Picture of Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales

places mentioned

Book 2, Ch. 8: How this nation is to be overcome

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In what manner this nation is to be overcome

The prince who would wish to subdue this nation, and govern it peaceably, must use this method. He must be determined to apply a diligent and constant attention to this purpose for one year at least; for a people who with a collected force will not openly attack the enemy in the field, nor wait to be besieged in castles, is not to be overcome at the first onset, but to be worn out by prudent delay and patience. Let him divide their strength, and by bribes and promises endeavour to stir up one against the other, knowing the spirit of hatred and envy which generally prevails amongst them; and in the autumn let not only the marches, but also the interior part of the country be strongly fortified with castles, provisions, and confidential families. In the meantime the purchase of corn, cloth, and salt, with which they are usually supplied from England, should be strictly interdicted; and well- manned ships placed as a guard on the coast, to prevent their importation of these articles from Ireland or the Severn sea, and to facilitate the supply of his own army. Afterwards, when the severity of winter approaches, when the trees are void of leaves, and the mountains no longer afford pasturage - when they are deprived of any hopes of plunder, and harassed on every side by the repeated attacks of the enemy - let a body of light-armed infantry penetrate into their woody and mountainous retreats, and let these troops be supported and relieved by others; and thus by frequent changes, and replacing the men who are either fatigued or slain in battle, this nation may be ultimately subdued; nor can it be overcome without the above precautions, nor without great danger and loss of men. Though many of the English hired troops may perish in a day of battle, money will procure as many or more on the morrow for the same service; but to the Welsh, who have neither foreign nor stipendiary troops, the loss is for the time irreparable. In these matters, therefore, as an artificer is to be trusted in his trade, so attention is to be paid to the counsel of those who, having been long conversant in similar concerns, are become acquainted with the manners and customs of their country, and whom it greatly interests, that an enemy, for whom during long and frequent conflicts they have contracted an implacable hatred, should by their assistance be either weakened or destroyed. Happy should I have termed the borders of Wales inhabited by the English, if their kings, in the government of these parts, and in their military operations against the enemy, had rather employed the marchers and barons of the country, than adopted the counsels and policy of the people of Anjou and the Normans. In this, as well as in every other military expedition, either in Ireland or in Wales, the natives of the marches, from the constant state of warfare in which they are engaged, and whose manners are formed from the habits of war, are bold and active, skilful on horseback, quick on foot, not nice as to their diet, and ever prepared when necessity requires to abstain both from corn and wine. By such men were the first hostile attacks made upon Wales as well as Ireland, and by such men alone can their final conquest be accomplished. For the Flemings, Normans, Coterells, and Bragmans, are good and well- disciplined soldiers in their own country; but the Gallic soldiery is known to differ much from the Welsh and Irish. In their country the battle is on level, here on rough ground; there in an open field, here in forests; there they consider their armour as an honour, here as a burden; there soldiers are taken prisoners, here they are beheaded; there they are ransomed, here they are put to death. Where, therefore, the armies engage in a flat country, a heavy and complex armour, made of cloth and iron, both protects and decorates the soldier; but when the engagement is in narrow defiles, in woods or marshes, where the infantry have the advantage over the cavalry, a light armour is preferable. For light arms afford sufficient protection against unarmed men, by whom victory is either lost or won at the first onset; where it is necessary that an active and retreating enemy should be overcome by a certain proportional quantity of moderate armour; whereas with a more complex sort, and with high and curved saddles, it is difficult to dismount, more so to mount, and with the greatest difficulty can such troops march, if required, with the infantry. In order, therefore, that

"Singula quaeque locum teneant sortita decenter,"

we maintain it is necessary to employ heavy-armed and strong troops against men heavily armed, depending entirely upon their natural strength, and accustomed to fight in an open plain; but against light-armed and active troops, who prefer rough ground, men accustomed to such conflicts, and armed in a similar manner, must be employed. But let the cities and fortresses on the Severn, and the whole territory on its western banks towards Wales, occupied by the English, as well as the provinces of Shropshire and Cheshire, which are protected by powerful armies, or by any other special privileges and honourable independence, rejoice in the provident bounty of their prince. There should be a yearly examination of the warlike stores, of the arms, and horses, by good and discreet men deputed for that purpose, and who, not intent on its plunder and ruin, interest themselves in the defence and protection of their country. By these salutary measures, the soldiers, citizens, and the whole mass of the people, being instructed and accustomed to the use of arms, liberty may be opposed by liberty, and pride be checked by pride. For the Welsh, who are neither worn out by laborious burdens, nor molested by the exactions of their lords, are ever prompt to avenge an injury. Hence arise their distinguished bravery in the defence of their country; hence their readiness to take up arms and to rebel. Nothing so much excites, encourages, and invites the hearts of men to probity as the cheerfulness of liberty; nothing so much dejects and dispirits them as the oppression of servitude. This portion of the kingdom, protected by arms and courage, might be of great use to the prince, not only in these or the adjacent parts, but, if necessity required, in more remote regions; and although the public treasury might receive a smaller annual revenue from these provinces, yet the deficiency would be abundantly compensated by the peace of the kingdom and the honour of its sovereign; especially as the heavy and dangerous expenses of one military expedition into Wales usually amount to the whole income among from the revenues of the province.

Gerald of Wales, The Description of Wales (Oxford, Mississippi, 1997)

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