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Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book I, Ch. 6: Newport and Cardiff

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Newport and Caerdyf

At Newport, where the river Usk, descending from its original source in Cantref Bachan, falls into the sea, many persons were induced to take the cross. Having passed the river Remni, we approached the noble castle of Caerdyf, situated on the banks of the river Taf. In the neighbourhood of Newport, which is in the district of Gwentluc,71 there is a small stream called Nant Pencarn,72 passable only at certain fords, not so much owing to the depth of its waters, as from the hollowness of its channel and muddy bottom. The public road led formerly to a ford, called Ryd Pencarn, that is, the ford under the head of a rock, from Rhyd, which in the British language signifies a ford, Pen, the head, and Cam, a rock; of which place Merlin Sylvester had thus prophesied: "Whenever you shall see a mighty prince with a freckled face make an hostile irruption into the southern part of Britain, should he cross the ford of Pencarn, then know ye, that the force of Cambria shall be brought low." Now it came to pass in our times, that king Henry II. took up arms against Rhys, the son of Gruffydd, and directed his march through the southern part of Wales towards Caermardyn. On the day he intended to pass over Nant Pentcarn, the old Britons of the neighbourhood watched his approach towards the ford with the utmost solicitude; knowing, since he was both mighty and freckled, that if the passage of the destined ford was accomplished, the prophecy concerning him would undoubtedly be fulfilled. When the king had followed the road leading to a more modern ford of the river (the old one spoken of in the prophecy having been for a long time in disuse), and was preparing to pass over, the pipers and trumpeters, called Cornhiriet, from HIR, long, and CORNU, a horn, began to sound their instruments on the opposite bank, in honour of the king. The king's horse, startling at the wild, unusual noise, refused to obey the spur, and enter the water; upon which, the king, gathering up the reins, hastened, in violent wrath, to the ancient ford, which he rapidly passed; and the Britons returned to their homes, alarmed and dismayed at the destruction which seemed to await them. An extraordinary circumstance occurred likewise at the castle of Caerdyf. William earl of Gloucester, son of earl Robert,73 who, besides that castle, possessed by hereditary right all the province of Gwladvorgan,74 that is, the land of Morgan, had a dispute with one of his dependants, whose name was Ivor the Little, being a man of short stature, but of great courage. This man was, after the manner of the Welsh, owner of a tract of mountainous and woody country, of the whole, or a part of which, the earl endeavoured to deprive him. At that time the castle of Caerdyf was surrounded with high walls, guarded by one hundred and twenty men-at-arms, a numerous body of archers, and a strong watch. The city also contained many stipendiary soldiers; yet, in defiance of all these precautions of security, Ivor, in the dead of night, secretly scaled the walls, and, seizing the count and countess, with their only son, carried them off into the woods, and did not release them until he had recovered everything that had been unjustly taken from him, and received a compensation of additional property; for, as the poet observes,

"Spectandum est semper ne magna injuria fiat
Fortibus et miseris; tollas licet omne quod usquam est
Argenti atque auri, spoliatis arma supersunt."

In this same town of Caerdyf, king Henry II., on his return from Ireland, the first Sunday after Easter, passed the night. In the morning, having heard mass, he remained at his devotions till every one had quitted the chapel of St. Piranus.75 As he mounted his horse at the door, a man of a fair complexion, with a round tonsure and meagre countenance, tall, and about forty years of age, habited in a white robe falling down to his naked feet, thus addressed him in the Teutonic tongue: "God hold the, cuing," which signifies, "May God protect you, king;" and proceeded, in the same language, "Christ and his Holy Mother, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Peter salute thee, and command thee strictly to prohibit throughout thy whole dominions every kind of buying or selling on Sundays, and not to suffer any work to be done on those days, except such as relates to the preparation of daily food; that due attention may be paid to the performance of the divine offices. If thou dost this, all thy undertakings shall be successful, and thou shalt lead a happy life." The king, in French, desired Philip de Mercros,76 who held the reins of his horse, to ask the rustic if he had dreamt this? and when the soldier explained to him the king's question in English, he replied in the same language he had before used, "Whether I have dreamt it or not, observe what day this is (addressing himself to the king, not to the interpreter), and unless thou shalt do so, and quickly amend thy life, before the expiration of one year, thou shalt hear such things concerning what thou lovest best in this world, and shalt thereby be so much troubled, that thy disquietude shall continue to thy life's end." The king, spurring his horse, proceeded a little way towards the gate, when, stopping suddenly, he ordered his attendants to call the good man back. The soldier, and a young man named William, the only persons who remained with the king, accordingly called him, and sought him in vain in the chapel, and in all the inns of the city. The king, vexed that he had not spoken more to him, waited alone a long time, while other persons went in search of him; and when he could not be found, pursued his journey over the bridge of Remni to Newport. The fatal prediction came to pass within the year, as the man had threatened; for the king's three sons, Henry, the eldest, and his brothers, Richard of Poitou, and Geoffrey, count of Britany, in the following Lent, deserted to Louis king of France, which caused the king greater uneasiness than he had ever before experienced; and which, by the conduct of some one of his sons, was continued till the time of his decease. This monarch, through divine mercy (for God is more desirous of the conversion than the destruction of a sinner), received many other admonitions and reproofs about this time, and shortly before his death; all of which, being utterly incorrigible, he obstinately and obdurately despised, as will be more fully set forth (by the favour of God) in my book, "de Principis Instructione."

Not far from Caerdyf is a small island situated near the shore of the Severn, called Barri, from St. Baroc77 who formerly lived there, and whose remains are deposited in a chapel overgrown with ivy, having been transferred to a coffin. From hence a noble family, of the maritime parts of South Wales, who owned this island and the adjoining estates, received the name of de Barri. It is remarkable that, in a rock near the entrance of the island, there is a small cavity, to which, if the ear is applied, a noise is heard like that of smiths at work, the blowing of bellows, strokes of hammers, grinding of tools, and roaring of furnaces; and it might easily be imagined that such noises, which are continued at the ebb and flow of the tides, were occasioned by the influx of the sea under the cavities of the rocks.


71 Gwentluc - so called from Gwent, the name of the province, and llug, open, to distinguish it from the upper parts of Wentland, is an extensive tract of flat, marshy ground, reaching from Newport to the shores of the river Severn.

72 Nant Pencarn, or the brook of Pencarn. - After a very attentive examination of the country round Newport, by natives of that place, and from the information I have received on the subject, I am inclined to think that the river here alluded to was the Ebwy, which flows about a mile and a half south of Newport. Before the new turnpike road and bridge were made across Tredegar Park, the old road led to a ford lower down the river, and may still be travelled as far as Cardiff; and was probably the ford mentioned in the text, as three old farm-houses in its neighbourhood still retain the names of Great Pencarn, Little Pencarn, and Middle Pencarn.

73 Robert Fitz-Hamon, earl of Astremeville, in Normandy, came into England with William the Conqueror; and, by the gift of William Rufus, obtained the honour of Gloucester. He was wounded with a spear at the siege of Falaise, in Normandy, died soon afterwards, and was buried, A.D. 1102, in the abbey of Tewkesbury, which he had founded. Leaving no male issue, king Henry gave his eldest daughter, Mabel, or Maude, who, in her own right, had the whole honour of Gloucester, to his illegitimate son Robert, who was advanced to the earldom of Gloucester by the king, his father. He died A.D. 1147, and left four sons: William, the personage here mentioned by Giraldus, who succeeded him in his titles and honours; Roger, bishop of Worcester, who died at Tours in France, A.D. 1179; Hamon, who died at the siege of Toulouse, A.D. 1159; and Philip.

74 The Coychurch Manuscript quoted by Mr. Williams, in his History of Monmouthshire, asserts that Morgan, surnamed Mwyn-fawr, or the Gentle, the son of Athrwy, not having been elected to the chief command of the British armies, upon his father's death retired from Caerleon, and took up his residence in Glamorganshire, sometimes at Radyr, near Cardiff, and at other times at Margam; and from this event the district derived its name, quasi Gwlad-Morgan, the country of Morgan.

75 St. Piranus, otherwise called St. Kiaran, or Piran, was an Irish saint, said to have been born in the county of Ossory, or of Cork, about the middle of the fourth century; and after that by his labours the Gospel had made good progress, he forsook all worldly things, and spent the remainder of his life in religious solitude. The place of his retirement was on the sea-coast of Cornwall, and not far from Padstow, where, as Camden informs us, there was a chapel on the sands erected to his memory. Leland has informed us, that the chapel of St. Perine, at Caerdiff, stood in Shoemaker Street.

76 So called from a parish of that name in Glamorganshire, situated between Monk Nash and St. Donat's, upon the Bristol Channel.

77 Barri Island is situated on the coast of Glamorganshire; and, according to Cressy, took its name from St. Baruc, the hermit, who resided, and was buried there. The Barrys in Ireland, as well as the family of Giraldus, who were lords of it, are said to have derived their names from this island. Leland, in speaking of this island, says, "The passage into Barrey isle at ful se is a flite shot over, as much as the Tamise is above the bridge. At low water, there is a broken causey to go over, or els over the shalow streamelet of Barrey-brook on the sands. The isle is about a mile in cumpace, and hath very good corne, grasse, and sum wood; the ferme of it worth a 10 pounds a yere. There ys no dwelling in the isle, but there is in the middle of it a fair little chapel of St. Barrok, where much pilgrimage was usid." [The "fair little chapel" has disappeared, and "Barry Island" is now, since the construction of the great dock, connected with the mainland, it is covered with houses, and its estimated capital value is now 250,000 pounds].

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

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