Wales: History, Myth and Empire

John Winterson Richards questions the reality of our perceptions of Welsh history.

There are people in Wales who not only still believe that Winston Churchill ordered peaceful demonstrators machine-gunned in Tonypandy but make it part of an elaborate mythology on which they base their political beliefs. The purpose here is not to replace nationalist or socialist folk tales with liberal or conservative versions, but to encourage everyone to consider the extent to which their own perceptions of history have been influenced by modern subcultures.

In John Ford’s great film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a cynical newspaperman suppresses a true story with the words ‘This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.’

Wales is, of course, very much in the West. Perhaps more than any other country in the world, ours really is a Land of Myths and Legends – from Annwn and the shadowy vestiges of Ancient Celtic folklore, through Taliesin and Merlin and Arthur and the Cantre’r Gwaelod and the Mabinogion and Geoffrey of Monmouth and Owain Lawgoch and the Son of Destiny and Twm Sion Cati and Iolo Morganwg, to our contemporary myths.

A myth is the way the story comes down to us in its cultural context. As such, it is not necessarily a fable, a story that is entirely invented to make a particular point. Some myths are indeed total fabrications, but others, perhaps most, have some basis in fact, even if the tiny grain of truth at their heart has been obscured by many generations of exaggeration and adaptation.

For example, most of the tales of King Arthur and his Knights as they have come down to us are fictional. Those fictions were added to serve the cultural and ideological needs of the generations that invented them. Yet at the heart of it all, there was probably a real historical character, or, more likely, an amalgam of characters, on whom the fictional Arthur was based.

So the popular or received version of history, ancient and modern, is not necessarily wrong, but we must not forget that it comes to us through at least three separate but sequential filters.

The first filter is the initial reporting of historical events. Anyone who has ever experienced or witnessed or taken part in incidents that were later reported by the media will be familiar with the sense of unreality that can creep in when one tries to compare one’s personal recollections with the reports.

The second filter is the analysis of those reports, the primary sources, by academic researchers, who consolidate them in their books and articles, the secondary sources.

Of course, very few people actually read several hundred-page books by academics from cover to cover or leaf through back numbers of the excellent Welsh History Review. So most of the popular perception of history comes through the third filter of novels, television programmes, and feature films, supposedly based on research. Most of these adaptations involve some loss of accuracy – to put it politely.

Take, for example, a pivotal figure in Welsh history, Edward I. For every Welsh voter who has read Marc Morris’ fair-minded biography, perhaps a dozen have read the novels of Sharon Penman or Edith Pargeter, which take a rather romanticised view of the House of Gwynedd – and for every one of them perhaps a hundred know Edward only as the villain in the Mel Gibson film Braveheart.

This film really is appalling history. Mr Gibson has Longshanks, in his role of Hammer of the Scots, order a policy of systematic rape. That never happened. In reality, Edward, a pious Christian and, incidentally, a devoted husband, would have recoiled at the very idea. Yet most cinema-goers are under the impression, encouraged by studio publicity, that what they see on the screen is based on research and therefore substantially accurate.

A Hollywood producer might argue, if he could be bothered, that film is only entertainment and historical precision hardly matters. That would be disingenuous. Of course film matters. That is why it has been valued highly as a propaganda tool, not least by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who took a strong personal interest in cinema. Stalin’s pet genius, Sergei Eisenstein effectively rewrote the history of the Russian Revolution for a mass cinema audience, turning a coup into a spontaneous popular uprising.

Even where there is no deliberate propaganda, film and television are far more influential than books, because they reach a wider public and because they can have a more immediate emotional impact. Some commentators see a definite correlation between the 1995 release of the Gibson film and the rise of the SNP. Perhaps one of the reasons Welsh nationalism remains relatively anaemic is the lack of a Welsh Braveheart. The thought occurs that the story of the heroically unsuccessful Warrior-Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd might tie in nicely with the current trend for strong female protagonists.

It is fair to say that in 2015 Wales all three of these filters – news media, academia, and entertainment media – have a reddish tinge to them. While there are a few in the Welsh media and Welsh academia whose conclusions might challenge cultural and intellectual fashions, they try to keep their private convictions to themselves if they want to develop careers in sectors which are increasingly intolerant of dissenting views. There is no vast ‘left-wing conspiracy,’ just mind-numbing conformity. This is not to say that the Establishment does not include many people who make every effort to be honest and objective, but we all have our prejudices, and personal prejudices are much harder to resist when combined with organisational prejudices.

The three filters combined can have a very powerful distorting effect. Yet there is a fourth filter, which may be more influential than the other three put together. Most people tend to read, remember, and accept that history that conforms to their existing world view, and ignore or forget the rest. This can apply across the political spectrum but there are obvious psychological reasons why the tendency is more pronounced toward the collectivist end of that spectrum, which is deeply entrenched in some Welsh subcultures. Those types of personalities which tend to be attracted by a collectivist ideology are more likely to have a greater fear of exclusion from the collective if they express views which it interprets as challenging its norms. Put simply, it is very hard to be an anti-social socialist.

This explains the survival of what is probably the most influential myth in Wales, the myth of Welsh victimhood.

If people tend to accept the version of history that suits their world view, it is obviously convenient to view history in terms of oppression of the workers if one is a socialist or oppression of the Welsh if one is a nationalist – or oppression of Welsh workers if a socialist and a nationalist.

Before proceeding, we need to take a moment to clarify terms. The word ‘oppression’ is badly overused. To claim oppression is to allege something deliberate and specific, like the current persecution of Christians in the ‘Islamic State.’ To say that the lives of most of our Welsh ancestors were, in Hobbes’ words, ‘poor, nasty, brutish, and short,’ that they were overtaxed, and that they subjected to stupid, greedy, and intrusive bureaucrats is all self-evidently true – but it has also, sadly, been true of most people, especially the poor, throughout history, and still is today.

If the word ‘oppression’ is to have any real meaning, it has to signify something more than standard evils of poverty and government, and the specific myth of Welsh victimhood requires evidence of oppression of the Welsh as the Welsh. Yet when we come to examine alleged examples of that, we usually find at best only minute fragments of truth surrounded by thick layers of overstatement and misunderstanding.

In particular, one finds very little to support the notion that the English have made a deliberate and comprehensive attempt to destroy the separate Welsh language and culture from Edward I’s alleged massacre of the Bards to the ‘Welsh Not.’ The killing of the Bards is a much later fiction, and the ‘Welsh Not’ did not come from oppressors in London but from educators in Wales who, rightly or wrongly, believed honestly and sincerely that the children in their charge would fare better in life if they mastered English.

The motivation for the infamous medieval anti-Welsh laws was not primarily racial or cultural. For example, excluding native Welsh from English settlements was a sensible military precaution in a frontier zone, and apparently one poorly enforced much of the time. Similarly, establishing English common law in Welsh courts was part of a broader administrative project by the Crown, and medieval accounts do refer to the employment of interpreters.

The notion that the Conquest itself was somehow unfair is anachronistic: at the time the Welsh saw nothing wrong in fighting each other constantly, and were still hoping – rather optimistically – to drive the English out of England.

Modern myths focus on industrial more than racial conflict, but require similar footnotes. For example, Churchill’s alleged shooting of peaceful demonstrators seems to have been a conflation of the Tonypandy Riots and the Llanelli Rail Strike with the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Russia a few years before. Nor was it Lady Thatcher who ‘closed all the pits’: that was a seventy-year decline in the coal industry which began when the Royal Navy, rightly under the circumstances, converted to oil – for which Sir Winston was, as it happens, partly responsible.

Incidentally, just between us Welsh – forget what we tell the tourists – are we still pretending to lament the passing of the pits? The change was traumatic, as change often is, and it certainly could have been much better planned and managed, but, if an angel descended to offer us the chance tomorrow, how many of us would really want to go back to a time when the image of Wales was defined by deforestation, slag heaps, irremovable dirt, lung disease, strikes, and catastrophic disasters?

The irony is that Welsh nationalists in particular are missing a trick by perpetuating the myth of Welsh victimhood. One of the things that came very strongly out of last year’s Scottish Referendum is that independence requires a feeling of national self-confidence and self-reliance. Those who advocate an independent Wales might do better to drop the victim stuff and rediscover an older tradition, one with stronger roots in actual history, that of the proud, strong warrior-nation.

The myth of Welsh victimhood has had a particularly distorting effect on contemporary Welsh views of the British Empire.

Welsh critics of Imperialism tend to ignore the fact that Wales was an active participant in the Empire from the start. The first Anglo-Norman colonies in Wales were followed almost immediately by the first Cambro-Norman colonies in Ireland. The Welsh could indeed be victims of Imperialism, but they could also be beneficiaries – or both.

It is significant that the expression ‘British Empire’ is first attributed to a Welshman, and no coincidence – although other factors were also at work – that most of the great Welsh industries grew with the Empire and declined with it.

This is not the place to debate whether the good done by the Empire outweighs its evils, or vice versa. Suffice it to say that there was both good and evil done in its name, and any analysis that ignores either is missing the point.

The purpose here is simply to suggest that, in assessing the role of Wales in the Empire, we must, as we should in studying all other aspects of Welsh history, be on guard against being influenced unduly by personal, organisational, or fashionable political opinions.

It is unfair and unreasonable to judge our ancestors by prevailing contemporary standards. To say this is not an endorsement of ‘moral relativism’ but a plea for humility. For example, most of us today would agree that racism and slavery – and, above all, racist slavery – are morally indefensible, but, since most of us agree, how can we be certain that we are not simply agreeing because we are going along with the conventional opinion of our age and might therefore have gone along with the conventional opinion of another age when it was the opposite of what it is now?

Imperial occupations really ought to be judged relatively to what went before, to the likely alternatives on offer at the time, and to what happened afterwards. Wales before the English Conquest was not some serene bucolic idyll but a singularly violent place, and it would almost certainly have remained so had the English never invaded.

Both before and after the Conquest, medieval Welshmen often looked to the Crown for protection against local oppressors, whether fellow Welshmen or Marcher Lordships. The Glyn Dwr Rising was the consequence of a refusal of that protection at a time when a new regime in London was too politically vulnerable to intervene. Owain Glyn Dwr’s first instinct had been to apply to the Royal Courts for redress of his complaints against Lord Grey of Ruthyn and it was shock at the unexpectedly rude response that led to his rebellion.

In general, although there are exceptions, it is hard to deny that the central Imperial authority in London was more often that not a moderating force against local authorities throughout the history of the Empire.

Finally, there is the point made eloquently in Monty Python’s Life of Brian when Judean rebels complaining about their Roman oppressors are forced to qualify their complaints with a very long list of good things the Romans had done or brought with them. The same has to be said of the British Empire.

For every Cecil Rhodes, there were tens of thousands of district officers, missionaries, health workers, engineers, and others, many of them Welsh, who dedicated – and often lost – their lives to bringing law and order, education, medicine, sanitation, and railways, among many other benefits, to distant peoples who needed them, with little or no hope of personal reward, at least in this life.

In any case, we must all agree on one thing about the Empire: it is over. This has led some of those who view Wales as the first English colony to conclude that the Union should also be over. Yet that ignores the fact that Wales was never a passive object of Empire but an active and integral part of the whole Imperial project, and must therefore assume its share of both the blame and the credit.

All this matters because if we can confront our history as it really is, then we challenge the mythology sustaining the blind, irrational tribalism that is the curse of modern Welsh politics.

As Wales drifts towards ever greater autonomy, the need to develop a proper, mature democratic polity and civic culture becomes more urgent. Our future depends on our understanding our past.

John Winterson Richards is the author of If It Ain’t Broke: The Case Against Constitutional Reform of the United Kingdom. He is also co-author of The Context of Christ: the History and Politics of Judea and Rome, 100 BC – 33 AD. Both are available on Amazon Kindle.

26 thoughts on “Wales: History, Myth and Empire

  1. The article would be strengthened by a recognition that the hegemony of Unionism, British nationalism, is itself built on a messy mix of myth and superstition. Pretending that modern Britain was built on liberal politics which assumes people are inherently rational, self-interested individuals unhindered by group allegiances and identities does not wash. We need to recognise the power of narrative and belonging in politics. The challenge to Unionism is not to try to dismiss civic nationalism as popularist group think, putting rational belief in its place, but to try to reform itself and offer a new vision of what the UK is for. How about a look at what’s holding British nationalism together and the empty whole in politics where a civic English nationalism has yet to emerge.

  2. interesting piece, thank you – which Welshman would you say coined the term British Empire?

    and how much of the pro ‘Welsh Wales’ argument is an attempt to differentiate Wales and (some) Welsh from Britain and Britishness?

  3. Life is too short to spend time criticising athis very poor and subjective view of Welsh history? It’s clear that John Winterson Roberts has a a particular view of history and this is illustrated by his comment that the exclusion of the Welsh from English towns was a ‘sensible’ military precaution as if somehow we should be grateful for it? The Welsh not was imposed by local educators for understandable reasons he tells us and not the fault of English xenophobia. He fails to mention the Westminster commissioned and directed Blue Books from which many educators took their lead. Mr Winterson Roberts very cleverly uses the excellent argument against the use of myths and their interpretation to propagate a political aim to develop his own myths and interpretations to revalue the actions of imperialism as a being a worthwhile, if problematic exercise!! It seems that weighing every argument he actually thinks the colonisation and rape of half the world by a bunch of robbing thieves was actually a good thing and the Welsh should be proud and embrace their participation in this vile imperialism. I guess we should also be grateful that we are helped to see that Edward the 1st was not a war loving, bloodthirsty mass murderer but indeed a pious Christian , who loved his wife. I gather Hitler was very was kind to dogs as well?

  4. Interesting article and surely very much required reading for all those employed by BBC Wales.

    However, we need to drill down on one fundamental aspect of history. ‘Wales’ as a term was never used to express a defined territory, landmass or area of population. And most certainly not ‘a country’!

    Re-write history without relying on this fundamental error and you will see how illusory the concept of a Welsh nation.

  5. Mr Winterson Richards,

    I don’t want to reply to the many points in this, because I do not have expertise in Welsh history, but you did bring up Winston Churchill on two occasions and it was used as part of your theme here. All that I can say here is that I had a grandfather who was on strike and in Tonypandy at the time of the riots. He was not overtly political and had no axes to grind, but he relayed his account to me of the riots from the time that I was very young and it clearly left a big mark on him personally. I believe his account absolutely and much more than I would any professor of history who wasn’t there. To me the facts are that shots were definitely fired on the strikers and several people were killed (the official account says that only one person died) – I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that opening fire on the strikers was a fact, because I believe the source absolutely. I have since read about accounts of the riots and the notion that Churchill ordered troops to stop at Swindon and it was the Welsh establishment, sheriffs/judiciary, constabulary whatever the titles that then ordered them to act. It seems to me to be conveniently aportioning responsibility elsewhere. The truth is that Churchill was very concerned about stopping the strike and ordered the soldiers to start their journey for the purpose of surpressing the strikers and in my mind whatever is said afterwards is irrelevant – he was responsible for a grotesque act that even managed to shock the very hardened people of that time.

    The fiction is trying to rewrite this out of our history and make out that Welsh people were simply trying to make propaganda out of this. My grandfather was not political and did not get on his soapbox to tell the world about it. Quite simply it did happen and Churchill was ultimately responsible for it. Churchill has absolutely no right to the claim of the greatest ever Britain and we should be angry about what happened in Tonypandy.

  6. Excuse some of my spelling errors – Britain etc, not Briton – as soon as I read this I had to respond, because it means that much to me. It is important that this particular historical event is not rewritten to simply to preserve the reputation of Mr Churchill.

  7. The problem is less a misunderstanding of our history than a wholesale ignorance of it – however you choose to interpret it. Take all the historical figures mentioned in JWR’s piece, go on the street and ask a random selection of the voters what they know about any of them. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Yet in some ways the post-literate culture resembles the pre-literature culture. All most people know of the past is a few orally-transmitted stories.

  8. “In particular, one finds very little to support the notion that the English have made a deliberate and comprehensive attempt to destroy the separate Welsh language and culture”

    yet they are allowed to teach this poison in Welsh language lessons in schools across Wales unchecked. We have thankfully outlawed every other type of race hate… but it seems we are still allowed to ramp up tensions by lying to schoolchildren and blaming the death of the Welsh language on ‘the dreaded English’. Never mind the fact that ‘the dreaded English have been coughing up £100 million a year for S4C for the past 35 years.

  9. We are asked to confront our history and our myths, from Arthur to “Welsh Not.” Prof. Gwyn Alf Williams did that in a spirited way with “When Was Was Wales?” The late John Davies cleared away several cobwebs a few years later – in Welsh and in English, and Rees Davies with Owain Glyndwr. It’s not a matter of confronting, but continuing to inquire and reflecting on the myths and the facts handed down to us, patient hours at the National Library of Wales and similar institutions, and above all, a willingness to “join the dots” by looking outward beyond London and Westminster, networking and collaboration.

    A consideration of Arthur of the Welsh and Y Mabinogion leads to questions regarding the evolution of the tales from the post-Roman period to the imposition of Norman rule in the Marches, the Western Seaways as cultural pathways, or consideration of Brysaithmarchog as a defensive site in the upper Clwyd Valley. Check the local archaeology. Myth merges into hard fact, and enlivens our appreciation and understanding of landscapes and seascapes. The Irish and the Scandinavians, as fellow seafarers in time, are ahead of Wales in this field.

    “Welsh Not” remains a question to be explored and debated in grater detail, and propaganda separated from investigation and evaluation of teaching practices at the time. An investigation of school inspectors reports to Westminster and Whitehall from the 1860’s suggests more than subtle pressure on teachers and pupils to avoid use of the Welsh language in classroom and playground. Research into the professional development of a newly minted graduate from Bangor Normal College in the early 1860’s revealed a willingness to adapt a syllabus written entirely in English by a London based organization known as the British School Society. This in Talysarn and Rhosllanerchrugog before passage of the Education Act in 1870 . The established church had its own syllabus (and political agenda), including the catechism, again in English, with apparently little organizational patience for compromise in the use of English in the classroom. This in Cynwyd, which was in the news recently regarding the language.

    The pathways that I follow in the exploration of Welsh history are probably unconventional and certainly pedestrian. Many trackways are clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps, however. Better to walk the trackways like Robert Macfarlane, muse on the words that describe communities and the landscape, and discover a richness that begs for interpretation and the re-telling of stories.

  10. Yes. Fascinating look at modern Wales and the modern Welsh myth. Strangely enough I raised this issue only a day ago over on Roger Scully’s blog, Elections in Wales.

    What prompted me was the vote on bombing in Syria. Our Welsh politicians, with just a few exceptions, all rejected the call to bomb IS in Syria. Similarly the Welsh Blogosphere repeated the view that we in Wales reject aggression and the use of the armed forces. I was wondering if a poll would actually find that a large majority of Welsh people would agree with their own elected representatives. As chance would have it the Western Mail asked just that question in a YouGov poll and found that the majority of Welsh people who responded agreed with the launching of a bombing campaign in Syria:-

    The poll also found that we in Wales were less tolerant towards immigration than elsewhere in the UK.
    It calls to mind Leanne Wood’s claim that UKIP was un-Welsh and the noble Lord’s response that if people in Wales voted UKIP then UKIP are as much Welsh as any other party. One other prevalent myth that goes unchallenged is that Welsh is the language of Wales and that there is no culture other than the culture surrounding the Welsh language. The recent Welsh language use survey showed some uncomfortable truths; more than half of Welsh speakers prefer to use English and another 26% had no preference either way. Only 20% were more comfortable speaking Welsh. Despite all the evidence that Welsh isn’t very much in demand we get this:-

    Employment of 40 Welsh speakers in Cardiff. What’s the matter with the rest of the Welsh people in Cardiff….don’t they deserve employment?
    I have just spent a happy hour in our new monolith in Bangor, the Pontio centre. All Welsh speaking staff….and all speaking Welsh amongst themselves as you would expect. The only trouble is that, while I was there, not one customer addressed the staff in the restaurant, reception or bar in Welsh. Why? Well it’s simple really, the students Union is in the building and most students are not Welsh speakers and, contrary to what you would expect, Bangor and area isn’t particularly Welsh speaking; the ward that is home to Pontio has only 19% of its resident population of over 4000 able to speak Welsh and you can halve that percentage during university term time. Could Pontio not find just one or two jobs for a non Welsh speaker….was it really necessary to have ALL Welsh speaking staff?

    Of course the myth has precedence; Gwynedd has no non Welsh speakers; all Welsh speakers become victims the moment that they are spoken to in English and so we go on disadvantaging 90% of our population because we cannot confront the truth.

  11. “Our future depends on our understanding our past”.

    Sadly from a Welsh perspective, the teaching of the history of Wales has long been neglected in our schools.

  12. A very welcome article. Wales is indeed held back by the ‘we are victims’ mentality and we did play a significant role in the activities of the empire – warts and all. However, I also agree with one of the responses that not mentioning ‘British’ nationalism in the context of Wales, gives a little imbalance. As far as the language is concerned, I believe that from the perspective of the current media (in all its forms). it has never been under such threat. The all-encompassing influence of English in the digital age is threatening far more robust languages than Welsh, so it is of credit to Wales that it is still very much a living language.

    As for Karen’s brief comment, I suggest that she reads ‘History of Wales’ by John Davies; a book which I suggest gives the clearest view of the history of our nation – without too many ‘flights of fancy’.

  13. It’s funny – I was expecting to read more comments questioning an acquiescence in imperialism. The cancer persists, evidently.

    Whilst it is good to have a counterintuitive piece like this – especially reminding us of the constant rewriting of history to reflect contemporary contexts – the author presupposes that we see Winston Churchill as a man with at least some redeeming features, and the word British as meaning anything other than English (etymology notwithstanding).

    The Goon Show, in its heyday, used to mock the whole idea of ‘British Prestiege’ as an anachronism. In recent years, though, everything must now conform to New Britishness, celebrating homogeniety and groupthink – even newspeak. They’ve even invented a British ‘nation’ – across the nation – nationwide – the nation decides – etc. etc. (This is the elusive English civitas, though, is it not?). Britishness is a borrowed suit for us non-English to stand at the table, cap in hand. Where is Peter Sellers when you need him?

    I agree, though, that there is no room for playing victim. As Bob said… ‘Get up! Stand up!’

  14. Reading this article I am left wondering whether we are still in Wales walking around wearing loincloth and brandishing a spear. As if medieval history in England was a rose garden and full of civility and an upstanding a civic society. As bloodthirsty and vile as anywhere else.
    Having re read the excellent book “The fight for Welsh Freedom by the late Dr Gwynfor Evans I am at a loss who has the right narrative. I think I know.

    The whole case of Wales built on the myth and tall stories cited the Winston Churchill experience in the Rhondda at the beginning of the article has been dismissed by Aledf as phoney mischief. Self serving to people like Karen who refer to Wales as an illusionary Nation. Where has that come from prey tell. Is it cynicism or prejudice or both of the extreme kind that these article help feed.
    Is there really elaborate mythology on which we base our political beliefs or is it convenient to do so in story telling and little else or reality the modern subcultures. If so the idea of modern sub cultures applies to other areas of England and particularly the old coal mining areas and those deprived and disadvantaged.
    The argument of elaborate myth is pure theatre.
    I see the four filters operating with great effect and the power of the TV programmes and feature films
    conveying historical dramas as what really happened. There’s never a warning that most is invented and commercialised for viewing figures and sales. They have great potency just like the London based media. I see it the same. Often distorted. The only difference is London centric news is daily.

    I liked your kindly reference to Edward I . I am sure he was the considerate sovereign you depict with a love and benefactor of the Celtic nations. Let’s have nothing said about his reign.

    The idea of collectivism is not new with the behaviour of the majority in a sub culture given to collectivism as a wide spread trait in society. There are deemed psychological reasons deeply entrenched into the Welsh subculture as with other subcultures where there is a fear of isolation and exclusion if at odds with basic doctrines. It takes courage and self belief to go against prevailing mores. It’s not just a Welsh thing but none the less irritatingly neutral, stale and defeatist. Yes it’s hard to be anything but socialist. A dose of change behaviour and the freezing of attitude then a unfreezing into daylight is needed. I suggest strong leadership and the message of hope set against new horizons with more than a dash of flair to communicate in the modern vernacular to as wide an audience as possible. Otherwise build bridges between all sectors as an inclusive package.

    Your history of the Welsh Not and why it was introduced so as to advantage the children under their care is mildly laughable and is a contradiction to your belief in the passivise nature of senior established figures not wishing to rock the boat. The educationalists of the day would naturally pay homage to the ruling elite in London as a means of seeking favour and to appease. Might also be a thought about advancement and a knighthood! I did like your reference to the non racial or cultural issues regarding the medieval anti Welsh laws. The reason why you suggest of a medieval account of interpreters at courts as some how a be an indication of how generous it all seems to Welsh life was because many if not all couldn’t speak English,
    It needed them to ensure those before it could be heard.

    The major play is given to victim hood. It’s where I start to begin to understand the direction of flow of the arguememt to make things better going forward. A chip on the shoulder is worse than a monkey on the shoulder . I warmed to its dropping in favour of rediscovery of an old tradition one with stronger roots in actual history , that proved a strong warrior-nation.

    The issue of the cause for the uprising by Owain Glyndwr seems facile in such a strong campaign with notable successes as a spat with Lord Grey of Ruthin because a complaint was not heard .
    The facts are that Wales was a nation before England , it’s language is the oldest in the UK, it’s culture in literature, poetry, music and men /women of renown , particularly Gwenllian the warrior is significant and compares with any other nation of small in size.

    There is hope and your end comments about the drift ( and it is drift ) into this new era of devolution where the #Draft Wales Bill 2015 offers contradictions, confusion and a mighty hand of Westminster refusing to let go and as a consequence has made it unworkable. Signs nothing has changed from medieval times and , for the record, a Bill made in England with no consultation with the Welsh Government .

    Yes we need to develop a mature democratic polity and civic culture becomes more urgent , and that our future depends on understanding our past. We are creatures of our past but when you begin your article with reference to the debacle with Winston Churchill in the Rhondda as more myth than truth then Aledf
    destroyed your fantasy or an otherwise controversial but interesting if amusing narrative.
    The main message I take from this all is the reference made that if we cannot confront our history as it really is then we challenge the myth /dogma that sustains the blind,irrational tribalism that is the curse of modern Welsh politics. It hurts many of us who witness this behaviour but cannot find a solution to it or even dent it.
    Unless there is a change to the first past the post electoral system progressive parties will suffer.

    As a finish I refused to be drawn on the Margret Thatcher references and her fight with the coal miners
    I know of no one who ankers for the opening of coal mines in Wales. We are still blighted by open cast mining to want to open a deep mine. Further with global warming we are seeking to reduce the use of such means as fosil fuel burning as an energy policy. It’s regressive to think so. But are are products of our past and glad it’s so.

  15. A useful corrective. Wales, Scotland and Ireland have all made an industry out of victimhood. The mythologies which have taken root are unhelpful in creating societies where people are at ease with themselves and able to interact with the wider world on terms of equal respect. “Mind-numbing conformity” goes hand-in-hand with financial dependence on handouts from the enemy in Westminster. It is not a happy recipe.

    Compare with Finland, a country which has suffered at least as many historical wrongs as any of the Celtic nations – including a 19th-century famine of at least equal severity to the Irish one. The Finns steadfastly refused to cast themselves as victims, though it would be very easy for them to do so. They understand that if you assume that everything is someone else’s fault, you make it very difficult to tackle the challenges facing you. Perhaps there are some lessons there for Wales.

  16. Thank you all for your comments. Sorry that lack of space prevents replying to all in detail as they deserve.

    Russell, yes, absolutely, there are British mythologies as well as Welsh mythologies, and the same cautions apply to them too.

    Hywel, the expression ‘British Empire’ is generally attributed to John Dee or Ddu, who was of Welsh origin. Fact-checking before submitting this article, I found an indirect reference to its earlier use by the Welsh antiquarian and MP Humphrey Llwyd, but, since my library does not include a copy of his ‘Commentariorioli Britannicae Descriptionis Fragmentum,’ I have not been able to verify this, nor is there mention of it in the catalogue of Dee’s library, even if it is extremely likely that he was aware of Llwyd’s work. Either way, it was a Welshman.

    Sharon, although my own view is that independence is not currently the best option for Wales, I think we agree that independence, if and when it comes, is better based on confidence in the future than on resentment of past wrongs, real or imagined.

    Aled, filial piety – a commendable Welsh tradition – obliges you to support your grandfather, but my fact-checking before submission found no evidence to contradict the version generally accepted by historians, even those critical of Churchill.

    Mr Tredwyn, although it is perhaps equally disconcerting for both of us when this happens, I agree strongly with every word of your comment.

    Ken, it is reassuring that there are people like you exploring the byways of Welsh history. There is much to be discovered, perhaps a whole civilisation in the misnamed ‘Dark Ages.’

    Rees, I agree, and, even when it is taught, what is taught and the way it is taught is rarely calculated to appeal to young minds. This is a doubly a pity because I think they would love it if they were given the good stuff.

    Richard, Norway, occupied for much of her history but holding no grudges, is also a good role model. Then there is Switzerland, another mountain land, relatively poor until fairly recently and, like Wales and contrary to Orson Welles’ brilliant ‘Cuckoo Clock Speech,’ no stranger to war, but brimming with national self-confidence.

  17. If we are going to undertake a little myth-busting, how about the British royal establishment acknowledging that Wales was never a principality and that post-conquest princes of Wales never ruled Wales in any meaningful way and it’s about time that grubby little spoil of conquest – the title prince of Wales – was consigned to the rubbish heap once and for all?

  18. Brilliant piece of work probably only understood by balanced unbiased minds. Most of the proto nationalists’ will hate it because it takes their little toys and dreams away.
    The truth for the future of Wales is even greater than its past the moment that people understand that the real future for Wales lay in a reformed Union of equal peoples strengthening the legacy of Empire that is the Commonwealth. This world body of 53 nations is the Empires true world benefit. Stretching over 5 continents and offering up an alternative to Chinese, American, European, Russian dogma. It has a combined gdp greater than china and over twenty of the worlds fastest growing economies, with all the worlds resources, and market for Welsh business and prosperity through the Union of 3 billion people. Almost half of its citizens are under 25 years old. Many of these countries you would have thought would have ditched us and hated us after Empire. You will find to your great shock that it is quite the reverse and what we achieved despite the bad things was truly monumental. Its why a non empire country has now applied to join the Commonwealth and why many more are also looking to do so. Most of our trade is now coming from this source not the EU. Our domestic problem is old style politics and thinking, that like the EU and the Euro is crushing the life out of our enterprise to create prosperity and equality. Check out the Commonwealth website and the Royal Commonwealth Society website and see for yourself the fantastic things that this family of nations with a common bond are achieving, some 20,000+ organisations in every aspect of life working across the world many of the people involved are Welsh. Incidentally on a private note my nephew who boasts of his Welshness started as a clerk in a Cardiff Bank and is now a Director of the second biggest bank in the world a German one. So the moan that if your Welsh you cannot get on is utter drivel. Life is down to the Individual to take control of. Too many people want someone else to sort their lives out for them. But well done John

  19. In any case, we must all agree on one thing about the Empire

    Finally someone able to admit that the Empire is over. The problem with our history is it’s been hijacked by the Union Jack waving, Daily Mail reading class, who have turned our history into nationalist propaganda and turned hero worship of Churchill and WWII into a national obsession. A media who will turn on any objective assessment of Churchill as treason. As Churchill himself said, history would be kind to him as he would write it. The Empire is gone, we had a good history for all the good that will do us, but now its time to put all that behind us and move on and reorganise the UK as a more federal and equal society.

  20. Where do you start with Mr Richard’s take on Welsh history? It would be interesting to have a real authority on Welsh history, take apart this article, which appears to be no more than a work motivated by pure ideology, rather than one backed up by referenced facts. However, if Mr Richards is so sure of his facts then he might want to try and submit a longer version of his article to a peer reviewed journal?

    Finally, I must admit that even though I am well-read when it comes to history, I have to confess that after reading Mr Richard’s assertion that “excluding native Welsh from English settlements was a sensible military precaution in a frontier zone”, it struck me that this was the first (and hopefully the last) time I had ever read an attempt, to in any way, justify ethnic cleansing.

  21. Regardless of whether or not this article is trying to justify excluding the Welsh from towns, the “English-only” town in Wales is mostly a myth.

    Virtually all medieval Welsh towns contained at least some Welsh property owners from the very beginning. In at least half of towns, the majority of property owners were Welsh, even in colonial towns such as Aberystwyth.

    The only town that did exclude the Welsh was Caernarfon, which was the centre of English administration in Wales.

    There was some expulsion of Welsh inhabitants during the Glyndwr rebellion but this was only in a few places and temporary.

    See Matthew Stevens, Anglo-Welsh Towns of the Early Fourteenth Century. In Helen Fulton (Ed.), Urban Culture in Medieval Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012 and Matthew Stevens, Urban Assimilation in Post Conquest Wales (University of Wales Press, 2010).

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