This continues my series on Gerald of Wales. So far we’ve looked at his early life and his time as Archdeacon. In July 1184, Gerald began his ten years in the service of the Plantagenet kings. When King Henry II summoned him to his presence he claimed to be unwilling, but he would have known that a period at court was likely to lead to high church office.
Henry II was probably the most energetic monarch in history. He rules over land from the Pyrenees to the Scottish border and continually travelled around them at breakneck speed, with his large household trailing desperately behind. Even after a hard day’s hunting, reported Gerald, he rarely sat down. This meant his retainers also had to stand all evening.
Apparently Henry was terrified of getting fat. Courtier Walter Map complained:
‘We wear out our clothes, our bodies and our horses… In vain and entirely unfruitful haste we are born on our insane course. Truly the court is a place of punishment, and only milder than Hell in that those it torments can at least escape by dying.’
Gerald was lucky in that he was often sent on diplomatic missions to his relations among the Welsh Princes. He could negotiate easily with his first cousin Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth (South West Wales), the most powerful of the Welsh rulers. He also helped to deal with rebelling Marcher Lords, who were also his relations.
Gerald did not receive the royal favour he had hoped for, and retired in disgust from the court in 1194. He said he had gained nothing from the Plantagenets but ‘empty promises of void of all truth’. He realised that the obstacles to his advancement were his birth in Wales and his kinship with the Welsh princes, even though they were most useful to the King.
[adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz