The Welsh and the Normans
from "Geoffrey of Monmouth"

Author: A. O. H. Jarman
Reprinted with kind permission of
University of Wales Press


      At the commencement of the twelfth century Wales as a country and a nation found herself facing a dangerous crisis. A generation earlier the Normans had conquered England, and now they were looking in the direction of Wales.  From Chester and Shrewsbury, Hereford and Chepstow, predatory baronial armies were pressing along the coasts and the river valleys and building fortresses and castles in the heart of the Welsh countryside.  After a deep and rapid initial penetration, however, they meet with an increasingly powerful Welsh resistance.  Forceful military leaders such as Gruffudd ap Cynan and Gruffudd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr put themselves at its head, and during the twelfth century the Welsh, led by such princes as Owain Gwynedd, the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth and others, were able to slow down the momentum of the Norman attack and indeed to halt and reverse it, and in Gwynedd at least to defer the final conquest until the end of the thirteenth century.

       The modern Welshman, particularly if he is a man of imagination, reads the history of the two centuries from Gruffudd ap Cynan's first landing in 1075 to the fall of Llewelyn the Last Prince in 1282 with mixed feelings.  The Welsh defense of home and country was frequently conducted with outstanding bravery and determination.  At other times the weakness of their position, combined with human frailty, tended to bring about situations with which the defenders could not cope, and division, disloyalty and treachery appeared in their ranks.  There were deeds of vengeance, of cruel pillage and purposeless destruction.  Nevertheless, it must be remembered that throughout this time the Welsh were waging a defensive war and fighting to drive out foreign oppressors who had seized their best lands.  It was also a war fought solely on Welsh soil and it can not be claimed that it was one of the major conflicts of medieval Europe, either in its military or political implications.  Wales was no more of a 'great power' in the twelfth century than she was in any other period, and it was not for a status of this character that the Welsh were fighting.  Unexpectedly, however, and without seeking it-without indeed being aware of what was happening-Wales during the twelfth century attained an importance and a measure of influence in another field, which would have been unthinkable in the spheres of politics and military power.  This was the field of imaginative literature.  In a comparatively short space of time, during the period when the Normans were invading the Welsh valleys and subjugating their inhabitants, the literature of Wales, and in particular the wealth of oral traditions and tales which professional story-tellers were transmitting from generation to generation, became one of the most creative and widely dispersed influences in the culture of Europe. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the subject of this book, was one of the principal channels by which this influence made itself felt.  And he was a man of whom nothing would have been heard, had there been no Norman invasion of Wales.

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