Gerald De Barry, Giraldus Cambrensis

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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De Barry, Gerald (Giraldus Cambrensis), younger brother of the preceding, a distinguished author and ecclesiastic, was born at the castle of Manorbeer in Pembrokeshire, in 1147. He studied principally at Paris, and in 1175 was created Archdeacon of Brecknock. In 1184 he was invited to court by Henry II.. and became one of his chaplains. Next year he accompanied Prince John in his expedition to Ireland. He employed much of his time here in collecting materials for his Topography of Ireland and History of the Conquest of Ireland.

Mr. Brewer, in editing the former work, remarks: "With all that has been done since by modern topographers trained in the more scientific habits of observation, the conception of his task, as it existed in the mind of Giraldus, if not the execution of it, must remain as a monument of a bold and original genius... In the first [Book] the author gives an account of the physical features of the island, including in it the history of its more remarkable productions. .. In the second [Book], devoted exclusively to the marvels of Ireland, full scope is given to the credulity of his age: it is fooled to the top of its bent." The Third Book is devoted to the ancient annals of the country, and the manners and customs of the inhabitants. This work, which appeared in 1187, was dedicated to Henry II. It was followed by his History of the Conquest of Ireland, "not only," says Mr. Brewer, "the most valuable of all our author's works, but [one which] as a historical monograph may challenge comparison with any work of a similar nature. .. The personal sketches of the chief leaders in the expedition, which are numerous, are drawn with masterly precision. The only drawback is the occurrence of artificial orations... The Conquest of Ireland is a noble specimen of historical narration, of which the author's age furnished very rare specimens. Events have been carefully gathered, examined, and arranged; battlefields, sieges, and marches verified by ocular inspection of routes and localities; accounts on both sides tested. No personal labour has been spared by the historian in collecting, or sifting, or placing his materials in their most lucid order; no efforts have been wanting which the most rigid historical fidelity could demand."

Giraldus returned to England after the Easter of 1186, and almost immediately gave public readings of his works at Oxford. Many years of his life were occupied in unceasing litigations and journeyings, which in the end proved unavailing, to have himself confirmed by the Pope in the see of St. David's, to which on the 29th June 1199 he had been unanimously elected by the Chapter. After these events his name disappears from the page of history.

The date of his death is uncertain. Mr. Brewer does not find any authority for the age generally ascribed to him at his death — 74, which would place that event in 1221. He was buried in the Cathedral Church of St. David's, where his supposed monument and effigy are shown. This notice is written from an exhaustive account of his life, prefixed to Mr. Brewer's splendid seven-volume edition of Cambrensis's works in the Master of the Rolls' series. For general use, as far as the topography and invasion of Ireland are concerned, Mr. Bonn's translation will be found convenient. Cambrensis's statements regarding the Irish Church have been traversed by Lynch in his Cambrensis Eversus, published in the 17th century.

Sources

148a. Giraldi Cambrensis Opera. (Master of the Roll's Series.) vol. v. London, 1867.

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