This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.
On their first day in Swansea the travellers gathered many more recruits for the crusade. Swansea Castle, in the city centre, was built after this visit, so we don’t know where they stayed.
An old man named Cador claimed he was too weak and ill to travel to Jerusalem but offered to contribute one tenth of his possessions if the Archbishop would forgive him half his sins. This is not an uncommon proposition and a good way to raise funds for the crusade, so Archbishop Baldwin agreed. Then Cador suggested that if one tenth of his goods would wipe out half his sins then logically a second tenth would wipe out the other half, leaving him sin free. The Archbishop was amused at the man’s ‘devout cunning’ and embraced the man, but Gerald does not tell us whether he agreed to his request.
During their second evening in Swansea, Gerald told the party the story of Elidyr and the fairies. Fairies were known to live in the Swansea area until the Methodists drove them out in the nineteenth century. The story goes that a boy named Elidyr met two fairies while hiding by riverbank and followed them down an underground passage to a beautiful twilight land. He was presented to their King and became the playmate of their prince.
Elidyr described the fairies as having long fair hair flowing over their shoulders, and riding horses about the size of greyhounds. They never ate meat or fish but only milk dishes flavoured with saffron. They never swore oaths and they never lied, indeed the worship of truth was the only religion they practised.
Elidyr was allowed to go back and forth between the two worlds until one day his mother asked him to bring her some of their abundant gold. He took the prince’s golden ball back to his mother, hotly pursued by the fairies. As he reached home he tripped and dropped the ball and the fairies carriages away. After that he could never find the entrance to the twilight land again.
He later became a priest and was always ashamed of his action. He cried every time he told the story to Gerald’s ankle Bishop David. He told the Bishop that the fairies spoke a language rather like Greek. Gerald thought it might have been an ancient form of Welsh, which he (wrongly) believed to be directly derived from that language.
Next day the travellers rode across the neck of the Gower peninsular and forded the Loughor estuary, probably at Loughor town, where a single ruined medieval tower stands on a mound beside the road, all that remains of Loughor Castle today. They then entered Carmarthenshire and pushed on to cross the Gwendraeth Fawr and Gwendraeth Fach rivers and into Kidwelly.
They stayed in a fortress built on a massive D-shaped mound, later replaced by the magnificent castle which still stands today. Gerald does not record what they did in Kidwelly or how successful their preaching was. Instead he records the story of Gwenllian, who was one of his distant relatives.
Gwenllian had led a Welsh army fifty years before against the Kidwelly Normans. She was so certain of victory that she brought her two young sons to the battle. Unfortunately the Welsh were routed by Maurice de Londres near the farm later called Maes Gwenllian (‘Gwenllian’s field’) and in the battle she herself was stabbed and beheaded. This same Maurice de Londres was also the founder of Ewenny Priory.
[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