Encyclopedia

Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales (Latin: Giraldus Cambrensis; Welsh: Gerallt Gymro; French: Gerald de Barri; c. 1146 – c. 1223) was a Cambro-Norman archdeacon of Brecon and historian. ... Gerald became a royal clerk and chaplain to King Henry II of England in 1184... He was chosen to accompany one of the king's sons, John, in 1185 on John's first expedition to Ireland. This was the catalyst for his literary career; his work Topographia Hibernica (first circulated in manuscript in 1188, and revised at least four more times) is an account of his journey to Ireland; Gerald always referred to it as his Topography, though "History" is the more accurate term.

He followed it up, shortly afterward, with an account of Henry's conquest of Ireland, the Expugnatio Hibernica. Both works were revised and added to several times before his death, and display a notable degree of Latin learning, as well as a great deal of prejudice against a foreign people. ... Gerald's works on Ireland although invaluable for their detail are obviously biased, and have been attacked by Irish writers such as Stephen White.

[Adapted from Wikipedia]

Gerald of Wales writing

The Topographia Hibernica is in three sections, which Gerald called "distinctions":

  • Distinction 1: The topography and natural history of Ireland
  • Distinction 2: Of the wonders and miracles of Ireland
  • Distinction 3: Of the inhabitants of Ireland

Though not always accurate - Gerald tended to believe whatever stories he heard - the Topographia Hibernica is a valuable source of information on the animals and birds of medieval Ireland. In Distinction 1, Gerald wrote on the following animal topics (chapter number in [brackets]; the chapter numbers are those given by The historical works of Giraldus Cambrensis, Thomas Forester, trans. / Richard Hoare, trans / Thomas Wright, ed., 1863; the chapter order does not always match the order in transcriptions of the Latin text).

  • Of the fishes in the sea, rivers, and lakes, and the species which are not found in Ireland [VII]
  • Of the birds, and those that are wanting; of the hawk, falcon, and sparrow-hawk, and their natures [VIII]
  • Of the eagle, and its nature [IX]
  • Of the crane, and its nature [X]
  • Of barnacles (barnacle geese) which grow from fir timber, and their natures [XI]
  • Of birds of twofold species, and mixed breed [XII]
  • Of martinets, and their natures [XIII]
  • Of swans and storks, and their natures [XIV]
  • Of birds which disappear in the winter [XV]
  • Of grasshoppers which sing the better when their heads are cut off [XVI]
  • Of the various kinds of crows found here, and their natures [XVII]
  • Of the croeriœ which are here white, and their natures [XVIII]
  • Of wild animals, and their kinds, with those that are wanting; of stags, boars, and the small hares [XIX]
  • Of the badger, and its nature [XX]
  • Of the beaver, and its nature [XXI]
  • Of weasels, and their natures [XXII]
  • Of reptiles, and those that are not found in Ireland and that there are no venomous creatures [XXIII]
  • Of a frog, lately discovered in Ireland [XXIV]

Gerald's writings were used in several bestiaries and other manuscripts, though he was usually not credited. Two manuscripts that quote him almost exactly are Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 764 and British Library, Harley MS 4751.