Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book I, Ch. 10: Carmarthen

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Tywy river - Caermardyn - monastery of Albelande

Having crossed the river Tywy in a boat, we proceeded towards Caermardyn, leaving Lanstephan and Talachar90 on the sea-coast to our left. After the death of king Henry II., Rhys, the son of Gruffydd, took these two castles by assault; then, having laid waste, by fire and sword, the provinces of Penbroch and Ros, he besieged Caermardyn, but failed in his attempt. Caermardyn91 signifies the city of Merlin, because, according to the British History, he was there said to have been begotten of an incubus.

This ancient city is situated on the banks of the noble river Tywy, surrounded by woods and pastures, and was strongly inclosed with walls of brick, part of which are still standing; having Cantref Mawr, the great cantred, or hundred, on the eastern side, a safe refuge, in times of danger, to the inhabitants of South Wales, on account of its thick woods; where is also the castle of Dinevor,92 built on a lofty summit above the Tywy, the royal seat of the princes of South Wales. In ancient times, there were three regal palaces in Wales: Dinevor in South Wales, Aberfrau in North Wales, situated in Anglesea, and Pengwern in Powys, now called Shrewsbury (Slopesburia); Pengwern signifies the head of a grove of alders. Recalling to mind those poetical passages:

"Dolus an virtus quis in hoste requirat?"


"Et si non recte possis quocunque modo rem,"

my pen shrinks with abhorrence from the relation of the enormous vengeance exercised by the court against its vassals, within the comot of Caeo, in the Cantref Mawr. Near Dinevor, on the other side of the river Tywy, in the Cantref Bychan, or the little cantred, there is a spring which, like the tide, ebbs and flows twice in twenty-four hours.93 Not far to the north of Caermardyn, namely at Pencadair, that is, the head of the chair, when Rhys, the son of Gruffydd, was more by stratagem than force compelled to surrender, and was carried away into England, king Henry II. despatched a knight, born in Britany, on whose wisdom and fidelity he could rely, under the conduct of Guaidanus, dean of Cantref Mawr, to explore the situation of Dinevor castle, and the strength of the country. The priest, being desired to take the knight by the easiest and best road to the castle, led him purposely aside by the most difficult and inaccessible paths, and wherever they passed through woods, the priest, to the general surprise of all present, fed upon grass, asserting that, in times of need, the inhabitants of that country were accustomed to live upon herbs and roots. The knight returning to the king, and relating what had happened, affirmed that the country was uninhabitable, vile, and inaccessible, and only affording food to a beastly nation, living like brutes. At length the king released Rhys, having first bound him to fealty by solemn oaths and the delivery of hostages.

On our journey from Caermardyn towards the Cistercian monastery called Alba Domus,94 the archbishop was informed of the murder of a young Welshman, who was devoutly hastening to meet him; when turning out of the road, he ordered the corpse to be covered with the cloak of his almoner, and with a pious supplication commended the soul of the murdered youth to heaven. Twelve archers of the adjacent castle of St. Clare,95 who had assassinated the young man, were on the following day signed with the cross at Alba Domus, as a punishment for their crime. Having traversed three rivers, the Taf, then the Cleddeu, under Lanwadein, and afterwards another branch of the same river, we at length arrived at Haverford. This province, from its situation between two rivers, has acquired the name of Daugleddeu, 96 being enclosed and terminated, as it were, by two swords, for cleddue, in the British language, signifies a sword.


90 The castle of Talachar is now better known by the name of Llaugharne.

91 Much has been said and written by ancient authors respecting the derivation of the name of this city, which is generally allowed to be the Muridunum, or Maridunum, mentioned in the Roman itineraries. Some derive it from Caer and Merddyn, that is, the city of the prophet Merddyn; and others from Mur and Murddyn, which in the British language signify a wall. There can, however, be little doubt that it is derived simply from the Roman name Muridunum. The county gaol occupies the site of the old castle, a few fragments of which are seen intermixed with the houses of the town.

92 Dinevor, the great castle, from dinas, a castle, and vawr, great, was in ancient times a royal residence of the princes of South Wales. In the year 876, Roderic the Great, having divided the principalities of North and South Wales, and Powys land, amongst his three sons, built for each of them a palace. The sovereignty of South Wales, with the castle of Dinevor, fell to the lot of Cadell. [The ruins of Dinevor Castle still crown the summit of the hill which overshadows the town of Llandilo, 12 miles from Carmarthen.]

93 There is a spring very near the north side of Dinevor park wall, which bears the name of Nant-y-rhibo, or the bewitched brook, which may, perhaps, be the one here alluded to by Giraldus.

94 Alba Domus was called in Welsh Ty Gwyn ar Daf, or the White House on the river Taf. In the history of the primitive British church, Ty Gwyn, or white house, is used in a sense equivalent to a charter-house. The White House College, or Bangor y Ty Gwyn, is pretended to have been founded about 480, by Paul Hen, or Paulius, a saint of the congregation of Illtyd. From this origin, the celebrated Cistercian monastery is said to have derived its establishment. Powel, in his chronicle, says, "For the first abbey or frier house that we read of in Wales, sith the destruction of the noble house of Bangor, which savoured not of Romish dregges, was the Tuy Gwyn, built the yeare 1146, and after they swarmed like bees through all the countrie." (Powel, p. 254.) - Authors differ with respect to the founder of this abbey; some have attributed it to Rhys ap Tewdwr, prince of South Wales; and others to Bernard, bishop of Saint David's, who died about the year 1148. The latter account is corroborated by the following passage in Wharton's Anglia Sacra: "Anno 1143 ducti sunt monachi ordinis Cisterciensis qui modo sunt apud Albam Landam, in West Walliam, per Bernardum episcopum." Leland, in his Collectanea, says, "Whitland, abbat. Cistert., Rhesus filius Theodori princeps Suth Walliae primus fundator;" and in his Itinerary, mentions it as a convent of Bernardynes, "which yet stondeth."

95 Saint Clears is a long, straggling village, at the junction of the river Cathgenny with the Taf. Immediately on the banks of the former, and not far from its junction with the latter, stood the castle, of which not one stone is left; but the artificial tumulus on which the citadel was placed, and other broken ground, mark its ancient site.

96 Daugleddeu, so called from Dau, two, and Cled, or Cleddau, a sword. The rivers Cledheu have their source in the Prescelly mountain, unite their streams below Haverfordwest, and run into Milford Haven, which in Welsh is called Aberdaugleddau, or the confluence of the two rivers Cledheu.

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

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