Wales, a region of rugged mountains, Moors and forests, is noted for its large coal deposits. Its people are known for their strong Celtic heritage and renowned choral groups. This region was originally populated by an Iberian people, who were overrun by the Celts in the 6th century BC. The Welsh language, or Cymraeg to its native speakers, was developed by these Celtic conquerors. The wealth of the British Isles attracted the attention of the Roman Empire, who first sent expeditions led by Julius Caesar in 55 BC and then invaded the island nation under Claudius in 43 AD. Julius Agricola, who became Governor of the new province of Britannia in 78 AD, completed the conquest of Wales by building a network of roads and erecting a substantial number of forts. A Roman legion composed of over 10,000 soldiers was garrisoned at Caerleon in the south of what is now Wales. However, the Romans abandoned the region after nearly four centuries of rule during the early 5th century. The imperial legions were recalled to Rome in an unsuccessful attempt to defend the empire from the barbarian tribes. The Romans that remained were expelled by the Britons in 409 AD.



The Britons soon faced conquest by a new wave of invaders. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Germanic tribes led by the Angles and the Saxons began to settle in England. The newcomers subjugated the Celtic inhabitants. The Britons who were not assimilated, enslaved or massacred were slowly driven out of their homelands. By the mid-7th century, the Anglo-Saxons had entrenched themselves in eleven kingdoms, including Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, Kent, Essex, Sussex and East Anglia, which were collectively known as the Heptarchy. Meanwhile, the Britons had retreated into the hills in the west of the island, where they encountered friendly Irish settlers. The two peoples mingled and called themselves Cymri, which means fellow countrymen; they called their land Cymru. Nonetheless, they became better known by the name given to them by the Anglo-Saxons: Wealhas, which means foreigners.

The Welsh, as they came to be known, were Christianized in the 6th century. Writing in Welsh began at this time. Traditional Welsh names which were only transmitted aurally were recorded. Although Welsh is perhaps the most widely used of the surviving Celtic languages today, few residents of the region speak only Welsh; generally, they are either bilingual or they speak only English. The modern Welsh language, unlike its old, Celtic ancestor British, is no longer a highly inflected language.

They persistently defended their land against the Anglo-Saxons and challenged the authority of the powerful King Offa of Mercia in a series of conflicts between 760 and 796. The first recorded king of Wales was Rhodri Mawr, who was otherwise known as Roderick the Great. Ruling from his seat in Anglesey, he drove off the raids of Norman pirates, who were the descendants of Viking raiders. Following his death in 893, his realm was divided among his three sons: Anarawd became king of North Wales; Cadalh became king of South Wales, and Mervyn became king of Mid-Wales.

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn united all Wales under his leadership, despite the opposition of the princes of the south. He allied himself with Ælfgar, an outlawed Anglo-Saxon earl, and they invaded England in 1055. However, Gruffydd's ambitions were finally ended after a successful military campaign when he was slain in 1063, by the forces of Earl Harold Godwinson, who later became King Harold II of England.

Welsh Defiance of the Normans

The Anglo-Saxon forces of Harold II were defeated by the army of Duke William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Norman Conquest marked a new era in the history of England: new cultural, ecclesiastical, and commercial links were established with the continent; the Feudal System was introduced; and the Norman aristocracy displaced the Old Anglo-Saxon thegns. Although the new rulers of England claimed Wales as part of their dominion, the Welsh continued to defiantly maintain their independence, just as they had done with the Anglo-Saxons. William I, unable to subdue Wales, appointed earls to control the Welsh marches.

A brief conquest of North Wales by the Normans was decisively expelled in 1094, but by the end of the reign of Henry I in 1135, South Wales was practically an Anglo-Norman province. However, the Welsh revolted during the anarchic period following the death of Henry I and the accession of Stephen I, and freed all of Wales from English rule, with the exception of Pembroke. Two great princes emerged in Wales at this time: Owain of Gwynedd led in the north and Rhys ap Gruffyd led in the south. Henry II forced these princes to render homage to him in 1157, but they threw off the English yoke and freed Wales once again in 1165. The Welsh made masterful use of guerrilla tactics, making quick, effective thrusts before retreating to their bleak mountain homes to plan their next raid. It is a testimony to the indomitable fighting spirit of the Welsh that there are more castles, or ruins of castles, per square mile in Wales than anywhere else in the world.

Frustrated by their failure to subdue Wales, the discouraged earls of the marches turned their attention to the subjugation of Ireland instead, where they proved more successful. It was Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke, who attained the conquest of Ireland during the Strongbow Invasion of 1172. Many Cambro-Norman settlers subsequently migrated from Wales to Ireland.

Llewellyn ap Gruffydd

Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, the sovereign of most of Wales, scored a decisive victory over the English in 1267, and was acknowledged as prince of Wales by King Henry III. However, war erupted again in 1275, and two years later, Llewellyn was forced to accept peace terms dictating that the rulership of Wales would pass to the English Crown upon his death. Rebellion broke out once again in 1282 when Llewellyn's brother David seized Hawarden Castle and rode through Wales calling for revolt. All free Wales rose up in answer to his call.

However, Llewellyn was decisively defeated this time and he was slain by the forces of Edward I in 1283; Shortly thereafter, the Statute of Rhuddan united Wales to England and divided it into counties. The king's son Edward II became prince of Wales in 1301. Nevertheless, revolts against English rule continued, notably under Owen Glendower, whose uprising against Henry IV lasted from 1400 to 1409.

15th Century to Today

Relations between Wales and England took a new direction during the late 15th century. The Tudors were a Welsh dynasty and fought on behalf of the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses. One member of this house ascended the throne of England in 1485 as King Henry VII. Wales was brought into a legal and administrative union with England by his son King Henry VIII between 1534 and 1536. However, many Welsh continued to remain bitterly opposed to this union, and a powerful nationalist movement continues to quietly battle for independence to this very day. The Laws in Wales Act 1535 stated that all official records in Wales were to be in English and accordingly, Welsh surnames had to be registered in an Anglicized form.

The Welsh people were intimately linked with the eventful history of England during the medieval period, and were greatly influenced by the forces of Nonconformism and biblical fundamentalism during the 17th century, an era of bitter religious strife. Conflict between the Crown and Parliament rocked the nation during the era of Cromwell. Religious conflagrations again flared up between Catholic and Protestants during the "Glorious Revolution" which led to the long series of Jacobite uprisings by the supporters of the Catholic King James II. Many of the Welsh people signed undertakings to remain Protestant and migrated to Ireland to settle on lands confiscated from Catholics during the Plantation of Ulster.

Emigration to the Colonies

The open spaces and untamed frontiers of North America, Australia and New Zealand attracted many Welsh people in search of adventure and property. For some, the religious freedoms the colonies offered them an opportunity to worship peacefully leaving behind the Church of England's influence. Welsh Methodists and Welsh Baptists led the way Act of Toleration of 1689 did little to comfort them. The Welsh Baptists settled in Massachusetts in 1662. At first they were shunned by the English settlers, but later were granted lands and established the the town of Swansea and John Miles founded the First Baptist Church.

"Some believed that their Welsh forefathers sailed to the Americas hundreds of years before Columbus and settled there intermarrying with the Indians. For example, in 1792 John Evans, a Welsh Methodist, searched for Welsh Indians in the northern reaches of the Missouri River "[1]

"According to a plaque to Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd on the wall of the Fine Arts Center of the South in Mobile, Alabama, visitors can see where Prince Madoc, the Welsh explorer of America, is believed to have arrived with three ships. Also, the plaque of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which is located on the public strand of Mobile Bay, reads: 'In memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language.' " [2]

Some joined neighboring English, Irish and Scottish countrymen to seek a better life for themselves there. Wales did not see the forced expulsion of it's countrymen as was the case in Scotland or the incredible hardships of the Irish in the Great Potato Famine. Nevertheless, the stormy Atlantic took it toll on many of the immigrants. As a result of the harsh conditions on the overcrowded ships, the majority of the immigrants arrived in the New World and Oceania diseased, famished, and destitute from the long journey across the stormy Atlantic. Early attempts to establish a colony at Roanoke Island in North Carolina met with disaster. In 1591, supply ships found the colony deserted and the fate of the settlers remained a mystery forever.

The great era of Welsh migration to Canada began after the Seven Years War, when Canada was ceded to the British. Following the American War of Independence, many Welsh settlers migrated from the United States into Canada. These families, who were known as United Empire Loyalists moved into Nova Scotia, and the St. Lawrence and Niagara regions. Welsh families have made a valuable contribution to the settlement of North America and to the development of the cultures of the United States and Canada.

"Australia was not a place of choice but as a result of the convict expulsion in the late 1700's. 'By 1852, a total of about 1,800 of the convicts in Australia had been tried in Wales - about 1.2% of the total number of convicts transported to Australia by that time. Of these, only around 300 were women.' "[3]

See Also


  1. ^ David Williams, Cymru Ac America: Wales and America Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1976, pp. 7, 19
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ (various articles)
  5. ^ Swyrich, Archive materials