Who's who in Swordland

Anyone who has tackled (and hopefully enjoyed) Swordland will have noted that almost every character who accompanies Robert FitzStephen on his adventure to Ireland in 1169 is related to him in some way or form. This entry will hopefully clear up who’s who in the Norman army for those who have and are reading my newly released novel.

One of the main features of the first Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 is that the whole expedition was largely conducted by a single family, the Geraldines. Brothers, half-brothers, nephews, bastards, cousins, and in-laws, many of the leaders of the 1169 and 1170 invasions were linked through a shared descent from the famous Welsh Princess, Nest ferch Rhys, rather through the eponymous Gerald. Nest was the daughter of the last King of Deheubarth, Rhys ap Tewdwr, who fell in battle against the Normans at Brecon in 1093. While the young Nest became a hostage of the Norman King of England, Henry I, her brother Gruffydd fled into exile in Ireland. By 1103, Nest had become King Henry’s mistress and bore him an illegitimate son, called Henry FitzRoy, but she was soon thereafter given as wife to one of his knights, Gerald de Windsor.



Gerald’s grandfather, Otho, had arrived in England prior to the Norman conquest of 1066, possibly in the retinue of Edward the Confessor when he had reclaimed his father’s throne from the Danish usurpers. His son, Walter, was noted as Constable of Windsor Castle in the Doomsday Book in 1087 and married the Welsh princess, Gwladys of Powys, around 1070 and with whom he had three sons. One of these, Gerald (surnamed ‘de Windsor’ due to his birth at the famous castle), was appointed Constable of Pembroke Castle by Arnulf de Montgomery by 1094.

In 1101 Arnulf and his brother, the Earl of Shrewsbury, rebelled against King Henry I and Gerald de Windsor appears to have supported his master in this uprising. He was sent to Ireland in order to arrange a military alliance with the King of Thomond and this was allegedly formalised by a marriage between Arnulf and a daughter of the powerful Irish monarch. Nevertheless, the rebellion collapsed in 1102 when King Henry captured Pembroke and ejected both Arnulf and Gerald from their power centres. While Arnulf was never allowed to return, Gerald was somehow able to rehabilitate himself in King Henry’s esteem and in 1105 he was reinstated as Constable of Pembroke. This return to favour was sealed when King Henry married Gerald to his former mistress, Princess Nest. As part of her dowry, Gerald gained Carew Castle just north of Pembroke.

Together Gerald and Nest had a number of children including three sons, William, Maurice and David FitzGerald as well as at least two daughters. At some point following the birth of their children, Nest was abducted from her husband’s castle (possibly Cilgerran) by Owain, the son of Prince Cadwgan of Powys. The Normans subsequently invaded, driving both Owain and Cadwgan from their lands and into exile in Ireland. The episode earned Nest the nickname of the Helen of Wales as, in symmetry with the protagonist of the Trojan War, her beauty launched an army of a thousand spears to recover her for her husband. By 1112 Owain had been pardoned by King Henry and had returned to Powys. He even joined up with King Henry’s army when the Normans moved against Nest’s brother, Gruffydd, in 1116. Gerald de Windsor, fighting on the same side as his mortal enemy, took the opportunity to attack Owain and killed him.



Gerald and Nest’s two daughters, Angharad and Gwladys, married into two local Welsh-Norman families from Glamorgan who would also find fame during the invasion of Ireland. Angharad married William de Barry and her sons, Robert and Philip, would take part in the 1169 invasion. Gwladys’ sons, Richard and Milo de Cogan, seem to have been tenants of the Earl of Gloucester, but would accompany Strongbow to Ireland in 1170 during the second wave of landings in the invasion.

The eldest son of Gerald and Nest, William FitzGerald, became Lord of Carew, and his sons took that name as their surname. The most famous of his sons was Raymond de Carew, who was nicknamed the Fat, and who led the army of Strongbow during his invasion of Ireland in 1170. The next eldest son was David FitzGerald who rose to the position of Archdeacon of Cardigan and Bishop of St David’s by 1148. He was a proponent of separating the Welsh church from the See of Canterbury and had an illegitimate son called Miles FitzBishop who played a leading part in the 1169 invasion alongside Meiler FitzHenry, Nest’s grandson through her affair with King Henry I.

Gerald and Nest’s most numerous descendants are sprung from their son Maurice FitzGerald. He was one of the leaders of the 1169 invasion and his numerous sons founded a number of noble lineages including those of the Earls of Desmond and Knights of Glin, and the extant families of the Dukes of Leinster and Marquesses of Lansdowne.

A family of champions, the extended family of the Geraldines includes the Roche, Condon and Walsh clans who would also travel from Wales and the West Country to take part in the invasion.

Following the death of Gerald de Windsor at some point between 1120 and 1130, Nest remarried to Stephen, the Constable of Cardigan Castle, and they had at least one son, the main protagonist in my novel, Swordland: Robert FitzStephen. You’ll have to read the book to find out about his career in both Wales and Ireland, but he is one of the most fascinating and little known characters to emerge from the story of the invasion.



Edward Ruadh Butler is the author of Swordland which was published by Accent Press in February 2015. The second in the series, Lord of the Sea Castle, will follow within the year. The third book of the Invader Series, charting Strongbow’s arrival in Ireland, will be published in 2016.







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