydd ap Conan, died in 1169, having governed his country well and worthily for the space of thirty-two years. He was fortunate and victorious in all his affairs, and never took any enterprise in hand but he achieved it. 2. Meredyth ap Gruffydd ap Rhys, lord of Caerdigan and Stratywy, died in 1153, at the early age of twenty-five; a worthy knight, fortunate in battle, just and liberal to all men. 3. Owen Cyfeilioc was the son of Gruffydd Meredyth ap Meredyth ap Blethyn, who was created lord of Powys by Henry I., and died about the year 1197, leaving his principality to his son Gwenwynwyn, from whom that part of Powys was called Powys Gwenwynwyn, to distinguish it from Powys Vadoc, the possession of the lords of Bromfield. The poems ascribed to him possess great spirit, and prove that he was, as Giraldus terms him, "linguae dicacis," in its best sense. 4. Cadwalader, son of Gruffydd ap Conan, prince of North Wales, died in 1175. Gruffydd of Maelor was son of Madoc ap Meredyth ap Blethyn, prince of Powys, who died at Winchester in 1160. "This man was ever the king of England's friend, and was one that feared God, and relieved the poor: his body was conveyed honourably to Powys, and buried at Myvod." His son Gruffydd succeeded him in the lordship of Bromfield, and died about the year 1190. 6. Rhys ap Gruffydd, or the lord Rhys, was son of Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr, who died in 1137. The ancient writers have been very profuse in their praises of this celebrated Prince. 7. David, son of Owen Gwynedd, who, on the death if his father, forcibly seized the principality of North Wales, slaying his brother Howel in battle, and setting aside the claims of the lawful inheritor of the throne, Iorwerth Trwyndwn, whose son, Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, in 1194, recovered his inheritance. 8. Howel, son of Iorwerth of Caerleon, appears to have been distinguished chiefly by his ferocity.

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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