Wales - a brief history of a Celtic land

Flag of Wales


Norman Castle The Romans defeated the druids in Wales and under the  Romano-British territory, Roman Citizenship was granted to the Welsh in 212AD.

The Celts had fled westwards under sustained invasions from Romans, Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo Saxon English kings had not ruled Wales, and at the Norman invasion Wales was a collection of small kingdoms and principalities from  400AD to 13th Century.  There was not even an official boundary with England until King Offa of Mercia built Offa’s Dyke to protect against Welsh attacks in the late 8th. century

England became more of a single kingdom under the Wessex royal line in the 10th century, and it increased English intervention in Wales. Despite opposition from Hywel ab Edwin of Deheubarthand Gruffydd ap Rhyderch of south-east Wales, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd controlled most of Wales by the late 11th century After Gruffydd's death, the Welsh kingdoms were controlled by princes who were more or less client-kings of Edward the Confessor of England.

It took the Normans some 200 years to gain control of the whole of Wales. The 8 major royal castles like Harlech (left) kept a lid on rebellion in the meantime. Anglo-Normans recognised the Principality of Wales in Treaty of Montgomery, 1267.  However treaty was broken and Wales made a Dominion of the English King. By this means was ruled from   1282-1535, ruled by King's officials and marcher lords.

The last major Welsh uprising was by Owain Glyndwr between 1400 and 1416.  He was a descendant of the princes of Northern Powys. He had considerable support, possibly influenced more by economic than political
factors which also may have contributed to the downfall of the English king, Richard II, by 1399. The new king, Henry IV, made a peace offer on condition that Owain submitted to him as overlord.  Owain refused and fighting continued for some years. However by 1415 he had virtually given up and was offered another pardon which he again refused. He seems to have tacitly accepted Henry’s terms, traditionally being thought to have lived with his daughter in Herefordshire for the rest of his life.

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Wales rivers mountains map Finally the unilateral Act of Union in 1536 "incorporated, united and annexed" "Our Dominion, Principality and Countrey of Wales''  to England. Since then English law and government has ruled in Wales, and Wales has constitutionally followed the same path as England to become part of the United Kingdom today. A solution that appears to have satisfied most Welsh people. Until the middle of the 18th century Wales remained a rural backwater. Population was sparse, and the topography meant that farming was not a viable proposition on any scale.Then the exploitation of coal and iron brought the Industrial revolution to Wales
Coalfield The need for labour in the south Wales coalfields brought an influx of English into this area which brought about an erosion of the Welsh language, though Welsh continued to be spoken extensively in North Wales. Today the mining of Welsh coal has all but disappeared, but the language continues to be spoken reasonably widely as a second language.
Government of Wales Wales has been governed from London via the Welsh Office, under a cabinet minister. Following the referendum on limited devolution in 1997, the Welsh were seen to be virtually equally spilt on the subject, with the more rural "Welsh" areas being for devolution, and the more industrial areas being against it

Wales - topology and population


Wales is not a big country. It has a maximum length of 140 miles and is 100 miles across at its widest.  Total area is 8,015 sq miles

It is a mountainous country. Around one quarter of the land is above 1,000ft and in the north the peak of Snowdon rises to 3,560ft, the highest point in England and Wales.

Wales has a long 732-mile coastline, consisting of bays, beaches, peninsulas and cliffs. The largest bay - Cardigan Bay - gives the west-facing Welsh coastline its distinctive 'horseshoe' shape. 

In terms of land use - 81% is used for agriculture, 12% is covered in woodland, and only 8% is categorised as urban.

Wales has a  population of 2.8 million. The people are mainly concentrated in the south-eastern corner around the capital city of Cardiff. The city, population 270,000, grew up in the 19th century as a coal-exporting port.The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries had its major impact in South Wales, where the iron and steel factories and coalmines were concentrated here. Swansea, also in the south, is Wales's second city with a population of 177,000. Newport, to the east of Cardiff near the Welsh border, has a population of 130,000. Like Cardiff, Swansea and Newport owe their growth to the industries of South Wales and their location as ports on the Bristol Channel.

It is estimated that 20% of the population speak Welsh fluently

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Land of  mountains - Wales