Description of Wales by Gerald of Wales

Written 1183-5. This extract is taken from The Description of Wales by Giraldus Cambrensis, edited by J. M. Dent (1912). I have omitted the two prefaces and book II, to concentrate on the more topographical content. The full text of Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997) is available at Vision of Britain withn links to the places named.

Book I

Chapter 1

Of the length and breadth of Wales, the nature of its soil, and the three remaining tribes of Britons Cambria, which, by a corrupt and common term, though less proper, is in modern times called Wales, is about two hundred miles long and one hundred broad. The length from Port Gordber in Anglesey to Port Eskewin in Monmouthshire is eight days' journey in extent; the breadth from Porth Mawr, or the great Port of St. David's, to Ryd-helic, which in Latin means Vadum Salicis, or the Ford of the Willow, and in English is called Willow-forde, is four days' journey.

It is a country very strongly defended by high mountains, deep valleys, extensive woods, rivers, and marshes; insomuch that from the time the Saxons took possession of the island the remnants of the Britons, retiring into these regions, could never be entirely subdued either by the English or by the Normans. Those who inhabited the southern angle of the island, which took its name from the chieftain Corinaeus, made less resistance, as their country was more defenceless. The third division of the Britons, who obtained a part of Britany in Gaul, were transported thither, not after the defeat of their nation, but long before, by king Maximus, and, in consequence of the hard and continued warfare which they underwent with him, were rewarded by the royal munificence with those districts in France.

Chapter 2

Of the ancient division of Wales into three parts Wales was in ancient times divided into three parts nearly equal, consideration having been paid, in this division, more to the value than to the just quantity or proportion of territory. They were Venedotia, now called North Wales; Demetia, or South Wales, which in British is called Deheubarth, that is, the southern part; and Powys, the middle or eastern district. Roderic the Great, or Rhodri Mawr, who was king over all Wales, was the cause of this division. He had three sons, Mervin, Anarawt, and Cadell, amongst whom he partitioned the whole principality. North Wales fell to the lot of Mervin; Powys to Anarawt; and Cadell received the portion of South Wales, together with the general good wishes of his brothers and the people; for although this district greatly exceeded the others in quantity, it was the least desirable from the number of noble chiefs, or Uchelwyr, men of a superior rank, who inhabited it, and were often rebellious to their lords, and impatient of control. But Cadell, on the death of his brothers, obtained the entire dominion of Wales, as did his successors till the time of Tewdwr, whose descendants, Rhys, son of Tewdwr, Gruflydd, son of Rhys, and Rhys, son of Gruffydd, the ruling prince in our time, enjoyed only (like the father) the sovereignty over South Wales.

Chapter 3: Genealogy of the Princes of Wales

The following is the generation of princes of South Wales: Rhys, son of Gruffydd; Gruffydd, son of Rhys; Rhys, son of Tewdwr; Tewdwr, son of Eineon; Eineon, son of Owen; Owen, son of Howel Dda, or Howel the Good; Howel, son of Cadell, son of Roderic the Great. Thus the princes of South Wales derived their origin from Cadell, son of Roderic the Great. The princes of North Wales descended from Mervin in this manner: Llewelyn, son of Iorwerth; Iorwerth, son of Owen; Owen, son of Gruffydd; Gruffydd, son of Conan; Conan, son of Iago; Iago, son of Edoual; Edoual, son of Meyric; Meyric, son of Anarawt (Anandhrec); Anarawt, son of Mervin, son of Roderic the Great. Anarawt leaving no issue, the princes of Powys have their own particular descent. It is worthy of remark, that the Welsh bards and singers, or reciters, have the genealogies of the aforesaid princes, written in the Welsh language, in their ancient and authentic books; and also retain them in their memory from Roderic the Great to B.M.; and from thence to Sylvius, Ascanius, and Æneas; and from the latter produce the genealogical series in a lineal descent, even to Adam. But as an account of such long and remote genealogies may appear to many persons trifling rather than historical, we have purposely omitted them in our compendium.

Chapter 4: How many cantreds, royal palaces, and cathedrals there are in Wales

South Wales contains twenty-nine cantreds; North Wales, twelve; Powys, six: many of which are at this time in the possession of the English and Franks. For the country now called Shropshire formerly belonged to Powys, and the place where the castle of Shrewsbury stands bore the name of Pengwern, or the head of the Alder Grove.

There were three royal seats in South Wales: Dinevor, in South Wales, removed from Caerleon; Aberfraw, in North Wales; and Pengwern, in Powys.

Wales contains in all fifty-four cantreds. The word cantref is derived from cant, a hundred, and tref, a village; and means in the British and Irish languages such a portion of land as contains a hundred vills.

There are four cathedral churches in Wales: St. David's, upon the Irish sea, David the archbishop being its patron: it was in ancient times the metropolitan church, and the district only contained twenty-four cantreds, though at this time only twenty- three; for Ergengl, in English called Urchenfeld, is said to have been formerly within the diocese of St. David's, and sometimes was placed within that of Landaff. The see of St. David's had twenty-five successive archbishops; and from the time of the removal of the pall into France, to this day, twenty-two bishops; whose names and series, as well as the cause of the removal of the archiepiscopal pall, may be seen in our Itinerary.

In South Wales also is situated the bishopric of Llandaff, near the Severn sea, and near the noble castle of Caerdyf [Cardiff]; bishop Teilo being its patron. It contains five cantreds, and the fourth part of another, namely, Senghennyd.

In North Wales, between Anglesey and the Eryri mountains, is the see of Bangor, under the patronage of Daniel, the abbot; it contains about nine cantreds. In North Wales also is the poor little cathedral of Llan-Elwy, or St. Asaph, containing about six cantreds, to which Powys is subject.

Chapter 5: Of the two mountains from which the noble rivers which divide Wales spring

Wales is divided and distinguished by noble rivers, which derive their source from two ranges of mountains, the Ellennith, in South Wales, which the English call Moruge, as being the heads of moors, or bogs; and Eryri, in North Wales, which they call Snowdon, or mountains of snow; the latter of which are said to be of so great an extent, that if all the herds in Wales were collected together, they would supply them with pasture for a considerable time.

Upon them are two lakes, one of which has a floating island; and the other contains fish having only one eye, as we have related in our Itinerary. We must also here remark, that at two places in Scotland, one on the eastern, and the other on the western ocean, the sea-fish called mulvelli (mullets) have only the right eye.

The noble river Severn takes its rise from the Ellennith mountains, and flowing by the castles of Shrewsbury and Bridgenorth, through the city of Worcester, and that of Gloucester, celebrated for its iron manufactories, falls into the sea a few miles from the latter place, and gives its name to the Severn Sea. This river was for many years the boundary between Cambria and Loegria, or Wales and England; it was called in British Hafren, from the daughter of Locrinus, who was drowned in it by her step-mother; the aspirate being changed, according to the Latin idiom, into s, as is usual in words derived from the Greek, it was termed Sarina, as hal becomes sal; hemi, semi; hepta, septem.

The river Wye rises in the same mountains of Ellennith, and flows by the castles of Hay and Clifford, through the city of Hereford, by the castles of Wilton and Goodrich, through the forest of Dean, abounding with iron and deer, and proceeds to Strigul castle, below which it empties itself into the sea, and forms in modern times the boundary between England and Wales.

The Usk does not derive its origin from these mountains, but from those of Cantref Bachan; it flows by the castle of Brecheinoc, or Aberhodni, that is, the fall of the river Hodni into the Usk (for Aber, in the British language, signifies every place where two rivers unite their streams); by the castles of Abergevenni [Abergavenny] and Usk, through the ancient city of Legions, and discharges itself into the Severn Sea, not far from Newport.

The river Remni flows towards the sea from the mountains of Brecheinoc, having passed the castle and bridge of Remni. From the same range of mountains springs the Taf, which pursues its course to the episcopal see of Landaf [Llandaff] (to which it gives its name), and falls into the sea below the castle of Caerdyf [Cardiff] .

The river Avon rushes impetuously from the mountains of Glamorgan, between the celebrated Cistercian monasteries of Margan and Neth; and the river Neth, descending from the mountains of Brecheinoc, unites itself with the sea, at no great distance from the castle of Neth; each of these rivers forming a long tract of dangerous quicksands. From the same mountains of Brecheinoc the river Tawe flows down to Abertawe, called in English Swainsey [Swansea]. The Lochor joins the sea near the castle of the same name; and the Wendraeth has its confluence near Cydweli.

The Tywy, another noble river, rises in the Ellennith mountains, and separating the Cantref Mawr from the Cantref Bachan, passes by the castle of Llanymddyfri, and the royal palace and castle of Dinevor, strongly situated in the deep recesses of its woods, by the noble castle of Caermarddin, where Merlin was found, and from whom the city received its name, and runs into the sea near the castle of Lhanstephan. The river Taf rises in the Presseleu mountains, not far from the monastery of Whitland, and passing by the castle of St. Clare, falls into the sea near Abercorran and Talacharn. From the same mountains flow the rivers Cleddeu, encompassing the province of Daugleddeu, and giving it their name one passes by the castle of Lahaden, and the other by Haverford, to the sea; and in the British language they bear the name of Daugleddeu, or two swords.

The noble river Teivi springs from the Ellennith mountains, in the upper part of the Cantref Mawr and Caerdigan, not far from the pastures and excellent monastery of Stratflur [Strata Florida], forming a boundary between Demetia and Caerdigan down to the Irish channel; this is the only river in Wales that produces beavers, an account of which is given in our Itinerary; and also exceeds every other river in the abundance and delicacy of its salmon. But as this book may fall into the hands of many persons who will not meet with the other, I have thought it right here to insert many curious and particular qualities relating to the nature of these animals, how they convey their materials from the woods to the river, with what skill they employ these materials in constructing places of safety in the middle of the stream, how artfully they defend themselves against the attack of the hunters on the eastern and how on the western side; the singularity of their tails, which partake more of the nature of fish than flesh. For further particulars see the Itinerary.

From the same mountains issues the Ystuyth, and flowing through the upper parts of Penwedic, in Cardiganshire, falls into the sea near the castle of Aberystuyth [Aberystwyth]. From the snowy mountains of Eryri flows the noble river Devi, dividing for a great distance North and South Wales; and from the same mountains also the large river Maw, forming by its course the greater and smaller tract of sands called the Traeth Mawr and the Traeth Bachan. The Dissennith also, and the Arthro, flow through Merionethshire and the land of Conan.

The Conwy, springing from the northern side of the Eryri mountains, unites its waters with the sea under the noble castle of Deganwy. The Cloyd rises from another side of the same mountain, and passes by the castle of Ruthlan to the sea. The Doverdwy, called by the English Dee, draws its source from the lake of Penmelesmere, and runs through Chester, leaving the wood of Coleshulle, Basinwerk, and a rich vein of silver in its neighbourhood, far to the right, and by the influx of the sea forming a very dangerous quicksand; thus the Dee makes the northern, and the river Wye the southern boundary of Wales.

Chapter 6: Concerning the pleasantness and fertility of Wales

As the southern part of Wales near Cardiganshire, but particularly Pembrokeshire, is much pleasanter, on account of its plains and sea-coast, so North Wales is better defended by nature, is more productive of men distinguished for bodily strength, and more fertile in the nature of its soil; for, as the mountains of Eryri (Snowdon) could supply pasturage for all the herds of cattle in Wales, if collected together, so could the Isle of Mona (Anglesey) provide a requisite quantity of corn for all the inhabitants: on which account there is an old British proverb, Mon mam Cymbry, that is, Mona is the mother of Wales. Merionyth, and the land of Conan, is the rudest and least cultivated region, and the least accessible. The natives of that part of Wales excel in the use of long lances, as those of Monmouthshire are distinguished for their management of the bow.

It is to be observed, that the British language is more delicate and richer in North Wales, that country being less intermixed with foreigners. Many, however, assert that the language of Cardiganshire, in South Wales, placed as it were in the middle and heart of Cambria, is the most refined. The people of Cornwall and the Armoricans speak a language similar to that of the Britons; and from its origin and near resemblance, it is intelligible to the Welsh in many instances, and almost in all; and although less delicate and methodical, yet it approaches, as I judge, more to the ancient British idiom. As in the southern parts of England, and particularly in Devonshire, the English language seems less agreeable, yet it bears more marks of antiquity (the northern parts being much corrupted by the irruptions of the Danes and Norwegians), and adheres more strictly to the original language and ancient mode of speaking; a positive proof of which may be deduced from all the English works of Bede, Rhabanus, and king Alfred, being written according to this idiom.

Chapter 7: Origin of the names Cambria and Wales

Cambria was so called from Camber, son of Brutus, for Brutus, descending from the Trojans, by his grandfather, Ascanius, and father, Silvius, led the remnant of the Trojans, who had long been detained in Greece, into this western isle; and having reigned many years, and given his name to the country and people, at his death divided the kingdom of Wales between his three sons. To his eldest son, Locrinus, he gave that part of the island which lies between the rivers Humber and Severn, and which from him was called Loegria. To his second son, Albanactus, he gave the lands beyond the Humber, which took from him the name of Albania. But to his youngest son, Camber, he bequeathed all that region which lies beyond the Severn, and is called after him Cambria; hence the country is properly and truly called Cambria, and its inhabitants Cambrians, or Cambrenses. Some assert that their name was derived from cam and Graeco, that is, distorted Greek, on account of the affinity of their languages, contracted by their long residence in Greece; but this conjecture, though plausible, is not well founded on truth.

The name of Wales was not derived from Wallo, a general, or Wandolena, the queen, as the fabulous history of Geoffrey Arthurius falsely maintains, because neither of these personages are to be found amongst the Welsh; but it arose from a barbarian appellation. The Saxons, when they seized upon Britain, called this nation, as they did all foreigners, Wallenses; and thus the barbarous name remains to the people and their country. Having discoursed upon the quality and quantity of the land, the genealogies of the princes, the sources of the rivers, and the derivation of the names of this country, we shall now consider the nature and character of the nation.

Chapter 8: Concerning the nature, manners, and dress, the boldness, agility, and courage, of this nation

This people is light and active, hardy rather than strong, and entirely bred up to the use of arms; for not only the nobles, but all the people are trained to war, and when the trumpet sounds the alarm, the husbandman rushes as eagerly from his plough as the courtier from his court; for here it is not found that, as in other places, "Agricolis labor actus in orbem," returns; for in the months of March and April only the soil is once ploughed for oats, and again in the summer a third time, and in winter for wheat. Almost all the people live upon the produce of their herds, with oats, milk, cheese, and butter; eating flesh in larger proportions than bread.

They pay no attention to commerce, shipping, or manufactures, and suffer no interruption but by martial exercises. They anxiously study the defence of their country and their liberty; for these they fight, for these they undergo hardships, and for these willingly sacrifice their lives; they esteem it a disgrace to die in bed, an honour to die in the field of battle; using the poet's expressions, - Procul hinc avertite pacem, Nobilitas cum pace perit. Nor is it wonderful if it degenerates, for the ancestors of these men, the Æneadae, rushed to arms in the cause of liberty. It is remarkable that this people, though unarmed, dares attack an armed foe; the infantry defy the cavalry, and by their activity and courage generally prove victors. They resemble in disposition and situation those conquerors whom the poet Lucan mentions: - Populi quos despicit Arctos, Felices errore suo, quos ille timorum Maximus haud urget leti metus, inde ruendi In ferrum, mens prona viris, amimæque capaces, Mortis et ignavum redituræ parsere vitæ. They make use of light arms, which do not impede their agility, small coats of mail, bundles of arrows, and long lances, helmets and shields, and more rarely greaves plated with iron.

The higher class go to battle mounted on swift and generous steeds, which their country produces; but the greater part of the people fight on foot, on account of the marshy nature and unevenness of the soil. The horsemen as their situation or occasion requires, willingly serve as infantry, in attacking or retreating; and they either walk bare-footed, or make use of high shoes, roughly constructed with untanned leather.

In time of peace, the young men, by penetrating the deep recesses of the woods, and climbing the tops of mountains, learn by practice to endure fatigue through day and night; and as they meditate on war during peace, they acquire the art of fighting by accustoming themselves to the use of the lance, and by inuring themselves to hard exercise. In our time, king Henry II., in reply to the inquiries of Emanuel, emperor of Constantinople, concerning the situation, nature, and striking peculiarities of the British island, among other remarkable circumstances mentioned the following: "That in a certain part of the island there was a people, called Welsh, so bold and ferocious that, when unarmed, they did not fear to encounter an armed force; being ready to shed their blood in defence of their country, and to sacrifice their lives for renown; which is the more surprising, as the beasts of the field over the whole face of the island became gentle, but these desperate men could not be tamed. The wild animals, and particularly the stags and hinds, are so abundant, owing to the little molestation they receive, that in our time, in the northern parts of the island towards the Peak, when pursued by the hounds and hunters, they contributed, by their numbers, to their own destruction."

Chapter 9: Of their sober supper and frugality

Not addicted to gluttony or drunkenness, this people who incur no expense in food or dress, and whose minds are always bent upon the defence of their country, and on the means of plunder, are wholly employed in the care of their horses and furniture. Accustomed to fast from morning till evening, and trusting to the care of Providence, they dedicate the whole day to business, and in the evening partake of a moderate meal; and even if they have none, or only a very scanty one, they patiently wait till the next evening; and, neither deterred by cold nor hunger, they employ the dark and stormy nights in watching the hostile motions of their enemies.

Chapter 10: Of their hospitality and liberality

No one of this nation ever begs, for the houses of all are common to all; and they consider liberality and hospitality amongst the first virtues. So much does hospitality here rejoice in communication, that it is neither offered nor requested by travellers, who, on entering any house, only deliver up their arms. When water is offered to them, if they suffer their feet to be washed, they are received as guests; for the offer of water to wash the feet is with this nation an hospitable invitation. But if they refuse the proffered service, they only wish for morning refreshment, not lodging.

The young men move about in troops and families under the direction of a chosen leader. Attached only to arms and ease, and ever ready to stand forth in defence of their country, they have free admittance into every house as if it were their own. Those who arrive in the morning are entertained till evening with the conversation of young women, and the music of the harp; for each house has its young women and harps allotted to this purpose. Two circumstances here deserve notice: that as no nation labours more under the vice of jealousy than the Irish, so none is more free from it than the Welsh: and in each family the art of playing on the harp is held preferable to any other learning.

In the evening, when no more guests are expected, the meal is prepared according to the number and dignity of the persons assembled, and according to the wealth of the family who entertains. The kitchen does not supply many dishes, nor high-seasoned incitements to eating. The house is not furnished with tables, cloths, or napkins. They study nature more than splendour, for which reason, the guests being seated in threes, instead of couples as elsewhere, they place the dishes before them all at once upon rushes and fresh grass, in large platters or trenchers. They also make use of a thin and broad cake of bread, baked every day, such as in old writings was called lagana; and they sometimes add chopped meat, with broth. Such a repast was formerly used by the noble youth, from whom this nation boasts its descent, and whose manners it still partly imitates, according to the word of the poet: Heu! mensas consumimus, inquit Iulus. While the family is engaged in waiting on the guests, the host and hostess stand up, paying unremitting attention to everything, and take no food till all the company are satisfied; that in case of any deficiency, it may fall upon them.

A bed made of rushes, and covered with a coarse kind of cloth manufactured in the country, called brychan, is then placed along the side of the room, and they all in common lie down to sleep; nor is their dress at night different from that by day, for at all seasons they defend themselves from the cold only by a thin cloak and tunic. The fire continues to burn by night as well as by day, at their feet, and they receive much comfort from the natural heat of the persons lying near them; but when the under side begins to be tired with the hardness of the bed, or the upper one to suffer from cold, they immediately leap up, and go to the fire, which soon relieves them from both inconveniences; and then returning to their couch, they expose alternately their sides to the cold, and to the hardness of the bed.

Chapter 11: Concerning their cutting of their hair, their care of their teeth, and shaving of their beard

The men and women cut their hair close round to the ears and eyes. The women, after the manner of the Parthians, cover their heads with a large white veil, folded together in the form of a crown. Both sexes exceed any other nation in attention to their teeth, which they render like ivory, by constantly rubbing them with green hazel and wiping with a woollen cloth. For their better preservation, they abstain from hot meats, and eat only such as are cold, warm, or temperate. The men shave all their beard except the moustaches (gernoboda). This custom is not recent, but was observed in ancient and remote ages, as we find in the works of Julius Caesar, who says, The Britons shave every part of their body except their head and upper lip; and to render themselves more active, and avoid the fate of Absalon in their excursions through the woods, they are accustomed to cut even the hair from their heads; so that this nation more than any other shaves off all pilosity. Julius also adds, that the Britons, previous to an engagement, anointed their faces with a nitrous ointment, which gave them so ghastly and shining an appearance, that the enemy could scarcely bear to look at them, particularly if the rays of the sun were reflected on them.

Chapter 12: Of their quickness and sharpness of understanding

These people being of a sharp and acute intellect, and gifted with a rich and powerful understanding, excel in whatever studies they pursue, and are more quick and cunning than the other inhabitants of a western clime. Their musical instruments charm and delight the ear with their sweetness, are borne along by such celerity and delicacy of modulation, producing such a consonance from the rapidity of seemingly discordant touches, that I shall briefly repeat what is set forth in our Irish Topography on the subject of the musical instruments of the three nations. It is astonishing that in so complex and rapid a movement of the fingers, the musical proportions can be preserved, and that throughout the difficult modulations on their various instruments, the harmony is completed with such a sweet velocity, so unequal an equality, so discordant a concord, as if the chords sounded together fourths or fifths. They always begin from B flat, and return to the same, that the whole may be completed under the sweetness of a pleasing sound. They enter into a movement, and conclude it in so delicate a manner, and play the little notes so sportively under the blunter sounds of the base strings, enlivening with wanton levity, or communicating a deeper internal sensation of pleasure, so that the perfection of their art appears in the concealment of it: Si lateat, prosit; - ferat ars deprensa pudorem. Art profits when concealed, Disgraces when revealed. From this cause, those very strains which afford deep and unspeakable mental delight to those who have skilfully penetrated into the mysteries of the art, fatigue rather than gratify the ears of others, who seeing, do not perceive, and hearing, do not understand; and by whom the finest music is esteemed no better than a confused and disorderly noise, and will be heard with unwillingness and disgust. They make use of three instruments, the harp, the pipe, and the crwth or crowd (chorus).

They omit no part of natural rhetoric in the management of civil actions, in quickness of invention, disposition, refutation, and confirmation. In their rhymed songs and set speeches they are so subtle and ingenious, that they produce, in their native tongue, ornaments of wonderful and exquisite invention both in the words and sentences. Hence arise those poets whom they call Bards, of whom you will find many in this nation, endowed with the above faculty, according to the poet's observation: Plurima concreti fuderunt carmina Bardi.

But they make use of alliteration (anominatione) in preference to all other ornaments of rhetoric, and that particular kind which joins by consonancy the first letters or syllables of words. So much do the English and Welsh nations employ this ornament of words in all exquisite composition, that no sentence is esteemed to be elegantly spoken, no oration to be otherwise than uncouth and unrefined, unless it be fully polished with the file of this figure. Thus in the British tongue: Digawn Duw da i unic. Wrth bob crybwyll rhaid pwyll parawd. And in English, God is together gammen and wisedom. The same ornament of speech is also frequent in the Latin language. Virgil says, Tales casus Cassandra canebat. And again, in his address to Augustus, Dum dubitet natura marem, faceretve puellam, Natus es, o pulcher, pene puella, puer. This ornament occurs not in any language we know so frequently as in the two first; it is, indeed, surprising that the French, in other respects so ornamented, should be entirely ignorant of this verbal elegance so much adopted in other languages. Nor can I believe that the English and Welsh, so different and adverse to each other, could designedly have agreed in the usage of this figure; but I should rather suppose that it had grown habitual to both by long custom, as it pleases the ear by a transition from similar to similar sounds. Cicero, in his book On Elocution, observes of such who know the practice, not the art, Other persons when they read good orations or poems, approve of the orators or poets, not understanding the reason why, being affected, they approve; because they cannot know in what place, of what nature, nor how that effect is caused which so highly delights them.

Chapter 13: Of their symphonies and songs

In their musical concerts they do not sing in unison like the inhabitants of other countries, but in many different parts; so that in a company of singers, which one very frequently meets with in Wales, you will hear as many different parts and voices as there are performers, who all at length unite, with organic melody, in one consonance and the soft sweetness of B flat. In the northern district of Britain, beyond the Humber, and on the borders of Yorkshire, the inhabitants make use of the same kind of symphonious harmony, but with less variety; singing only in two parts, one murmuring in the base, the other warbling in the acute or treble. Neither of the two nations has acquired this peculiarity by art, but by long habit, which has rendered it natural and familiar; and the practice is now so firmly rooted in them, that it is unusual to hear a simple and single melody well sung; and, what is still more wonderful, the children, even from their infancy, sing in the same manner. As the English in general do not adopt this mode of singing, but only those of the northern countries, I believe that it was from the Danes and Norwegians, by whom these parts of the island were more frequently invaded, and held longer under their dominion, that the natives contracted their mode of singing as well as speaking.

Chapter 14: Their wit and pleasantry

The heads of different families, in order to excite the laughter of their guests, and gain credit by their sayings, make use of great facetiousness in their conversation; at one time uttering their jokes in a light, easy manner, at another time, under the disguise of equivocation, passing the severest censures. For the sake of explanation I shall here subjoin a few examples.

Tegeingl is the name of a province in North Wales, over which David, son of Owen, had dominion, and which had once been in the possession of his brother. The same word also was the name of a certain woman with whom, it was said, each brother had an intrigue, from which circumstance arose this term of reproach, To have Tegeingl, after Tegeingl had been in possession of his brother.

At another time, when Rhys, son of Gruffydd, prince of South Wales, accompanied by a multitude of his people, devoutly entered the church of St. David's, previous to an intended journey, the oblations having been made, and mass solemnised, a young man came to him in the church, and publicly declared himself to be his son, threw himself at his feet, and with tears humbly requested that the truth of this assertion might be ascertained by the trial of the burning iron. Intelligence of this circumstance being conveyed to his family and his two sons, who had just gone out of the church, a youth who was present made this remark: This is not wonderful; some have brought gold, and others silver, as offerings; but this man, who had neither, brought what he had, namely, iron; thus taunting him with his poverty.

On mentioning a certain house that was strongly built and almost impregnable, one of the company said, This house indeed is strong, for if it should contain food it could never be got at, thus alluding both to the food and to the house. In like manner, a person, wishing to hint at the avaricious disposition of the mistress of a house, said, I only find fault with our hostess for putting too little butter to her salt, whereas the accessory should be put to the principal; thus, by a subtle transposition of the words, converting the accessory into the principal, by making it appear to abound in quantity.

Many similar sayings of great men and philosophers are recorded in the Saturnalia of Macrobius. When Cicero saw his son-in-law, Lentulus, a man of small stature, with a long sword by his side: Who, says he, has girded my son-in-law to that sword? thus changing the accessary into the principal. The same person, on seeing the half- length portrait of his brother Quintus Cicero, drawn with very large features and an immense shield, exclaimed, Half of my brother is greater than the whole! When the sister of Faustus had an intrigue with a fuller, Is it strange, says he, that my sister has a spot, when she is connected with a fuller? When Antiochus showed Hannibal his army, and the great warlike preparations he had made against the Romans, and asked him, Thinkest thou, O Hannibal, that these are sufficient for the Romans? Hannibal, ridiculing the unmilitary appearance of the soldiers, wittily and severely replied, I certainly think them sufficient for the Romans, however greedy; Antiochus asking his opinion about the military preparations, and Hannibal alluding to them as becoming a prey to the Romans.

Chapter 15: Their boldness and confidence in speaking

Nature hath given not only to the highest, but also to the inferior, classes of the people of this nation, a boldness and confidence in speaking and answering, even in the presence of their princes and chieftains. The Romans and Franks had the same faculty; but neither the English, nor the Saxons and Germans, from whom they are descended, had it.

It is in vain urged, that this defect may arise from the state of servitude which the English endured; for the Saxons and Germans, who enjoy their liberty, have the same failing, and derive this natural coldness of disposition from the frozen region they inhabit; the English also, although placed in a distant climate, still retain the exterior fairness of complexion and inward coldness of disposition, as inseparable from their original and natural character. The Britons, on the contrary, transplanted from the hot and parched regions of Dardania into these more temperate districts, as Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt, still retain their brown complexion and that natural warmth of temper from which their confidence is derived.

For three nations, remnants of the Greeks after the destruction of Troy, fled from Asia into different parts of Europe, the Romans under Æneas, the Franks under Antenor, and the Britons under Brutus; and from thence arose that courage, that nobleness of mind, that ancient dignity, that acuteness of understanding, and confidence of speech, for which these three nations are so highly distinguished. But the Britons, from having been detained longer in Greece than the other two nations, after the destruction of their country, and having migrated at a later period into the western parts of Europe, retained in a greater degree the primitive words and phrases of their native language. You will find amongst them the names Oenus, Resus, Æneas, Hector, Achilles, Heliodorus, Theodorus, Ajax, Evander, Uliex, Anianus, Elisa, Guendolena, and many others, bearing marks of their antiquity. It is also to be observed, that almost all words in the British language correspond either with the Greek or Latin ... [the remainder of this paragraph on language is omitted here].

Chapter 16: Concerning the soothsayers of this nation, and persons as it were possessed

There are certain persons in Cambria, whom you will find nowhere else, called Awenddyon, or people inspired; when consulted upon any doubtful event, they roar out violently, are rendered beside themselves, and become, as it were, possessed by a spirit. They do not deliver the answer to what is required in a connected manner; but the person who skilfully observes them, will find, after many preambles, and many nugatory and incoherent, though ornamented speeches, the desired explanation conveyed in some turn of a word: they are then roused from their ecstasy, as from a deep sleep, and, as it were, by violence compelled to return to their proper senses. After having answered the questions, they do not recover till violently shaken by other people; nor can they remember the replies they have given. If consulted a second or third time upon the same point, they will make use of expressions totally different; perhaps they speak by the means of fanatic and ignorant spirits. These gifts are usually conferred upon them in dreams: some seem to have sweet milk or honey poured on their lips; others fancy that a written schedule is applied to their mouths and on awaking they publicly declare that they have received this gift.

Such is the saying of Esdras, The Lord said unto me, open thy mouth, and I opened my mouth, and behold a cup full of water, whose colour was like fire; and when I had drank it, my heart brought forth understanding, and wisdom entered into my breast. They invoke, during their prophecies, the true and living God, and the Holy Trinity, and pray that they may not by their sins be prevented from finding the truth.

These prophets are only found among the Britons descended from the Trojans. For Calchas and Cassandra, endowed with the spirit of prophecy, openly foretold, during the siege of Troy, the destruction of that fine city; on which account the high priest, Helenus, influenced by the prophetic books of Calchas, and of others who had long before predicted the ruin of their country, in the first year went over to the Greeks with the sons of Priam (to whom he was high priest), and was afterwards rewarded in Greece. Cassandra, daughter of king Priam, every day foretold the overthrow of the city; but the pride and presumption of the Trojans prevented them from believing her word. Even on the very night that the city was betrayed, she clearly described the treachery and the method of it: tales casus Cassandra canebat, as in the same manner, during the existence of the kingdom of the Britons, both Merlin Caledonius and Ambrosius are said to have foretold the destruction of their nation, as well as the coming of the Saxons, and afterwards that of the Normans; and I think a circumstance related by Aulus Gellius worth inserting in this place. On the day that Caius Caesar and Cneius Pompey, during the civil war, fought a pitched battle in Thessalia, a memorable event occurred in that part of Italy situated beyond the river Po. A priest named Cornelius, honourable from his rank, venerable for his religion, and holy in his manners, in an inspired moment proclaimed, Caesar has conquered, and named the day, the events, the mutual attack, and the conflicts of the two armies.

Whether such things are exhibited by the spirit, let the reader more particularly inquire; I do not assert they are the acts of a Pythonic or a diabolic spirit; for as foreknowledge is the property of God alone, so is it in his power to confer knowledge of future events. There are differences of gifts, says the Apostle, but one and the same spirit; whence Peter, in his second Epistle, writes, For the prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man, but men spake as if they were inspired by the Holy Ghost: to the same effect did the Chaldeans answer king Nebuchadonazar on the interpretation of his dream, which he wished to extort from them. There is not, say they,

a man upon earth who can, O king, satisfactorily answer your question; let no king therefore, however great or potent, make a similar request to any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean; for it is a rare thing that the king requireth, and there is none other that can shew it before the king, except the Gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.

On this passage Jerome remarks, The diviners and all the learned of this world confess, that the prescience of future events belongs to God alone; the prophets therefore, who foretold things to come, spake by the spirit of God. Hence some persons object, that, if they were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they would sometimes premise, Thus saith the Lord God, or make use of some expression in the prophetic style; and as such a mode of prophesying is not taken notice of by Merlin, and no mention is made of his sanctity, devotion, or faith, many think that he spake by a Pythonic spirit. To which I answer, that the spirit of prophecy was given not only to the holy, but sometimes to unbelievers and Gentiles, to Baal, to the sibyls, and even to bad people, as to Caiaphas and Bela. On which occasion Origen says: Do not wonder, if he whom ye have mentioned declares that the Scribes and Pharisees and doctors amongst the Jews prophesied concerning Christ; for Caiaphas said: It is expedient for us that one man die for the people: but asserts at the same time, that because he was high priest for that year, he prophesied.

Let no man therefore be lifted up, if he prophesies, if he merits prescience; for prophecies shall fail, tongues shall cease, knowledge shall vanish away; and now abideth, faith, hope, and charity: these three; but the greatest of these is Charity, which never faileth. But these bad men not only prophesied, but sometimes performed great miracles, which others could not accomplish. John the Baptist, who was so great a personage, performed no miracle, as John the Evangelist testifies: And many came to Jesus and said, Because John wrought no signs, etc. Nor do we hear that the mother of God performed any miracle; we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that the sons of Sheva cast out devils in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preached; and in Matthew and Luke we may find these words: Many shall say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? and then I will profess unto them, I never knew you. And in another place, John says: Master, we saw a certain man casting out devils in thy name, and forbade him, because he followeth not with us. But Jesus said: Forbid him not; no man can do a miracle in my name, and speak evil of me; for whoever is not against me, is for me.

Alexander of Macedon, a gentile, traversed the Caspian mountains, and miraculously confined ten tribes within their promontories, where they still remain, and will continue until the coming of Elias and Enoch. We read, indeed, the prophecies of Merlin, but hear nothing either of his sanctity or his miracles. Some say, that the prophets, when they prophesied, did not become frantic, as it is affirmed of Merlin Silvestris, and others possessed, whom we have before mentioned. Some prophesied by dreams, visions, and enigmatical sayings, as Ezechiel and Daniel; others by acts and words, as Noah, in the construction of the ark, alluded to the church; Abraham, in the slaying of his son, to the passion of Christ; and Moses by his speech, when he said, A prophet shall the Lord God raise up to you of your brethren; hear him; meaning Christ. Others have prophesied in a more excellent way by the internal revelation and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as David did when persecuted by Saul:

When Saul heard that David had fled to Naioth (which is a hill in Ramah, and the seat of the prophets), he sent messengers to take him; and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing at their head, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied; and he sent messengers a second and again a third time, and they also prophesied. And Saul enraged went thither also; and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied until he came to Naioth, and he stripped off his royal vestments, and prophesied with the rest for all that day and all that night; whilst David and Samuel secretly observed what passed.

Nor is it wonderful that those persons who suddenly receive the Spirit of God, and so signal a mark of grace, should for a time seem alienated from their earthly state of mind.

Chapter 17: Their love of high birth and ancient genealogy

The Welsh esteem noble birth and generous descent above all things, and are, therefore, more desirous of marrying into noble than rich families. Even the common people retain their genealogy, and can not only readily recount the names of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, but even refer back to the sixth or seventh generation, or beyond them, in this manner: Rhys, son of Gruffydd, son of Rhys, son of Tewdwr, son of Eineon, son of Owen, son of Howel, son of Cadell, son of Roderic Mawr, and so on. Being particularly attached to family descent, they revenge with vehemence the injuries which may tend to the disgrace of their blood; and being naturally of a vindictive and passionate disposition, they are ever ready to avenge not only recent but ancient affronts; they neither inhabit towns, villages, nor castles, but lead a solitary life in the woods, on the borders of which they do not erect sumptuous palaces, nor lofty stone buildings, but content themselves with small huts made of the boughs of trees twisted together, constructed with little labour and expense, and sufficient to endure throughout the year.

They have neither orchards nor gardens, but gladly eat the fruit of both when given to them. The greater part of their land is laid down to pasturage; little is cultivated, a very small quantity is ornamented with flowers, and a still smaller is sown. They seldom yoke less than four oxen to their ploughs; the driver walks before, but backwards, and when he falls down, is frequently exposed to danger from the refractory oxen.

Instead of small sickles in mowing, they make use of a moderate-sized piece of iron formed like a knife, with two pieces of wood fixed loosely and flexibly to the head, which they think a more expeditious instrument; but since Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures, Quam quae sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus, their mode of using it will be better known by inspection than by any description.

The boats which they employ in fishing or in crossing the rivers are made of twigs, not oblong nor pointed, but almost round, or rather triangular, covered both within and without with raw hides. When a salmon thrown into one of these boats strikes it hard with his tail, he often oversets it, and endangers both the vessel and its navigator. The fishermen, according to the custom of the country, in going to and from the rivers, carry these boats on their shoulders; on which occasion that famous dealer in fables, Bleddercus, who lived a little before our time, thus mysteriously said: There is amongst us a people who, when they go out in search of prey, carry their horses on their backs to the place of plunder; in order to catch their prey, they leap upon their horses, and when it is taken, carry their horses home again upon their shoulders.

Chapter 18: Of the antiquity of their faith, their love of Christianity and devotion

In ancient times, and about two hundred years before the overthrow of Britain, the Welsh were instructed and confirmed in the faith by Faganus and Damianus, sent into the island at the request of king Lucius by pope Eleutherius, and from that period when Germanus of Auxerre, and Lupus of Troyes, came over on account of the corruption which had crept into the island by the invasion of the Saxons, but particularly with a view of expelling the Pelagian heresy, nothing heretical or contrary to the true faith was to be found amongst the natives.

But it is said that some parts of the ardent doctrines are still retained. They give the first piece broken off from every loaf of bread to the poor; they sit down to dinner by three to a dish, in honour of the Trinity. With extended arms and bowing head, they ask a blessing of every monk or priest, or of every person wearing a religious habit. But they desire, above all other nations, the episcopal ordination and unction, by which the grace of the spirit is given. They give a tenth of all their property, animals, cattle, and sheep, either when they marry, or go on a pilgrimage, or, by the counsel of the church, are persuaded to amend their lives. This partition of their effects they call the great tithe, two parts of which they give to the church where they were baptised, and the third to the bishop of the diocese.

But of all pilgrimages they prefer that to Rome, where they pay the most fervent adoration to the apostolic see. We observe that they show a greater respect than other nations to churches and ecclesiastical persons, to the relics of saints, bells, holy books, and the cross, which they devoutly revere; and hence their churches enjoy more than common tranquillity. For peace is not only preserved towards all animals feeding in churchyards, but at a great distance beyond them, where certain boundaries and ditches have been appointed by the bishops, in order to maintain the security of the sanctuary. But the principal churches to which antiquity has annexed the greater reverence extend their protection to the herds as far as they can go to feed in the morning and return at night.

If, therefore, any person has incurred the enmity of his prince, on applying to the church for protection, he and his family will continue to live unmolested; but many persons abuse this indemnity, far exceeding the indulgence of the canon, which in such cases grants only personal safety; and from the places of refuge even make hostile irruptions, and more severely harass the country than the prince himself. Hermits and anchorites more strictly abstinent and more spiritual can nowhere be found; for this nation is earnest in all its pursuits, and neither worse men than the bad, nor better than the good, can be met with. Happy and fortunate indeed would this nation be, nay, completely blessed, if it had good prelates and pastors, and but one prince, and that prince a good one.