Ancient & Modern
History of the Theosophical
Society in Wales
Chronology of Wales and the Celtic Tradition
beginnings of the Theosophical Society within Wales, Welsh Theosophists have had a strong
interest in Celtic Mysticism and Traditions. It is hoped that this Chronology
of Welsh and Celtic cultural history will provide a helpful resource for study.
1000 BC: The
It was not
until the time of the Romans that written history began in and about Britain. For information on the earliest settlements, we
have to look to our archaeologists. From them we learn that by 1000 BCE, the
Iron Age proper had arrived in what is now Wales where its people grouped themselves into large
hill forts for protection; practiced mixed, settled farming, but also worked
extensive copper mines. Many of these impressive hill forts remain in Wales, some of
them, such as Tre'r Cewri atop Yr Eifl Mountain in Gwynedd (North Wales),
were still occupied during the Roman invasions in the first century CE.
Advanced metalworking seems to have been introduced as a result of contact with
the Halstatt culture of Austria, from an area near present-day Saltzburg. This culture
itself had benefited from contact with others in the
Mediterranean area, whose use of the symbols and patterns so characteristic of
Celtic design, is named La Tene, after a village on
the shores of Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland.
The Arrival of the Celts.
(There was an
earlier Celtic migration to the British Isles
Circa 1200 -1000 BCE. This group is often referred to a Gaelic and spoke Goidelic, a language that evolved into Scots, Irish and
It was at
this time that the Celtic languages arrived in Britain, probably introduced by small groups of migrants
who became culturally dominant in their new homelands, and whose culture formed
part of a great unified Celtic "empire" encompassing many different
peoples all over Northern
Europe. The Greeks
called these people, with their organized culture and developed social
structure Keltoi, the Romans called them Celtai. In spite of the fact that they were perhaps the
most powerful people in much of Europe in 300 BCE, with lands stretching from
Anatolia in the East to Ireland in the West, the Celts were unable to prevent
intertribal warfare. Their total lack of political unity, despite their
fierceness in battle, ultimately led to their defeat and subjugation by the
much-better disciplined armies of Rome. Even the Celtic languages on Continental Europe eventually gave way to those stemming from
Latin. But in Britain, at least for a few hundred years after the Roman
victories on mainland Europe, the Celts held on to much of their customs and
especially to their distinctive language which has survived today as Welsh. The
language of most of what is now England and Wales was derived from a branch of
Celtic known as Brythonic: it later gave rise to
Welsh, Cornish and Breton (these differ from the Celtic languages derived from Goidelic, namely Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx). Along with
the new languages, new religions entered Britain, particularly that of the Druids, the guardians
of traditions and learning. The Druids glorified the pursuits of war, feasting
and horsemanship. They controlled the calendar and the planting of crops, and
they presided over the religious festivals and rituals that honored local
deities. Thus they constituted the first target for the invading Roman legions.
invasion of the British
by the Romans took place in 55 BC under Julius Caesar, but it did not lead to
any significant occupation. He had some interesting, if biased comments
concerning the native inhabitants. "All the Britons," he wrote,
"paint themselves with woad, which gives their
skin a bluish color and makes them look very dreadful in battle" ("De
It was not
until a hundred years later, following an expedition ordered by the Emperor Claudius,
that a permanent settlement of the grain-rich eastern territories of Britain began in earnest. From their bases in what is
now Kent, the Roman armies began a long, arduous and
perilous series of battles with the native Celtic tribes, first victorious,
next vanquished. But as on the Continent,
superior military discipline and leadership, aided by a
carefully organized system of forts connected by straight roads, led to the
triumph of Roman arms. It was not long before a great number of large, prosperous
villas were established all over Britain, but especially in the Southeast and Southwest.
testified to the rapidity by which Britain became Romanized, for
they functioned as centers of a settled, peaceful and urban life. They are
mostly found in present-day England. Mountainous Wales and Scotland were not as easily settled; they remained
"the frontier" -- lands where military garrisons were strategically
placed to guard the Northern and Western extremities of the Empire. Smaller
forts were constructed to protect the Roman copper, tin, lead and gold mines
that most certainly utilized native labor. In what is now Wales, the Romans were awestruck by their first sight
of the druids. The historian Tacitus described them
as being "ranged in order, with their hands uplifted, invoking the gods
and pouring forth horrible imprecations" ("Annales").
The fierce resistance of the tribes in Wales meant that two out of the three Roman legions in
Britain were stationed on the Welsh borders. Two
impressive Roman fortifications remain to be seen: Isca
Silurium (Caerleon) with
its fine ampitheatre, in Gwent /Monmouthshire (South Wales); and Segontium, (Caernarfon), in Gwynedd (North Wales). Though the Celtic tongue survived as the
medium of everyday speech, Latin was being used mainly for administrative
words entered the native vocabulary, and these are still found in modern-day
Welsh. Today's visitors to the principality are surprised to find hundreds of
place names containing Pont (bridge), while ffenest
(window), pysgod (fish), milltir
(mile), melys (sweet or honey), cyllell
(knife), ceffyl (horse), perygl
(church), and many others attest to Latin influence. Rome, of course,
became Christianized with the conversion of Constantine in 337, and thanks to
the missionary work of Martin of Tours in Gaul and the edict of 400 AD that
made Christianity the only religion of the Empire, the people of Britain quickly adopted the new religion.
Celtic gods had to slink off into the mountains and hills to hide, reappearing
fitfully and almost apologetically only in the poetry and myths of later ages.
When the city
of Rome fell to the invading Goths under Alaric, Roman
Britain, which had experienced centuries of comparative peace and prosperity,
was left to its own defenses. One of the local Romano-British leaders may have
been a tribal chieftain named Arthur, who put up some kind of organized
resistance to the oncoming Saxon hordes. As early as 440, an anonymous writer
penned the following: Britain, abandoned by the Romans, passed into the power
of the Saxons (Chronica Gallica).
One prominent British chieftain, Vortigern (Gwrtheyrn) is remembered as being responsible for inviting
the first Germanic mercenaries to help defend Britain against the invading Picts.
The arrival of Hengist and Horsa
and their Jutes mark the beginning of Germanic settlements in Britain
(ironically, the first modern Welsh language centre is located in a remote
valley named Nant Gwrtheyrn
(the stream of Vortigern) in the Lleyn
Peninsular, Gwynedd, North Wales).
of Mount Badon / Badon Hill.
The "Annales Cambriae" (one text
of which dates from 1100, but which is based on much earlier sources), states
that the Battle of Mount Badon (Badon
Hill) took place in 516 and that the Celts were victorious under Arthur,
"who bore the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three
days and three nights." The battle may have been one of the decisive ones
that made the existence of Wales possible by halting further westward expansion
by the Saxons. The are several claims for the site of
the Battle of Badon Hill but the
strongest is the Iron Age fort near the village of Badbury just south of Swindon in Wiltshire.
Badon Hill is reported as King Arthur’s twelfth and last
victory against the Saxons but another important victory was that of the City
of the Legions which was Arthur’s ninth. The strongest candidate for this is Chester which was known as Caer
Legion but Caerleon in Gwent also has a claim. At this
time Chester was within the Celtic Kingdom of South Rheged which
corresponded roughly to modern Lancashire
540:"De Excidio Britanniae"
"Concerning the Fall of Britain", written by the cleric Gildas,
gives us a garbled history in which he blames the coming of the Saxons as
punishment for the many sins of the native Britons.
the heroic defense of Arthur (reputed to have been killed at the Battle of Camlan Circa 539 CE in a battle with another Celtic King
and not the Saxons), Romano-Britain quickly crumbled under the onslaught of
Germanic tribes, themselves under attack from the east and wishing to settle in
the sparsely populated, but agriculturally rich lands across the narrow channel
that separated Britain from the Continent. Their invasions met fierce and
prolonged resistance, but more than three hundred years of fighting between
the native Celts and the ever-increasing numbers of
Germanic peoples eventually resulted in Britain sorting itself out into three distinct areas:
the Britonic West, the Teutonic East and the Gaelic
North. These areas later came to be identified as Wales, England and Scotland, all with their very separate cultural and
linguistic characteristics. (Ireland, of course, remained Gaelic: many of its
peoples migrated to Scotland, taking their language with them to replace the
native Pictish. Some Irish also settled in Western Wales but were eventually absorbed into the local
Welsh Language Begins its Written History.
the distinguished historian John Davies, it was around the year 600 that the
Welsh language began to be written down as the older Brythonic
tongue gradually gave way to Welsh. Poets such as Aneirin
and Taliesin showed that the "new" language could produce great
literature and thus was much more than a local patois.
Age of the Celtic Saints.
of Britain was settled by the pagan Saxons, the Celtic Church
(mainly monastic) survived in the West. This was the age of Saints Dyfrig, Illtud, Teilo, Padarn and David (Dew, the
patron saint of Wales). Much missionary work took the Welsh churchmen
to Ireland (one of these was Patrick himself). It is from
this time that the Welsh word Llan appears, signifying
a church settlement.
The Celtic Church
survived the coming of Augustine to Canterbury. It continued many traditions of the early
Church that had been superseded at Rome. Even as late as 731, the English historian Bede commented that the Welsh (the Britons) upheld
"their own bad customs" against the true Easter of the Catholic
Church. Many of the early British church settlements are dedicated to David,
about whom very little is known except that he lived
in the 6th Century and died around 589. Information about his life comes from
"The Life of St David" written in the late 11th century by Rhygyfarch of Llanbadarn (Church of Padarn) but supplemented by Geraldus
Cambrensis around 1200. It was then that the church
named for the saint at Ty Dewi
(St David's) became a place of pilgrimage. David was not adopted as the patron
saint of Wales until the 18th century, when his birth date, March 1st was
chosen as a national holiday.
615: The Battle of Chester and the Split in the Brythonic
peoples gradually gained control over much of Southern Britain. The period saw the defeat of the Welsh at Dyrham in 577 that cut them off from their fellow Britons
in the Southwest and the Battle
of Chester in 615, that severed
contact with the Britons of the North. The Welsh of the Western peninsular were
now on their own but could develop as a separate
cultural and linguistic unit from the rest of Britain. A Celic language
survived in Cumbria until the middle ages but there are insufficient
written reocords to reconstruct it.
633. Wales as a Separate Cultural and Linguistic Unit.
signified by the use of the word Cymru in a poem
dated 633. The term comes from Cymbrogos, the Celtic
word for Compatriot. The Britons, in their never-ceasing battle against the
Pagan invaders, referred to themselves as "Cymry"
a term still used today. The word Welsh is a later word used by the Saxons to
denote those people of Britain (the native population) they considered as
"foreign" or who had been "Romanized." Today's Welsh call
the English "Sais" (Saxons).
Death of Cadwaladr.
The death of Cadwaladr marked the end of any hopes of the Britons
regaining their ancient kingdoms on the mainland. Cadwaladr
was the son of Cadwallon of Gwynedd,
whose intention, according to historian Bede, had
been to exterminate the English race. The death of Cadwaladr's
father in Rome is the starting point of the Brut
y Tywysogyon, the chronicle of the Welsh princes. The
author of the "Brut" stated "And from that time onwards the
Britons lost the crown of the kingdom and the Saxons won it." It was apparent
that it was all over for Cadwaladr as "King of
the Britons" before he even started his reign. The people of Wales would have to wait for the Tudors to
re-establish any claim to the throne of Britain. It is significant,
therefore, at Bosworth
Field in 1485, the
Red Dragon of Cadwaladr was carried by Henry Tudor in
his defeat of Richard III
c. 720: Links
Between Wales and Britanny are
between the Welsh Church and Yvi of Britanny was the last known link between the two Celtic
countries. After that, each "nation" went its own separate way.
768: The Celtic Church
is Reunited with Rome.
centuries of isolation, first following the lead of the Irish Bishops, then
those of the rest of Britain, the Celtic Church in Wales (which had been mainly
monastic), decided to conform to the Rules of Rome and the authority of the
Church that had been set up by Augustine and his successors at Canterbury and
agreed upon at Whitby in 664.
784: The Building of Offa's Dyke by the King of Mercia.
This may have
been the single most important event in the survival of the Welsh nation.
Whatever its initial intention, the dyke became a permanent boundary between
the Welsh and the English people. Thus the notion of Wales as a separate geographical area from the rest of
Britain came to be established, though many Welsh people
continued to reside east of the 240 kilometer-long bank and ditch. Even today,
at towns such as Owestry, there is a large Welsh
presence on the "English" side of the Dyke. English settlements have
taken place on the western side since the castle-building programs of Edward I,
beginning with Flint
800: Nennius and the "Historia Brittonum."
800, Nennius was responsible for the work "Historia Brittonum," which
purports to give the history of Britain from the time of Julius Caesar to the end of the
seventh century. Nennius is important for the study
of early Arthurian materials; he describes Arthur as a "leader of battles,
who defeated the Saxons twelve times, the final battle being Mount Badon."
Reign of Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great).
In 844 Rhodri
became king only of Gwynedd, but by the time of his
death in 877, he had united all of Wales under his rule. His reign certainly did much to
heighten the Welsh consciousness of being one people. In 856, Rhodri killed the
Viking leader the "black pagan" Horme,
restricting Danish occupation of Wales to a few scattered ports and trading posts
(Norse names survive at Llandudno (North Wales)
(the Great Orme); Swansea
(South Wales) (Sweyn's Ey) and some small islands in the Bristol Channel.
c. 890: Welsh
Rulers Acknowledge the Overlordship of Alfred of Wessex.
Alfred's successes against the Danes, the Welsh kings asked him for his
patronage, and their recognition that the king of England had claims upon them became "a central fact
in the subsequent political history of Wales" (Davies, p. 85). As Alfred's court became
a center of learning, his patronage could only have been beneficial to the
people of Wales, though a sense of subservience to the English
Crown was established. The "Cyfraith Hywe" (Law of Hywell) was
written, not in Latin, but in Welsh. It excelled in granting a high status to
women, curtailing death by execution, abolishing the primitive English
practices of proving guilt, pardoning theft if the sole intention was to stay
safeguarding the rights of illegitimate children. The far-reaching,
far-sighted laws were drawn up in Whitland, in Dyfed.
It was Welsh law (and literature) that a French scholar called the product of
"the most civilized and intellectual people of the age."
937: The Battle of Brunanburgh.
Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great of England,
called "ruler of the whole orb of Britain," imposed heavy taxes upon the Celtic
peoples of Britain. A rebellion against his rule was led by the
Scots and the Northmen that culminated in their heavy
defeat at Brunanburgh. The Welsh did not take part,
even though the poem "Armes Prydein",
written a few years before the momentous battle, had predicted their victory
over the English King. Had the battle gone the other way, the people of Wales would have surely regained their independence.
Around 960 a
collection of documents, pedigrees and annals that deal with the early history
of the Welsh kingdoms over the past 500 years was drawn up. Other stories bound
up with these "chronicles" and which include mention of Vortigern and Arthur, were later called "Historia Brittonum" and
ascribed to Nennius.
The Reign of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn.
Llywelyn deserves praise as the only Welsh ruler to unite
the ancient kingdoms of the whole of Wales under his authority. He started off a brilliant
reign by utterly defeating an army of Mercians to
secure the borders of his nation, recovering many areas in present-day Flintshire and Maelor (North Wales) that would remain part of Wales. His alliances with English rulers brought peace
to Wales for a quarter of a century.
According to Gwynfor Evans, that Wales did not suffer the fate of Strathclyde, where the Welsh language disappeared under the
weight of the Anglo-Saxons incursions, was entirely due to the inspiration that
Gruffudd ap Llywelyn brought to the people of Wales, inspiring them with his vigor and vision.
Finding his country weak and divided, he left it strong and united.
Coming of the Normans
defeat of the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, it wasn't
too long before the victorious William of Normandy set about establishing the
Marcher Lordships on the borders of Wales, a country with which he did not seem
particularly anxious to get involved.
He had enough
on his plate without getting involved west of Offa's
Dyke; in any case it was in Norman interests to develop close ties with the Welsh
rulers in order to secure their own frontiers. The semi-independent Marcher
Lords were responsible for many of the magnificent castles that today dominate
the Welsh landscape. Beginning with Chepstow, erected
by the Earl of Hereford,
the castles commanded territories that became known as "Englishries." In them, English settlers practiced a
way of life and law totally unknown to the inhabitants of the "Welshries" the less fertile, upland and mountain
areas. The divisions are apparent even today, as one travels from Clwyd to Gwynedd, or from Glamorgan into Carmarthen, or better yet, from southern
Pembroke into Northern Pembroke across the linguistic dividing line known as
The County of Cheshire became the Palatinate of the Earl of Chester with its own courts and parliament and a large
area of North Wales was ruled from Chester. For a time a large area of Mid Wales was ruled from Ludlow by the Earl of Shrewsbury.
of the 1997 Referendum also show the results of the original Norman divisions.
On the positive side, it is to the Norman-Welsh writers, such as Geoffrey of
Monmouth and Gerald of Wales that the glories of Welsh literature became known
to the world.
"The Life of St. David."
Life of St David" is the first of the lives of the Welsh saints. It was
written by Rhygyfarch of Llanbadarn
(near Aberystwyth) (Mid Wales) around 1190
"Historia Regum Britanniae."
Monmouth's major work became the basis for a whole new and impressive European
literature of Arthurian romance. Giving his source for his history as Walter,
Archdeacon of Oxford, Geoffrey gives us the tradition of Arthur as a wise,
noble and benevolent king presiding over a chivalric court in a kind of Golden
Age of the British Isles, the tradition that is still one of the dominant
themes of world literature today. It was Geoffrey's writings that provided the
people of Wales with a claim to the sovereignty of the whole island of Britain, a claim of which the Tudors were later anxious
to take advantage. To Geoffrey also we owe the story of "The Dream of Macsen Wledig", interpreted
today by such visionaries as folk singer and nationalist Dafydd
The Reign of Owain Gwynedd.
Under Owain Gwynedd and Madog ap
Maredudd, the kingdoms of Gwynedd
and Powys were gradually freed from Norman influence
and became re-established as major political units under Welsh rulers, enjoying
Welsh law, and where the Welsh language flourished. Owain
defeated an army led by Henry II (1154 – 1189) at Coleshill
on the Dee Estuary in 1157.
eventually Owain was forced to recognize Henry's
control over lands to the east of the River Clwyd (Tegeingl, part of the old Earldom of Chester), he refused
to acknowledge the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Wales, holding
the consecration service for the new Bishop of Bangor (North Wales), not in
that northern Welsh city, but across the Celtic sea in Ireland. After inflicting
another humiliating defeat on the English forces in the steep-sided Ceiriog Valley and now in full control of the whole of
native Wales, Owain took as his title "the
Prince of Wales" (Princeps Wallensium).
1169: Prince Madog Reaches the Americas.
a popular Welsh legend (see my "Facts about Wales"), Prince Madog of Gwynedd, accompanied by
a group of followers, made landfall on what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama some
time in 1169. The explorers then traveled up the Missouri, where a remnant inter-married with the Mandans and left behind some of their customs and their
1146-1243: Giraldus Cambrensis.
Wales was born at Manorbier, in Pembrokeshire (South West Wales) around 1146 into a Norman-Welsh family. His
prolific writings include "Itinerarium Kam briae" and
"Description Kambriae", both of which
contain the only sources for much early Welsh history and folk tales.
Eisteddfod at Aberteifi (Cardigan).
(West Wales) The "Brut y Tywysigyon"
records the following anonymous entry for the year 1176: "At Christmas in
that year the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd
held court in splendour at Cardigan (Aberteifi) (West Wales) . . . And he set two kinds of contests
there: one between bards and poets, another between harpists and crowders and pipers and various classes of music-craft. And
he had two chairs set for the victors." The above entry is the first known
mention of the Eisteddfod, the much beloved festival that has become so much a
part of Welsh culture and tradition.
itself (one of the very, very few words of Welsh origin that are found in an
English dictionary), can be translated as "a chairing" and chairs are
still awarded for the winners of poetry contests. Modern eisteddfodau [pl.]
include the National Eisteddfod of Wales, held in a different venue in Wales each year during the first week in August; and
the Llangollen (North Wales) International Eisteddfod, held on the banks of
the River Dee in Clwyd each July.
well-attended Esteddfodau take place at various times
in towns and villages all over Wales as well as at such far-flung places of Welsh
influence as Edwardsville, Pennsylvania; Queensland, Australia; and Trelew, Patagonia.
Century: The Court Poets.
growth of European court culture in the late 12th century also found its
counterpart in Wales where a new flourishing of the court poets
accompanied military successes against the Anglo-Normans. The main poetic form
was the "awdl", the short monorhymed piece involving use of one or more intricate
meters. Dominant poets were Cyndelw Brydydd Mawr (Cyndelw
the Great Poet); Llywarch ap Llywelyn; Gwalchmai; Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd;
and Gruffudd ap yr Ynad Coch, whose elegy on the
death of Prince Llywelyn must be one of the most
moving and powerful laments ever written in the Welsh language.
1200: Edward I's Welsh Castles.
wars against the Welsh under Llywelyn and the Treaty
of Aberconwy (North Wales), Edward began his major castle-building
campaign, starting with Flint,
Rhuddlan (North Wales),
Aberystwyth (Mid Wales) and Builth (South Wales). After the death of Llywelyn
in late 1282., Edward's second phase of castle-building began, including the
mighty North Wales strongholds of Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech, Cricieth, and Beaumaris.
Unification of Wales under Llywelyn ap Iorwerth.
Iorwerth (son of Iorwerth)
was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd.
Under his dynamic leadership and military prowess, his lands were again united
as a single political unit for one of the few times in their long, checkered
history. In 1204, the Prince married Joan, the daughter of King John of England. In the "Brut", it is stated that Llywelyn "enlarged his boundaries by his wars, gave
justice to all according to their deserts, and by the bonds of fear or love
bound all men duly to him." He was further recognized as pre-eminent in Wales by the new king Henry III (1216 – 1272). Llywelyn's long reign of 46 years brought an era of
relative peace and economic prosperity to Wales. Welshmen were appointed to the Bishoprics of
St. David's (West Wales) and Bangor (North Wales).
The bards referred to LLywelyn as the Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Eryri, but
to posterity, as Gwynfor Evans proudly points out, he
became known as Llywelyn Fawr
(Llewelyn the Great).
1222-1283: Llywelyn ap
After he death of Llywelyn the Great,
quarrelling between his two sons Dafydd and Gruffudd undid most of what their father had accomplished.
In 1254, Henry II of England gave the young Prince Edward control of all the
Crown lands in Wales. The situation was restored under the brilliant
leadership of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd whose success
led to the acceptance of his claim to be called
of Wales" by King Henry at the Treaty of Montgomery (Mid Wales) in 1267.
This was the
high water mark of Welsh political independence: the people of Wales had their own prince, governed their own lands
under their own laws and were able to conduct their own affairs in their own
language. Their country was poised to take its place among the developing
independent nation states of Europe. Then it all
unraveled. Edward I took the throne in 1272 determined to crush all resistance
to his rule in Wales. Not only did Llywelyn
have to face the forces of the king of England but he was also faced with resistance among the
minor Welsh princes as well as the powerful Marcher Lords. 1277: The Treaty of Aberconwy (North Wales).
Gruffudd was forced to give up most of his lands,
being confined to Gwynedd, west of the River Conwy. Harsh measures undertaken against his people by King
Edward, who began building English castles garrisoned English mercenaries and
settlers, led to a massive revolt led by Llywelyn
things went well for the Welsh prince, but a chance encounter with an English
knight near Cilmeri, near Builth
in Powys (South Wales),
ended the Welsh dreams. Llywelyn was killed,
effective resistance ended, and for all practical purposes, Wales was
henceforth forced to live under an alien political system, playing only a
subordinate role in the affairs of Britain.
Statute of Rhuddlan.
of Rhuddlan (North Wales) (The Statute of Wales), confirmed Edward's ruthless plans
for the subjugation of Wales "once and for all." New counties were created, and English law was
firmly set in place. In 1300, Edward made his son Lord Edward "Prince of
Wales and Count of Chester," at Caernarfon
Castle (North Wales Coast), one of his magnificent strongholds built around the
perimeter of Wales, and ever since that time these titles have been
automatically conferred upon the first-born son of the English monarch. The
Welsh people had no say in the matter. The preamble to the infamous statute
shows fully its intent to bring Wales to order. It reads: Edward, by the grace of God,
king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, to all his subjects of his land of Snowdon (North Wales,
the highest mountain in Wales), greeting in the Lord. The Divine Providence,
which is unerring in its own government, among the gifts of its dispensation,
wherewith it hath vouchsafed to distinguish us and our realm of England, hath
now of its favour, wholly and entirely transferred under our proper dominion,
the land of Wales, with its inhabitants, heretofore subject unto us, in feudal
right, all obstacles whatsoever ceasing; and hath annexed and united the same
unto the crown of the aforesaid realm, as a member of the same body.
. . . being desirous that our aforesaid land of Snowdon
and our other lands in those parts . . . should be governed with due order . .
. and that the people or inhabitants of those lands who have submitted
themselves absolutely unto our will . . . have cause to be rehearsed before us
and the nobles or our realm, the law and customs of those parts hitherto in
use; which being diligently heard and fully understood, we have . . . abolished
certain of them, some thereof we have allowed, and some we have corrected; and
we have likewise commanded certain others to be ordained and added thereto . .
." Thus it was that many of the ancient Welsh laws, codified by Hywel Dda were now superseded by
English ones. Welsh law had equally divided property among male children, the
system of "gavel-kind."
law honored "primogeniture" by which property went to the first-born
male. The Statute of 1284 allowed the Welsh system to continue (perhaps an
English measure to prevent the building up of large Welsh-owned landed
estates?). Changes from Welsh law included the rule that bastard sons were not
to share in the inheritance, and that the inheritance was to pass to females
upon failure of male heirs. Females could also have the right to a dowry in Wales for the first time.
Century: Literary Revival.
1."The Mabinogion." In "The White Book of Rhydderch" and "The Red Book of Hergest," composed sometime in mid-14th century, are
preserved the anonymous texts we now call "The Mabinogion",
Wales's greatest contribution to European literature.
Though not translated into English until mid-19th century by Lady Charlotte
Guest, these masterpieces of dialogue and emotional story telling may date back
to the 11th century, using material from a much earlier period involving
figures from Celtic mythology.
2. The Poets
of the Gentry.
of the Welsh aristocracy and the growth of the native Welsh gentry brought
about a new class of mid-14th century poets. A new form of poetry developed,
the Cywydd, a much more flexible form than the awdl. To this was added the ornamentation known as cynghanedd (harmony) that still plays a major part in the
production of Welsh poetry. 3. Dafydd ap Gwilym
(1320-70) At the time of Chaucer in England, and just following that of Dante in Italy, Wales produced its own world-class master of the art
of poetry, Dafydd ap Gwilym. Utilizing his knowledge of many Anglo-Norman themes
and literary practices, and much influenced by the poems of Ovid (which had
just been made available in Britain), Dafydd entertained
his wealthy patrons with stories of love, beautiful if unattainable women and
the wonders of nature. It is a task well worth while to master the Welsh
language if only to grasp the beauty and delicacy of Dafydd's
language and his imaginative use of metaphor. Dafydd's
contemporaries were Llywelyn Goch,
whose "Death of Lleucu Llwyd" is one of the finest of all Welsh love poems;
and Iolo Goch, whose finest
work is perhaps "Y Llafurwr" (The Labourer).
Welsh Rebellion and Owain Glyndwr.It
wasn't long after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
that other Welsh leaders raised the flag of rebellion. Prominent among these
were Madog ap
Llywelyn (who called himself Prince of Wales); Llywelyn Bren, Lord of Senghenydd (South Wales);
and Owain Lawgoch (Owen of
the Red Hand). Before the latter was betrayed and killed, he had raised the
hopes of the Welsh people of fulfilling the old prophesies of restoring his
people's rule over Britain, a tradition that was also seen as part of the
destiny of the greatest of all the Welsh rebel leaders, Owain
Glyndwr. Glyndwr's rebellion began in 1400 and for the first four years
everything seemed to be going his way. Even the comet of 1402 was seen as a
herald of Welsh successes against the English, whose armies Owain
"almost destroyed by magic."
1399:Richard II surrendered to Henry Bolingbroke at Flint Castle
(North Wales). Richard is subsequently murdered and Henry
Bolingbroke becomes King Henry IV.
Penal Laws against Wales.
Due to the astonishing
success of Glyndwr's rebellion, and the frustration of the English authorities
in their failures to apprehend the Welsh leader, Parliament passed the infamous
Penal Laws. These laws prohibited the Welsh from gathering together, gaining
access to office, carrying arms and living in the fortified towns (Englishmen
who had the temerity to marry Welsh women were also denied the same
Glyndwr's Parliament at Machynlleth. At Machynlleth (Mid Wales), where he had summoned a Parliament, Owain had himself declared "Prince of Wales."
Tradition has it that he was crowned by his followers in a ceremony attended by
envoys from France, Scotland and Castile, all of which promised to help the
Welsh independence movement
Charter of Brecon.
The tide of
victory turned against the Welsh armies when young Prince Henry (later Henry V)
retook most of the lands captured by Glyndwr. King Henry IV enacted "the
usual" punitive measures against the Welsh, who were forced to pay large
subsidies, were prohibited from acquiring land east of Offas's
Dyke or even within "English" boroughs in Wales. The harsh conditions
are exemplifed in the Charter of Brecon,
which stated "The liberties of Brecon shall be
restricted to those whom we deem to be Englishmen and to such of their heirs as
are English on both their mother's and their father's side."
Century: The Radical Poets.
century, following the failure of the rebellion of Owain
Glyndwr, was a sad period for Wales. In such times, there was an inevitable return
to prophetic poetry in which the tradition called for an overthrow of the hated
Saxon overlords. Grievances of the people were given expression by poets Guto'r Glyn and Lewis Glyn Cothi who both longed for
the expulsion of English office holders from Wales. An even more radical poet who used his
considerable talents to pour scorn upon the English was Sion
Cent, who also wrote powerful poetic sermons on the mortality and vanity of all
earthly things, and whose work had a lasting and profound influence upon the
themes of later Welsh poets.
1485: The Battle of Bosworth. The final battle of The Wars of the
Roses was fought in August, 1485 at Market Bosworth in the English Midlands. Henry Tudor, the only surviving Lancastrian
claimant to the English throne, was of Welsh descent and born in Pembroke Castle
(South West Wales). Owain Tudor of Penmynedd in Anglesey, had secretly married Catherine,
widow of Henry V. Of their five children, one was Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond who fathered Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII
of England. As a result of the battle at Bosworth, and the
defeat of Richard III, Henry Tudor ascended to the English throne, thus in a
way fulfilling the old prophesies that one day a Welsh monarch would rule the
whole of Britain.
Owen's Book. Lawyer and author William Owen from Henllys, Pembrokeshire (South West Wales), published his "Bregement
de Toutes les Estats", the very first book by a
Welshman to be printed in Britain. The first book to be published in the Welsh
language (that was not a translation) had to wait until 1585.
1536: The Act
of Union. Henry VIII, as greedy as ever to acquire lands
and property, disposed of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and added his Welsh
lordships Brecon and Newport (South Wales)
to lands owned by the Crown. He then granted the lands of Rhys ap Gruffudd
to Walter Devereux, steward of the household of Henry's daughter Mary. When a
bitter quarrel ensued between Devereux and Rhys, the King accused the Welsh
lord of plotting with the King of Scotland to make himself ruler of Wales.
In 1536, King
and Parliament showed their determination to settle the matter once and for
all. The so-called Act of Union of that
year, and its corrected version of 1543 was inevitable. As many historians have
pointed out, full union with England had been practically achieved by the 1284
Statute of Rhuddlan. The new Act stated "persons
born or to be born in the said Principality . . . of Wales shall have and enjoy
and inherit all and singular Freedoms, Liberties, Rights, Privileges and Laws .
. . as other Kings' subjects have, enjoy or inherit." The Act of Union is
one of the most important documents in the whole history of Wales; but though
it was welcomed by the ever-increasingly anglicized Welsh gentry and the
commercial interests (who would become totally divorced from the language and
customs of their country), it was passed with no consultation or consent of the
majority of the Welsh people who had no central authority or Parliament to
represent them. The Preamble gives notice that one intention of the Act was
"to extirpate all and singular the sinister usages and customs differing
from the same [the Kings' realm]"
and to ensure that" the said country or dominion of Wales shall stand and
continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with
his Realm of England."
Salesbury's Welsh-English Dictionary. Salesbury worked tirelessly to give the Welsh people the
ability to read the scriptures in their own language. Until such scriptures
were available, they would have to do with versions in English (a language that
most Welsh people could not understand).
1551: "Kynniver Llyth a Ban" of Salesbury. This was Salesbury's
translation of the main texts of the English Prayer Book. The author had
previously set out his mission to the Welsh nation as "to obtain the holy
scripture in your own tongue as your happy ancestors, the ancient British, had
of a Bill to have the Holy Bible Translated into Welsh.Though
John Penry of Breconshire, had pleaded passionately
in Parliament to have the Bible translated so that the Welsh people might
better learn English, the Queen and her advisors were more interested in
completing the Protestant Reformation throughout Britain than in granting any favors. One of the quickest
and surest ways to accomplish this was to give the Welsh people a Bible in
their own tongue.
Testament Newydd a Llyfr Gweddi yn Gymraeg
(Salesbury's New Testament and Common Prayer Book in
This book was
a forerunner of Salesbury's intention to translate
the whole Bible into Welsh, but his quarrel with Bishop Richard Davies (that may have
been over a single word) ended the project. The completed New Testament never
became popular, however, because of its archaic, difficult language.
1567: The Caerwys Eisteddfod.
eisteddfodau at Caerwys, a little town in Flintshire, in 1525 and 1567 marked changes in the craft of
Welsh poetry. Though the bards were called together to "bring order and
government to the craftsmen in poetic art," the meetings were probably
royal attempts to curb the anti-royalist sentiments of the nationalistic poets.
The 1567 eisteddfod also marked the end of the Bardic
Order as the humanist influences now sweeping in from Europe necessitated
changes in Welsh prosody including the replacement of the old bardic system of twenty-four strict metres
by that of free metres. The poetic art was thus made
more accessible to the ever-increasing amateur poets of the gentry.
1571: Jesus College, Oxford Founded.
Jesus College was Oxford's first Protestant foundation. Following the
establishment of many grammar schools in Wales, Jesus College was founded by Dr. Hugh Price of Brecon to cater to the needs of Welshmen anxious to
continue their education, especially in law. It has remained a particular venue
for the education of ambitious Welshmen throughout the centuries. Its list of
graduates reads like an Honour Roll of "Who's Who in Welsh history."
First Map of Wales.
Humphrey Lhuyd's Map, the first that was specifically a map of
Wales, was published in Antwerp
in 1573. Its immense popularity is attested to by its being reprinted almost 50
times during the next 200 years.
1584: "Historie of Cambria, Now called Wales."
published by David Powel, closely followed the arguments of antiquarian and
map-maker Humphrey Lluyd's adaptation of the ancient
"Brut y Twysogion". It was one of many
books to answer the claims of the Italian Polydor Vergil who had the temerity to cast doubts on the
authenticity of Geoffrey of Monmouth's stories of King Arthur. Powel's book
remained the standard version of the history of Wales for centuries.
1585:The First Book Published in the Welsh Language.
collection of religious texts, entitled "Yn Llyvyr Hwnn" (In This Book)
published by Sir John Price (John Prys of Brecon), was the very first book published in the Welsh language.
The very first book actually printed in Wales itself may have been "Y Drych
Gristianogawl" (The Christian Mirror produced in
a cave at Llandudno, North Wales).
Camden's book, in Latin (in form and content following
the precedent set by Giraldus Cambrensis
in the late 12th century), detailed the tribal divisions of Roman Wales. A
classic of its kind, the book set the standard of travel books about historical
Welsh Bible of Bishop Morgan.
In order for
the people of Wales to have a book they could read, in a dignified and elegant
language yet that could be understood in all parts of Wales, the task was
entrusted to William Morgan, vicar of Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant,
and later Bishop of Llandaf
and St. Asaph. Aided by a group of scholars, Morgan
completed the task in 1588, giving the people of Wales a Bible that became the
foundation and inspiration for all the literature written in Welsh after the
end of the 16th century.
In 1620, the
minor corrections to and standardization of Morgan's great work carried out by
Dr. John Davies of Malltwyd helped ensure the
continuity of the literary language of Wales. Not only that, but with the publication of a
smaller, cheaper version in 1630, generation after generation of Welsh children
would learn to read and write from "The Book," thus keeping alive the
language against the almost impossible odds constantly ranged against it. Welsh
was the only non-state language of Protestant Europe to become the medium of a published Bible within
a century of the Reformation. The Irish did not get their own Bible until 1690;
the Scots had to wait until 1801 for their Gaelic Bible, long after the Highland Clearances and massive emigration had almost
emptied the country of its Gaelic speakers.
1603: James I
Becomes Ruler of the Kingdom of Great
The year 1603
marked the union of the crowns of Scotland and England under James I. Many historians see this union as
perfectly acceptable to the Welsh, who had no outstanding leaders of their own,
and who now perhaps could take pride in being part of the British kingdom as
opposed to being merely part of England. There followed a new exodus of Welsh gentry to London to take part in the bestowal of royal favors.
Davies's British Grammar.
to helping William Morgan with his translations, Dr. Davies also helped revise
the Book of Common Prayer in 1621, the same year in which his Welsh grammar in
Latin appeared. Of these two influential works, James Howell wrote "It was
a rough task . . . to tame a wild and wealthy language, and to frame grammatic toils to curb her, so that she now speaks by
rules, and sings by prosody."
1621: Cynwal's "Salmau Can".
Poet William Cynwal is best remembered for his metrical Psalms published
as an appendix to the Welsh Book of Common Prayer of 1632. This book was
practically the only hymnal used in Wales for over 100 years; many of the psalms included
are still used in churches in Wales for congregational singing.
1622-1709: Huw Morys and the New Verse-form.
"Huw Morys Eos Ceiriog" (the
Nightingale of Ceiriog), wrote during the time of the
English Civil Wars. Dealing mostly with social issues, Morris created a
verse-form based on the traditional accented metre,
and blending words to music, founded a new school of Welsh poetry.
Davies' Appeal to have the Prince of Wales Learn Welsh.
In his "Dictionarium Duplex" of 1632, the indefatigable Dr.
Davies wrote the following to Henry, the Prince of Wales, thus anticipating the
preparation undergone by Charles Windsor for his 1969 Investiture: "Your
Highness should be imbued from the cradle, at the same as with other languages,
with the ancient language of this island, which is now restricted to your own
Welsh people. . . for knowing languages is no
indignity for princes." In a typical repudiation of the Welsh people, the
prince's guardians ignored Dr Davies' advice.
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