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Monnow bridge
MONMOUTHSHIRE - Gateway to Wales
A short history
Y Ddraig Goch


Gwyllt Walia ydwyt tithau, Mynwy gu
Dy enw'n unig a newidiaist ti.

(Wild Wales art thou still, Dear Monmouth,
Thy name only hast thou changed.)



The old county of Monmouthshire was situated in the south east corner of Wales.
It was bounded on the east by the river Wye (which is also the boundary between England and Wales), and on the south by the Severn estuary.

The western and northern boundaries are less clearly defined geographically.

In the west the county border was formed partly by the river Rhymney and partly by the ridge running between the Rhymney and Sirhowy valleys.
To the north the boundary ran eastwards from Rhyd-y-Milwr, over the Sugar Loaf mountain and then followed the river Monnow almost to the point where it flows into the Wye.


It was named Monmouthshire after the name of the town which stands at the confluence of the Monnow and the Wye. Controlled by a Roman garrison from the 1st century AD to 400; by the Celts until the Norman invasion; then by Breton Lords until 1256, the town, (as opposed to the county,) of Monmouth can track nearly 2,000 years of uninterrupted development and boasts an impressive list of eminent names in its long history.

Monmouth is an abbreviation of Monnow-mouth, Monnow originally deriving from the Welsh Myn-wy (myn - swift, wy - water), thus combining both English and Welsh elements. (The Monnow bridge is pictured above.)
The Welsh name for the county is Sir Fynwy, (Sir, pronounced "Seer", is Welsh for county and Fynwy is a soft mutation of Mynwy).


There has long been a dispute about whether Monmouthshire was actually in Wales or in England.
But the majority of people who lived there were in no doubt about where their allegiance lay - with Wales, despite the fact that during the nineteenth century there was a tremendous influx of English migrants who came to work in the mines and iron works which sprang up in the upper reaches of the valleys.
Most of the original inhabitants then were Welsh speaking and proud of their Welsh heritage. After only a few generations most of the English speaking immigrants came to regard themselves as being Welsh too.
There is confusion, however, about the status of the county. Within living memory even official documents sometimes referred to "England, Wales and Monmouthshire", and myths abound, including the one that Monmouthshire changed hands between Wales and England every hundred years.
With this in mind it is worth looking a little closer about how the county came to be created.



After the death of Llywelyn in 1282 the Principality of Wales came under the control of Edward I. The Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) created the administrative areas that became the shires of Anglesey, Caernarfon, Flint, Merioneth, Cardigan and Carmarthen. The rest of what is now Wales remained outside the King's authority in the hands of the Norman/English Marcher lords. In terms of administration and law they were largely independent of each other and of the Crown. Click HERE for maps of Wales in 1284 and1399.


Henry V, victor at the battle of Agincourt, was born in Monmouth Castle on August 9th 1387.


At the time of the accession of Henry VII (a Welshman) after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and with the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty there had been little change, although some Marcher lordships had passed into the hands of the King. But Monmouthshire still did not exist - it was composed of different lordships.


Successive monarchs had failed to subdue the anarchic Welsh and the Marcher lords until Henry VIII passed the Act of Union in 1536.
Henry's fears about the power of the Marcher Lords grew after his break with the Catholic church in 1534. Some of these Marcher Lords were supporters of the Pope and Henry was worried that they might rebel against him. Henry was also warned that Catholic monarchs in France and Spain might try to invade England by landing their soldiers on the poorly defended coasts of Wales. To protect himself against this possibility. Henry decided to take control of the whole of Wales.

As part of the reorganisation of the country the Marcher lordships were formed into the counties of Brecon, Denbigh, Montgomery, Radnor and Monmouth, which along with all eight existing shires of Wales, were to be "incorporated, united and annexed to and with his Realm of England".

This meant either that there were now thirteen counties in the unified country of Wales, or that all Welsh counties, including the existing eight, were now part of England. There was no differentiation between Monmouthshire and the other counties. Section 3 of the Act, which brought Monmouthshire into being, states explicitly that the shire is being formed out of lands "in the Country of Wales" It's illogical to believe that the draftees of the Act of Union would have purposely created four Welsh counties and one English one in the creation of the new unified country of Wales.

It is important to note that prior to 1536 the lands that were to make up Monmouthshire were never legally a part of England.

Click HERE for a map of Wales after the Union


The confusion which caused a differentiation between Monmouthshire and the other counties of Wales was due to the Act of 1542 when English Common Law was made applicable to the whole of Wales. This gave a statutory foundation to the Court of the Council of the Marches, and justice and administration for Wales were vested in the officers of a new court - the King's Great Session in Wales.

The Great Session for Wales was organised into four circuits, each consisting of three counties, and which would each have two justices.

1) The justices of north Wales held courts twice annually for six days in the three shire towns of Anglesey, Caernarfon and Merioneth.

2) The justices of Chester did the same for Flint, Denbigh and Montgomery.

3) Similarly circuits in the south included Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, and the last,

4) Glamorgan, Breconshire, and Radnorshire.

Which left the thirteenth county, Monmouthshire, which did not fit mathematically with the others.
So by reason of geographic proximity (nearest part of Wales to London) - it came under the jurisdiction of the Courts of Chancery and Exchequer at Westminster. Ecclesiastically, though, the county remained in the diocese of Llandaff and culturally, linguistically and in every other respect continued to be Welsh.

(There were certain advantages to this arrangement. One of these was that Monmouthshire was allowed to send two Knights to Parliament like English counties unlike the other Welsh counties which returned only one.) In the reign of Charles II Monmouthshire was included in the Oxford circuit, together with Oxford, Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford.

For more on the Act of Union see ACT OF UNION


The question of the status of the county did not arise until the late Victorian period with the increasing Anglicization of the area. Some of the local gentry, like the dukes of Beaufort established family seats in England and abandoned Wales altogether. At the same time many industrialists came to Monmouthshire from England and remained English in their outlook, particularly in the eastern part of the county. For these and others with social aspirations all things English became desirable while those things Welsh were not. As a consequence, there was an attempt to refine what might best be described as the Myth of Monmouthshire - the notion that the administrative anachronisms in the Act of Union had in some way made the county non-Welsh. The distinction implied in the description " Wales and Monmouthshire " was nurtured, and was gradually accepted on the English side of the border, with a degree of official sanction being given to the notion.


The county retained the name of Monmouthshire until the reorganisation of local government in April 1974 when the new county of Gwent was created along roughly the same boundaries as the "old" county of Monmouthshire .

To all intents and purposes the new county of Gwent replaced the old county of Monmouthshire in every respect.

(see Red dot Footnote)


Gwent was then broken up in a further reorganisation of local government in 1996 and replaced by five Unitary Authorities.

Of these new authorities one is called (incredibly) MONMOUTHSHIRE, which is administrated from Cwmbran and includes Monmouth, Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Usk.
The "new" Monmouthshire is by far the largest authority by area but is less populous than the others.

The other four are:

CAERPHILLY/CAERFFILI * Comprising Caerphilly and the Rhymney valley, (which used to be over the border in Glamorgan ) combined with the former Gwent borough of Islwyn, i.e the Blackwood, Pontllanfraith, Abercarn and Risca areas.

(Oakdale is in this new County Borough.)

BLAENAU GWENT, which covers Tredegar, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery, Nantyglo and Blaina.

TORFAEN The Pontypool area, including Blaenafon and Cwmbran.

The County Borough of NEWPORT. (Newport is the largest town in the area.)
* See Red dot Footnote 2 for pronunciations



1) William Shakespeare, writing in 1599 - 57 years after the Act of Union, had no doubt that Monmouth was in Wales. In a scene in Henry V before the Battle of Agincourt there is the following dualogue:
(Fluellen) "....and I do believe, your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon St Tavy's day.
(King Henry) I wear it for a memorable honour; For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman." Henry, as we have seen, was born in Monmouth

2) In 1549 Edward VI granted a Charter to Monmouth which was described as being "in the Marches of Wales". The following writers describe Monmouthshire as being in Wales: Humphrey Llwyd (History of Cambria 1568); Churchyard (Worthiness of Wales 1587); Drayton (Polyolbion 1613); Enderbie (1666); and Doddridge (Historical Account of the Prince of Wales 1714.) In the reign of James I (1603-25), Camden and John Jones of Gelli Llyfdy wrote of "..the thirteen counties of Wales" and evidently included Monmouthshire in Wales.

3) Until the Industrial Revolution the dominant language in the county was Welsh. For instance, in 1815 half the inhabitants of Blaenafon could speak no English at all. By 1841 61% of the population of the town were still speaking Welsh, although the vast majority were bilingual by then, and even in the middle 1890s over 60% of the population in the western valleys were speaking Welsh.

4) Laws which were peculiar to Wales and which did not apply in England always included Monmouthshire, e.g.

a) Acts of Parliament referring to Welsh education such as the Welsh
Intermediate Education Act of 1889 included Monmouthshire in their provisions.
b) The Licensing Act enforcing Sunday closing applied to Monmouthshire
along with the rest of Wales from 1920 on, but did not apply to England.
c) Monmouthshire was included in the Welsh Cemeteries Act 1908
5) The Church of Wales came into being in 1920, when the disestablished church severed its links with Canterbury, and the Diocese of Monmouth was created in 1921 as part of that church.

6) In sport Monmouthshire players have always been eligible to play for Wales. (Try telling the famous Pontypool front row of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Charlie Faulkner that they should have played for England !!!!!)


So, to sum up :

The County of Monmouthshire has always had exactly the same status as any other Welsh county, i.e it has always been in Wales.

For the purpose of legal administrative convenience only, Monmouthshire was appended to the English counties, which gave rise to the belief by some that it was "in England". Strangely, the same people ignore the fact that Cheshire was included in the Welsh legal system - but that didn't make it a Welsh county!

Those who persist in maintaining that Monmouthshire was, and still should be in England should ask themselves the question : "WHEN, and WHY was Monmouthshire created?" (In line with the English Democrats stance of 'returning' Monmouthshire to England, thirteen English Democrat candidates contested the 2007 Welsh Assembly elections in the South East Wales region, and the constituencies of Monmouth, Newport East and Newport West. The party received 0.9% of the vote on the regional list, and between 2.2% and 2.7% in the three constituencies, failing to have any members elected.)

And a final thought. Present day Monmouthshire was once a small part of Gwent, which was formerly called Monmouthshire, part of which was originally called -
Gwent !

Confusing, isn't it?

See also BBC History and
Blaenau Gwent


Wales map Red dot Footnote : The name Gwent was a reversion to a much older name which originally applied to the district enclosed by the Usk, the Wye, the Monnow and the sea. The old Kingdom of Gwent was absorbed by a new larger Kingdom of Glywysing in the 7th and 8th centuries, but in the 11th century intruding dynasties revived Gwent and the contracting Glywysing became known as Morgannwg, later Glamorgan.

Gwent was divided into two areas, Gwent Iscoed (Gwent, or field, below the wood) and Gwent Uwchcoed (Gwent above the wood.)

Red dot Footnote 2: Welsh pronunciation is quite difficult for non Welsh speakers but we'll try:
CAERPHILLY (k-eye-r-filly), ISLWYN (iss-lo-wn), BLAENAU GWENT (bl-aye-no gwent), TORFAEN (tor-vaeen).

If you have speakers attached to your computer you can listen to them by clicking on these links :

Caerfilli    Islwyn     Blaenau Gwent     Torfaen

Red dot Footnote 3:

England has existed as a unified entity since the 10th century; the union between England and Wales, begun in 1284 with the Statute of Rhuddlan, was not formalized until 1536 with an Act of Union; in another Act of Union in 1707, England and Scotland agreed to permanently join as Great Britain; the legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was implemented in 1801, with the adoption of the name the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 formalized a partition of Ireland; six northern Irish counties remained part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland and the current name of the country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was adopted in 1927.

When joined by the Republic of Ireland it is known as the British Isles.

Red dot Footnote 4: Monmouthshire was created from :

a) The ancient Welsh kingdom of Gwent
b) The cantref (hundred) of Gwynllwg

(The Lordship of Ewyas was attached to Hereford but the Vale of Honddu comprising the Priory of Llanthony was included in Monmouthshire.)


Shire County Guide to Gwent : 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
Bradney, Joseph A. A history of Monmouthshire

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