In the Borderlands: The Identities of Gerald of Wales

  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


“Attempting to rationalise and homogenise Gerald’s wildly fluctuating allegiances and sympathies,” Julia C. Crick has observed, “would prove a fruitless enterprise.”1 That has not, of course, stopped scholars from trying. Many critics see a movement in the life of the twelfth-century cleric Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) from early identifications with the francophone English court to a pro-Welsh stance as he lobbied for an independent archbishopric at St. David’s. Later he bitterly rejects both possibilities, embracing the superiority of the French monarchy and retiring to Lincoln.2 In the pages that follow, however, I will emphasize a constant within these alterations: Gerald’s enduring struggle to articulate his hopelessly compound identity. Celibate ecclesiast, multilingual ethnographer, tireless writer and reviser of unprecedented texts, grandson of Welsh royalty, cosmopolitan intellectual, descendant of Norman conquistadors, court chaplain, instrument in the conquest of Ireland, eccentric and irascible multiplier of marvels, Giraldus Cambrensis often did not know exactly who he was.


Collective Identity Twelfth Century English Court Compound Identity Mixed Blood 
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© Jeffrey Jerome Cohen 2006

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  • Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

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