Nest ferch Rhys was born in 1085. Her father was Rhys ap Twdwr, king of Deheubarth, her mother was the daughter of Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn. Rhiwallon and his brother were involved in an attack on Herefordshire shortly after the Norman conquest of England. Nest must have been quite a beauty. At an early age she caught the eye of no less a personage than King Henry I with whom she gave birth to her first child. Also named Henry, this boy became the progenitor of the FitzHenry lineage.
Irish, Welsh and Norman blood mingling
The king subsequently arranged for her marriage to Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor. She thereby gave rise to the FitzGerald lineage. Following the Norman expeditions to Ireland their two eldest sons, William and Maurice, married two daughters of the king of Munster. The FitzGeralds, often referred to as “the Gerladines” were to become one of the most influential dynasties in the future history of Ireland. William’s son, Raymond le Gros, married Strongbow’s sister Basilia. Maurice’s son (confusingly also called William) married Strongbow’s daughter Alina. Note that Alina was Strongbow’s daughter from a relationship entered into prior to his arrival in Ireland.
The third son, David, became bishop of St. David’s in Pembroke. Nest and Gerald also had two daughters. One of these, Angharad, was the mother of Gerald of Wales, chronicler of the Norman expeditions to Ireland. In a further Hereford connection this man, Gerald de Barry, is reputed to have died in Hereford. He had hoped to succeed his uncle David as Bishop of St. David’s and campaigned to have St. David’s given the same status in Wales as Canterbury had in England.
A nest of invaders
Following Gerald’s death, in 1136, Nesta married Stephen of Abertivy by whom she had another son. Robert Fitz-Stephen, too, was a member of the first Norman expeditionary force. In total, no fewer than 17 of Nest’s male descendants participated in the Norman invasion of Ireland between 1167 and 1169.
Footnote: the surname prefixes ap and ferch signify “son of” and “daughter of” in (ancient) Welsh. Fitz (from the French fils = son) means “son of” in Norman French.