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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 7: Anglesey

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The island of Mona

From hence, we crossed over a small arm of the sea to the island of Mona, distant from thence about two miles, where Roderic, the younger son of Owen, attended by nearly all the inhabitants of the island, and many others from the adjacent countries, came in a devout manner to meet us. Confession having been made in a place near the shore, where the surrounding rocks seemed to form a natural theatre,151 many persons were induced to take the cross, by the persuasive discourses of the archbishop, and Alexander, our interpreter, archdeacon of that place, and of Sisillus, abbot of Stratflur. Many chosen youths of the family of Roderic were seated on an opposite rock, and not one of them could be prevailed upon to take the cross, although the archbishop and others most earnestly exhorted them, but in vain, by an address particularly directed to them. It came to pass within three days, as if by divine vengeance, that these young men, with many others, pursued some robbers of that country. Being discomfited and put to flight, some were slain, others mortally wounded, and the survivors voluntarily assumed that cross they had before despised. Roderic, also, who a short time before had incestuously married the daughter of Rhys, related to him by blood in the third degree, in order, by the assistance of that prince, to be better able to defend himself against the sons of his brothers, whom he had disinherited, not paying attention to the wholesome admonitions of the archbishop on this subject, was a little while afterwards dispossessed of all his lands by their means; thus deservedly meeting with disappointment from the very source from which he expected support. The island of Mona contains three hundred and forty-three vills, considered equal to three cantreds. Cantred, a compound word from the British and Irish languages, is a portion of land equal to one hundred vills. There are three islands contiguous to Britain, on its different sides, which are said to be nearly of an equal size - the Isle of Wight on the south, Mona on the west, and Mania (Man) on the north-west side. The two first are separated from Britain by narrow channels; the third is much further removed, lying almost midway between the countries of Ulster in Ireland and Galloway in Scotland. The island of Mona is an arid and stony land, rough and unpleasant in its appearance, similar in its exterior qualities to the land of Pebidion,152 near St. David's, but very different as to its interior value. For this island is incomparably more fertile in corn than any other part of Wales, from whence arose the British proverb, "Mon mam Cymbry, Mona mother of Wales;" and when the crops have been defective in all other parts of the country, this island, from the richness of its soil and abundant produce, has been able to supply all Wales.

As many things within this island are worthy of remark, I shall not think it superfluous to make mention of some of them. There is a stone here resembling a human thigh,153 which possesses this innate virtue, that whatever distance it may be carried, it returns, of its own accord, the following night, as has often been experienced by the inhabitants. Hugh, earl of Chester,154 in the reign of king Henry I., having by force occupied this island and the adjacent country, heard of the miraculous power of this stone, and, for the purpose of trial, ordered it to be fastened, with strong iron chains, to one of a larger size, and to be thrown into the sea. On the following morning, however, according to custom, it was found in its original position, on which account the earl issued a public edict, that no one, from that time, should presume to move the stone from its place. A countryman, also, to try the powers of this stone, fastened it to his thigh, which immediately became putrid, and the stone returned to its original situation.

There is in the same island a stony hill, not very large or high, from one side of which, if you cry aloud, you will not be heard on the other; and it is called (by anti-phrasis) the rock of hearers. In the northern part of Great Britain (Northumberland) so named by the English, from its situation beyond the river Humber, there is a hill of a similar nature, where if a loud horn or trumpet is sounded on one side, it cannot be heard on the opposite one. There is also in this island the church of St. Tefredaucus,155 into which Hugh, earl of Shrewsbury, (who, together with the earl of Chester, had forcibly entered Anglesey), on a certain night put some dogs, which on the following morning were found mad, and he himself died within a month; for some pirates, from the Orcades, having entered the port of the island in their long vessels, the earl, apprised of their approach, boldly met them, rushing into the sea upon a spirited horse. The commander of the expedition, Magnus, standing on the prow of the foremost ship, aimed an arrow at him; and, although the earl was completely equipped in a coat of mail, and guarded in every part of his body except his eyes, the unlucky weapon struck his right eye, and, entering his brain, he fell a lifeless corpse into the sea. The victor, seeing him in this state, proudly and exultingly exclaimed, in the Danish tongue, "Leit loup," let him leap; and from this time the power of the English ceased in Anglesey. In our times, also, when Henry II. was leading an army into North Wales, where he had experienced the ill fortune of war in a narrow, woody pass near Coleshulle, he sent a fleet into Anglesey, and began to plunder the aforesaid church, and other sacred places. But the divine vengeance pursued him, for the inhabitants rushed upon the invaders, few against many, unarmed against armed; and having slain great numbers, and taken many prisoners, gained a most complete and bloody victory. For, as our Topography of Ireland testifies, that the Welsh and Irish are more prone to anger and revenge than any other nations, the saints, likewise, of those countries appear to be of a more vindictive nature.

Two noble persons, and uncles of the author of this book, were sent thither by the king; namely, Henry, son of king Henry I., and uncle to king Henry II., by Nest, daughter of Rhys, prince of South Wales; and Robert Fitz-Stephen, brother to Henry, a man who in our days, shewing the way to others, first attacked Ireland, and whose fame is recorded in our Vaticinal History . Henry, actuated by too much valour, and ill supported, was pierced by a lance, and fell amongst the foremost, to the great concern of his attendants; and Robert, despairing of being able to defend himself, was badly wounded, and escaped with difficulty to the ships.

There is a small island, almost adjoining to Anglesey, which is inhabited by hermits, living by manual labour, and serving God. It is remarkable that when, by the influence of human passions, any discord arises among them, all their provisions are devoured and infected by a species of small mice, with which the island abounds; but when the discord ceases, they are no longer molested. Nor is it to be wondered at, if the servants of God sometimes disagree, since Jacob and Esau contended in the womb of Rebecca, and Paul and Barnabas differed; the disciples also of Jesus disputed which of them should be the greatest, for these are the temptations of human infirmity; yet virtue is often made perfect by infirmity, and faith is increased by tribulations. This island is called in Welsh, Ynys Lenach,156 or the ecclesiastical island, because many bodies of saints are deposited there, and no woman is suffered to enter it.

We saw in Anglesey a dog, who accidentally had lost his tail, and whose whole progeny bore the same defect. It is wonderful that nature should, as it were, conform itself in this particular to the accident of the father. We saw also a knight, named Earthbald, born in Devonshire, whose father, denying the child with which his mother was pregnant, and from motives of jealousy accusing her of inconstancy, nature alone decided the controversy by the birth of the child, who, by a miracle, exhibited on his upper lip a scar, similar to one his father bore in consequence of a wound he had received from a lance in one of his military expeditions. Stephen, the son of Earthbald, had a similar mark, the accident being in a manner converted into nature. A like miracle of nature occurred in earl Alberic, son of Alberic earl of Veer,157 whose father, during the pregnancy of his mother, the daughter of Henry of Essex, having laboured to procure a divorce, on account of the ignominy of her father, the child, when born, had the same blemish in its eye, as the father had got from a casual hurt. These defects may be entailed on the offspring, perhaps, by the impression made on the memory by frequent and steady observation; as it is reported that a queen, accustomed to see the picture of a negro in her chamber, unexpectedly brought forth a black child, and is exculpated by Quintilian, on account of the picture. In like manner it happened to the spotted sheep, given by Laban out of his flock to his nephew Jacob, and which conceived by means of variegated rods.158 Nor is the child always affected by the mother's imagination alone, but sometimes by that of the father; for it is well known that a man, seeing a passenger near him, who was convulsed both behind and before, on going home and telling his wife that he could not get the impression of this sight off his mind, begat a child who was affected in a similar manner.


151 The spot selected by Baldwin for addressing the multitude, has in some degree been elucidated by the anonymous author of the Supplement to Rowland's Mona Antiqua. He says, that "From tradition and memorials still retained, we have reasons to suppose that they met in an open place in the parish of Landisilio, called Cerrig y Borth. The inhabitants, by the grateful remembrance, to perpetuate the honour of that day, called the place where the archbishop stood, Carreg yr Archjagon, i.e. the Archbishop's Rock; and where prince Roderic stood, Maen Roderic, or the Stone of Roderic." This account is in part corroborated by the following communication from Mr. Richard Llwyd of Beaumaris, who made personal inquiries on the spot. "Cerrig y Borth, being a rough, undulating district, could not, for that reason, have been chosen for addressing a multitude; but adjoining it there are two eminences which command a convenient surface for that purpose; one called Maen Rodi (the Stone or Rock of Roderic), the property of Owen Williams, Esq.; and the other Carreg Iago, belonging to Lord Uxbridge. This last, as now pronounced, means the Rock of St. James; but I have no difficulty in admitting, that Carreg yr Arch Iagon may (by the compression of common, undiscriminating language, and the obliteration of the event from ignorant minds by the lapse of so many centuries) be contracted into Carreg Iago. Cadair yr archesgob is now also contracted into Cadair (chair, a seat naturally formed in the rock, with a rude arch over it, on the road side, which is a rough terrace over the breast of a rocky and commanding cliff, and the nearest way from the above eminences to the insulated church of Landisilio. This word Cadair, though in general language a chair, yet when applied to exalted situations, means an observatory, as Cadair Idris, etc.; but there can, in my opinion, be no doubt that this seat in the rock is that described by the words Cadair yr Archesgob." [Still more probable, and certainly more flattering to Giraldus, is that it was called "Cadair yr Arch Ddiacon" (the Archdeacon's chair).]

152 This hundred contained the comots of Mynyw, or St. David's, and Pencaer.

153 I am indebted to Mr. Richard Llwyd for the following curious extract from a Manuscript of the late intelligent Mr. Rowlands, respecting this miraculous stone, called Maen Morddwyd, or the stone of the thigh, which once existed in Llanidan parish. "Hic etiam lapis lumbi, vulgo Maen Morddwyd, in hujus caemiterii vallo locum sibi e longo a retro tempore obtinuit, exindeque his nuperis annis, quo nescio papicola vel qua inscia manu nulla ut olim retinente virtute, quae tunc penitus elanguit aut vetustate evaporavit, nullo sane loci dispendio, nec illi qui eripuit emolumento, ereptus et deportatus fuit."

154 Hugh, earl of Chester. The first earl of Chester after the Norman conquest, was Gherbod, a Fleming, who, having obtained leave from king William to go into Flanders for the purpose of arranging some family concerns, was taken and detained a prisoner by his enemies; upon which the conqueror bestowed the earldom of Chester on Hugh de Abrincis or of Avranches, "to hold as freely by the sword, as the king himself did England by the crown."

155 This church is at Llandyfrydog, a small village in Twrkelin hundred, not far distant from Llanelian, and about three miles from the Bay of Dulas. St. Tyvrydog, to whom it was dedicated, was one of the sons of Arwystyl Glof, a saint who lived in the latter part of the sixth century.

156 Ynys Lenach, now known by the name of Priestholme Island, bore also the title of Ynys Seiriol, from a saint who resided upon it in the sixth century. It is also mentioned by Dugdale and Pennant under the appellation of Insula Glannauch.

157 Alberic de Veer, or Vere, came into England with William the Conqueror, and as a reward for his military services, received very extensive possessions and lands, particularly in the county of Essex. Alberic, his eldest son, was great chamberlain of England in the reign of king Henry I., and was killed A.D. 1140, in a popular tumult at London. Henry de Essex married one of his daughters named Adeliza. He enjoyed, by inheritance, the office of standard-bearer, and behaved himself so unworthily in the military expedition which king Henry undertook against Owen Gwynedd, prince of North Wales, in the year 1157, by throwing down his ensign, and betaking himself to flight, that he was challenged for this misdemeanor by Robert de Mountford, and by him vanquished in single combat; whereby, according to the laws of his country, his life was justly forfeited. But the king interposing his royal mercy, spared it, but confiscated his estates, ordering him to be shorn a monk, and placed in the abbey of Reading. There appears to be some biographical error in the words of Giraldus - "Filia scilicet Henrici de Essexia," for by the genealogical accounts of the Vere and Essex families, we find that Henry de Essex married the daughter of the second Alberic de Vere; whereas our author seems to imply, that the mother of Alberic the second was daughter to Henry de Essex.

158 "And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel, and of the chesnut tree, and peeled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. And he set the rods, which he had peeled, before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs, when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle speckled and spotted." - Gen. xxx.

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

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