1188: Irish kings are crowned in a bath of horse soup

Gerallt Gyrmo, or Gerald of Wales, was a prominent clergyman, theologian and diarist of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Educated in England and France, Gerald became chaplain to Henry II in the mid-1180s. He also accompanied the future King John, then a teenager, on a tour of Ireland.

In his 1188 manuscript Topographica Hibernica, Gerald wrote at length about his experiences in the Emerald Isle. In keeping with English sentiments of the age, his views of Ireland and its people were almost wholly negative. He described the Irish as a race of “rude people… living like beasts”, “given to treachery more than any other nation”, “frightfully ugly”, “adulterous and incestuous” and “foully corrupted by perverse habits”. Their only civilised talent, Gerald writes, is:

“…playing upon musical instruments, in which they are incomparably more skilful than any other nation I have ever seen… In their musical concerts they do not sing in unison like the inhabitants of other countries but in many different parts… who all at length unite with organic melody.”

One of the more fanciful accounts in Gerald’s work, not witnessed by him but recounted as fact, was a ceremony for crowning Irish kings:

“The whole people are gathered in one place, a white mare is led into the midst of them… he who is to be inaugurated… comes before the people on all fours… The mare being immediately killed and cut in pieces and boiled, a bath is prepared for [the king] from the broth. Sitting in this, he eats of the flesh which is brought to him, the people partaking of it also. He is also required to drink of the broth in which he is bathed, not drawing it in any vessel but lapping it with his mouth. These unrighteous rites being duly accomplished, his royal authority and dominion are ratified.”

Source: Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), Topographica Hibernica, 1188. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

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