Each nation has its unique origins and the specific history which affects the peculiarities of the development of national customs and traditions, and the place of this nation in the world history.
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From this point, the history of the nations which were dependent on their more powerful neighbours during a long period of time and had no opportunity to develop their political, economic, and social life independently is significant for the discussion. The Welsh people are among such nations which are continuously struggling for their independence.
Today, Wales is considered as the part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In spite of the fact that during several centuries Wales depended on the peculiarities of the development of Great Britain, these territories always differed from the other parts of the United Kingdom in terms of their historical development, political progress, cultural features, and the usage of language.
Thus, the Welsh nation has its origins in the brave Celts which were also unique in their specific language. The history of Wales is closely connected with the history of England, and the development of its cultural features depends on definite historical events.
However, Wales is the distinctive territory in the United Kingdom the population of which tries to preserve its cultural and linguistic peculiarities with concentrating on the historical lessons.
The History of Wales
During the Bronze Age, the territory which is known today as Wales was inhabited by the Iberians and Celts. The Celts came to these lands in 600 B.C., and they were more powerful and warlike than Iberians. Thus, they quickly became the ruling force at the territory. The organisation of the Celts’ life was tribal. The main occupations of the Celts were the war activities and rarely hunting (Jenkins 2007).
The tribes were ruled by the kings who formed the top of the tribal hierarchy. The next level in the tribal hierarchy was occupied by the Druids who were the tribal priests and realised the control over the tribesmen’s following to the Celts’ laws and rules and provided the religious rituals.
The tribesmen highly respected the Druids for their knowledge and experience, and the priests were the influential figures in the Celtic society, they occupied Anglesey and made it their centre (Davies 2007).
The role of the Celts in the history of Wales is evaluated with references to their contribution to the development of crafts, warfare, culture, and language at these territories. Thus, the Celts were skilful in making the iron tools and arms, and today it is even possible to find the remnants of the stone forts built by the Celts at these hilly lands.
The Celts were the main inhabitants of these territories till 50 A.D. when the Romans invaded the lands of Wales. It is impossible to speak about the rapid invasion of the region by the Romans because the decisive capture of the Celts’ centres was completely realised only in 78 A.D. The main battle between the Celts and the Romans was developed against capturing the centre of the Druids, Anglesey.
Thus, Wales became the part of the Roman Empire. The main advantages of the development of these territories as the province of the Roman Empire were in building the powerful forts, the progress of the agriculture and markets, and the adoption of the Christianity. The government of the Welsh people was also organised according to the Roman pattern.
This period of time could be characterised by the peaceful development of Wales as the province of the Empire according to the Roman example (Davies 2007). Nevertheless, in the fourth century the Empire declined, and Wales was divided into several independent kingdoms. During this period all the achievements connected with the Roman invasion were destroyed.
The next centuries can be characterised by the series of invasions realised by the Saxons and Vikings who continued to attack the Welsh people till the tenth century.
Fighting for their independence with the Anglo-Saxons, the Welsh people called their country Cymru, the land of compatriots (Davies 2007). The rule of the Vikings is associated with the name of Rhodri Mawr who occupied a lot of the territories of Wales, and the next stage in the Welsh history was the rule of the Normans.
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The Middle Ages
The 11th and the 12th centuries in the history of Wales are connected with the names of such rulers as William the Conqueror and William II. Wales was controlled by the English lords, and the Welsh aristocracy also followed the patterns of the Normans’ life. The Norman style was especially typical for building the towns which were surrounded by the specific castles. Cardiff was also built during that period.
The rulers of the lands supported the development of the trade in new towns, and the organisation of the church was also reconstructed. It acquired all the features of the Roman church differed from the Celtic patterns (Davies 2007).
The main kingdoms at the territories of Wales were Gwynedd, Powys, Deheubarth, and Glamorgan. In the 13th century, Llewellyn became the ruler of Gwynedd and influenced the development of the other kingdoms. Llewellyn is known in the history as Prince of Wales, but he did not want to admit the fact that he was the English king’s vassal.
This situation influenced the development of contradictions between Llewellyn and the king of England Edward I. The period of rebellions started and Llewellyn was killed in the battle against the English army.
Thus, Edward I became the absolute ruler of the Welsh lands and England. Moreover, later he conferred the title of ‘Prince of Wales’ upon his son. To support his powerfulness and provide the effective control, Edward built a lot of castles among which were Caernarvon, Beaumaris, and Harlech (Davies 2007).
However, the Welsh people did not want to admit the dependence from the English kings, and the beginning of the 15th century was characterised by many rebellions, the most significant of which was the rebellion led by Owen Glendower (Jenkins 2007).
In spite of the fact Owen Glendower was supported by France and by the other powerful allies, he did not reach the main goal of his guerrilla struggle which was the independence of Wales.
The History of Wales in the 16th – 17th Centuries
The history of Wales in the 16th century is closely connected with the dynasty of Tudor. Henry Tudor had the idea to unite Wales and England and realised it with the help of the Act of Union of 1536. Now, the Welsh people were equal in rights with the Englishmen, and the laws of England were also forced on the Welsh population.
However, the economic development of Wales was more active than the growth of the other territories. That is why, ruling these lands, the English king received a lot of economic advantages associated with the development of agriculture and trade. Moreover, iron and coal industries also developed rapidly in Wales (Davies 2007).
The most significant changes in the life of the Welsh people during that period depended on the process of Reformation and its role for Britain. In 1534, Henry VIII called himself the head of the Church, and the main religion became Protestantism or Anglicanism (Weisser 2003). It was the start of a long period of the opposition between the supporters of Protestantism and Catholicism in Britain.
During the 17th century, the Welsh people became involved in the civil war between the king and parliament as the supporters of the king or royalists. However, the king was not successful in the war, and in 1645 the army of parliament directed its forces toward Wales. All the Welsh territories were captured by the parliamentary soldiers in 1647, and in 1648 the opposition ended with the parliament’s victory (Morgan 2002).
Thus, since the 16th century Wales became the part of the English kingdom, and its territories were organised and ruled according to the English pattern with the administrative division into counties and the specific feudal right. Since that period, the political and economic history of Wales should be discussed in the context of the English kingdom’s development.
The History of Wales in the 18th – 19th Centuries
The History of Wales in the 18th century is associated with such two notions as ‘revival’ and ‘Methodism’. The main events of this period developed within the religious context. Historians connect the fact of the Welsh religious revival with the names of Howel Harris and Daniel Rowland who were known as the first Welsh Methodists.
Later this religious movement was organised into a separate church the characteristic feature of which was the male chapel choir. Along with the religious life, education became the significant aspect of the cultural development in Wales.
Griffith Jones is a prominent figure in Wales, and he is known today as the founder of the charity schools there (Davies 2007). Thus, the contribution of Griffith Jones to the growth of the literacy level of the Welsh people is considerable.
In spite of the fact that in the 18th – 19th centuries the most Welsh people lived in the rural territories and were occupied with their agriculture activities, the growth of the towns was observed, and it was connected with the development of such industries as coal mining and iron industry.
The 19th century began with a real industrial revolution in Wales which met the demands of the society and provided the great amounts of iron for building the railways and of coal as the main source of energy. Moreover, the copper and zinc industries also developed actively in the territories (Jenkins 2007).
If during the earlier centuries Wales was predominantly rural and agricultural, in the 19th century the number of towns and the amount of population in them increased significantly, and Wales became industrial with focusing on the iron, coal, and woollen industries and also with the developed railways.
Nevertheless, the rural population continued to suffer from poverty, and this fact also caused the ‘Rebecca’ riots which were cruelly suppressed. In this situation, the society needed definite political and economic reforms.
Wales in the 20th – 21st Centuries
The economic issues which were significant at the end of the 19th century were changed by the political questions in the 20th century. Thus, the main political concept of the 20th century was the idea of the Welsh nationalism. The history of this period is closely connected with the activities of three major parties which were the Liberal Party, the Labour Party, and Plaid Cymru.
The Liberal Party was popular among the Welsh people at the beginning of World War I. Nevertheless, the industrial territories of Wales developed, and a lot of workers began to support the Labour Party, and later Plaid Cymru was proclaimed as the party which could meet the interests of the Welsh people completely (Morgan 2002).
In spite of the fact the traditional Welsh coal and iron industries declined during World War II, the problem of unemployment which was challengeable at the beginning of the century was solved.
Wales is the part of the United Kingdom, but in the 20th century its population and politicians tried to realise the ideas of nationalism in supporting the Welsh language and culture. In this case, the adoption of the Welsh Language act in 1993 was the significant event.
The political and social development of Wales in the 21st century is associated with the general UK policy (Davies 2007). However, the Welsh people always accentuate their differences from the other nations united in the UK and focus on following the national ideas. These ideas were developed since the beginning of the 20th century and emphasised the details of the Welsh history as the part of the English history.
The Culture of Wales
The cultural heritage of Wales has its origins in the vivid history of the nation’s development. In spite of the fact that today Wales is considered as the part of the United Kingdom, this territory is rather unique in its cultural and linguistic features.
The Welsh people are inclined to preserve their cultural traditions and respect their distinctiveness from the other nations. To understand the cultural diversity of Wales, it is necessary to concentrate on the discussion of such characteristics as the symbols of Wales, the peculiarities of religion, and the Welsh art.
The Symbols of Wales
Wales is traditionally associated with three symbols which are the Red Dragon depicted on the flag, the leek and daffodil. The emergence of these symbols is based on the development of the definite historical events and the expansion of the Welsh legends among the population (Hestler & Spilling 2011).
Thus, the Red Dragon is the emblem which appeared on the flag as a result of the Roman invasion at these territories because the image of a dragon traditionally symbolised the power in the ancient times. However, the Red Dragon became the symbol of Wales only in the 15th century when Henry VII decided to depict the image of the dragon on the flag of his army (Davies 2007).
According to the legend, the leek and daffodil became the symbols of Wales when Saint David helped the Welsh people to win in the battle against the Saxons which was held in the field of leeks. It is also important that the names of ‘leek’ and ‘daffodil’ mean one flower because of the peculiarities of the Welsh language. Today leeks are a significant element of the Welsh culture because of their wide spreading (Davies 2007).
The Peculiarities of Religion
The peculiarities of the religious beliefs of the Welsh people are based on the development of the historical events in the region. Thus, the Christianity began to spread at the territories as a result of the Roman invasion, but in the 15th century the Roman Catholic Church lost its influence because of spreading the ideas of Protestantism.
The English Protestant movement became known as Anglicanism and was also popular in Wales. The next significant event in the religious life of the Welsh people was the establishment of Methodism in the 18th century as one of the leading religious movements in Wales.
The development of the Methodist Church which was depended on the Calvinist ideas contributed to the separation of the Welsh Church from the English Church (Davies 2007).
Nowadays, the majority of Welsh people follows the ideas of the Methodist Church which influenced the visions of the population greatly, and the other part of the population are the followers of the Anglican Church. It is also typical for the Welsh people to worship the figure of Saint David who is the saint patron of Wales. Thus, the first day of March is Saint David’s Day and the national holiday in Wales.
The Welsh Art
The Welsh people are the talented nation, and they are famous for their legends, myths, music and poetry festivals the most significant among which is the National Eisteddfod. The Welsh authorities are inclined to preserve the cultural heritage of the nation and provide the economic support for the development of the Welsh culture which is based on spreading the traditions of the Welsh harpists and folk singers.
The performance art is of great importance for the Welsh people, and the Welsh National Opera with its prominent singers is famous all over the world (Hestler & Spilling 2011).
The Welsh literature is based on the peculiarities of the Welsh language. The art of the Welsh poetry developed from the traditional legends and myths as the important elements of the culture during the Middle Ages. Later they became the basic elements for epic works of the 17th century.
The cultural achievements of the 18th century are in the fact of increasing the level of education among the population and the development of the principles of the literary Welsh language (Davies 2007). Today, the Welsh literature exists in two languages which are English and Welsh.
The Language of Wales
The Welsh language which is also known as ‘Cymraeg’ belongs to the group of the Celtic languages and can be discussed as the original language developed at these territories along with the progress of the Celtic tribes.
The Welsh language was influenced by the languages of the other tribes during the periods of invasions, and it was also influenced by Latin when Wales became the part of the Roman Empire (Davies 2007). The most characteristic examples of the peculiarities of Cymraeg are presented in the works of such ancient poets as Taliesin and Aneirin.
During the history of its development as the language of the nation, the Welsh language experienced two periods of decline. The first period is associated with the 16th century when in 1536 the Act of Union was presented. According to the Act, the English language became the official language of the territories, and the Welsh language could not function as the administrative language of Wales anymore.
The national activists did all they could in order to spread the usage of the Welsh language. However, at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, the Welsh language was in decline again. The ties of the Welsh people with the English-speaking population from the other territories were close because of the migration processes affected by the industrial revolution of the 19th century (Davies 2007).
The expansion of the Welsh language at the territories of Wales is not balanced. The majority of the population in the north and west regions is Welsh-speaking when Welsh is used only as the second language in the south and east of the country. Thus, today more than 20% of the population speak Welsh.
This number is a result of the effective supporting policy provided by the national authorities in Wales who consider the issue of preserving the active usage of the language as one of the most significant problems connected with the cultural heritage of the region. There were a lot of campaigns the main goal of which was to accentuate the necessity of supporting the language of the nation (Hestler & Spilling 2011).
The adoption of the Welsh Language act in 1993 changed the major priorities of the language policy, and today in spite of the predominant usage of the English language by bilinguals in their everyday life, Cymraeg is actively developed as the language of the definite TV channels and newspapers.
Every year a lot of political programs are provided in order to encourage the development of the language in the context of the Welsh culture (Weisser 2003). Moreover, the Welsh language is also studied at school and this fact gives the hope for the preservation of the language within the community.
There were a lot significant episodes in the history of Wales which influenced the development of the nation. Being originated from the Celtic tribes, the Welsh people suffered from the invasions of the other tribes and nations during many centuries.
These invasions affected the political, social, and cultural development of the nation significantly. Thus, the Romans made the Welsh people adopt the Christianity, the Normans affected the government organisation, and the English kings made Wales the integrated part of their kingdoms.
Today, it is a rather difficult task for the Welsh people to preserve their national identity and cultural peculiarities because of the long interdependence of the Welsh history with the English history and the wide expansion of the globalisation tendencies in the world.
However, the Welsh authorities pay attention to the fact that it is necessary for the nation to follow its traditions and preserve the usage of the language among the population. Each year the political forces present new programs for the development and support of the Welsh culture with references to the ethnical characteristics of the Welsh people and to the historical peculiarities of the nation’s development.
Davies, J 2007, A history of Wales, Penguin (Non-Classics), USA.
Hestler, A & Spilling, J 2011, Wales, Benchmark Books, USA.
Jenkins, GH 2007, A concise history of Wales, Cambridge University Press, London.
Morgan, P 2002, History of Wales, Tempus Publishing, USA.
Weisser, H 2003, Wales: an illustrated history, Hippocrene Books, USA.