Theosophical Society, Cardiff Lodge,
206 Newport Road,
Cardiff, Wales, UK, CF24 – 1DL.
A General History of Wales
The Cardiff Theosophical Society is pleased to provide
this historical outline to acquaint visitors to our site with the history and
traditions of Wales.
The area now
known as Wales has been inhabited by modern humans for at least
29,000 years, though continuous human habitation dates from the period after
the last Ice age. Wales has many remains from the Neolithic period
(mainly chambered tombs), as well as from the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
historians have believed that successive waves of immigrants brought different
cultures into the area, largely replacing the previous inhabitants, with the
last wave of immigrants being the Celts. However, studies
of population genetics now suggest that this may
not be true, and that immigration was on a smaller scale. There is some
evidence that the Welsh
population is very similar genetically to the population of
Ireland and also share some genetic links with the Basques.
known human remains discovered in modern-day Wales are those of the Red Lady of Paviland,
a human skeleton dyed in red ochre. It was discovered in 1826 in one of the Paviland limestone caves of the Gower Peninsula in south
Wales. Despite the name, the skeleton is that of a young man who lived about
29,000 years ago at the end of the Upper Paleolithic Period (old
stone age). His remains are also considered the oldest found in the
United Kingdom. Additionally, he is considered to be the oldest known
ceremonial burial in Western Europe. The skeleton was found along with jewellery made from ivory and seashells, and a mammoth's
Bryn Celli Ddu, a late Neolithic chambered tomb on AngleseyFollowing
the last Ice age, Wales became roughly the shape it is today by about
8000 BC and was inhabited by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. The earliest farming
now believed to date from about 4000 BC, marking the
beginning of the Neolithic period. This period saw the construction of many
chambered tombs, the most notable including Bryn Celli Ddu
and Barclodiad y Gawres on
Anglesey (North Wales).Metal tools first appeared in Wales about 2500 BC,
initially copper followed by bronze. The climate during the Early Bronze Age
(c. 2500-1400 BC) is thought to have been warmer than at present, as there are
many remains from this period in what are now bleak uplands. The Late Bronze
Age (c. 1400-750 BC) saw the development of more advanced bronze implements.
Much of the copper for the production of bronze likely came from the copper
mine on the Great Orme on the North Wales coast near Llandudno, the largest known mine in Europe during this
iron implement found in Wales is a sword from Llyn Fawr called Rhondda, thought to
date to about 600 BC. The Iron Age saw the building of hillforts
which are particularly numerous in Wales, examples being Pen Dinas
near Aberystwyth and Tre'r Ceiri on the Lleyn peninsula. A particularly significant find from this
period was made in 1943 at Llyn Cerrig
when the ground was being prepared for the construction of a Royal Air Force
base. The cache included weapons, shields, chariots along with their fittings
and harnesses, and slave chains and tools. Many had been deliberately broken
and seem to have been votive offerings.Wales under
Tribes of Wales at the time of the Roman invasion. Exact boundaries are conjectural.Up
to and during the Roman occupation of Britain, Wales was not a
separate country, but all inhabitants of Britain and Ireland spoke Celtic languages and were essentially of
the same ethnic origin. The area was divided
among a number of tribes, of which the Silures in south-east Wales and the Ordovices in
central and northwest Wales were the largest and most powerful. These two
tribes were the ones who put up the strongest resistance to the Roman invasion.
attack on the Welsh tribes was made under the legate Publius
Ostorius Scapula about 48 AD. Ostorius
first attacked the Deceangli in the north-east, who
appear to have surrendered with little resistance. He then spent several
years campaigning against the Silures
and the Ordovices. Their resistance was
led by Caratacus, who had
fled what is now southeast England when it was conquered by the Romans. He first
led the Silures, then moved
to the territory of the Ordovices, where he was
defeated by Ostorius in 51 AD. Caratacus
fled to the Brigantes, whose queen handed him over to
The Silures were not subdued, however, and waged effective
guerilla warfare against the Roman forces. Ostorius
died with his tribe still unconquered; after his death they won a victory over
the Roman Second Augusta Legion. There were no further attempts to extend Roman
control in Wales until the governorship of Caius Suetonius Paulinus, who attacked
further north and captured the island of Anglesey in 60 or 61 AD. However he
was forced to abandon the offensive to meet the threat from the rebellion of Boadicea. The Silures were
eventually subdued by Sextus Julius Frontinus in a series of campaigns ending about 78 AD. His
successor Gnaeus Julius Agricola
subdued the Ordovices and recaptured Anglesey by the
beginning of 79 AD.
occupied the whole of Wales, where they built roads and forts, mined gold and
conducted commerce, but their interest in the area was limited because of the
difficult geography and shortage of flat agricultural land. Most of the Roman
remains in Wales are military in nature. The area was controlled by legionary
bases at Deva (Chester in England) and Isca Silurum (Caerleon
in Gwent, South Wales), with roads linking these bases to auxiliary forts such
as Segontium (Caernarfon,
North Wales) and Maridunum (Carmarthen, South Wales).
Romans are only believed to have established one town in Wales, Caerwent, Gwent, South Wales (Venta Silurum). Wales was part of the Roman province of Britannia
Superior and later of the province of Britannia Prima, which also included the
West Country of England.
Roman garrison of Britain was withdrawn in 410, the various states within Wales were left self-governing. One of the reasons for
the Roman withdrawal was the pressure put upon the empire's military resources
by the incursion of barbarian tribes from the east. These tribes, including the
Angles and Saxons, were unable to make inroads into Wales, but they gradually conquered eastern and
southern Britain (which then became England), leaving Wales cut off from her Celtic relations in Scotland, Cornwall and Cumbria.
language flourishes as an official working language in Wales today. A Celtic language continued in Cumbria until the Middle Ages
but insufficient written records exist to reconstruct it. Cornish survived in Cornwall until the 18th Century and has been revived. The Anglo – Saxon advance forced many
Celts to migrate to Brittany
France and the
Breton language, which is close to Cornish, still flourishes there. Scots
Gaelic is from an earlier Celtic migration to the British Isles and is very different from Welsh.
Wales became Christian, and the "age of the
saints" (approximately 500-700) was marked by the establishment of
monastic settlements throughout the country, by religious leaders such as Saint
David, Illtud and Teilo.
kingdoms of Wales.
Wales was divided into a number of separate
kingdoms, the largest of these being Gwynedd
in North West Wales, Powys in East Wales and (from the mid 10th century, Deheubarth in the South West. Gwynedd
was the most powerful of these kingdoms in the 6th and 7th centuries, under
rulers such as Maelgwn Gwynedd
(died 547) and Cadwallon ap Cadfan (died 634) who
was able to lead his armies as far as Northumbria and control it for a period. Powys
as the easternmost of the major kingdoms of Wales came under the most pressure from the English.
This kingdom originally extended east into areas now in England, and its ancient capital. Pengwern
was on the site of modern Shrewsbury.
These areas were lost to the kingdom of Mercia. The construction of the earthwork known as Offa's Dyke (usually attributed to Offa,
King of Mercia in the 8th century) may have marked an agreed
For a single
man to rule the whole country during this period was rare. This is often ascribed
to the inheritance system practised in Wales. All sons received an equal share of their
father's property (including illegitimate sons), resulting in the division of
territories. However the Welsh laws prescribe this system of division for land
in general, not for kingdoms, where there is
provision for an edling (or
heir) to the kingdom to be chosen, usually by the king. Any son, legitimate or
illegitimate, could be chosen as edling and there
were frequently disappointed candidates prepared to
challenge the chosen heir.
The first to
rule a considerable part of Wales was Rhodri Mawr,
originally king of Gwynedd during the 9th century,
who was able to extend his rule to Powys and
Ceredigion. On his death his realms were divided between his sons. Rhodri's grandson, Hywel the
Good, formed the kingdom of Deheubarth by joining smaller kingdoms in the southwest and
had extended his rule to most of Wales by 942. He is traditionally associated with the
codification of Welsh law at a council which he called at Whitland,
the laws from then on usually being called the "Laws of Hywel". Hywel followed a
policy of peace with the English. On his death in 950 his sons were able to
keep control of Deheubarth but lost Gwynedd to the traditional dynasty of this kingdom.
Wales was now
coming under increasing attack by Viking raiders, particularly Danish raids in
the period between 950 and 1000. Godfrey Haroldson is
said to have carried off two thousand captives from Anglesey on 987, and the
king of Gwynedd, Maredudd ab Owain is reported to have
redeemed many of his subjects from slavery by paying the Danes a large ransom.
Llywelyn was the next ruler to be able to unite most
of the Welsh kingdoms under his rule. Originally king of Gwynedd,
by 1055 he was ruler of almost all of Wales and had annexed parts of England around the border. However he was defeated by
Harold Godwinson in 1063 and killed by his own men.
His territories were again divided into the traditional kingdoms.
Wales and the Normans
At the time
of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the dominant ruler in Wales was Bleddyn ap Cynfyn,
who was king of Gwynedd and Powys.
The initial Norman successes were in the south, where William Fitz Osbern overran Gwent before
By 1074 the
forces of the Earl of Shrewsbury
were ravaging Deheubarth. The killing of Bleddyn ap
Cynfyn in 1075 led to civil war and gave the Normans an opportunity to seize lands in North Wales. In 1081 Gruffydd ap Cynan, who had just won the
throne of Gwynedd from Trahaearn
ap Caradog was enticed to a meeting with the Earls of
Chester and Shrewsbury and promptly seized and imprisoned, leading to the
seizure of much of Gwynedd by the Normans. In the
south, Iestyn ab Gwrgant, the last ruler of the kingdom of Morgannwg, was deposed about 1090 by Robert Fitzhamon, lord of Gloucester, who established a lordship
based in Cardiff and subsequently conquered the lowland part of Glamorgan. Rhys ap
Tewdwr of Deheubarth was
killed in 1093 while resisting Norman encroachment in Brycheiniog,
and his kingdom was seized and divided between various Norman lordships. The
Norman conquest of Wales appeared virtually complete.
however there was a general Welsh revolt against Norman rule, and gradually
territories were won back. Gruffydd ap Cynan
was eventually able to build a strong kingdom in Gwynedd.
His son, Owain Gwynedd,
allied with Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth won a
crushing victory over the Normans
at the Battle of Crug Mawr in 1136 and annexed Ceredigion. Owain
followed his father on the throne of Gwynedd the
following year and ruled until his death in 1170.Powys also had a strong ruler
at this time in Madog ap Maredudd, but when his death in 1160 was quickly followed
by the death of his heir, Llywelyn ap Madog, Powys
was split into two parts and never subsequently reunited. In the south, Gruffydd ap
Rhys was killed in 1137, but his four sons, who all ruled Deheubarth
in turn, were eventually able to win back most of their grandfather's kingdom
from the Normans. The youngest of the four, Rhys ap Gruffydd
(The Lord Rhys) ruled from 1155 to 1193, and after Owain
Gwynedd's death led to the splitting of Gwynedd between his sons, Rhys made Deheubarth
dominant in Wales for a time.
Out of the
power struggle in Gwynedd eventually arose one of the
greatest of Welsh leaders, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, also known as Llywelyn Fawr (the Great), who
was sole ruler of Gwynedd by the end of the 12th
century and by his death in 1240 was effectively ruler of much of Wales.
Internal strife again broke out when Llywelyn's son
and successor, Dafydd ap Llywelyn died suddenly
without leaving an heir in 1246. A period of internal conflict ended in the
rise to power of Llywelyn the Great's
grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (a.k.a. Llywelyn the Last). Llywellyn's
ambition in uniting Wales under his leadership conflicted with Edward I of
England's suzerinity of Wales,
and war followed. After Llywelyn's death when he was
surprised away from his army at Cilmeri in 1282, his
brother Dafydd ap
Gruffydd continued the resistance, but was never able
gain control of any large part of Wales. He was captured in 1283 and executed by
hanging, drawing and quartering at Shrewsbury.
(North Wales) was one of a series built by Edward I to
consolidate his conquest.After passing the Statute of
Rhuddlan which restricted Welsh laws, King Edward's
ring of impressive stone castles assisted the domination of Wales, and he crowned his conquest by giving the title
Prince of Wales to his son and heir in 1301. Wales became, effectively, part of
England, even though its people spoke a different language and had a different
culture. English kings paid lip service to their responsibilities by appointing
a Council of Wales, sometimes presided over by the
heir to the throne. This Council normally sat in Ludlow, now in England but at that time still part of the disputed
reign of William the Conqueror, the border areas of Wales were ruled by the Marcher Lords who had
considerable power, held their own courts and raised their own armies. This was
effectively a colonial occupation system. These were known as the Marches of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford and lasted until the Act of Union
with England in 1536.
The county of Cheshire (England) was the Palatinate of the Earl of Chester with its own laws and parliament. A large area
of North Wales was ruled from Chester.
literature, particularly poetry, continued to flourish
however, with the lesser nobility now taking over from the princes as the
patrons of the poets. Dafydd ap Gwilym who flourished in
the middle of the 14th century is considered by many to be the greatest of the
In 1400, a
Welsh nobleman, Owain Glyn Dŵr or Owen Glendower,
revolted against King Henry IV of England. Owain inflicted a
number of defeats on the English forces and for a few years controlled most of Wales. Some of his achievements included holding the
first ever Welsh Parliament at Machynlleth and plans
for two universities. Eventually the king's forces were able to regain control
of Wales and the rebellion died out, but Owain himself was never captured. His rebellion caused a
great upsurge in Welsh identity and he was widely supported by Welsh people
throughout the country.
In 1485 Henry
Tudor landed in Wales with a small force to launch his bid for the
throne of England. Henry was of Welsh descent, counting princes
such as Rhys ap Gruffydd (The Lord Rhys) among his ancestors, and his cause
gained much support in Wales. Henry defeated King Richard III of England at the Battle of Bosworth with an army containing many Welsh
soldiers and gained the throne as King Henry VII of England.
son, Henry VIII of England, the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542 were passed,
annexing Wales to England in legal terms, abolishing the Welsh legal system,
and banning the Welsh language from any official role or status, but it
did for the first time define the England-Wales
border and allowed members representing constituencies in Wales to be elected to the English Parliament.
From the Union
to the Industrial Revolution
Henry VIII's break with Rome, Wales for the most part followed England in accepting Anglicanism, although a number of
Catholics were active in attempting to counteract this and produced some of the
earliest books printed in
Welsh. In 1588 William Morgan produced the first
complete Welsh translation of the Bible.
Wales was overwhelmingly Royalist in the Civil War in
the early 17th century and was an important source of men for the armies of
King Charles I of England, though no major battles took place in Wales. There is a record of a battle three miles from Newport in Gwent but it cannot now be ascertained
exactly where it took place. There were some notable exceptions to Royalist
support such as John Jones Maesygarnedd and the
Puritan writer Morgan Llwyd.
Education in Wales was at a very low ebb
in this period, with the only education available being in English while the
majority of the population spoke only Welsh. In 1731 Griffith Jones (Llanddowror)
started circulating schools in Carmarthenshire, held in one location for about
three months before moving (or 'circulating') to another location. The language
of instruction in these schools was Welsh. By Griffith Jones' death, in 1761, it is estimated that over
200,000 people had learnt to read in schools throughout Wales.
century also saw the Welsh Methodist revival, led by Daniel Rowland, Howell
Harris and William Williams Pantycelyn. In the early
19th century the Welsh Methodists broke away from the Anglican church and established their own denomination, now the
Presbyterian Church of Wales. This also led to the strengthening of other
nonconformist denominations, and by the middle of the 19th century Wales was largely nonconformist in religion. This had
implications for the Welsh language as it was the main
language of the nonconformist churches in Wales. The Sunday schools which became an important
feature of Welsh life made a large part of the population literate in Welsh,
which was important for the survival of the language as it was not taught in
The end of
the eighteenth century saw the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution,
and the presence of large coal deposits in south-east Wales meant that this area soon saw the establishment
of coal mines and other industries using the coal for various purposes.
In the early
19th century parts of Wales became heavily industrialised,
and the social effects of industrialisation led to
bitter social conflict between the Welsh workers and the English factory
owners. During the 1830s there were two armed uprisings, in the new town of Merthyr Tydfil in 1831, and the Chartist uprising in Newport, Gwent in 1839, led by John Frost. The Rebecca
Riots, which took place between 1839 and 1844 in South and Mid Wales were rural in origin. They
were a protest against the high tolls which had to be
paid on the local Turnpike roads.
Partly as a
result of these disturbances, a government enquiry was carried out into the
state of education in Wales. The enquiry was carried out by three English
commissioners who spoke no Welsh and relied on information from witnesses, many
of them Anglican clergymen. Their report, published in 1847 as Reports of the
commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales
concluded that the Welsh were ignorant, lazy and immoral, and
that this was caused by the Welsh language and nonconformity. This resulted in
a furious reaction in Wales, where the affair was named the Treachery of the
gained ground rapidly in the industrial areas of South Wales in the latter part of the century, accompanied
by the increasing politicisation of religious Nonconformism. The first Labour MP, Keir
Hardie, was elected for the
constituency of Merthyr in 1900. In common with many European nations, the first
movements for national autonomy began in the 1880s and 1890s with the formation
of Cymru Fydd, led by
Liberal Party politicians such as T. E. Ellis and David Lloyd George.
movement which gained strength during the 1880s was the campaign for disestablishment.
Many felt that since Wales was now largely nonconformist in religion, it
was inappropriate that the Church of England should be the
established church in Wales. The campaign continued until the end of the
century and beyond, with the passing of the Welsh Church Act 1914, which did
not come into operation until 1920, after the end of the First World War.
nineteenth century brought about a large increase in population as Wales, like the rest of the UK, largely attributable to high birth rates. In
1801 just over 587,000 people lived in Wales; by 1901, this had increased to over 2,012,000.
The most significant rises in population occurred in industrial counties -
Denbigh, Flint, (North Wales) Monmouth and Glamorgan (South Wales). The century witnessed a transition from a
society that was predominantly rural (around 80 % lived
outside urban settlements in 1800) to a largely urbanised, industrial society (in 1911, only 20 % lived in
In the early
part of the century Wales still largely supported the Liberal Party,
particularly when David Lloyd George became Prime Minister during the First
World War. However the Labour party was steadily gaining ground, and in the
years after the war replaced the Liberals as the dominant party in Wales, particularly in the industrial valleys of South Wales.
Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 but initially its growth was slow
and it gained few votes at parliamentary elections. In 1936 an RAF training
camp and aerodrome at Penyberth near Pwllheli was burnt by three members of Plaid Cymru - Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine, and D. J.
Williams. This was a protest not only against the construction of the training
camp, known as "the bombing school" but also against the destruction
of the historic house of Penyberth to make room for
and the subsequent imprisonment of the three perpetrators considerably raised
the profile of Plaid Cymru, at least in the
Wales since 1945
following the Second World War saw a decline in several of the traditional
industries, in particular the coal industry. The numbers employed in the
industry in Wales, which at its peak around 1913 employed about
232,000 men, fell from 106,000 in 1960 to 30,000 in 1979. This period also saw
the Aberfan disaster in 1966, when a tip of coal
slurry slid down to engulf a school with 144 dead, most of them children.
By the early
1990s there was only one deep pit still working in Wales. There was a similar decline in the steel
industry, and the Welsh economy, like that of other developed societies, became
increasingly based on the expanding service sector.
Wales was officially de-annexed from England within the United Kingdom in 1955, with the term "England" being replaced with "England and Wales", and Cardiff was proclaimed as the capital of Wales. Nationalism only became a major issue during
the second half of the twentieth century. In 1962 Saunders Lewis gave a radio
talk entitled Tynged yr Iaith
(The fate of the language) in which he predicted the extinction of the Welsh
language unless action was taken.
This led to
the formation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith
Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) the same year.
Nationalism grew particularly following the flooding of the Tryweryn
valley in 1965, drowning the village of Capel Celyn to create a reservoir
supplying water to Liverpool. In 1966 Gwynfor Evans
won the Carmarthen seat for Plaid Cymru
at a by-election, their first Parliamentary seat.
response to the flooding of Capel Celyn
was the formation of groups such as the Free Wales Army and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC - Welsh Defence Movement). In the years leading up to the
investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969, these groups were
responsible for a number of bomb blasts destroying water pipes and tax and
other offices. Two members of MAC, George Taylor and Alwyn
Jones, the "Abergele Martyrs", were killed
by a home made bomb at Abergele the day before the
Plaid Cymru made further gains in the 1974 General Election, and largely as a result of this, devolution became
the policy of the Labour party. However a referendum on the creation of an
assembly for Wales in 1979 led to a large
majority for the "no" vote. The Welsh Language
Act 1993 gave the Welsh language equal status with English in Wales with regard
to the public sector.
In May 1997,
a Labour government was elected with a promise of creating devolved
institutions in Scotland and Wales. In late 1997 a referendum was held on the
issue which resulted a "yes" vote, albeit by
a narrow majority. The Welsh Assembly was set up in 1999 (as a consequence of
the Government of Wales Act) and possesses the power to determine how
the government budget for Wales is spent and administered.
course of the 20th century, the population of Wales increased from just over
2,012,000 in 1901 to 2.9 million in 2001, but the process was not linear - net
out-migration caused population to fall in the economic depression of the
1930s. English in-migration became a major factor from the first decade of the
20th century, when there was net gain of 100,000 people from England. In this era, most incomers settled in the
expanding industrial areas, contributing to a partial Anglicisation
of some parts of south and east Wales. The proportion of the Welsh population able to
speak the Welsh language fell from just under 50 % in 1901 to 43.5 % in 1911,
and continued to fall to a low of 18.9 % in 1981.
century there has also been a marked increase in the proportion of the
population born outside Wales; at the time of the 2001 Census 20 % of Welsh
residents were born in England, 2 % were born in Scotland or Ireland, and 3 %
were born outside the UK. Whereas most incomers settled in industrial districts
in the early 1900s, by the 1990s the highest proportions of people born outside
found in Ceredigion, Powys, Conwy,
Denbighshire and Flintshire.
Millennium Centre, Cardiff BayThe results of the 2001
Census showed an increase in the number of Welsh speakers to 20.8% of the
population aged 3 and over, compared with 18.7% in 1991 and 19.0% in 1981. This
compares with a pattern of steady decline indicated by census results during
the 20th century.
In Cardiff the Millennium Stadium, opened in 1999, was
followed by the Wales Millennium Centre opened in 2004 as a centre for
cultural events, notably opera. The new Welsh Assembly building was completed
in February 2006.
Pages About Wales
about Wales, Welsh History
and The History of
Theosophy in Wales
Theosophy and the Great War
A General History of Wales
Chronology of Wales and the Celtic Tradition
A One Minute History of Cardiff
History of Swansea / Abertawe
Glossary of Welsh Mythology
History of Llandudno
Birthplace of Dion Fortune
Ebbw Vale / Glyn Ebwy
History of Welsh Coal Mining
History of Bangor
A Guide to Snowdon
The Highest Mountain in Wales at 3,650 ft.
On exceptionally clear days, Ireland, Northern Ireland,
Scotland, England and Wales are all visible
from the Summit
of Snowdon, as well as 24 counties,
lakes and 17 islands.
Ruthin / Rhuthun
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