Geoffrey Of Monmouth And The Norman Colonization Of Wales

10105 words - 40 pages

IntroductionAfter only eleven years on the throne, William the Conqueror accomplished what several centuries of Anglo-Saxons kings failed to do: he successfully asserted sovereignty over Wales. The new king of England, shrewdly aware of his insular kingdom's unstable borders, had shortly after the Conquest appointed his ablest soldiers--powerful magnates such as William fitz Osbern, Hugh d'Avranches, and Roger of Montgomery--to fortify and defend the Welsh march. By 1081, the king not only felt secure enough to make a pilgrimage to St David's in the South Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, but he also traveled with such a show of force that Rhys ap Tewdwr, the local king, agreed to pay £40 in annual tribute, and it is likely that the Conqueror also established a garrison at Cardiff as a reminder of his presence. 2 Throughout the rest of William's reign, his vassals made small but significant annexations of Welsh territories, and, by his death even a Welsh chronicle, the Brut y Tywysogyon, acknowledges William I as "tywyssawc y Normanyeit a brenhin y Saeson a'r Brytanyeit a'r Albanwyr [prince of the Normans and king of the Saxons, Britons, and Scots]." 3 William Rufus and Henry I continued their father's legacy, and Norman aristocrats began to colonize Wales even more extensively during their reigns. Concurrent with, and, I shall argue, supportive of this Norman expansion in Wales is a renaissance in the writing of history. Orderic Vitalis, Dudo of St Quentin, Henry of Huntington, Guillaume de Poitiers, and William of Malmesbury are but a few of the historians active in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries who together created a series of texts that celebrate Norman achievements and provide a discursive foundation for the Norman conquest of Britain. 4Although William of Malmesbury of all the twelfth-century historians retains the healthiest respect among modern scholars, it is ironically his most wayward historiographical heir, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who surpasses him in fame and influence throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, the 215 extant MSS. of Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae, in comparison to the thirty-five of William's Gesta Regum Anglorum or the twenty of his Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, bear witness to the eclipsing of William's preeminence as an historian throughout the later medieval period; comparison of the dates of their first printings--the Historia in 1508 and the Gesta Regum in 1596--also confirms their relative popularity. 5 Like his eminent predecessor, Geoffrey of Monmouth writes during a period of great instability in regard to--among other things--the status of the Norman territories in Wales. With the death of Henry I in 1135, and the contested accession of the ineffective Stephen to the English throne, Norman expansion into Wales not only came to a halt but actually began to lose ground. As one historian puts it, Norman "penetration proved much easier than control," and the loss of a few castles might swiftly have...

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