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Chester to Shrewsbury (Gerald’s Journey Through Wales 1188)

Via Whitchurch and Oswestry


This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.

Chester to Shrewsbury

Gerald seems to have enjoyed his Easter break. He wrote about the cheeses made from deer’s milk which were made by the dowager countess of Chester, local freaks and oddities, and two mysterious Chester hermits, whose identities were only revealed when they died. One was supposed to be Harold Godwinson (with one eye) who had escaped from his defeat at the battle of Hastings.

The other was the German emperor Heinrich V, who was supposed to have faked his own death and lived as a hermit for years in Chester. But this story had scandalous repercussions because Heinrich was the first husband of Henry II’s mother. If he did not die then her second marriage was bigamous, and the king was illegitimate!

he mission was not yet finished, as they had not preached in the principality of Powys in northern central Wales. It may have been because they were not welcome. Prince Owain Cyfeiliog of southern Powys did not want Baldwin to come, and Gruffudd ap Madog of the north was out of favour with the church. When the party left Chester for Shrewsbury, they diverted from the most direct route in order to stay outside the border of Powys, going south-east to Whitchurch in Shropshire and then south-west to Oswestry.

Gruffudd ap Madog

The mission never set foot in Powys, but the crusade had been preached there by Bishop Reiner of St Asaph, with a good response. Archbishop Baldwin preached in Oswestry, hoping the Welsh would cross the border from Powys, and indeed they met with some success. Gruffudd ap Madog and Eliseg of Penllyn arrived with many of their followers and many Welsh enlisted. Gruffudd also publicly repudiated his wife, who was his first cousin, and therefore not allowed by the church.

Having preached the last crusade sermon to a Welsh audience, the party were entertained ‘in the sumptuous English manner, with tremendous splendour and style’ by the local Norman lord, William fitz Alan. This ‘noble and generous’ young Marcher baron became one of Gerald’s closest friends. The next morning the party rode to Shrewsbury, where Gerald records, ‘we were glad to spend a few days recovering and getting our breath back’.

They did, however, preach the crusade in Shrewsbury, and had great success. Gerald records that he was the star attraction, and claims he heard some housewives complain, ‘If only that archdeacon hadner got round our husbands with his smooth talk, and bewitched them with his innocent looks, they’d have escaped scot-free from all the other preachers’.

There was one unpleasant task to perform. Owain Cyfeiliog of south Powys was the only Welsh prince who was hostile to the mission, and had failed to attend at either Oswestry or Shrewsbury. For his opposition, Archbishop Baldwin now solemnly excommunicated him with bell, book and candle, cutting him off from all hope of heaven until he repented. Since faith played a central part in medieval life, this was very serious. There is no record of whether he repented.

[adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at