Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 2, Ch. 2: Their living by plunder

Next Selection Previous Selection


Their living by plunder, and disregard of the bonds of peace and friendship

This nation conceives it right to commit acts of plunder, theft, and robbery, not only against foreigners and hostile nations, but even against their own countrymen. When an opportunity of attacking the enemy with advantage occurs, they respect not the leagues of peace and friendship, preferring base lucre to the solemn obligations of oaths and good faith; to which circumstance Gildas alludes in his book concerning the overthrow of the Britons, actuated by the love of truth, and according to the rules of history, not suppressing the vices of his countrymen. "They are neither brave in war, nor faithful in peace." But when Julius Caesar, great as the world itself,

"Territa quaesitis ostendit terga Britannis,"

were they not brave under their leader Cassivellaunus? And when Belinus and Brennus added the Roman empire to their conquests? What were they in the time of Constantine, son of our Helen? What, in the reign of Aurelius Ambrosius, whom even Eutropius commends? What were they in the time of our famous prince Arthur? I will not say fabulous. On the contrary, they, who were almost subdued by the Scots and Picts, often harassed with success the auxiliary Roman legions, and exclaimed, as we learn from Gildas, "The barbarians drove us to the sea, the sea drove us again back to the barbarians; on one side we were subdued, on the other drowned, and here we were put to death. Were they not," says he, "at that time brave and praiseworthy?" When attacked and conquered by the Saxons, who originally had been called in as stipendiaries to their assistance, were they not brave? But the strongest argument made use of by those who accuse this nation of cowardice, is, that Gildas, a holy man, and a Briton by birth, has handed down to posterity nothing remarkable concerning them, in any of his historical works. We promise, however, a solution of the contrary in our British Topography, if God grants us a continuance of life.

As a further proof, it may be necessary to add, that from the time when that illustrious prince of the Britons, mentioned at the beginning of this book, totally exhausted the strength of the country, by transporting the whole armed force beyond the seas; that island, which had before been so highly illustrious for its incomparable valour, remained for many subsequent years destitute of men and arms, and exposed to the predatory attacks of pirates and robbers. So distinguished, indeed, were the natives of this island for their bravery, that, by their prowess, that king subdued almost all Cisalpine Gaul, and dared even to make an attack on the Roman empire.

In process of time, the Britons, recovering their long-lost population and knowledge of the use of arms, re-acquired their high and ancient character. Let the different aeras be therefore marked, and the historical accounts will accord. With regard to Gildas, who inveighs so bitterly against his own nation, the Britons affirm that, highly irritated at the death of his brother, the prince of Albania, whom king Arthur had slain, he wrote these invectives, and upon the same occasion threw into the sea many excellent books, in which he had described the actions of Arthur, and the celebrated deeds of his countrymen; from which cause it arises, that no authentic account of so great a prince is any where to be found.

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

Next Selection Previous Selection