Welsh History 101 Essay

The history of Wales begins with the arrival of human beings in the region thousands of years ago. Neanderthals lived in what is now Wales, or Cymru in Welsh, at least 230,000 years ago,[1] while Homo sapiens arrived by about 31,000 BC.[2] However, continuous habitation by modern humans dates from the period after the end of the last ice age around 9000 BC, and Wales has many remains from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age. During the Iron Age the region, like all of Britain south of the Firth of Forth, was dominated by the Celtic Britons and the Brittonic language.[3] The Romans, who began their conquest of Britain in AD 43, first campaigned in what is now northeast Wales in 48 against the Deceangli, and gained total control of the region with their defeat of the Ordovices in 79. The Romans departed from Britain in the 5th century, opening the door for the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Thereafter Brittonic language and culture began to splinter, and several distinct groups formed. The Welsh people were the largest of these groups, and are generally discussed independently of the other surviving Brittonic-speaking peoples after the 11th century.[3]

A number of kingdoms formed in present-day Wales in the post-Roman period. While the most powerful ruler was acknowledged as King of the Britons (later Tywysog Cymru: Leader or Prince of Wales), and some rulers extended their control over other Welsh territories and into western England, none were able to unite Wales for long. Internecine struggles and external pressure from the English and later, the Norman conquerors of England, led to the Welsh kingdoms coming gradually under the sway of the English crown. In 1282, the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd led to the conquest of the Principality of Wales by King Edward I of England; afterwards, the heir apparent to the English monarch has borne the title "Prince of Wales". The Welsh launched several revolts against English rule, the last significant one being that led by Owain Glyndŵr in the early 15th century. In the 16th century Henry VIII, himself of Welsh extraction as a great grandson of Owen Tudor, passed the Laws in Wales Acts aiming to fully incorporate Wales into the Kingdom of England. Under England's authority, Wales became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and then the United Kingdom in 1801. Yet, the Welsh retained their language and culture despite heavy English dominance. The publication of the extremely significant first complete Welsh translation of the Bible by William Morgan in 1588 greatly advanced the position of Welsh as a literary language.[4]

The 18th century saw the beginnings of two changes that would greatly affect Wales, the Welsh Methodist revival, which led the country to turn increasingly nonconformist in religion, and the Industrial Revolution greatly affected Wales. During the rise of the British Empire, 19th century Southeast Wales in particular experienced rapid industrialisation and a dramatic rise in population as a result of the explosion of the coal and iron industries.[5] Wales played a full and willing role in World War One. The industries of Empire in Wales declined in the 20th century with the end of the British Empire following the Second World War, while nationalist sentiment and interest in self-determination rose. The Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party as the dominant political force in the 1940s. Wales played a considerable role during World War Two along with the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Allies, and its cities were bombed extensively during the Nazi Blitz. The nationalist party Plaid Cymru gained short lived momentum in the 1960s. In a 1997 referendum Welsh voters approved the devolution of governmental responsibility to a National Assembly for Wales, which first met in 1999.

Prehistoric Wales[edit]

Main article: Prehistoric Wales

The earliest known human remain discovered in modern-day Wales is a Neanderthal jawbone, found at the Bontnewydd Palaeolithic site in the valley of the River Elwy in North Wales, whose owner lived about 230,000 years ago in the Lower Palaeolithic period.[6][7] The Red Lady of Paviland, a human skeleton dyed in red ochre, was discovered in 1823 in one of the Paviland limestone caves of the Gower Peninsula in Swansea, South Wales. Despite the name, the skeleton is that of a young man who lived about 33,000 years ago at the end of the Upper Paleolithic Period (old stone age).[2] He is considered to be the oldest known ceremonial burial in Western Europe. The skeleton was found along with jewellery made from ivory and seashells and a mammoth's skull.

Following the last ice age, Wales became roughly the shape it is today by about 8000 BC and was inhabited by Mesolithichunter-gatherers. The earliest farming communities are now believed to date from about 4000 BC, marking the beginning of the Neolithic period. This period saw the construction of many chambered tombs particularly dolmens or cromlechs. The most notable examples of megalithic tombs include Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodiad y Gawres on Anglesey,[8]Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire, and Tinkinswood Burial Chamber in the Vale of Glamorgan.[9]

Metal tools first appeared in Wales about 2500 BC, initially copper followed by bronze. The climate during the Early Bronze Age (c. 2500–1400 BC) is thought to have been warmer than at present, as there are many remains from this period in what are now bleak uplands. The Late Bronze Age (c. 1400–750 BC) saw the development of more advanced bronze implements. Much of the copper for the production of bronze probably came from the copper mine on the Great Orme, where prehistoric mining on a very large scale dates largely from the middle Bronze Age.[10]Radiocarbon dating has shown the earliest hillforts in what would become Wales, to have been constructed during this period. Historian John Davies, theorises that a worsening climate after around 1250 BC (lower temperatures and heavier rainfall) required more productive land to be defended.[11]

The earliest iron implement found in Wales is a sword from Llyn Fawr at the head of the Rhondda Valley, which is thought to date to about 600 BC.[12] Hillforts continued to be built during the British Iron Age. Nearly 600 hillforts are in Wales, over 20% of those found in Britain, examples being Pen Dinas near Aberystwyth and Tre'r Ceiri on the Lleyn peninsula.[11] A particularly significant find from this period was made in 1943 at Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey, when the ground was being prepared for the construction of a Royal Air Force base. The cache included weapons, shields, chariots along with their fittings and harnesses, and slave chains and tools. Many had been deliberately broken and seem to have been votive offerings.[13]

Until recently, the prehistory of Wales was portrayed as a series of successive migrations.[4] The present tendency is to stress population continuity; the Encyclopedia of Wales suggests that Wales had received the greater part of its original stock of peoples by c.2000 BC.[4] Recent studies in population genetics have argued for genetic continuity from the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic or Neolithic eras.[14][15] According to historian John Davies, the Brythonic languages spoken throughout Britain resulted from an indigenous "cumulative Celticity", rather than from migration.[11]

Wales in the Roman era[edit]

Main article: Wales in the Roman era

The Roman conquest of Wales began in AD 48 and was completed in 78, with Roman rule lasting until 383. Roman rule in Wales was a military occupation, save for the southern coastal region of South Wales east of the Gower Peninsula, where there is a legacy of Romanisation.[16] The only town in Wales founded by the Romans, Caerwent, is located in South Wales. Both Caerwent and Carmarthen, also in southern Wales, would become Roman civitates.[17] During the occupation both the region that would become Wales and its people were a mostly autonomous part of Roman Britain.

By AD 47 Rome had invaded and conquered all of southernmost and southeastern Britain under the first Roman governor of Britain. As part of the Roman conquest of Britain, a series of campaigns to conquer Wales was launched by his successor in 48 and would continue intermittently under successive governors until the conquest was completed in 78. It is these campaigns of conquest that are the most widely known feature of Wales during the Roman era due to the spirited but unsuccessful defence of their homelands by two native tribes, the Silures and the Ordovices.

The Demetae of southwestern Wales seem to have quickly made their peace with the Romans, as there is no indication of war with Rome, and their homeland was not heavily planted with forts nor overlaid with roads. The Demetae would be the only Welsh tribe to emerge from Roman rule with their homeland and tribal name intact.[18]

Wales was a rich source of mineral wealth and the Romans used their engineeringtechnology to extract large amounts of gold, copper, and lead, as well as modest amounts of some other metals such as zinc and silver.[19] When the mines were no longer practical or profitable, they were abandoned. Roman economic development was concentrated in southeastern Britain, with no significant industries located in Wales.[19] This was largely a matter of circumstance, as Wales had none of the needed materials in suitable combination, and the forested, mountainous countryside was not amenable to development.

The year 383 denotes a significant point in Welsh history, remembered in literature and considered to be the foundation point of several medieval royal dynasties. In that year the Roman general Magnus Maximus would strip all of western and northern Britain of troops and senior administrators and launch a partly successful bid for imperial power, continuing to rule Britain from Gaul as emperor.[20][21] Having left with the troops and Roman administrators, and planning to continue as the ruler of Britain in the future, his practical course was to transfer local authority to local rulers. Welsh legend provides a mythic background to this process.

In the story of Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig (English: The Dream of Emperor Maximus), he is Emperor of Rome and marries a wondrous British woman, telling her that she may name her desires, to be received as a wedding portion. She asks that her father be given sovereignty over Britain, thus formalising the transfer of authority from Rome back to the Britons themselves. The marriage also makes possible British descendants, a point not lost on medieval kings. The earliest Welsh genealogies give Maximus the role of founding father for several royal dynasties, including those of Powys and Gwent,[22][23] a role he also played for the rulers of medieval Galloway in Scotland, home to the Roman-era Novantae whose territory was also made independent of Roman rule by Maximus.[20] He is given as the ancestor of a Welsh king on the Pillar of Eliseg, erected nearly 500 years after he left Britain, and he figures in lists of the Fifteen Tribes of Wales.[24]

Tradition holds that following the Roman departure, Roman customs held on into the 5th century in southern Wales, and that is true in part. Caerwent continued to be occupied, while Carmarthen was probably abandoned in the late 4th century.[25] In addition, southwestern Wales was the tribal territory of the Demetae, who had never become thoroughly Romanised.[16] An influx of settlers from southeastern Ireland had taken place in the late 4th century,[26] both in northern Wales and in the entire region of southern and southwestern Wales[27][28][29] under circumstances that are still poorly understood, and it seems far-fetched to suggest that they were ever Romanised.

Indeed, aside from the many Roman-related finds along the southern coast and the fully romanised area around Caerwent, Roman archaeological remains in Wales consist almost entirely of military roads and fortifications.[30]

Post-Roman Wales and the Age of the Saints: 411–700[edit]

Main article: Sub-Roman Britain

Further information: Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain

When the Roman garrison of Britain was withdrawn in 410, the various British states were left self-governing. Evidence for a continuing Roman influence after the departure of the Roman legions is provided by an inscribed stone from Gwynedd dated between the late 5th century and mid 6th century commemorating a certain Cantiorix who was described as a citizen (cives) of Gwynedd and a cousin of Maglos the magistrate (magistratus).[31] There was considerable Irish colonisation in Dyfed in south-west Wales, where there are many stones with Ogham inscriptions.[32] Wales had become Christian, and the "age of the saints" (approximately 500–700) was marked by the establishment of monastic settlements throughout the country, by religious leaders such as Saint David, Illtud and Teilo.[33]

One of the reasons for the Roman withdrawal was the pressure put upon the empire's military resources by the incursion of barbarian tribes from the east. These tribes, including the Angles and Saxons, who later became the English, were unable to make inroads into Wales except possibly along the Severn Valley as far as Llanidloes.[34] However, they gradually conquered eastern and southern Britain. At the Battle of Chester in 616, the forces of Powys and other British kingdoms were defeated by the Northumbrians under Æthelfrith, with king Selyf ap Cynan among the dead. It has been suggested that this battle finally severed the land connection between Wales and the kingdoms of the Hen Ogledd ("Old North"), the Brythonic-speaking regions of what is now southern Scotland and northern England, including Rheged, Strathclyde, Elmet and Gododdin, where Old Welsh was also spoken.[35] From the 8th century on, Wales was by far the largest of the three remnant Brythonic areas in Britain, the other two being the Hen Ogledd and Cornwall.

Wales was divided into a number of separate kingdoms, the largest of these being Gwynedd in northwest Wales and Powys in east Wales. Gwynedd was the most powerful of these kingdoms in the 6th century and 7th century, under rulers such as Maelgwn Gwynedd (died 547)[36] and Cadwallon ap Cadfan (died 634/5),[37] who in alliance with Penda of Mercia was able to lead his armies as far as Northumbria in 633,[38] defeat the local ruler Edwin and control it for approximately one year. When Cadwallon was killed in battle by Oswald of Northumbria, his successor Cadafael ap Cynfeddw also allied himself with Penda against Northumbria, but thereafter Gwynedd, like the other Welsh kingdoms, was mainly engaged in defensive warfare against the growing power of Mercia.

Early Medieval Wales: 700–1066[edit]

Main article: Wales in the Early Middle Ages

See also: Gwynedd in the High Middle Ages § 11th century

Powys as the easternmost of the major kingdoms of Wales came under the most pressure from the English in Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. This kingdom originally extended east into areas now in England, and its ancient capital, Pengwern, has been variously identified as modern Shrewsbury or a site north of Baschurch.[39] These areas were lost to the kingdom of Mercia. The construction of the earthwork known as Offa's Dyke (usually attributed to Offa, King of Mercia in the 8th century) may have marked an agreed border.[40]

For a single man to rule the whole country during this period was rare. This is often ascribed to the inheritance system practised in Wales. All sons received an equal share of their father's property (including illegitimate sons), resulting in the division of territories. However, the Welsh laws prescribe this system of division for land in general, not for kingdoms, where there is provision for an edling (or heir) to the kingdom to be chosen, usually by the king. Any son, legitimate or illegitimate, could be chosen as edling and there were frequently disappointed candidates prepared to challenge the chosen heir.[41]

The first to rule a considerable part of Wales was Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri The Great), originally king of Gwynedd during the 9th century, who was able to extend his rule to Powys and Ceredigion.[42] On his death his realms were divided between his sons. Rhodri's grandson, Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good), formed the kingdom of Deheubarth by joining smaller kingdoms in the southwest and had extended his rule to most of Wales by 942.[43] He is traditionally associated with the codification of Welsh law at a council which he called at Whitland, the laws from then on usually being called the "Laws of Hywel". Hywel followed a policy of peace with the English. On his death in 949 his sons were able to keep control of Deheubarth but lost Gwynedd to the traditional dynasty of this kingdom.[44]

Wales was now coming under increasing attack by Viking raiders, particularly Danish raids in the period between 950 and 1000. According to the chronicle Brut y Tywysogion, Godfrey Haroldson carried off two thousand captives from Anglesey in 987, and the king of Gwynedd, Maredudd ab Owain is reported to have redeemed many of his subjects from slavery by paying the Danes a large ransom.[45]

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was the only ruler to be able to unite Wales under his rule. Originally king of Gwynedd, by 1057 he was ruler of Wales and had annexed parts of England around the border. He ruled Wales with no internal battles[46] until he was defeated by Harold Godwinson in 1063 and killed by his own men. His territories were again divided into the traditional kingdoms.[47]

Wales and the Normans: 1067–1283[edit]

See also: Gwynedd in the High Middle Ages, Norman invasion of Wales, and Conquest of Wales by Edward I

At the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the dominant ruler in Wales was Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, who was king of Gwynedd and Powys. The initial Norman successes were in the south, where William Fitz Osbern overran Gwent before 1070. By 1074 the forces of the Earl of Shrewsbury were ravaging Deheubarth.[48]

The killing of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn in 1075 led to civil war and gave the Normans an opportunity to seize lands in North Wales. In 1081 Gruffudd ap Cynan, who had just won the throne of Gwynedd from Trahaearn ap Caradog at the Battle of Mynydd Carn was enticed to a meeting with the Earl of Chester and Earl of Shrewsbury and promptly seized and imprisoned, leading to the seizure of much of Gwynedd by the Normans.[49] In the south William the Conqueror advanced into Dyfed founding castles and mints at St David's and Cardiff.[50]Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth was killed in 1093 in Brycheiniog, and his kingdom was seized and divided between various Norman lordships.[51] The Norman conquest of Wales appeared virtually complete.

In 1094, however, there was a general Welsh revolt against Norman rule, and gradually territories were won back. Gruffudd ap Cynan was eventually able to build a strong kingdom in Gwynedd. His son, Owain Gwynedd, allied with Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth won a crushing victory over the Normans at the Battle of Crug Mawr in 1136 and annexed Ceredigion. Owain followed his father on the throne of Gwynedd the following year and ruled until his death in 1170.[52] He was able to profit from disunity in England, where King Stephen and the Empress Matilda were engaged in a struggle for the throne, to extend the borders of Gwynedd further east than ever before.

Powys also had a strong ruler at this time in Madog ap Maredudd, but when his death in 1160 was quickly followed by the death of his heir, Llywelyn ap Madog, Powys was split into two parts and never subsequently reunited.[53] In the south, Gruffydd ap Rhys was killed in 1137, but his four sons, who all ruled Deheubarth in turn, were eventually able to win back most of their grandfather's kingdom from the Normans. The youngest of the four, Rhys ap Gruffydd (The Lord Rhys) ruled from 1155 to 1197. In 1171 Rhys met King Henry II and came to an agreement with him whereby Rhys had to pay a tribute but was confirmed in all his conquests and was later named Justiciar of South Wales. Rhys held a festival of poetry and song at his court at Cardigan over Christmas 1176 which is generally regarded as the first recorded Eisteddfod. Owain Gwynedd's death led to the splitting of Gwynedd between his sons, while Rhys made Deheubarth dominant in Wales for a time.[54]

Out of the power struggle in Gwynedd eventually arose one of the greatest of Welsh leaders, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, also known as Llywelyn Fawr (the Great), who was sole ruler of Gwynedd by 1200[55] and by his death in 1240 was effectively ruler of much of Wales.[56] Llywelyn made his 'capital' and headquarters at Abergwyngregyn on the north coast, overlooking the Menai Strait. His son Dafydd ap Llywelyn followed him as ruler of Gwynedd, but king Henry III of England would not allow him to inherit his father's position elsewhere in Wales.[57] War broke out in 1241 and then again in 1245, and the issue was still in the balance when Dafydd died suddenly at Abergwyngregyn, without leaving an heir in early 1246. Llywelyn the Great's other son, Gruffudd had been killed trying to escape from the Tower of London in 1244. Gruffudd had left four sons, and a period of internal conflict between three of these ended in the rise to power of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (also known as Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf; Llywelyn, Our Last Leader). The Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 confirmed Llywelyn in control, directly or indirectly, over a large part of Wales. However, Llywelyn's claims in Wales conflicted with Edward I of England, and war followed in 1277. Llywelyn was obliged to seek terms, and the Treaty of Aberconwy greatly restricted his authority. War broke out again when Llywelyn's brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd attacked Hawarden Castle on Palm Sunday 1282. On 11 December 1282, Llywelyn was lured into a meeting in Builth Wellscastle with unknown Marchers, where he was killed and his army subsequently destroyed. His brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd continued an increasingly forlorn resistance. He was captured in June 1283 and was hanged, drawn and quartered at Shrewsbury. In effect Wales became England's first colony until it was finally annexed through the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542.

European Middle Ages by region

Medieval histories
of current political units
Western and
Northern Europe
Central, Eastern Europe
and Near East
Medieval territories
Bryn Celli Ddu, a late Neolithic chambered tomb on Anglesey
Medieval kingdoms of Wales shown within the boundaries of the present day country of Wales and not inclusive of all.
King Hywel Dda depicted in a 13th-century manuscript
The Llywelyn Monument at Cilmeri

Digital Tradition Mirror

Welsh History 101

(This score available as ABC, SongWright, PostScript, PNG, or PMW, or a MIDI file)
Pennywhistle notation and Dulcimer tab for this song is also available

Welsh History 101 by Heather Rose Jones If ever you wander out by the Welsh border Come stop by and see me and all of my kin I'm Morgan ap Daffyd ap Gwion ap Hywell Ap Ifor ap Madoc ap Rhodri ap Gwyn We'll feast you on mutton and harp for your pleasure And give you a place to sleep out of the cold Or maybe we'll meet you out on the dark roadway And rob you of horses and weapons and gold My neighbor from England has come across raiding Slain six of my kinsmen and burned down my hall It cannot be borne this offense and injustice I've only killed four of his, last I recall I'll send for my neighbors, Llewellyn and Owain We'll cut him down as for the border he rides But yesterday Owain stole three of my cattle And first I'll retake them and three more besides We need a strong prince to direct our resistance Heroic, impartial, of noble degree My brother's wife's fourth cousin's foster-son, Gruffydd Is best for the job as I'm sure you'll agree What matter that Rhys is the old prince's nephew He's exiled to Ireland and will not return I know this for every time boats he is building I send my spies money to see that they burn Last evening my brother and I were at war Over two feet of land on a boundary we share But early this morning, I hear he's been murdered I'll not rest until I avenge him, I swear Yes, we are just plain folk who mind our own business Honest and loyal and full of good cheer So if you should wander our by the Welsh border Come stop by and meet all the friendly folk here Copyright Heather Rose Jones, all rights reserved This work has been included in the Digital Tradition by express permission of the author EZ

Thanks to Mudcat for the Digital Tradition!

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