Royal MS 13 B. VIII, f.28v
The Topographia Hibernica represents the first of the major literary works written by Gerald of Wales. Born at the castle of Manorbier in Pembrokeshire around 1146 A.D., Gerald pursued a religious career from an early age. After years of study in Paris, Gerald returned to Britain where fulfilled various roles throughout his long career, such as archdeacon of Brecon, administer of the see of St. David, ecclesiastic counsellor, and royal tutor. Several members of Gerald's family (de Barri) took part in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 A.D. and Gerald first visited Ireland in 1183 A.D. to assist and counsel his brother and uncle. Gerald began writing the Topographia during his second trip to Ireland in 1185 A.D. as the royally appointed tutor of Prince John, and completed the work after three years. Although Gerald presented a completed version of his work to Archbishop Baldwin in 1188 A.D., he revised the work no less than three times during the course of his life. The fourth and final revision, completed shortly before his death in 1223 A.D., proved twice as long as the original work.
Dedicating his first edition of the Topographia to King Henry II of England, Gerald sought to describe the land and people of Ireland. Gerald divides the book into three sections detailing the island's geography, wonders, and inhabitants respectively, and claimed to have used no external source for the first two sections. The content of the Topographia generally describes Ireland as a fertile land inhabited by a barbarous, unfaithful, semi-pagan people. The fabulous nature of many of the anecdotes and tales has led several of the first modern commentators of Gerald to discount his usefulness as a historian and note his apparent credulity. Nevertheless, Gerald's Topographia Hibernica, much like Adam of Bremen and Helmold of Bosau's respective histories of the Danes and Slavs, served to justify the Anglo-Norman conquest and colonization of Ireland by allowing the invaders to assume a moral position in their engagement with the native population. Despite the limited nature of Gerald's travels and his overt bias towards the Irish, Gerald's Topographia Hibernica and Expugnatio Hibernica constitute two of the major extant sources of twelfth-century Ireland. Gerald's Topographia additionally utilized a method of comparative social inquiry and introduced concepts of social evolution which proved influential to subsequent medieval historians.
Importance for the Study of Angevin History:
The first of Gerald's modern editors criticized him as an unreliable, vain, and credulous historian whose work in no substantial way accurately describes twelfth-century Irish society. Yet, as an individual politically connected to the English royal court and related to the high nobility of the Welsh Marches and Anglo-Irish territories, Gerald's works provide unique insight into the opinions and goals of the contemporary Anglo-Norman lords. Although Gerald's characterizations do not represent an attempted objective insight into contemporary Irish society, his distinctions nevertheless suggest implicit differences between the cultures of the Anglo-Normans and the Irish. Gerald's choices concerning the type of stories to tell and what comparisons to make inform on the social concerns, expectations, and civil assumptions of Gerald's peers.
Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 400 [B]
Cambridge, University Library, Mm. 5. 30.
Douai, Bibliotheque municipal, 887
Dublin, National Library of Ireland, MS 700
London, British Library, Additional 33991
London, British Library, Additional 34762
London, British Library, Additional 44922
London, British Library, Arundel 14
London, British Library, Royal 13 B. viii
London, Westminster Abbey, 23
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson B. 188
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Rawlinson B. 483
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France, latin 4846
Gerald of Wales. The History and Topography of Ireland. Translated by John F. O'Meara. London: Penguin Group, 1982.
Giraldi Cambrensis: Opera Vol. V. Edited by James F. Dimock. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867.
Bartlett, Robert. Gerald of Wales: 1146-1223. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.
Dimock, James F. Preface to Giraldi Cambrensis: Opera Vol. V, ix-lxxxix. By Gerald of Wales, edited by James F. Dimock. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867.
O'Meara, John F. Introduction to The History and Topography of Ireland, 11-18. By Gerald of Wales, translated by John F. O'Meara. London: Penguin Group, 1982.
Rooney, Catherine. "The Early Manuscripts of Gerald of Wales." In Gerald of Wales: New Perspectives on a Medieval Writer and Critic, edited by Georgia Henley and A. Joseph McMullen, 97-110. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2018.
Brown, Michelle P. "Gerald of Wales and the 'Topography of Ireland': Authorial Agendas in Word and Image." Journal of Irish Studies 20, (2005): 52-63.
Sargent, Amelia Borrego. "Gerald of Wales's Topographia Hibernica: Dates, Versions, Readers." Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 43, no. 1 (2012):241-262.
Staunton, Michael. The Historians of Angevin England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.