History of Wales

The area which is now Wales has been inhabited for over 29,000 years, although human teeth 250,000 years old have been found.  Most people living in Britain were Celtic tribes who spoke a common language.   (The Celt name is Greek in origin and is pronounced with a hard "c" sound.  Only use the soft "c" in Celtic when referring to sports teams.)

Wales' written history starts with the Roman occupation in the first century AD.  At that time the area of Wales was annexed into Britannia and remained under Roman control until around 400.  Christianity spread rapidly through the area. 

The Romans established four legionary fortresses in Britain -- one in York, one in Chester, one which no one has yet found, and one in Caerleon in Wales. (Caerleon is pronounced Kyre-lee-on.)   Caerleon is in Newport where Michael was born.  It has the best  Roman remains outside mainland Europe, including barracks blocks, Roman baths and an amphitheatre. 

The fortress remained for 400 years, by which time the Roman soldiers had intermarried with the local Celts and a large settlement had developed around the fort.  The Welsh people are a mix of Celtic and Roman bloodlines.  When the Romans left, the settlement remained and became the village known today as Caerleon, which means the "fort of the legion" in English.  More information on Caerleon can be found at:

After the Romans left, the area divided into small kingdoms, the largest being Gwynedd in northwest Wales and Powys in eastern Wales.   Without the protection of the Roman army, Britannia was soon viciously and repeatedly attacked by barbarians who moved in to take the land.  The barbarians were pagans who threatened the Welsh Christian religion, language and written literature.  King Arthur may have been a real person such as a Duke of Britain, a position set up by the Roman army and responsible for protecting the Roman province from the barbarians.  Some think King Arthur may have resided in Caerleon.

First the Angles attacked and then the Saxons, effectively cutting the people off from their Celtic cousins who spoke Old Welsh.  German invaders gave the name “Welsh” to the people as it means “foreigner”, which is ironic considering the Germans were the foreigners. 

The Angles and Saxons became the Anglo-Saxons or English.   The eastern Welsh kingdom of Powys came under great pressure from English forces, and some of its land was taken.  The Welsh were pushed up into the northwest corner of Wales.

The next few centuries were marked by almost continuous fighting against the English.

The next wave of invaders - the Normans - arrived on the borders of Wales around 1067 and conquered Wales after many years of battle.  There was a Welsh revolt against Norman rule in 1094, and some territories were recaptured. 

It should be noted that in all of Britain, it's only the Welsh whose bloodlines were not significantly influenced by the different waves of barbarian invaders.

glish forces annexed Wales in the 12th century.  Rebellions followed for the next few centuries.  The greatest Welsh leader was Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, also known as Llywelyn Fawr (the Great), who was sole ruler of Gwynedd by 1200.  He was killed in battle and was seceded by his sons.  After his last son (Llywelyn the Last) was hung, drawn and quartered, Wales became England’s first colony.

Welsh law was restricted, and King Edward solidified the conquest of Wales by building castles within Wales and then gave his son the title Prince of Wales in 1301. 

Wales became part of England even though its people spoke a different language, had different ethnic origins and had a different culture.  English kings paid lip service to the wishes of Wales.

There were many uprisings over the centuries, the most famous being led by Owen Glendower [known today as Owain Glyndwr], who won back territories from England for awhile.  Although the uprising was crushed, Glendower was never captured.  The uprising caused a great upsurge in Welsh identity.  In response, parliament passed the Penal Laws in 1402 which prohibited the Welsh from carrying arms, from holding office and from dwelling in fortified towns. The laws also applied to Englishmen who married Welsh women.

The War of the Roses took place in the mid 15th century.  Henry Tudor was of Welsh descent and had great support from Wales.  With a Welsh army Henry Tudor beat King Richard III and took the throne as Henry VII.

Henry VIII passed Laws in Wales Acts in the 16th century which abolished the Welsh legal system, banned the Welsh language and resulted in fully incorporating Wales into England.  It did, however, allow people representing Wales to be elected into parliament and ended the Penal Laws.  The Welsh and English now were governed by the same laws.

At this time the only education available in Wales was in English while the majority of the population spoke only Welsh.  In 1731 Griffith Jones started a circulating schools system which was taught in Welsh.  By the time of his death, approximately a quarter of a million people in Wales were literate.  The church in the 1800’s was nonconformist and was taught in Welsh, and consequently, Sunday school also accounted for a large percentage of literacy in Wales.

During the 19th century southeast Wales was rapidly industrialized and its population increased dramatically.  As a result of industrialization, Wales became increasingly anglicized in speech, and use of the Welsh language started to decline.

Wales was de-annexed from England within the United Kingdom in 1955.  "England" was replaced with "England and Wales", and Cardiff was proclaimed the capital of Wales.  Welsh nationalism was on the rise again.

Plaid Cymru won its first seat at Westminster in 1966.