Ancient & Modern

History of the Theosophical Society in Wales


Chronology of Wales and the Celtic Tradition


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Since the 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 Iron Age


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.


700-500 BCE: 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 Manx Gaelic)


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.



43-383 AD: Roman Britain


The first invasion of the British Isles (Britannia) 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 Bello Gallico").


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.


The villas 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 purposes.


Many loan 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 (danger), eglwys  (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.


The old 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.



400-600: The Saxon Invasions.


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).



516:The Battle 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 and Cheshire.



540:"De Excidio Britanniae"


This work, "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.



550-650: Saxon Influence


Apart from 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 population).



600: The Welsh Language Begins its Written History.


According to 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.



425-664: The Age of the Celtic Saints.


Though much 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 Kingdoms.


The English 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.


This is 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).



664: The 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 Severed.


Contact 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.


Following 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 in 1284.



800: Nennius and the "Historia Brittonum."


Born around 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."



844-877: The Reign of Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great).


In 844 Rhodri ap Merfyn 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.


After 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 alive; and

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.



960: The "Annales Cambriae."


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.



1039-1063: The Reign of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn.


Gruffudd ap 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.



1066-77: The Coming of the Normans to Wales.


Following the 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 "landsker."


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.


The results 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.


1090: "The Life of St. David."


"The 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



1120-1129: "Historia Regum Britanniae."


Geoffrey of 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 Iwan.



1137-1170: 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.


Though 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.


According to 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 language.



1146-1243: Giraldus Cambrensis.


Gerald of 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.



1176: The 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.


The word 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.


Other 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.



Late 12th Century: The Court Poets.


The general 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.


Following his 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.



1200-1240: Unification of Wales under Llywelyn ap Iorwerth.


Llywelyn ap 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 Gruffudd.


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

"Prince 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). Llywelyn ap 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



1282: Cilmeri.


At first, 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.



1284: The Statute of Rhuddlan.


The Statute 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.


We therefore . . . 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."


The English 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.


Mid-14th 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.

The decline 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).


1294-1400: 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.


1402: The 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 privileges).


1404. 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


1409: The 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."


Mid-15th Century: The Radical Poets.

The mid-15th 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.



1521: William 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."



1547: William 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 it."


1563: Passage 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.



1567: Y Testament Newydd a Llyfr Gweddi yn Gymraeg (Salesbury's New Testament and Common Prayer Book in Welsh).


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.


The two 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."



1573: The 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."


This book, 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.


This 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).



1586. William Camden's Britannia.


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 Wales.



1588: The 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 Britain.


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.



1621: Dr. Davies's British Grammar.


In addition 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.



1632. Dr. 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.



Theosophy and the Great War


A General History of Wales


A One Minute History of Cardiff


Saint David


Celtic Christianity


The Druids


Glossary of Welsh Mythology


Caldey Island

Ynys Byr


Llandaff Cathedral






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