Archdeacon, historian, prolific writer; b. Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire, Wales, c. 1147 or 1148; d. 1223. Welsh by his mother and Norman by his father, William de Barri, Giraldus was of the royal family of Wales. In his early years he showed a strong interest in the religious life and in study. Since Wales lacked good schools, he first studied under Peter Comestor and then lectured on the liberal arts at Paris, returning to England in 1172. Made archdeacon of Brecknoch, he worked vigorously to reform the Church in wales. When his uncle David Fitzgerald, Bishop of saint davids, died in 1176, Giraldus was proposed as the new bishop, but henry ii, king of england, would allow only Norman bishops. Giraldus thereupon returned to Paris to study theology, civil, and Canon Law. After returning to England in 1180 as a master of theology, he was made a royal chaplain in 1184. He was assigned first to pacify Wales and then to accompany Henry II's son John on a military expedition to Ireland. Giraldus described his experiences in Ireland in his popular Topographia Hiberniae [first version tr. J. J. O'Meara (Dundalk 1951)], dedicated to Henry II in 1188, while his Expugnatio Hibernica (History of the Conquest of Ireland) is the most valuable of all his works. In 1188 he accompanied Abp. baldwin of canterbury to Wales to preach the crusade proclaimed by Henry II; he described this trip in Itinerarium Cambriae (1191). When Henry died in 1189 and Giraldus received no preferment, he decided to retire to a life of prayer and study at lincoln. With the death of Peter de Leia, Bishop of Saint Davids, in 1198, and his election by the chapter as Peter's successor, Giraldus tried to win the necessary approval of Abp. Hubert Walter of Canterbury. When Hubert refused, Giraldus appealed to Pope innocent iii and became involved in five years of litigation that ended in failure (1203). He revisited Ireland (1205–06) and made a pilgrimage to Rome (1207). He is buried in Saint Davids cathedral.
Giraldus wrote numerous works including an autobiography [tr. H. L. Butler (London 1937)] in which he explained his career and his long struggle to become bishop of Saint Davids. He was a vain man who liked to boast of his charm, of his ability as a teacher in Paris, and of the rightness of his cause. His letters, poems, and speeches are in his Symbolum electorum. His works have been published in eight volumes in the Rolls Series (ed. J. S. Brewer and J. F. Dimock, 1861–1891).
Bibliography: Eng. tr. of historical works, t. forester and r. c. hoare, rev. and ed. t. wright (London 1863). m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 1911–31) 3:622–637. h. r. luard, in The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900; reprinted with corrections, 21 v., 1908–09, 1921–22, 1938; supplement 1901–) 7:1268–72. f. m. powicke, "Gerald of Wales," The Bulletin of John Rylands Library 12 (1928) 389–410. j. conway davies, "Giraldus Cambrensis, 1146–1946," Archaeol. Cambrensis 99 (1946). a. b. emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A. D. 1500, 3 v. (Oxford 1957–59) 1:117–118.
[j. a. corbett]