Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book II, Ch. 8: Conway

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Passage of the river Conwy in a boat, and of Dinas Emrys

On our return to Banchor from Mona, we were shown the tombs of prince Owen and his younger brother Cadwalader,159 who were buried in a double vault before the high altar, although Owen, on account of his public incest with his cousin-german, had died excommunicated by the blessed martyr St. Thomas, the bishop of that see having been enjoined to seize a proper opportunity of removing his body from the church. We continued our journey on the sea coast, confined on one side by steep rocks, and by the sea on the other, towards the river Conwy, which preserves its waters unadulterated by the sea. Not far from the source of the river Conwy, at the head of the Eryri mountain, which on this side extends itself towards the north, stands Dinas Emrys, that is, the promontory of Ambrosius, where Merlin160 uttered his prophecies, whilst Vortigern was seated upon the bank. There were two Merlins; the one called Ambrosius who prophesied in the time of king Vortigern, was begotten by a demon incubus, and found at Caermardin, from which circumstance that city derived its name of Caermardin, or the city of Merlin; the other Merlin, born in Scotland, was named Celidonius, from the Celidonian wood in which he prophesied; and Sylvester, because when engaged in martial conflict, he discovered in the air a terrible monster, and from that time grew mad, and taking shelter in a wood, passed the remainder of his days in a savage state. This Merlin lived in the time of king Arthur, and is said to have prophesied more fully and explicitly than the other. I shall pass over in silence what was done by the sons of Owen in our days, after his death, or while he was dying, who, from the wicked desire of reigning, totally disregarded the ties of fraternity; but I shall not omit mentioning another event which occurred likewise in our days. Owen,161 son of Gruffyth, prince of North Wales, had many sons, but only one legitimate, namely, Iorwerth Drwyndwn, which in Welsh means flat-nosed, who had a son named Llewelyn. This young man, being only twelve years of age, began, during the period of our journey, to molest his uncles David and Roderic, the sons of Owen by Christiana, his cousin-german; and although they had divided amongst themselves all North Wales, except the land of Conan, and although David, having married the sister of king Henry II., by whom he had one son, was powerfully supported by the English, yet within a few years the legitimate son, destitute of lands or money (by the aid of divine vengeance), bravely expelled from North Wales those who were born in public incest, though supported by their own wealth and by that of others, leaving them nothing but what the liberality of his own mind and the counsel of good men from pity suggested: a proof that adulterous and incestuous persons are displeasing to God.


159 Owen Gwynedd, the son of Gruffydd ap Conan, died in 1169, and was buried at Bangor. When Baldwin, during his progress, visited Bangor and saw his tomb, he charged the bishop (Guy Ruffus) to remove the body out of the cathedral, when he had a fit opportunity so to do, in regard that archbishop Becket had excommunicated him heretofore, because he had married his first cousin, the daughter of Grono ap Edwyn, and that notwithstanding he had continued to live with her till she died. The bishop, in obedience to the charge, made a passage from the vault through the south wall of the church underground, and thus secretly shoved the body into the churchyard. - Hengwrt. MSS. Cadwalader brother of Owen Gwynedd, died in 1172.

160 The Merlin here mentioned was called Ambrosius, and according to the Cambrian Biography flourished about the middle of the fifth century. Other authors say, that this reputed prophet and magician was the son of a Welsh nun, daughter of a king of Demetia, and born at Caermarthen, and that he was made king of West Wales by Vortigern, who then reigned in Britain.

161 Owen Gwynedd "left behind him manie children gotten by diverse women, which were not esteemed by their mothers and birth, but by their prowes and valiantnesse." By his first wife, Gladus, the daughter of Llywarch ap Trahaern ap Caradoc, he had Orwerth Drwyndwn, that is, Edward with the broken nose; for which defect he was deemed unfit to preside over the principality of North Wales and was deprived of his rightful inheritance, which was seized by his brother David, who occupied it for the space of twenty-four years.

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

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