Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales was a medieval clergyman who in 1184 became a diplomatic negotiator of King Henry II(pg 12). The following year Henry II had Gerald of Wales accompany his son John on an expedition to Ireland. After Gerald’s expedition to Ireland he produced Topographia Hibernica (Topography of Ireland) as a gift for Henry II (pg30). Due to his religious point of view and generally critical attitude to the manners and morals of the Irish he uses his book to shed light on Ireland and their need for the restructuring of the English church.

Gerald of Whales views the role of gender in The History and Topography of Ireland with a religious perspective due to being a clergyman. As a result, Gerald perceives the behavior of the Irish people as being barbaric and in need of religious help, that the English could provide. Gerald and the Church believe that men are to labor, and that their labor will result in wealth of various forms. However, Gerald describes the Irish as lazy men who do not wish to work, that their laziness is the cause of their barbaric ways.

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Gerald calls the Irish “wild and inhospitable people” who “have not progressed at all from the primitive habits of pastoral living. ”(101). Gerald believes that with the help of the English the Irish will progress into pastoral living, baring labor, allowing them to settle in communities where they will become privileged law-abiding people. So that after settling into communities they can cultivate and become money making towns and a more unified civilization under religion (102). Secondly Gerald and the church believe that women are the cause of evil due to Genesis 3.

Therefore, the church believes that women are to obey men, and view women as deceiving creatures. So, while reading The History and Topography of Ireland Gerald tends to refer to women as wretched and beasts. Gerald finds that in Ireland women disobey men and are the cause of devastating events. One example of this can be seen in “A big lake that had marvelous origin” were Gerald shares the story of how a lake in Ulster came to be(64). It goes, that one well was always covered and left sealed because of a great superstition that uncovering it would overflow and destroy the whole district.

Then one day a women unsealed the well and it overflowed destroying everything and killing everyone. The women disobeyed the “the voice of the people and the voice of God” causing the devastation, evil. *(64) In another passage, Gerald describes how there was a lion that had sex with a women, Johanna, would escape and the town would call for Johanna so she could tame him using “women tricks” (pg76). Although this occurrence did not take place in Ireland it just proves how Gerald thinks women to be deceitful towards beast and man. Gerald also describes how women can kill a man either by their nature or by hand.

He states that “every wise man in proportion to the greatness of his capacity or gift of wisdom with which he is adorned, if he be given to lust and be caught in the snares of passion, will in that proportion the less observe temperance and modesty. ” (47) He follows this statement with an example of how a silly woman caused two men to commit crimes of homicide and apostasy all because of her nature and presence(47). Gerald believes women are violent creatures which causes men to be unable to resist them and have unlimited power over men, even the wisest would should be able to resist but cant.

Gerald also states that women are so evil in Ireland they would poison their own son, husbands, and step sons. (55) proving that they are ill natured and wretched. Lastly the church views marriage as a sacred rite, whereas the Irish have a lax marriage practice. According to Gerald the Irish are “filthy people” because they do not have contract marriages, and they practice incest(106). He describes how men do not marry but “debauch the wives of their dead brother”106. In Ireland it was acceptable for men and women who were married to just separate from each other and receive back what they brought to their marriage.

It was also acceptable for a man to have more than one wife and also marry the wife of another man’s and abuse them sexually. On infamous example of this is when Mac Murchada took Tigernan’s wife which lead to a battle between the two. (duffy62). However although the Irish found no shame in their marriage practice Gerald sees them as animals that need to be taught the holiness of marriage. Accordingly the immoral behavior of the Irish depicted by Gerald, illustrate that the gender roles established by the English Church will help the Irish live better and moral lives after the invasion.

That the barbaric, lazy, ax carrying, untrust worthy men of Ireland could become respectable laboring men. And the evil, wretched women could become honorable wives that listen and obey their husbands. That with the help of the English church the Irish could become a unified, tithes paying civilization under the law of the Church. Gerald of Wales, History and Topography of Ireland (New York: Penguin, 1982), pg# Sean Duffy, Ireland in The Middle Ages (Gill and Macillian), pg

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