Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Norman Colonization of Wales

Essay by aainaUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, October 2009

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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...