of ENGLAND and WALES
Successive Acts of Parliament drawn up by Thomas Cromwell, secretary to Henry VIII, especially those which were passed in 1536 and 1543 formed the Act of Union of England and Wales. They fundamentally altered the way in which Wales was governed. The act of 1536, which received the royal assent on 14 April, laid down the fundamental principles by which integration would take place while the act of 1543 added the detail.
The preamble to the 1536 act drew attention to the differences in rights, laws, customs and speech between England and Wales, the King seemingly becoming aware of his 'singular zeal, love and favour' for his Welsh subjects which had not always been apparent.
But his inherited understanding of all things Welsh ensured that the process of union was a peaceful one by giving the Welsh the 'full freedoms, liberties, rights, privileges, and laws of the realm' as his subjects in England. Except in one respect.
The Act provided that all administration in Wales was to be carried on in the English language and that no one using the Welsh language 'shall have or enjoy any manner of office,' thereby creating a conflict which would last for another five hundred years.
As part of the reorganisation of the country the Marcher lordships, most of which were already in the King's hands, were abolished and formed into the counties of Brecon, Denbigh, Montgomery, Radnor and Monmouth.
These, along with all eight existing shires of Wales, were to be "incorporated, united and annexed to and with his Realm of England".
(It may be argued that what took place was actually the union of the Marches with the Principality, which was already subject to English law.)
In addition some lordships were simply attached to the existing English shires of Shropshire, Hereford and Gloucestershire, which led to some anomalies such as the transfer of Ewias Lacy to Herefordshire. This Welsh speaking region continued to speak Welsh for another 300 years, although it was officially in England. Monmouthshire, because it was legally administrated from Westminster, was later incorrectly regarded by some as being an English county.
(See History of Monmouthshire. )
The Council of Wales, which had been revived by Henry VII as an extension to Edward IV's King's Council in Wales, was continued as an administrative body with authority over not only the thirteen Welsh counties but also over Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
Click HERE for map of Wales after union.
LAW AND JUSTICE
The act introduced into Wales coherent law and justice.
For the first time Welsh people were to be represented in Parliament. In the counties the right to vote was conferred on all forty-shilling freeholders, while in the boroughs only freemen were entitled to vote.
Each shire was to elect one member, (two for Monmouthshire,) with an additional member for all the ancient boroughs within each shire, except for Merioneth.
The first members took their seats in the Tudor Parliament in 1542.
One significant change was in the law of inheritance. The Welsh custom of cyfran, by which all sons inherited equally was abolished and the English law of primogeniture, i.e inheritance by the eldest son, introduced.
While there are many people today who view the passing of the Act of Union as a disaster for both the people of Wales and the language, and while it undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on large areas of Welsh culture for some time to come, the act was generally welcomed by the majority of the literate population of the day.
It brought a great deal of stability to the country in many ways.
a) For the first time it established the territorial boundaries of Wales.
b) It created unity of administration.
c) It gave all Welsh people equality under the law with English subjects.
d) It introduced coherent, uniform law and justice.
e) By removing power from the marcher lords the act reduced lawlessness, so much so that Sir Henry Sydney (1529-86), president of the Council in the Marches was soon able to remark that:
" There are not a better people to govern anywhere in Europe than the Welsh. "
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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