John Price and Humphrey Lloyd:
The Denunciation of Polydore Vergil

In my article entitled Why All The Fuss About Geoffrey I explained how Polydore Vergil denounced the history of the Britons (Welsh) as obscure, uncertain and unknown. This invited sharp criticism from the Welsh, and particularly from John Price and Humphrey Lloyd. In this article, I will describe some of their criticisms.

The Historie of Cambria, by Caradoc of Llancarfan

Caradoc was a Welsh historian who collected information on the lineage of the Welsh kings, after Cadwalader (who went to Brittany in 680) up to the year 1156 (part way through the reign of Owen Gwyneth). It is basically a continuation of the history that was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, as it begins approximately at the point where he left off.

Caradoc wrote his history in Welsh and it was translated into English by Humphrey Lloyd. It was then corrected and augmented by David Powell, so that it covers the period to the end of Welsh independent rule in 1282, and continues with the Princes of Wales, of English royal stock, up to the end of the Tudor period. It was published with these amendments in 1584 and reprinted in 1811.

Description of Cambria

The 1582 version contains a "Description of Cambria", first written by John Price of Brecon and then augmented by Humphrey Lloyd. The first few pages are a scathing attack on Polydore Vergil, claiming that he doesn't know anything about Wales and cannot be trusted to write anything about the history of Wales. He was actually more interested in extolling the virtues of his native Italy and he used his Latin style to try and impress people.

This criticism has obviously been included as a way of preparing the groundwork for the history that follows, leaving the reader in no doubt that the Welsh are best qualified to write a history of the Wales.

An outline of the book, and the text that criticises Polydore Vergil, is available as an Acrobat PDF file (375K).

Polydore's ignorance of Wales is illustrated by two examples:

  • The country known as Wales has always been called Cambria. The inhabitants are called Cambry, and the language is Camberaec. It was the Saxons who first called it Wales, and they called the people and language Welsh, meaning "strange" or "not understood". Similarly, there were people in various other places who referred to the French and Italians as those who speak "Walsh". Polydore Vergil was bragging that he was the first to find out the origin of the name of Wales, when in fact it had already been documented by various historians, including Sylvester Giraldus 380 years earlier.
  • The island on the north-west corner of Wales is called Môn, but the English call it Anglesea. Polydore Vergil denied that it was called Môn and instead he assigned the name Môn to the Isle of Man, which in Welsh is called Manaw. In this way, he confused the names of both islands. Consequently, he also corrupted the ancient history of Cornelius Tacitus, so that an army is found swimming across the sea to the Isle of Man, a distance of 20 miles, when in fact it is only 200 pases (paces) across the Menai strait from North Wales to Môn (Anglesey). John Price and Humphrey Lloyd were actually being generous to Polydore Vergil. The distance of 20 miles is the shortest distance from the mainland to the Isle of Man, measured from Burrow Head in Scotland. If they swam from North Wales to the Isle of Man it would be almost 60 miles.

There is a reference to the "apologie of Sir Iohn Pryse knight, and his Brytish historie, written by him of purpose against the enuious reports and slaunderous taunts of the said Polydor, where he shall see a great number of his errors confuted at large.". This is another book by John Price, called "Historiae Brytannicae Defensio", written in Latin and published in 1573. A copy is available at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, but I do not know if there is an English translation.

See also:
Breviary of Britain, Humphrey Lloyd. First published in Latin under the title "Commentariolum Descriptionis Britannicae Fragmentum" in 1572, then translated into English and published as "Breviary of Britain" a year later.

Copyright 2000

Mike Gascoigne
Send a mail message

Bible Index

History Index

Home Page