of ENGLAND and WALES
BACKGROUND - Wales before the Union
At the time of the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 there was no unified country of Wales. It consisted of a conglomeration of independent kingdoms. Soon after the battle of Hastings William the Conqueror placed his own dependable Norman vassals along the border between England and Wales and encouraged them to carve out autonomous lordships for themselves at the expense of the Welsh rulers.
By the reign of Henry II (1154 - 89) they had established themselves over large areas of south and east Wales. These areas became known as the Marches of Wales and were divided up into lordships. These were like miniature kingdoms in their own right and the King of England had very limited authority in these areas.
LLEWELYN the Great, HENRY III and EDWARD I
In the thirteenth century there was a brief renaissance of Welsh power under Llewelyn ab Iorwerth ('the Great') and his grandson Llewelyn ap Gruffydd.
ARMS OF LLEWELLYN THE GREAT
In 1267 Henry III recognized Llewelyn ap Gruffydd as Prince of Wales and overlord of much of north west Wales (the 'Principality'), much to the annoyance of the Marcher Lords who were alarmed at this rival source of power.
With the death of Henry and the succession of Edward I in 1272 they were able to mount a series of military campaigns against Llewelyn until he was defeated and executed in 1282. His death marked the virtual end of political independence in Wales, and by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 the Principality of Wales became subject to the authority of the English Crown. (It soon became obvious that this was easier to establish in law than in practice.)
Edward then created a number of new lordships in north east Wales as a reward for his leading followers and divided the Principality up into three new shires of Anglesey, Caernarfon and Merioneth. To these were added the county of Flint in the north east; and in west Wales the counties of Cardigan and Carmarthen, which had been created earlier.
So Wales at this time was a curious hotch potch of English law in the shires of the Principality, and Welsh, Marcher and Norman customs in the rest of Wales. Intense rivalry existed between the shire counties of the Principality and the individual Lordships.
See Maps of Wales before Union
It's not surprising then that the next 250 years were a time of periodic disorder and violence, particularly during the early fifteenth century when Owain Glyndwr pronounced himself to be Prince of Wales and established a parliament at Machynlleth. His rebellon (1400-1405) left in it's wake widespread destruction, distress and racial hatred.
Although attempts were made by Edward IV (1471-83) and Henry VII (1485-1509) to improve the maintenance of law, they failed to subdue the anarchic Welsh and the Marcher lords, and lawlessness was rife throughout Wales.
The accession of Henry VII (1457-1509) in 1485 put Welshmen at the heart of English government. Born in Pembroke Castle, the grandson of Owen Tudor, Henry VII defeated Richard III at Bosworth field and was proclaimed rightful King of all England.
There followed a period of unrivalled peace and prosperity, and his personal fortune of over a million and a half pounds reflected the commercial prosperity his prudent policies had restored to the realm.
He surrounded himself with Welsh speaking Welshmen. Many of his compatriots jumped at the opportuniy of migrating to London and others infiltrated in considerable numbers into towns and cities in England from which they had hitherto been excluded.
These and other changes in the Welsh economy and society gave rise to an influential and ambitious Welsh gentry, who were willing to work with the Crown in order to control all aspects of their lives in their own localities. The Welsh also needed English markets to sell their cattle, wool and woollen cloth. They cast envious glances eastwards towards the shires of England where the rule of law prevailed, realising that more stability in their own community would bring greater prosperity.
During this period many of the lordships passed into the hands of the Crown, but Wales remained turbulent until Henry VIII succeeded to the throne in 1509.
With the execution of the last of the great Marcher lords, the third Duke of Buckingham, and the confiscation of his posessions Henry VIII become more powerful than any of his predecessors, with the majority of the lordships now concentrated in his hands.
Henry had seen his first marriage annulled, had married Ann Boleyn, split with Rome and established his supremacy over the church. But he feared the reactions of France and Scotland. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had been very popular in Wales and he suspected that this could be turned into support for an alliance against him with these two countries and with Spain and Ireland, where rebellion had broken out.
He needed to ensure that Wales was no threat, and that his borders there were secure. At the same time he wished to extend his authority over outlying parts of his domain and to create a unified sovereign identity.
The time was ripe for a closer association between the two countries.
NEXT PAGE - THE ACT
Bibliography : Shire County Guide to Gwent by Anna Tucker :
Historical Atlas of Britain, Editors Malcolm Falcus, John Gillingham
The Story of Monmouthshire : Arthur Clark
A History of Gwent : Raymond Howell
History of Wales : J. Graham Jones
A Shortened History of England : G.M.Trevelyan
A Short history of the Welsh people : J Hugh Edwards MP
Wales and the Act of Union : Glanmor Williams
Hanes Cymru : John Davies
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