Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book I, Ch. 12: Pembroke

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Of Penbroch

The province of Penbroch adjoins the southern part of the territory of Ros, and is separated from it by an arm of the sea. Its principal city, and the metropolis of Demetia, is situated on an oblong rocky eminence, extending with two branches from Milford Haven, from whence it derived the name of Penbroch, which signifies the head of the aestuary. Arnulph de Montgomery,101 in the reign of king Henry I., erected here a slender fortress with stakes and turf, which, on returning to England, he consigned to the care of Giraldus de Windesor,102 his constable and lieutenant-general, a worthy and discreet man. Immediately on the death of Rhys son of Tewdwr, who a short time before had been slain by the treachery of his own troops at Brecheinoc, leaving his son, Gruffydd, a child, the inhabitants of South Wales besieged the castle. One night, when fifteen soldiers had deserted, and endeavoured to escape from the castle in a small boat, on the following morning Giraldus invested their armour bearers with the arms and estates of their masters, and decorated them with the military order. The garrison being, from the length of the siege, reduced to the utmost want of provisions, the constable, with great prudence and flattering hopes of success, caused four hogs, which yet remained, to be cut into small pieces and thrown down to the enemy from the fortifications. The next day, having again recourse to a more refined stratagem, he contrived that a letter, sealed with his own signet, should be found before the house of Wilfred,103 bishop of St. David's, who was then by chance in that neighbourhood, as if accidentally dropped, stating that there would be no necessity of soliciting the assistance of earl Arnulph for the next four months to come. The contents of these letters being made known to the army, the troops abandoned the siege of the castle, and retired to their own homes. Giraldus, in order to make himself and his dependants more secure, married Nest, the sister of Gruffydd, prince of South Wales, by whom he had an illustrious progeny of both sexes; and by whose means both the maritime parts of South Wales were retained by the English, and the walls of Ireland afterwards stormed, as our Vaticinal History declares.

In our time, a person residing at the castle of Penbroch, found a brood of young weasels concealed within a fleece in his dwelling house, which he carefully removed and hid. The mother, irritated at the loss of her young, which she had searched for in vain, went to a vessel of milk that had been set aside for the use of the master's son, and raising herself up, polluted it with her deadly poison; thus revenging, as it were, the loss of her young, by the destruction of the child. The man, observing what passed, carried the fleece back to its former place; when the weasel, agitated by maternal solicitude, between hope and fear, on finding again her young, began to testify her joy by her cries and actions, and returning quickly to the vessel, overthrew it; thus, in gratitude for the recovery of her own offspring, saving that of her host from danger.

In another place, an animal of the same species had brought out her young into a plain for the enjoyment of the sun and air; when an insidious kite carried off one of them. Concealing herself with the remainder behind some shrubs, grief suggested to her a stratagem of exquisite revenge; she extended herself on a heap of earth, as if dead, within sight of the plunderer, and (as success always increases avidity) the bird immediately seized her and flew away, but soon fell down dead by the bite of the poisonous animal.

The castle called Maenor Pyrr,104 that is, the mansion of Pyrrus, who also possessed the island of Chaldey, which the Welsh call Inys Pyrr, or the island of Pyrrus, is distant about three miles from Penbroch. It is excellently well defended by turrets and bulwarks, and is situated on the summit of a hill extending on the western side towards the sea-port, having on the northern and southern sides a fine fish-pond under its walls, as conspicuous for its grand appearance, as for the depth of its waters, and a beautiful orchard on the same side, inclosed on one part by a vineyard, and on the other by a wood, remarkable for the projection of its rocks, and the height of its hazel trees. On the right hand of the promontory, between the castle and the church, near the site of a very large lake and mill, a rivulet of never-failing water flows through a valley, rendered sandy by the violence of the winds. Towards the west, the Severn sea, bending its course to Ireland, enters a hollow bay at some distance from the castle; and the southern rocks, if extended a little further towards the north, would render it a most excellent harbour for shipping. From this point of sight, you will see almost all the ships from Great Britain, which the east wind drives upon the Irish coast, daringly brave the inconstant waves and raging sea. This country is well supplied with corn, sea-fish, and imported wines; and what is preferable to every other advantage, from its vicinity to Ireland, it is tempered by a salubrious air. Demetia, therefore, with its seven cantreds, is the most beautiful, as well as the most powerful district of Wales; Penbroch, the finest part of the province of Demetia; and the place I have just described, the most delightful part of Penbroch. It is evident, therefore, that Maenor Pirr is the pleasantest spot in Wales; and the author may be pardoned for having thus extolled his native soil, his genial territory, with a profusion of praise and admiration.

In this part of Penbroch, unclean spirits have conversed, nor visibly, but sensibly, with mankind; first in the house of Stephen Wiriet,105 and afterwards in the house of William Not;106 manifesting their presence by throwing dirt at them, and more with a view of mockery than of injury. In the house of William, they cut holes in the linen and woollen garments, much to the loss of the owner of the house and his guests; nor could any precaution, or even bolts, secure them from these inconveniences. In the house of Stephen, the spirit in a more extraordinary manner conversed with men, and, in reply to their taunts, upbraided them openly with everything they had done from their birth, and which they were not willing should be known or heard by others. I do not presume to assign the cause of this event, except that it is said to be the presage of a sudden change from poverty to riches, or rather from affluence to poverty and distress; as it was found to be the case in both these instances. And it appears to me very extraordinary that these places could not be purified from such illusions, either by the sprinkling of holy water, or the assistance of any other religious ceremony; for the priests themselves, though protected by the crucifix, or the holy water, on devoutly entering the house, were equally subject to the same insults. From whence it appears that things pertaining to the sacraments, as well as the sacraments themselves, defend us from hurtful, but not from harmless things; from annoyances, but not from illusions. It is worthy of note, that in our time, a woman in Poitou was possessed by a demon, who, through her mouth, artfully and acutely disputed with the learned. He sometimes upbraided people with their secret actions, and those things which they wished not to hear; but when either the books of the gospel, or the relics of saints, were placed upon the mouth of the possessed, he fled to the lower part of her throat; and when they were removed thither, he descended into her belly. His appearance was indicated by certain inflations and convulsions of the parts which he possessed, and when the relics were again placed in the lower parts, he directly returned to the upper. At length, when they brought the body of Christ, and gave it to the patient, the demon answered, "Ye fools, you are doing nothing, for what you give her is not the food of the body, but of the soul; and my power is confined to the body, not to the soul." But when those persons whom he had upbraided with their more serious actions, had confessed, and returned from penance, he reproached them no more. "I have known, indeed," says he, "I have known but now I know not, (he spake this as it were a reproach to others), and I hold my tongue, for what I know, I know not." From which it appears, that after confession and penance, the demons either do not know the sins of men, or do not know them to their injury and disgrace; because, as Augustine says, "If man conceals, God discovers; if man discovers, God conceals."

Some people are surprised that lightning often strikes our places of worship, and damages the crosses and images of him who was crucified, before the eyes of one who seeth all things, and permits these circumstances to happen; to whom I shall only answer with Ovid,

"Summa petit livor, perflant altissima venti,
Summa petunt dextra fulmina missa Jovis."

On the same subject, Peter Abelard, in the presence of Philip king of France, is said to have answered a Jew, who urged these and similar things against the faith. "It is true that the lightning descending from on high, directs itself most commonly to the highest object on earth, and to those most resembling its own nature; it never, therefore, injures your synagogues, because no man ever saw or heard of its falling upon a privy." An event worthy of note, happened in our time in France. During a contention between some monks of the Cistercian order, and a certain knight, about the limits of their fields and lands, a violent tempest, in one night, utterly destroyed and ruined the cultivated grounds of the monks, while the adjoining territory of the knight remained undamaged. On which occasion he insolently inveighed against the fraternity, and publicly asserted that divine vengeance had thus punished them for unlawfully keeping possession of his land; to which the abbot wittily replied, "It is by no means so; but that the knight had more friends in that riding than the monastery;" and he clearly demonstrated that, on the other hand, the monks had more enemies in it.

In the province of Penbroch, another instance occurred, about the same time, of a spirit's appearing in the house of Elidore de Stakepole,107 not only sensibly, but visibly, under the form of a red-haired young man, who called himself Simon. First seizing the keys from the person to whom they were entrusted, he impudently assumed the steward's office, which he managed so prudently and providently, that all things seemed to abound under his care, and there was no deficiency in the house. Whatever the master or mistress secretly thought of having for their daily use or provision, he procured with wonderful agility, and without any previous directions, saying, "You wished that to be done, and it shall be done for you." He was also well acquainted with their treasures and secret hoards, and sometimes upbraided them on that account; for as often as they seemed to act sparingly and avariciously, he used to say, "Why are you afraid to spend that heap of gold or silver, since your lives are of so short duration, and the money you so cautiously hoard up will never do you any service?" He gave the choicest meat and drink to the rustics and hired servants, saying that "Those persons should be abundantly supplied, by whose labours they were acquired." Whatever he determined should be done, whether pleasing or displeasing to his master or mistress (for, as we have said before, he knew all their secrets), he completed in his usual expeditious manner, without their consent. He never went to church, or uttered one Catholic word. He did not sleep in the house, but was ready at his office in the morning.

He was at length observed by some of the family to hold his nightly converse near a mill and a pool of water; upon which discovery he was summoned the next morning before the master of the house and his lady, and, receiving his discharge, delivered up the keys, which he had held for upwards of forty days. Being earnestly interrogated, at his departure, who he was? he answered, "That he was begotten upon the wife of a rustic in that parish, by a demon, in the shape of her husband," naming the man, and his father-in-law, then dead, and his mother, still alive; the truth of which the woman, upon examination, openly avowed. A similar circumstance happened in our time in Denmark. A certain unknown priest paid court to the archbishop, and, from his obsequious behaviour and discreet conduct, his general knowledge of letters and quick memory, soon contracted a great familiarity with him. Conversing one day with the archbishop about ancient histories and unknown events, on which topic he most frequently heard him with pleasure, it happened that when the subject of their discourse was the incarnation of our Lord, he said, amongst other things, "Before Christ assumed human nature, the demons had great power over mankind, which, at his coming, was much diminished; insomuch that they were dispersed on every side, and fled from his presence. Some precipitated themselves into the sea, others into the hollow parts of trees, or the clefts of rocks; and I myself leaped into a well;" on which he blushed for shame, and took his departure. The archbishop, and those who were with him, being greatly astonished at that speech, began to ask questions by turns, and form conjectures; and having waited some time (for he was expected to return soon), the archbishop ordered some of his attendants to call him, but he was sought for in vain, and never re- appeared. Soon afterwards, two priests, whom the archbishop had sent to Rome, returned; and when this event was related to them, they began to inquire the day and hour on which the circumstance had happened? On being told it, they declared that on the very same day and hour he had met them on the Alps, saying, that he had been sent to the court of Rome, on account of some business of his master's (meaning the archbishop), which had lately occurred. And thus it was proved, that a demon had deluded them under a human form.

I ought not to omit mentioning the falcons of these parts, which are large, and of a generous kind, and exercise a most severe tyranny over the river and land birds. King Henry II. remained here some time, making preparations for his voyage to Ireland; and being desirous of taking the diversion of hawking, he accidentally saw a noble falcon perched upon a rock. Going sideways round him, he let loose a fine Norway hawk, which he carried on his left hand. The falcon, though at first slower in its flight, soaring up to a great height, burning with resentment, and in his turn becoming the aggressor, rushed down upon his adversary with the greatest impetuosity, and by a violent blow struck the hawk dead at the feet of the king. From that time the king sent every year, about the breeding season, for the falcons108 of this country, which are produced on the sea cliffs; nor can better be found in any part of his dominions. But let us now return to our Itinerary.


101 Arnulph, younger son of Roger de Montgomery, did his homage for Dyved, and is said, by our author, to have erected a slender fortress with stakes and turf at Pembroke, in the reign of king Henry I., which, however, appears to have been so strong as to have resisted the hostile attack of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn in 1092, and of several lords of North Wales, in 1094.

102 Walter Fitz-Other, at the time of the general survey of England by William the Conqueror, was castellan of Windsor, warden of the forests in Berkshire, and possessed several lordships in the counties of Middlesex, Hampshire, and Buckinghamshire, which dominus Otherus is said to have held in the time of Edward the Confessor. William, the eldest son of Walter, took the surname of Windsor from his father's office, and was ancestor to the lords Windsor, who have since been created earls of Plymouth: and from Gerald, brother of William, the Geralds, Fitz-geralds, and many other families are lineally descended. The Gerald here mentioned by Giraldus is sometimes surnamed De Windsor, and also Fitz-Walter, i.e. the son of Walter; having slain Owen, son of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, chief lord of Cardiganshire, he was made president of the county of Pembroke.

103 Wilfred is mentioned by Browne Willis in his list of bishops of St. David's, as the forty-seventh, under the title of Wilfride, or Griffin: he died about the year 1116.

104 Maenor Pyrr, now known by the name of Manorbeer, is a small village on the sea coast, between Tenby and Pembroke, with the remaining shell of a large castle. Our author has given a farfetched etymology to this castle and the adjoining island, in calling them the mansion and island of Pyrrhus: a much more natural and congenial conjecture may be made in supposing Maenor Pyrr to be derived from Maenor, a Manor, and Pyrr the plural of Por, a lord; i.e. the Manor of the lords, and, consequently, Inys Pyrr, the Island of the lords. As no mention whatever is made of the castle in the Welsh Chronicle, I am inclined to think it was only a castellated mansion, and therefore considered of no military importance in those days of continued warfare throughout Wales. It is one of the most interesting spots in our author's Itinerary, for it was the property of the Barri family, and the birth-place of Giraldus; in the parish church, the sepulchral effigy of a near relation, perhaps a brother, is still extant, in good preservation. Our author has evidently made a digression in order to describe this place.

105 The house of Stephen Wiriet was, I presume, Orielton. There is a monument in the church of St. Nicholas, at Pembroke, to the memory of John, son and heir of Sir Hugh Owen, of Bodeon in Anglesea, knight, and Elizabeth, daughter and heir of George Wiriet, of Orielton, A.D. 1612.

106 The family name of Not, or Nott, still exists in Pembrokeshire. [The descendants of Sir Hugh continued to live at Orielton, and the title is still in existence.]

107 There are two churches in Pembrokeshire called Stackpoole, one of which, called Stackpoole Elidor, derived its name probably from the Elidore de Stakepole mentioned in this chapter by Giraldus. It contains several ancient monuments, and amongst them the effigies of a cross-legged knight, which has been for many years attributed to the aforesaid Elidore.

108 Ramsey Island, near St. David's, was always famous for its breed of falcons.

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

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