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date: 07 July 2022

Windsor, Gerald offree

(d. 1116x36)

Windsor, Gerald offree

(d. 1116x36)
  • David Walker

Windsor, Gerald of (d. 1116x36), soldier and dynast, was a younger son of a Norman constable of Windsor Castle. The first whose name has survived is Walter son of Other, who held the manor of Eton and was constable of Windsor in 1086. He was dead by 1105. He may have been Gerald's father or his older brother. In the summer of 1093 Dyfed was overrun by Norman forces and Arnulf de Montgomery (d. 1118×22) was established at Pembroke. Gerald, seeking new outlets as was the lot of a younger son, served in that campaign and was appointed castellan of Arnulf's castle at Pembroke.

There Gerald faced a critical test in the Welsh resurgence of 1096 when the castle was besieged. According to family traditions reported by Gerald of Wales, morale was low, and flamboyant gestures sustained the garrison. Fifteen knights were said to have attempted to escape from the castle; their fate is not known, but Gerald vested their squires as knights and gave them their lands. Food was desperately short, but he took the carcasses of four pigs and had them thrown over the stockade to convince the Welsh that he was well supplied. He also sealed a letter to Arnulf, declaring that he would not need any reinforcements in the foreseeable future, and it was deliberately placed where it would be found by Wilfrid, bishop of St David's, and taken to the Welsh leaders. It was said that when they heard of its contents they abandoned the siege. True, false, or embroidered in the telling, these stories were treasured by his family.

In 1097 Gerald carried the struggle into Welsh territory by raiding the lands of the bishop of St David's in Pebidiog. About 1100, while Deheubarth was still weak after the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr (d. 1093), he married Nest (b. before 1092, d. c. 1130), Rhys's daughter, 'with the object of giving himself and his troops a firmer foothold in the country' (Gir. Camb. opera, 6.90). They had three sons, William, Maurice Fitzgerald (d. 1176), and David (d. 1176), the future bishop of St David's, and a daughter, Angharad, who married William of Barry, lord of Manorbier.

In 1102 Arnulf de Montgomery joined his brother Robert de Bellême (fl. 1057–1130) in revolt against Henry I. Gerald of Windsor was involved; he was sent to Ireland to seek to persuade Arnulf's father-in-law, Muirchertach Ó Briain (d. 1119), of Dublin, to send support. During the crisis Arnulf's lands were promised to Iorwerth ap Bleddyn (d. 1111), the brother of the prince of Powys, but when Henry had crushed the revolt Pembroke was handed over to Saer, a knight of whom little is known. What happened to Gerald is not recorded, but the sequel suggests that he remained in west Wales. Saer was deprived of his lands in 1105, which were retained in the king's hands and administered by royal officials. By then Gerald was secure in the king's confidence and became constable of Pembroke for Henry I. He held a castle and lands at Carew, which became the centre of his family's landed interests. He also made gains in the south-west in Emlyn, where 'for the safe-keeping of his wife and sons and all his valuables' (Brut: Peniarth MS 20, 28) he built a castle at Cenarth Bychan, usually identified as Cilgerran. His successors remained firmly established there.

At that stronghold, in 1109, he faced humiliation. Owain ap Cadwgan of Powys (d. 1116) visited the castle, ostensibly to see his kinswoman, Nest. He returned with a strong force, to take both the castle and the lady, who may have been a willing partner. Under Nest's persuasion Gerald escaped through the garderobe chute. Owain burned and pillaged the castle and carried off Nest and her children to Powys. His father, Cadwgan, fearing Henry I's anger, was anxious to restore her and the children to Gerald, 'but he was not allowed' (Brut: Peniarth MS 20, 29) for Owain was infatuated. Later, at Nest's persistent request, the children were sent back to their father, but Owain 'kept their mother with himself' (Brut: Saeson, 107). Seven years afterwards, in 1116, Gerald took his revenge. By then Owain had been reconciled with Henry I, and he and Windsor were both working with the Anglo-Norman forces in south Wales. A troop of Flemings, serving under Gerald's command, turned on Owain, overpowered his companions, and killed him. Whether Nest ever returned to her husband is not known; she was involved in liaisons with Henry I and with Stephen, constable of Cardigan Castle. Gerald of Windsor's death can be dated only within the limits 1116–36. He does not appear in the surviving records after 1116. His heir, William, and his younger son, Maurice, were leading Anglo-Norman forces against the Welsh in 1136.

The family of Gerald and Nest was remarkable in three respects: it included a large number of males; most of them were involved in the Norman incursions and settlements in Ireland; and the family produced a fluent writer who recorded their deeds. William, the heir, remained in Wales as lord of Carew. So did his heir, Odo of Carew, but two other sons and a son-in-law settled in Ireland. Maurice, with five of his six sons, and a son-in-law, were involved in campaigns in Ireland and settled there. Bishop David's son, Miles, established his descendants at Iverk in Leinster. Two of the sons of Angharad and William of Barry, Robert and Philip, were prominent in Ireland. So was another son of William, Walter of Barry, probably a bastard.

This large family, the fitz Geralds (eventually, Fitzgeralds), absorbed their relatives of the half-blood. The son of Nest and Henry I, Henry fitz Henry, died in 1157, but his sons, Meiler fitz Henry (d. 1220) and Robert, grew to manhood before the invasions of Ireland where they prospered. Nest's association with Stephen, constable of Cardigan Castle, produced Robert fitz Stephen (d. before 1192). He and two sons, both apparently illegitimate, died in Ireland.

At Manorbier one grandson with no pretension to military ambitions was dedicated to the church, the scholar and prolific writer later known as Gerald of Wales (c.1146–1220×23). He recorded in his Itinerary through Wales the heroic stories of Gerald of Windsor at Pembroke, and in The Conquest of Ireland he related with lavish praise the deeds and achievements of his kinsmen in warfare and settlement in Ireland. Gerald enhanced their contribution by omitting or minimizing the exploits of other Anglo-Norman leaders. But the family pride and the family history which he built into his Conquest of Ireland ensured the reputation of the dynasty for adventurous leadership and for a determination to find and exploit new lands.


  • T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brut y tywysogyon, or, The chronicle of the princes: Peniarth MS 20 (1952)
  • T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brenhinedd y Saesson, or, The kings of the Saxons (1971) [another version of Brut y tywysogyon]
  • Gerald of Wales, ‘The journey through Wales’ and ‘The description of Wales’, trans. L. Thorpe (1978)
  • Reg. RAN, vol. 2
  • R. R. Davies, Conquest, coexistence, and change: Wales, 1063–1415, History of Wales, 2 (1987)
  • T. W. Moody and others, eds., A new history of Ireland, 2: Medieval Ireland, 1169–1534 (1987)
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Giraldi Cambrensis, ed. J. S. Brewer, J. F. Dimock, & G. F. Warner, 8 vols., RS, 21 (1861–91)
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H. W. C. Davis & others, eds., , 4 vols. (1913–69)