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11 - New Readers, Old History: Gerald of Wales and the Anglo-Norman Invasion of Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2018

Laura Cleaver
Affiliation:
Trinity College Dublin
Andrea Worm
Affiliation:
Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Karl-Franzens-Universität, Graz
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Summary

Arguably the most influential, and indeed controversial, history written about medieval Ireland was the Expugnatio Hibernica (Invasion of Ireland, c. 1189), by the scholar and churchman Gerald de Barry (c. 1145–1223), otherwise known as Gerald of Wales or Giraldus Cambrensis. As Colin Veach writes in a recent study, ‘So prominent is Giraldus's work in the historical record that one simply cannot investigate the first two decades of the conquest without encountering his opinions.’ This essay extends the focus beyond these initial decades and explores the underexamined ‘afterlife’ of the Plantagenet-era history which continued to generate interest and controversy for those exploring the origins of English-Ireland in the late medieval and early modern periods. The enduring impact of this work from its composition in the twelfth century well into the early modern period stands as a testament to the potential significance of Anglo-Norman historiography. Gerald's ancestry was both Anglo-Norman and Welsh, and he travelled to Ireland on two occasions to gather material for his two literary works, the Topographia Hibernica Topography of Ireland c. 1188) and the Expugnatio Hibernica. The Topographia was an account of the marvels of Ireland while the Expugnatio was a more serious work on the history of the island. The history was a work of propaganda par excellence. It served, in part, as a vehicle through which he could laud the actions of his extended family, the Geraldines, in their military endeavours in Ireland on behalf of the king of England in the late 1160s, and he used the work to argue that such heroics deserved greater reward than that which they had received to date. Furthermore, it claimed that the military invasion of Ireland was the fulfilment of prophecy: a civilizing mission with a religious agenda ratified by the papacy, and it placed the invaders – and the Geraldines in particular – at the centre of this formative stage in Ireland's history. As Sean Duffy writes, ‘[I]t is the defence produced by an agent of an invading and conquering army to justify its actions in dispossessing the native peoples, seizing and colonizing their lands, and, if necessary, bringing their way of life to an end.’

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Information
Writing History in the Anglo-Norman World
Manuscripts, Makers and Readers, c.1066–c.1250
, pp. 213 - 232
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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