Saturday, 10 March 2018
New Radnor (Gerald’s Journey Through Wales 1188)
Before I was ill we were looking at the life of Gerald of Wales, and had started to consider his journey through Wales in the company of Archbishop Baldwin. They were travelling to preach the cross, but it could have other implications as the Welsh were determined that the English have no authority over the Welsh Church. Gerald was part of the company because he could preach well, but also hopefully soothe the Welsh suspicion.
The first part of the journey, to Radnor, was easy. There was a Roman road across the Herefordshire plain (now the A438), and the company would have covered the 30 miles in a single day. The fortress of Radnor is no more, but its earthworks still dominate the village of New Radnor today. It marked the border between Norman and Welsh territory. Here the Archbishop would meet Prince Rhys ap Gruffudd, most influential of all the native rulers.
Though Rhys was currently Henry II’s firm ally, there was at least the possibility that he might hinder Baldwin’s progress, lest it strengthen the authority of the English over the Welsh Church. Henry’s right-hand man, de Glanville, had therefore come prepared to deal with this potentially delicate situation, while Gerald – Rhys’s first cousin – was ready to add his persuasions. But in the event the Prince gave the enterprise his wholehearted support and the Archbishop preached his first crusading sermon in Wales.
Gerald seized the opportunity to become the first man in Wales to take the cross, kneeling before the Archbishop and vowing to join the crusade. The king, the Archbishop and de Glanville had all exhorted him to set this example, and (doubtless to his great satisfaction) he just managed to beat his rival Bishop Peter, who took the cross immediately afterwards.
Gerald’s kinsman Einion o’r Porth – ruler of nearby Elfael and Rhys’s son-in-law – and many other Welshmen also had the Crusaders symbol sewn on their cloaks, but not Rhys. He made the mistake of going home to tell his wife he intended to take the cross, and she ‘turned aside his noble purpose by her womanly wiles’. All the same, at Radnor the mission had got off to a very promising start indeed.
Next morning de Glanville returned to England, his diplomatic work done, while the travellers moved on only a few miles to a place Gerald calls ‘Cruker Castle’. This was probably Castell Crug Eryr (‘the eagles crag’), whose spectacularly sited earthworks stand near the point where the A44 road drops into the Edw valley, a mile north-west of the Fforest Inn at Llanfihangel Nant Melan. They stayed two nights, recruiting a brave but impoverished young man called Hector and (despite the tears and groans of his relations) Prince Maelgwyn ap Cadwallon of nearby Maelienydd – yet another of Gerald’s cousins, who had witnessed his triumph at Llanbadarn church a dozen years earlier.
[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