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Last updated : Nov 2009
Wales History
Wales History - TravelPuppy.com
Wales human habitation stretches back nearly 200,000 years. The European Celts, who arrived after 600 BC, brought the popular Welsh attributes of warmth, eloquence and imagination. The subsequent Roman presence has been mythologised as a time of benevolent rule, perhaps due to the comparative chaos of the ensuing period, when raiding Irish pirates and Scots arrived. Elements of Christianity arrived in the 5th century from Ireland, and was famously proselytised by a monk called Dewi (later Normanised into David, patron saint of Wales). This nascent Christianity was grafted onto the Celtic belief system, with its sacred wells, holy men and hermit saints.

The period from the 5th to the 11th centuries was marred by Anglo-Saxon pressure and invasion, and it was also around this time that the Brythons began to call themselves Cymry, or countrymen. King Arthur, of legend, hope and inspiration, is thought to have led the Brythons against the Anglo-Saxons during the 8th century. More tangible, and from the same period, was the action of Offa, king of the neighbouring Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. He constructed a dyke to mark the border between the Welsh and the Mercians. Today, Offa's Dyke has been called one of the country's best walks.

Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries unified the individual Welsh kingdoms that had developed. Ironically, just as the threat of invasion caused Wales to develop as an entity, it also caused it to fall further under the control of the English crown. In the year 927, the Welsh kings recognised Athelstan, the Anglo-Saxon king, as their protective overlord. During the next century, William the Conqueror took advantage of this precedent, setting up powerful feudal barons along the Welsh border.

Attempts were made during the 13th century to secure Wales as an independent state, and the poignantly named Llywelyn the Last managed to get recognised as the first Prince of Wales by Henry III of England in 1267. The nation's joy was brief, however, with Henry's warlike successor, Edward I, soon casting the net of fear over his neighbour. The crowning insult came in the year 1302 when the title of Prince of Wales was given to the English monarch's eldest son. Edward's authority was made further evident by the construction of a number of massive castles and with English colonists sent to set up English-style boroughs and counties.

The last armed opposition to English rule came in 1400, when Owain Glyndr made a claim to the principality of Wales, as a descendant of the princes of northern Powys. His rebellion was defeated by Henry IV, whose imposition of severe punishments caused feelings to remain bitter for many years to come.

Wales lay slumbering until the 1730s, when it was woken by the Industrial Revolution, and given a new identity by rampant Nonconformist Methodism. Coal, slate, copper and tin production led to a phenomenally increased population, rapidly changing the country's make-up from fragmented rural communities to include urbanised mining and industrial centres. The smoky cities were hotbeds of nationalsim, nonconformism, trade unionism, liberalism and support for the Labour Party. Change was slow but forthcoming: Plaid Cymru, the Welsh National Party, was formed in 1925; the Welsh language became legally acceptable in 1942; Cardiff was made the official capital in 1955; a Welsh minister of state was appointed with cabinet rank in the British government in 1964; and today, Plaid Cymru counts several seats in the House of Commons. Welsh language and culture also prevailed and in 1982 Wales got its own Welsh-language TV channel.

By the 1990s Wales was adjusting to the collapse of its traditional coal and steel industries. It left the decade with a Welsh National Assembly, an interest in Welsh arts (including rock music) and a renewed sense of purpose. Large-scale unemployment remains, in spite of diversification programmes. The current Labour government's policies are certainly more Welsh-friendly than those of the Conservatives, but the eventuality of Wales emerging as a separate nation remains slim.