Gerald of Wales:
On Henry II and his sons, from The Topography of Ireland, Chapters 49-50
OF THE CHARACTERS OF HIS SONS; AND FIRST OF HENRY III., KING OF ENGLAND.
[The Young King]
Semper adest homini quo peotoris ima gemiseant
Ne possit plena prosperitate frui;
Gaudia nuno luctu, nune mutat amara secundis,
Versans humanas sors inopina vices.
Sola venire solent et vix, et sero, secunda;
Et simul, et subito, semper umara fluunt:
So, I say, the divine mercy has always smiled on you in almost all affairs, giving a
prosperous issue to events; and I wish that it had so continued to the end, that (like one
cutting to the quick, and a too powerful dose of medicine) when the sons were in arms
against their father, and counted his years before the time, it had spared the father more
than, out of favor to the father, those who were dearest to him. The most illustrious of
these, and, after one was taken, the eldest, who enjoyed his father's name and style, like
another Hector, son of Priam, was an honor to his friends, the terror of his enemies, and
the delight of all. In arms he was like the thunderbolt winged by lightning, the only hope
or fear of all.
Omnis honoris honos decoret, decus urbis et orbis
Militiae splendor, gloria, lumen, apex.
Julius ingenio, virtutibus Hector, Achilles
Viribus, Augustus moribus, ore Paris.
In peace, and in private life, he was courteous, affable gentle, and amiable, kindly
indulgent to those by whom he chanced to be injured, and far more disposed to forgive than
to punish the offenders. His disposition was so good that he could never refuse to give
anything that was fitting, thinking that no one ought to leave his presence sorrowful, or
disappointed of his hopes. In short, he considered that he had lost a day when he had not
secured the attachment of many by various acts of liberality, and bound them to him, body
and soul, by multiplied favors conferred.
When in arms and engaged in war, no sooner was the helmet on his head than he assumed a
lofty air, and became impetuous, bold, and fiercer than any wild beast. His triumphs were
often gained more by his valor than by fortune; and he was in all respects another Hector,
son of Priam, except that the one fought on behalf of his father and his country, and the
other, alas! was led by evil counsels to fight against both. It was his only desire, and
the summit of his wishes, to have the means and opportunity of employing his great velour,
so that his martial genius might be fully displayed. Nothing human, however, can be
entirely perfect, and so, envious nature, loth that so many good qualities should be
united in one person without alloy, added one most signal blemish; making him only
notorious for his ingratitude, and for the trouble he caused to his excellent father.
Wonderful as was his career, one thing appears almost miraculous, namely, that almost all
the world attached themselves to a man who was totally without resources, either in money
or territory. It was hoped that, before long, he would have restored order in the
government of the world, had not the envious course of fate suddenly, prematurely, and
unexpectedly, carried him off in the flower of his youth, and in the spring-time of the
year. He died in the twenty-ninth year of his age, the fourteenth of his coronation, and
the year of our Lord 1182.
OF THE CHARACTER OF THE COUNT OF POITOU.
The crier's voice shall not be silent on the merits of one who is worthy of praise. By his
father's wise provision, he bore a name belonging to his father's family, and been
invested with his mother's territories, although still young, he speedily reduced to
obedience a country hitherto ungovernable, and ruled it with so much prudence, that he not
only brought its wildest parts to a state of tranquility unknown before, but re-annexed to
it many districts which had been long detached and dismembered from it Introducing order
amongst a disorderly people, establishing law where all wee lawless, beating down opposing
obstacles, and leveling all that was rough, he restored the ancient boundaries and rights
of Aquitaine. Like another Caesar, he pushed his fortune to the utmost, anticipated
future, and was equal to present emergencies, and lost no time in following up his
successes. Thinking "nothing done while aught remained undone," and fierce in
his encounters in arms, he was only happy when he marked his steps with blood; nor could
inaccessible cliffs, crowned with towers which art and situation had rendered hitherto
impregnable, withstand his bold assaults; whether thy were made by force of arms or
stratagem; whether they were directed against the battlements, or sapped the foundations
of the fortresses. But evil follows on the heels of good, and virtue itself is often led
into error and crime. Thus the over zealous assertor of the rights of peace and justice,
was led to execute the laws with furious rigour against evil-doers, in order to curb the
audacity of a stubborn people, and make the innocent secure in the midst of the guilty.
This ought to have earned for him due praise from those who were right-minded; but the
railings of the disaffected raised against him a popular cry accusing him of cruelty. It
appears, however, that he incurred this imputation without any sufficient grounds; as, the
demands for such severity soon abating, he reassumed his natural gentleness and clemency,
and his rigid administration gradually settled into the golden mean, as far from cruelty
as it was from being remiss.
Besides, the author of nature has joined suffering to the nature it has called into
existence. Thus our lion-hearted prince, who is more than a lion, is troubled with a
quartan ague, as lions are, as a means of subduing the fierce impulses of his spirit.
Quaking under continual accesses of this disorder, but not from fear, his quaking makes
the whole world to tremble and to fear likewise. In short, among the several virtues for
which he is distinguished, there are three which are incomparably eminent, and shed a
peculiar lustre on his character. These are, his brilliant courage; his boundless
liberality so worthy of a prince, and gracing so well his other virtues; and his resolute
firmness both of mind and word. In conclusion, to sum up much that might be said, in a
brief eulogy, he is second to his illustrious brother in age only, and not in merit.
OF THE DIFFERENCE IN PERSON AND CHARACTER BETWEEN THE TWO BROTHERS. [Henry and Richard]
Different as were the habits and pursuits of the two brothers, sprung from the same stock
and the same root, each has merited everlasting glory and endless fame. They were both
tall in stature, rather above the middle size, and of commanding aspect. In courage and
magnanimity they were nearly equal; but in the character of their virtues there v as a
great disparity. One was admirable for gentleness and liberality, the other distinguished
himself by his severity and firmness. The one had a commendable suavity, the other
gravity. One was commended for his easy temper, the other for his determined spirit. One
was remarkable for his clemency, the other for his justice. The vile and undeserving found
their refuge in the one, their punishment from the other. One was the shield of bad men,
the other the hammer to crush them. The one was bent on martial sports, the other on
serious conflicts. The one bestowed his favours on foreigners, the other on his own
people; the one on all the world, the other on the worthy only. The one's ambition
magnanimously compassed the world; the other coveted, to good purpose, what was rightfully
But why should I dwell on such details? Neither the present age, nor any former times,
have seen two princes born of the same king, so noble, and yet so different. Yet the germs
of their great and various virtues, and of far greater still, if it were possible, might
all be derived, different as they were, in rich abundance, from their illustrious stock.
Whatever good qualities you find in either of them, you know v ere transfused from the
root into the branches. For who was ever more merciful to the meek, or more cruel to the
fierce, than their right noble father? But still his tendency was to mercy. After every
victory, thinking it his supreme revenge to have had it in his power to take vengeance.
Who was braver in arms - who more subtle in counsel? Who could ever be more cheerful with
the light-hearted, or more serious with the grave? I must not defraud history of its
truth, although there is sometimes danger in telling all that is true; for it is a
perilous thing on any occasion to use your pen against one who can proscribe you by a
stroke of his; it is hazardous to bring charges against one who can send you into
banishment. Still, I will ask, who carried himself more nobly among the lower orders? who
lowered himself so much among the nobility? Who more exalted the humble? who more humbled
the proud? Again, who was ever more favorable to foreigners? who more burthensome to his
own people? Who, I say, held himself more aloof from his friends, or was more friendly to
aliens? For at one time pretending to a character not his own, at another dissembling what
belonged to himself, he rendered his disposition so flexible in his great prudence, that
filling different characters to different persons, and becoming all things to all men, he
made all things conform to his own will, as time and place required.
OF THE PRINCES OF BRITANNY AND IRELAND. [Geoffrey and John]
The Armorican-British and the Irish dominions proclaim the well-merited praises of the two
others. Both of them were of rather short stature, a little below the middle height, and
for their size were well-shaped enough. Of these, the one is already distinguished by his
virtues, and has attained the highest honours; the other will. The one is well versed in
military affairs; the other has to be instructed in them. The one is corn in the ear, the
other in the blade. The one is already great in action, the other leads us to expect he
will be great; for not degenerating from his high origin, he has equaled his most noble
brothers in worth as far as his powers admit. Hence whether he originally derived it from
the parent stock or from parity [with his brothers], it could not degenerate in his time.
The one is an eloquent and astute man, and as he could not easily be deceived, is most
prudent, if he would not deceive. In two wars, and in various ways imitating Ulysses as
well as Achilles, he has been ever, alas! ungrateful to his father, and in this has trod
in the footsteps of his elder brother, too plainly marked. He has more aloes then honey in
him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him
to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into
confusion; for with wonderful industry he assumes all shapes, and dissembles all his
designs. But as a man of many words will not be guided in his ways on the earth, the Lord
hath not directed his goings, nor multiplied his days.
The other, led away by the fervour of youth and ensnared by its passions, is prone to
vice, and rude to his monitors; lending himself to the seductions of his time of life,
instead of resisting the impulses of nature. Hitherto, therefore, by reason of his age, he
is more given to pleasures than to arms, to dalliance than to endurance, to Juvenile
levity, more as yet, than to manly maturity, which he has not attained. He employs most of
his time in those evil courses which gallants pursue, by which even youths who are
naturally good are often roused to feats of arms and soar from the camp of Cupid to the
arts and towers of Pallas. As, then, he has obeyed the laws of green youth so he will
conform to those of subsequent age. Since therefore, it is no disgrace to have enjoyed the
pleasures of youth, but the shame lies in not bringing them to an end, Juvenile levity is
excusable if the mature age be commendable; and that stage of life is blameless, if age
sets bounds to indulgence. The tree which bends its boughs downwards cannot strike deep
This is the last of the three brothers; may he not be the last in virtue; but being always
dutiful to both his parents, may his days be long and prosperous on earth! May he as truly
conform to the description given by Merlinus A mbrosius, in a prophecy much noised abroad,
of the man before whom the walls of Ireland shall fall, as he appears to answer to it.
"His beginning," it says, ·shall be abandoned to loose living, but his end
shall waft him to heaven."
HOW THE BROTHERS QUARRELLED BETWEEN THEMSELVES, AND WITH THEIR FATHER.
O ye gods, if these illustrious brothers had been united by the ties of fraternal love,
and had regarded their father with filial affection, if they had been bound together by
the twofold cords of good-will and of nature, how great, how inestimable, how splendid and
incomparable in the present age, would have been the glory of the father, and the triumphs
of the sons? How worthy would have been their history, worthy of the genius of a Maro, to
be given to memory? What valour could resist their prowess; what kings, such princes; what
realms, such warlike chiefs? The world itself is too small to allow scope for the exercise
of so much bravery; and the surface of the earth would scarcely suffice to contain the
triumphal annals of such velour. To what a magnitude, and height, and strength the tree
would have grown, if the branches had been naturally knit together, and had drawn their
sap from the roots, is manifest from the premature decay and heavy fall of what was so
precious. For as branches lopped from the stem of a tree cannot reunite, so the tree
stripped of its boughs, a treasonable outrage, is shorn both of its dignity and
Source: The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis. Translated by Thomas
Forester; revised by Thomas Wright. London: George Bell, 1887; pp. 157-164.
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