Love and Commitments in Early Medieval Ireland: The Account of Líadain and Cuirithir

Medievalists and medieval enthusiasts have no doubt encountered stories of lovers who reach an impasse between their affections for each other and deeper, more personal obligations that they may hold, whether an obligation to another, to an institution, or to God. We might think, for example, of the end of Marie de France’s Eliduc in which Guildeluec and eventually Guilliadun take the veil and Eliduc joins a monastery. The very end of the Arthurian cycle also comes to mind in which both Guinevere and Lancelot commit themselves to the religious life (though this is after much grave harm has been done). One may even be reminded of the real-world historical figures of Abelard and Heloise, albeit unfortunate circumstances abetted certain choices in their life stories. All of these narratives deal with themes that can be found in a much older tale, though this is not in any way to suggest lines of influence.

While lacking the supernatural, adventurous, and tragic elements of other Old Irish love narratives—Cú Chulainn for Fand, Deirdre for Naoise, Gráinne for Diarmuid—the Comrac Líadaine ocus Cuirithir tells a tale—for all intents and purposes based on historical persons—that at once demonstrates its inheritance to traditional Irish love stories as well as concerns that we see reflected in a host of medieval European literatures.[1]

As with most Old Irish literature, the manuscripts that preserve the account of Líadain and Cuirithir date much later. Only two contain the story: Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 1337, p. 759 (olim H. 3. 18) (15th-16th centuries)[2] and London, British Library, MS Harley 5280, f. 26 (16th century).[3]

London, British Library, MS Harley 5280, f. 59. While this folio does not contain our text, note the decorated initial and script used.

There is evidence, however, that the couple and text were widely known among Irish literati. As the work’s early editor, Kuno Meyer, notes, there is a reference to Líadain as a renowned poet in the introduction to “The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare,” and a tenth-century metrical treatise offers one of her stanzas in our text as an example of treochair metre (8-9).

Given that the preservation of much of Old Irish literature can be attributed to Christian churchmen (the same is also true for other pagan literatures), some of the Christian themes in the story have been thought overlays. For example, in the forward to her translation of the text, Moireen Fox refers to “acts of pious vandalism” enacted against ancient works, the forcing of “old legends into the boundaries of the new faith” (7).[4] Be that as it may, thinking of an earlier, “pure” literature as somehow sullied by Christian influences short-changes the vibrant, syncretic culture that preserved it—a culture that one sees refracted through Líadain and Cuirithir’s lives.

What we have in the Comrac Líadaine ocus Cuirithir is a narrative that relates the following. Recounted in prosimetrum form, we learn that Líadain, a celebrated poet from Corkaguiney, a barony in County Kerry that comprises most of the Dingle Peninsula, is on tour in Connacht.

Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula. Photographed by Hannah Zdansky.

While there, she meets Cuirithir, also a poet—both likely lived in the seventh century—with whom she falls in love. Cuirithir urges that they unite, saying that if they had a son, he would surely be famous, but Líadain resists. She does not want her agreed-upon schedule of travels and literary engagements jeopardized. Instead, she tells Cuirithir that once she has finished, he can leave Connacht to come visit her at her home.

Clew Bay from atop Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo (Connacht). Photographed by Hannah Zdansky.

When Cuirithir finally heads south to meet Líadain, he accompanies her to the religious man Cummaíne Fota, and they place themselves under anmchairde, ‘soul-friendship’ (cf. Lat. amicitia). Though the text is sparse in the details, one can infer that this is Líadain’s idea. This notion of soul-friendship is something treated often in later theological treatises, and we can think especially of St. Aelred of Rievaulx (c. 1110-1167). Spiritual marriage, as a concept, becomes a repeated theme in hagiography and in the lives of religious women, especially during the High and Late Middle Ages. What is so intriguing about the story of Líadain and Cuirithir is how early it is—ninth or the beginning of the tenth century.

One can only guess at the reasoning behind Líadain’s decision to become a nun. Perhaps it was entirely religious. Perhaps she also did not want to give up her intellectual and artistic calling to have child after child—a valid response that women of different cultures and time periods during the Middle Ages shared. One need only peruse a work like Hali Meiðhad to catch a glimpse of how motherhood was perceived by some.

Nonetheless, much of the verse in the text is filled with regret. The two seem to occupy separate oratories, overseen by the monk Cummaíne Fota, and are only allowed to walk about at different times. During one of these times, Cuirithir, now a monk himself, is in his hut, and Líadain speaks to him. Cuirithir replies:

Beloved is the dear voice that I hear,
I dare not welcome it!
But this only do I say:
Beloved is this dear voice! (19)[5]

To this Líadain responds:

The voice which comes to me through the wattled wall,
It is right for it to blame me:
What the voice does to me, is
It will not let me sleep. (19)[6]

It is very clear that both long for physical and emotional closeness, and Líadain asks Cummaíne for a reprieve from their separation, which is granted so long as a student in the community sleeps between them as a guard. It must be concluded that this does not work, for Cuirithir is moved to another location and then goes on pilgrimage within Ireland. Líadain sets out in search of him, and it is during her final soliloquy that the power of her poetry truly comes to the fore. Although she made her choices, the remorse is profound:

Cen áinius
in chaingen dorigenus:
an rocharus rocráidius.

Joyless
The bargain I have made!
The heart of him I loved I wrung.

Ba mire
ná dernad a airer-som,
manbad oman ríg nime. (22)

‘Twas madness
Not to do his pleasure,
Were there not the fear of the King of Heaven. (23)

Ní bú amlos
dó-sum in dul dúthracair:
ascnam sech péin hi pardos.

To him the way he has wished
Was great gain,
To go past the pains of Hell into Paradise.

Becc mbríge
rocráide frim Cuirithir:
fris-seom ba mór mo míne.

‘Twas a trifle
That wrung Curithir’s heart against me:
To him great was my gentleness.

Mé Líadain,
rocarus-sa Cuirithir:
is fírithir adfiadar.

I am Liadain
Who loved Curithir:
It is true as they say.

Gair bá-sa
hi coimthecht Cuirithir:
fris-som ba maith mo gnás-sa.

A short while I was
In the company of Curithir:
Sweet was my intimacy with him.

Céol caille
fomchanad la Cuirithir
la fogur fairce flainne.

The music of the forest
Would sing to me when with Curithir,
Together with the voice of the purple sea.

Doménainn
ní cráidfed frim Cuirithir
do dálaib cacha ndénainn.

Would that
Nothing whatever of all I might do
Should wring the heart of Curithir against me!

Ní chela!
ba hé-som mo chrideṡerc,
cía nocarainn cách chenae.

Conceal it not!
He was the love of my heart,
If I loved every other.

Deilm ndegae
rotetaind mo chride-sae,
rofess nícon bíad cenae. Ce. (24)

A roaring flame
Dissolved this heart of mine,
However, for certain it will cease to beat. (25)

The text clarifies afterwards that “how she had wrung his heart was the haste with which she had taken the veil” (27).[7] When Cuirithir hears that Líadain is searching for him, he takes to the sea and travels to distant lands to continue his pilgrimage. They never see one another again. While we could view Cuirithir’s harsh parting as vengeful, it could also be attributable to a wish to help both of them live out their vows—though these are vows upon which Líadain insisted. However, Líadain’s feelings towards her earthly love never diminish: “The flagstone upon which he was wont to pray, she was upon it till she died. […] And that flagstone was put over her face” (27).[8] We are reassured, though, that her soul is in Heaven.

Part of what makes this account so moving is the tension between their commitments and their love for one another, especially on Líadain’s side. She voices far more of the lines in the text than Cuirithir. Indeed, one could argue that she is the central figure, being that she is the one so vexed and pulled by competing desires. She wants to have it all and cannot, a situation that can ring as true today as ever it did. We also get a strong sense of her talent as a poet, a gift that she did not wish to squander, and indeed, it is her fame, not her partner’s, that is preserved in Irish literary history. When Cuirithir arrives at her abode in Munster, he addresses her thusly:

O woman with the firm foot,
Thy like for great fame I have not found:
Under nun’s veil will not be known
A woman with more sense. (17)[9]

But with her strength, intellectual abilities, and renown also came great sorrow, a sorrow she was never able to overcome.[10]

Hannah Zdansky, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame

 

[1] For the edition and translation utilized here, see Liadain and Curithir: An Irish Love-Story of the Ninth Century. Ed. and Trans. Kuno Meyer. London: D. Nutt, 1902. Available online here: https://books.google.com/books/about/LIADAIN_AND_CURITHIR.html?id=qkNT8Th48DsC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false.

[2] See a catalogue description of the manuscript here: https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Dublin,_Trinity_College,_MS_1337. Some of the manuscript, which has been split into different volumes, is available here: https://www.isos.dias.ie/english/index.html. However, our tale has not yet been digitized.

[3] See a catalogue description here: https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7375&CollID=8&NStart=5280.

[4] See Liadain and Curithir. Trans. Moireen Fox. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1917.

[5] “Inmain guthán rocluniur, / fáilte fris nocho lamur, / acht is ed atbiur nammá: / is inmain in guthán sa” (18).

[6] “Guth domadbat trie clethae / is maith dó domincrechae: / is ed dogní frim in guth, / nachomléci do chotlud” (18).

[7] “Is é didu crád dorat sí fair-som a lúas rogab caille” (26).

[8] “Ind lecc fora mbíd som ac ernaigthe, robói sí for inn leicc sin co n-erbailt sí […]. Conid ind lecc sin dochóid dar a hagaid-si” (26).

[9] “A ben cosind remorchois, / ní fúar do ṡét di márchlois, / nícon festor fo chailliu / banscál badid cíallaidiu” (16).

[10] For further studies, see those listed here: https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Comrac_Liadaine_ocus_Cuirithir.

‘The Helen of Wales’: Nest Ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr, a Shaper of History (Part 2)

First, be sure to catch up on Part 1 of Nest's story here...

Owain broke through to the sleeping area and took Nest and her children, burning the castle as he left.[23] Gerald of Wales tells us, however, that Owain raped Nest and then returned home, making no mention of Owain taking Nest with him, so there are somewhat conflicting accounts.[24] As told in the Brut y Tywysogion, though, Owain’s father Cadwgan urged Owain to return Nest to her husband, but he refused. Nest then pleaded with Owain on behalf of her children, saying: ‘If thou will have me faithful to thee, and remain with thee, send my children to their father’.[25]

It is generally considered that Owain did abduct Nest. But whether she was party to the attack as suggested by Lloyd, who states that the whole affair was a tale of passion and intrigue, or she was an unwilling victim cannot be substantiated.[26] That this was an act of rebellion against Norman incursions is a more feasible argument.

Although stories abound as to where Nest and Owain went after her abduction, no reliable evidence exists to confirm them. Susan M. Johns relies on Henry Morton’s 1932 volume In Search of Wales, which suggests that they ‘ran to Powys’ and stayed at a hunting lodge called Plas Uchaf in Eglwyseg.[27] Gwen Meredith suggests that Nest stayed with Owain for three years and that they had two sons, Llewellyn and Einion.[28] However, I would suggest that Nest was quickly returned to Gerald, possibly at the same time as her children. King Henry was rightly furious and was quick to act; taking the king’s mistress was one thing, kidnapping his son quite another. Henry brought the wrath of God down on Wales in his search for Owain by sending his man Richard de Belamais, the Bishop of London, to track Owain down. Owain escaped to Ireland, but while on the run, it would make sense that he would not have wished to be encumbered with Nest.

Nevertheless, Nest’s abduction set Wales ablaze, Normans against Welsh and Welsh against their own in a civil war. On behalf of Henry, Bishop Richard offered Owain’s cousins Ithel and Madog ab Rhiryd vast tracts of land to turn over Owain. These two invaded Ceredigion, scattering the inhabitants to any place of safety they could find and brutalising the population as they went, but they never did find Owain. It appears that later Madog changed his allegiance. Once Owain had returned from Ireland, he and Madog burned Meirionydd, killing many and slaughtering their cattle. Owain continued to be a thorn in Henry’s side and continued to avoid capture. He returned to Ceredigion, once again on the rampage, killing and terrorising as he went. In 1111, Madog ap Rhiryd killed Owain’s father, why we do not know. Owain sought revenge and caught up with Madog and blinded him.[29]

After years of constant revolt against King Henry, Owain was finally forgiven by the king and knighted in 1114.[30] A curious act by Henry, did he believe Owain could be useful to him? Owain’s meteoric rise in Henry’s favour is intriguing, especially given the statement in the Brut y Tywysogion saying that Gerald was ‘Henry’s particular friend’.[31] At this point, we may consider the vague possibility that Nest was again with Owain and was returned as a part of the bargain.[32]

In 1113, Gruffydd ap Rhys, Nest’s brother, returned from exile in Ireland determined to retake his father’s kingdom. Records show he stayed from time to time with Nest and Gerald at Pembroke Castle.[33] Young Welshmen flocked to Gruffydd’s cause as he left a trail of destruction throughout the South.[34] Henry, angered at Gruffydd’s actions, ordered Owain and Gerald to find him. Nest’s feelings regarding Gruffydd’s actions are unknown. However, that Henry would use Owain and Gerald to bring Gruffydd to heel must have felt like the ultimate betrayal.

While looking for Gruffydd, Gerald marched with his army to the forests of Ystrad-Tywi. There, Gerald came across settlers that complained to him of the brutal treatment received at the hands of Owain. Gerald decided the time was ripe to take his revenge against Owain. Believing that Gerald had come to assist in bringing down Gruffydd, Owain was instead attacked by Gerald’s forces with a volley of arrows.[35] Owain died from an arrow to his heart, which, given his passion for Nest, seems quite fated.

No mention is made in the chronicle evidence of what happened to Gerald at this point. Had he died alongside Owain, it would have been recorded along with Owain’s death. Was Gerald injured in the skirmish and died later from his wounds? History does not tell us. Plausible is the idea that Henry’s actions towards Owain were considered by Gerald a betrayal. It could also be that Gerald was tired of sharing his wife with so many men, the king included, and took his frustration out on Owain and left court.[36] His options would have been few if he wished to keep his family safe and secure. It is possible that he took up the cross and travelled to the Holy Land, but we simply do not know.

D. Walker tells us that Gerald died in 1136.[37] However, William Hait became the constable of Pembroke in 1130,[38] which suggests that Gerald was not in residence at the time. This strengthens the argument that Gerald had either fled, died, or was suffering a prolonged illness that took him out of the record books.

Of Nest’s potentially fourteen children, history does not give reliable dates of their births or their deaths. That she had four children by Gerald is documented by various sources; that she had ten further children is less easy to confirm. She bore Hait, the Constable of Pembroke, a son, William Lord of St. Clears. She also had a son, Robert Fitz Stephen, by Stephen, the Constable of Cardigan, whom she had married after Gerald’s death. While their birth dates may not be reliably documented, they feature prominently in history. There were four further children by fathers unknown, plus the possibility that Nest also had two sons by Owain.

It would be easy to label Nest as promiscuous, given the number of children she had by various men, but the fact that we have no firm evidence of the dates they were born does allow for us to be a little more lenient towards her. I have often considered her unfairly treated in the scholarship. She was forced into situations that were beyond her control, as was the case for many women in the Middle Ages, and that she used the beauty and charms she possessed to make a comfortable and safe life for herself and her children would have been very reasonable, given her circumstances. We must also consider that it would have been prudent for the king to see his mistress married successively to two Norman lords (Gerald and then Stephen), thus keeping her and her children under his influence. Being a daughter of the King of Deheubarth made her a target for those who would use her as leverage against the Normans.

We have no reliable evidence for the date of her death, nor do we know where she is buried. What we do know is that she left a legacy that has survived through time by means of her children and grandchildren. If Nest herself is not remembered well by the historians, her children by the various men in her life have been. They were born with a mixture of both Welsh and Norman blood in their veins and went on to lay the foundations for some of the major houses in both Wales and Ireland. Nest and Gerald’s daughter Angharad married William Fitz Odo de Barry, and their son, Gerald de Barry, is better known to us as the prolific writer and priest Gerald of Wales. Robert Fitz Stephen and his half-brother, Maurice Fitz Gerald, ensured a long line of Fitz Geralds in Ireland by successfully gaining vast tracts of land through either battle or reward. They built castles and established a lasting Fitz Gerald dynasty, which includes the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Patricia Taylor, M.A.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David

 

Footnotes

[23] Annales Cambriae, p.76.

[24] Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica: The Conquest of Ireland, edited and translated by A. B. Scott and F. X. Martin (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1978), pp.229-30.

[25] Brut y Tywysogion, p.87.

[26] Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii, p.417-48.

[27] Johns, Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages, pp.196-198. Henry Morton was a travel writer who took pleasure in portraying Wales as a place of romance and legends to entertain his readers. However, there is an Elizabethan manor house in Eglwyseg known as Plas Uchaf built on the foundations of a hunting lodge which once belonged to the princes of Powys. An inscription can be seen over the door telling how the lodge was inherited by the princes of Powys in 1073.

[28] G. Meredith, ‘Henry I’s Concubines’, Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002): p.17. Available: http://muse.jhu.edu/article/39657. Access provided by University of Wales Trinity Saint David. <accessed 4th July 2016>.

[29] Annales Cambriae, p.76.

[30] Brut y Tywysogion, p.119.

[31] Brut y Tywysogion, p.87.

[32] P. A. Taylor, Nest Ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr, p.33.

[33] Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii, p.433.

[34] Brut y Tywysogion, p.123.

[35] Rev. W. Warrington, The History of Wales in Nine Books, vol.1, Bk. V (Brecon: Williams, 1823), p.432.

[36] Johns, Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages, p.22.

[37] D. Walker, ‘Gerald of Windsor (d. 1116×36)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) [online]. Available: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/45551. <accessed 23rd November 2016>.

[38] Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii, p.424.

‘The Helen of Wales’: Nest Ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr, a Shaper of History (Part 1)

Nest (b.c.1085) was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, King of Deheubarth, and the lover of the future King of England. She had three further lovers, two husbands, and potentially fourteen children. Her beauty allegedly inspired such a passion in the men in her life that it sparked a scandal that rocked the world of medieval Wales to its foundations.

Nest was born into a troubled and often violent time, less than twenty years after the invasion by William the Conqueror and the coming of the Normans. Nest’s father died at the Battle of Brecon (1093). Left to the mercies of her Norman captors, she was possibly given to a family in the pay of King William Rufus.[1] Windsor Castle was a Royal Court Castle and a favourite haunt of Prince Henry.[2] Her later affair with Henry, the king’s brother, and her subsequent marriage to Gerald of Windsor, the son of Walter Fitz Otho, the castellan of Windsor Castle, suggest Windsor as her destination.[3]

Nest was a Welsh princess and therefore highly regarded by the Welsh people. She would thus have been a very valuable asset to the English crown, which adds fuel to the argument that she would have been taken out of Wales as quickly as possible. That being said, no attempt to rescue or to barter for her has survived in the historical record.

Some have thought Nest to be promiscuous, and indeed, historian Timothy Venning portrays her as a woman of great beauty and little virtue.[4]  However, Nest was a woman of her times. With her father dead, her mother having disappeared from all reliable records, and her brothers either incarcerated or having fled to Ireland, she was thrown alone into a Norman world after the battle for Brycheiniog. That she used her beauty to charm her captors would not be unexpected; it would have been her only weapon to ensure her own comfort. Being taken to Windsor Castle would have given her ample opportunity to meet Prince Henry, a man known for his many love affairs and numerous illegitimate children.[5] Nest would have been aware that being the mistress of such a figure could have its advantages, and Henry was known to be good to his mistresses and did not refuse to recognize his bastards. An affair with Henry could offer Nest a certain security. Her life in Wales was gone, and making the kind of marriage that would once have been available to her was also gone.

With the death of William Rufus in 1100, his brother became King Henry I. During this time, the Norman lord, Gerald of Windsor, was a rising star in King Henry’s court. Being no doubt aware of the benefits of marrying a mistress of a king, Gerald did so, wedding Nest with Henry’s permission and support. Gerald had already been installed as steward of Pembroke Castle by Arnulf de Montgomery, a man who took up arms against Henry in 1102 and lost all his lands for his pains. Eventually, Henry made Gerald constable of Pembroke Castle, which brought Nest back into Wales once again.

Figure 1. Pembroke Castle. Arnulf de Montgomery first established an earth and timber castle with a small inner bailey c.1093, which may later have been built of stone. The castle as we now know it was re-built by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, c.1189-1220. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.

After his marriage to Nest, Gerald went on to build castles at Cenarth Bychan (Cilgerran) and Carew, a particularly important site in the history of the kings of Deheubarth.

Figure 2. Carew Castle as it is today. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.
Figure 3. Carew Castle was gradually built in the 13th and 14th centuries by Sir Nicholas Carew. In Nest’s day, the castle would have been one of earth and timber, and the only stone structure attributed to Gerald of Windsor can be seen here between the square tower and the polygonal tower. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.
Figure 4. The rear of Carew Castle viewed from the tidal Carew River. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.

The date of Nest’s marriage to Gerald is open to conjecture; although, it has been suggested that she married in 1100, as proffered by John Edward Lloyd.[6] However, Gwenn Meredith suggests Nest’s first child, William fitz Gerald, was born in 1096, indicating that they were married earlier than 1100.[7] That she had one child (Henry fitz Henry, c.1105 to 1114) by King Henry I is documented; that she was the mother of Robert of Gloucester is still open for debate.[8]

Nest’s marriage to Gerald seems on the surface to have been a success. The Brut y Tywysogion, a Welsh chronicle that picks up where Geoffrey of Monmouth left off, tells us that she and Gerald had at least one son and a daughter in the nursery, along with King Henry’s son, Henry, and another son by a concubine of Gerald’s.[9] She was the wife of a now powerful lord who held Pembroke Castle, Carew Castle, and Cenarth Bychan Castle. By 1109, however, life for Nest would take a very dramatic turn with repercussions for all of Wales.

Figure 5. The Celtic cross at Carew Castle reads ‘Margiteut Rex Etg(uin) Filius’, meaning King Maredudd, son of Edwin. Maredudd ap Edwin ruled jointly with his brother Hywel but died c.1035. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.
Figure 6. Plaque situated at the base of the Celtic cross. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.

Although there was a heavy Norman influence in South Wales, many areas were still ruled as fiercely independent kingdoms warring constantly with each other. The Welsh system of partible inheritance aggravated this situation.[10] Owain ap Cadwgan, a cousin of Nest’s, was the son of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, King of Powys. Owain’s history and that of Powys in general, as we shall see, reinforces the image of warring kingdoms and indiscriminate slaughter, which left Powys a somewhat ineffectual kingdom.[11] Cadwgan ap Bleddyn held a great feast on his lands in Ceredigion during Christmas 1109.[12] These feasts were not just Christmas celebrations, but an opportunity for princes such as Cadwgan to gauge the loyalty of their barons. Often these gatherings were used to rally support for war and were known hotbeds for political machinations and posturing.[13]

Where Gerald and Nest were at the time of Cadwgan’s feast has long been a point of discussion. R. R. Davies maintains that they and their children were at Cenarth Bychan in Ceredigion.[14]

Figure 7. Cenarth Bychan (Cilgerran) as it is today.[15] Gerald of Windsor’s castle would have been a ‘ringwork castle’ of earth and wood.[16] The present castle is considered to have been built by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke in c.1223. Photographed by Patricia Taylor.
Owain had heard of Nest’s beauty and was determined to see her. Knowing that she was close by, he took some of his men and paid her a courtesy call. He was so overwhelmed with her beauty, it is said, that he became fired with lust for her and was so determined to have her by any means available to him that he took his men back to his father’s feast and devised a plan to capture her.[17] The Brut y Tywysogion states that Owain was ‘instigated by the devil’.[18]

Owain and his men returned at night and dug under the castle’s foundations, scaled walls and ditches, and set buildings alight.[19] Nest, realising that Gerald would be killed if he retaliated, persuaded him not to leave the bedchamber, but to go with her to the garderobe, saying: ‘go not out the door, for there thy enemies wait for thee, but come, follow me’.[20] Once there, they pulled up the floor, and she helped him to escape down the midden chute.[21] With Gerald safely out of the way, she called out to the attackers that Gerald had gone, saying: ‘Why call out in vain? He is not here, whom you seek; surely he has escaped’.[22]

Stay tuned next week to find out what happens to Nest and her lovers...

Patricia Taylor, M.A.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David

 

Primary Sources

Annales Cambriae: A Translation of Harleian 3859: PRO E.164/1: Cottonian Domitian, A1: Exeter Cathedral Library MS. 3514 and MS Exchequer DB Neath, PRO E.164/1, translated by Paul Martin Remfry (United Kingdom: Castle Studies Research and Publishing, 2007).

Brut y Tywysogion; or, The Chronicle of the Princes, edited by Rev. John Williams ab Ithel, M.A. (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860).

Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica: The Conquest of Ireland, edited and translated by A. B. Scott and F. X. Martin (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1978).

Footnotes

[1] When a woman was widowed and left with young children and their father was of noble birth, or had Crown lands, then the ‘wardship of the heir or heiress became a Royal reward.’ The children would be given to another house to be raised under their guardianship. This guardianship could be given to a royal servant. These children would live with their guardian as a part of their household, and their lands and assets would be administered by their guardians. Anne Crawford, ed., Letters of Medieval Women (Stroud: Sutton Publishers Ltd., 2002), p.108.

[2] Royal Collection Trust. press@royalcollection.org.

[3] Davies suggests that Gerald chose his wife so that “he [might] sink his roots and those of his family more deeply in those parts.’ It was not uncommon for Norman Marcher Lords to marry into the Welsh nobility in order to build their holdings within Wales. R. R. Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change: Wales 1063-1415 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p.106. P. A. Taylor, Nest Ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr, as final fulfillment for the degree of Master of Arts, Celtic Studies (Lampeter: University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 2017), p.23.

[4] T. Venning, The Kings and Queens of Wales (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2015), p.123.

[5] Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis, The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), pp.60-73.

[6] John Edward Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii (London: Longman Green and Company, 1911), p.417.

[7] S. M. Johns, Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), p.10.

[8] Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii, p.499.Yorke states that Nest was ‘the beautiful mistress of Henry who brought him his eminent son Robert of Gloucester.’ P. Yorke, Esq. of Erthig (1799) and D. Williams (2016), The Royal Tribes of Wales (Hardpress Publishing, 2013), p.33. D. Crouch, ‘Nest (born before 1092, died c.1130)’, ‘Robert of Gloucester’s Mother and Sexual Politics in Norman Oxfordshire’, Historical Research vol.72. no.179 (October 1999): pp.323-333. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  (2004) [online]. Available: http://www/oxforddnb.com/view/article/19905. <accessed 10th September 2016>. [site no longer working]

[9] Brut y Tywysogion; or, The Chronicle of the Princes, edited by Rev. John Williams ab Ithel, M.A. (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860), p.85.

[10] Lynn H. Nelson, The Normans in South Wales 1070-1171 (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1966), p.110. Partible inheritance is the system where all the sons of the deceased, and in some cases, the daughters, would receive a share of the estate. This system differs from primogeniture where only the eldest son is entitled to inherit. See the entry for ‘primogeniture’: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/primogeniture. <accessed 14th October 2016>.

[11] D. Walker, Medieval Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p.38.

[12] The Brut y Tywysogion states that the event took place at Christmas 1106 (p.83). Scholars such as Lloyd (History of Wales, Volume ii, p.417) and Davies (Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, p.86) offer 1109. The Annales Cambriae state that in 1109 Owain burned Cenarth Bychan and was expelled to Ireland and makes no mention at all of Nest. Annales Cambriae: A Translation of Harleian 3859: PRO E.164/1: Cottonian Domitian, A1: Exeter Cathedral Library MS. 3514 and MS Exchequer DB Neath, PRO E.164/1, translated by Paul Martin Remfry (United Kingdom: Castle Studies Research and Publishing, 2007), p.76. Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii, p.418.

[13] T. M. Charles-Edwards, Morfydd E. Owens, and Paul Russell, eds., The Welsh King and His Court (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), p.343.

[14] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, p.86.

[15] Cenarth Bychan Castle is now known as Cilgerran Castle.

[16]  Ringwork castles are similar to motte-and-bailey castles but are encircled by lower earth walls and a ditch to enclose them which would be finished with a timber palisade. See Marvin Hull, ‘Ringwork Castles’ [online]. Available: https://www.castles-of-britain.com/ringworkcastles.htm.1995-2011. <accessed 2nd July 2018>. [site now defunct.]

[17] Brut y Tywysogion, p.105.

[18] ibid., p.105.

[19] Lloyd, History of Wales, Volume ii, p.418.

[20] ibid., p.85.

[21] P. A. Taylor, Nest Ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr, p.30. Pembroke Castle and Carew Castle both hold claim to the abduction of Nest in their tourist guides. Research considers these claims as highly unlikely.

[22] Brut y Tywysogion, p.85.