Monday, 9 July 2018

Across the Dovey to Tywyn (Gerald’s Journey Through Wales 1188)

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.

We haven’t had a map for a few weeks, so here is one showing the journey round north-west Wales:

Towyn to Rhuddlan

Gerald’s comments about the land across the River Dovey were not complimentary.

… the wildest and most terrifying region in all Wales. For its mountains are very high and inaccessible, with crags as sharply pointed as the defences of a fortress. Nor are these mountains widely spaced out, but all jumbled so closely together that shepherds can exchange comments or abuse from neighbouring peaks: if they ever decided to meet face to face, however, a whole day’s journey would scarcely bring them together.

The mountains of Merioneth made Gwynedd the poorest and most sparsely populated Welsh principality. But they also made it a natural stronghold. In Gerald’s time it was completely free of even the threat of Norman domination. It was almost a century before King Edward I finally conquered the whole of Wales, but it took huge resources. In addition to the mountains, the area had many river estuaries, so even travel along the coast was extremely difficult.

Gerald was not familiar with this part of the country and there is no record of him preaching there. There were no Normans to understand his French, and few clerics to understand his Latin. Although he was distantly related to Gwynedd’s leaders, he didn’t know them well and they were not amenable to dialogue. On the death of the great Owain Gwynedd, his principality had been split between his sons and grandsons, who were all fighting to seize one another’s inheritance.

There was no one to greet Archbishop Baldwin’s party when they entered Gwynedd and spent the night in Tywyn. Gerald described the church of St Cadfan as ‘the glory of Merioneth.’ The nave of the church still survives, along with the ancient ‘Cadfan stone’, carved with the earliest inscription in the Welsh language.

The next morning, Owain Gwynedd’s grandson, the Lord of Merioneth, Gruffudd ap Cynan, galloped into Tywyn full of apologies. He humbly and devoutly begged Baldwin’s pardon for not greeting them on their arrival.

[adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn 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

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