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Customer Review

on 15 February 2011
This is a very interesting survey of the period of transition from native Welsh kingship in S.W. Wales to the Norman lordship of the early twelfth century, and Nest is a useful vehicle for this study. The author specialises in eleventh century Welsh history, so the outline of the Welsh political situation and social organization is by far the best part of the book; as a biography though it is unfortunately sadly wanting. There is little information on the life of Nest, other than the account left by her grandson Gerald de Barri. As a result Maund has needed to devote most of the text to an account of her father's career, and that of the Norman conquerors of the Pembroke region, the de Montgomery family. There is nothing at all wrong with this; these individuals are some of the leading players in the drama of the Anglicisation of Pembrokeshire and of the story of Norman involvement in Wales as a whole. What I do find very problematic is the way the attempt to in-fill the significant blank areas in Nest's life has been approached. There are far too many times when a single possible outline of events is taken as the only one, without any discussion of alternative possibilities. The author seems to have come to the subject with a pre-conceived theory of Nest's life story. This in itself is not that unusual, what is concerning is that there is a lack of academic argument. As no other lines of thinking on key points in her life are given an airing, you are simply given a single scenario for the life of Nest. This is not a very scholarly way of investigating issues that are of some significance in interpreting her life.
The two most significant areas that should have been given a much greater degree of debate are the date of her marriage to Gerald de Windsor, and when she became Henry I's mistress and bore him a son. Maund is emphatic that Nest could not have married Gerald until 1102, and supposes this was done at the suggestion of Henry I. There is no evidence for this; indeed some scholars have suggested a date two years before this for the birth of her oldest son by Gerald. Gerald was Steward of Pembroke for the de Montgomerys' from 1093 to 1102, and we know that although he was a landless knight prior to his involvement in Pembrokeshire, he was no insignificant functionary for his lord. As steward he was the senior officer of Arnulf de Montgomery in Pembroke, and was entrusted with a diplomatic mission to Leinster in Ireland in 1097. Maund's argument that so important a women would not have been given in marriage to Gerald in these years by de Montgomery is tenuous. Gerald was clearly a close and trusted member of the Montgomery affinity, to whom a marriage of this type as a reward for service can well be imagined. Nest's marriage was not used to legitimise the Norman conquest of Pembroke as she implies, and it is doubtful whether Nest was viewed with the significance Maund claims, by the Normans. They after all claimed this territory solely by conquest, not through marriage. Certainly at this period, there are few other examples of Norman lords marrying Welsh aristocratic women to gain power. Gerald of Wales tells us that Gerald de Windsor married Nest to `put down roots' in Pembrokeshire, but this seems to have been a personal decision, and was certainly not a policy that Henry I practiced elsewhere in Wales. The most powerful proof that Nest's ancestry was not influential in the fortunes of the de Carew family (the descendants of Gerald and Nest) is that they never seem to have behaved or had pretensions greater than the status of mense lords of the lordship of Pembroke, a status gained solely through the position carved out by Gerald de Windsor during the early twelfth century.
The second point is tied to the first in some ways, namely the date of Nest's relationship with Henry I. Maund has opted in her interpretation for the earliest possible date in the mid-late 1090's. Her son by Henry died on military campaign on Anglesey in 1157, but we have no way of knowing if he was an old man at that time or in his prime. Certainly, by Maund's view he would have been about sixty, not an impossible age but certainly one that would be considered advanced for active warfare. Crouch in `the Normans' has suggested the date of 1109 for her relations with Henry while Lloyd says that it `befell while Nest was the wife of Gerald'. Indeed almost any period during Henry's life could be acceptable for their relationship. Gerald de Windsor died about 1120, and Nest re-married twice more after this, bearing children for each husband. It is certainly possible that her child by Henry I was conceived following the death of one of her husbands, Gerald being the most probable. We do not necessarily have to see her as a married woman seduced or wantonly unfaithful to her husband indeed that seems to my mind less likely as guaranteeing the paternity of children was important at this time (a point Maund herself makes in relation to female virginity in this book). The fact that Nest knew the paternity of her son by Henry would obviously suggest that either she was not married at the time, or was not in an active relationship with her husband. We are sadly in ignorance for the date of birth of her son by Henry, and the manner of his death prevents us making an educated guess as we could if he had died in his bed. There is nothing implausible with Maund's theory, but it relies on the dismissal of the possibility of her marriage to Gerald de Windsor in the late 1090's and her residing in court circles rather that being still in Montgomery custody, for which there is no evidence at all. She even imagines an intention on the part of Arnulf de Montgomery to marry Nest himself, as a mechanism for the king (not wanting this to occur) to bring her into his keeping, thereby allowing for the early relationship with Henry at court. The only problem is that with no evidence to back up this scenario Maund falls back constantly on saying it may have happened like this, while in a couple of paragraphs this tentative suggestion is built on as probable fact. The result is a life story that is largely a house of cards with very few factual supports holding it up. As a consequence the book is academically both dubious and frustrating.
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