When the Kingdom of Great Britain came into being in 1603, the Welsh were proud to be considered equal partners to the English and the Scots. The disclosure of the so-called Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to destroy Parliament in a belated attempt to restore Catholicism to Britain meant further discreditation of that religion in general. To reward their sympathy and support, James bestowed offices and honors upon a great number of Welshmen who had continued to flock to London seeking patronage and favors. In 1610, his son Henry was invested as the Prince of Wales.
Writing of Wales to King James in 1619, English poet Ben Johnson wrote the following:
Remember the country has always been fruitful of
loyal hearts to your majesty, a very garden and seed-plot
of honest minds and men...Though the nation be said to be
unconquered and most loving liberty, yet it was never
mutinous, and please your majesty, but stout, valiant,
courteous, hospitable, temperate, ingenious, capable of
all good arts, most lovingly constant, charitable, great
antiquaries, religious preservers of their gentry and
genealogy, as they are zealous and knowing in religion.
Such flattery had its effect: King James, of course, wished to see Scotland added to the Union as an equal partner and his own praise of the loyalty of the Welsh representatives in Parliament was lavish, for they could help bring his fellow Scots in line. James was anxious to see the Council of Wales remain intact; its supervision of law and order in Wales was a way of defending his own royal prerogative. Besides, the Welsh were not too concerned with the changes in London's political circles.
What distinguished the Welsh, even from the more aggressive and independent-minded Scots, was their unique language, spoken by a large majority of its people who knew no other -- a language that was unintelligible to the English. Furthermore, their nation's literature could now be made available to all in Wales who could read. This was the source of much wonder in England, and perhaps some mistrust (as it still seems to be today). As John Davies of Malltwyd wrote in 1621:
It is a matter of astonishment that a handful
of the remaining Britons, in so confined a
corner, despite the oppression of the English and
the Normans, have for so many centuries kept not
only the name of their ancestors, but also their own
original language to this very day, without any change
of importance, and without corruption.
Sadly, the drain of manpower to London and the increasing anglicization of the gentry continued unabated.
In 1625, upon the death of King James, he was succeeded by Charles I, for whom Welsh support was vital in his attempts to hold off the powers that united against his obstinate wish to rule without Parliament. Now irrevocably linked to England as part of a greater Britain, the Welsh no longer had a cause of their own, and more important, they lacked a leader of their own.
The times were such that the king of England was as good a leader as any to follow. Perhaps his son could learn Welsh: John Davies wrote to the Prince of Wales in 1632:
If the guardian of your tender youth see fit,
Your Highness should be imbued from the
cradle, at the same as with other languages,
with the ancient language of this island, which
is now restricted to your own Welsh people...
for knowing languages is no indignity for princes.
There is no record of any desire of King Charles to have his son participate in such a scheme. It would be another three hundred years before another young Prince Charles undertook the task of learning the Welsh language.
Be as it may, during the Civil Wars, Welsh armies fought for an English king, if somewhat half-heartedly. But as Charles' fortunes fell and his demands for more money multiplied, the predominantly Royalist people of Wales no longer felt the need to support him: they became indifferent, if not hostile. In modern parlance, the king "blew it." Purely local factors governed the lives of most Welsh people, still relatively isolated in their rural communities, still clinging to their ancient myths, and still obstinately using their beloved Celtic language. Life continued its own unhurried way, mostly unchanged.
Yet changes were imminent. One English author of the period noted:
[Of the Welsh] Their native gibberish is usually
prattled in their market towns, whose inhabitants
being a little raised...do begin to despise it. Tis
usually cashiered out of gentlemen's houses... so that
if the stars prove lucky, there may be some glimmering
hopes that the British language may be quite extinct and
may be Englished out of Wales.
The gentlemen thus spoken of, the ever-increasing class of country squires, greedily taking advantage of their ties to Parliament, and in whose homes the language was being "cashiered out," belonged, in the main to the established Church, whatever form of episcopacy it took at the time. On the other hand, though many of their great families and scholars had remained Catholic far longer than many of their counterparts in England, the great majority of Welsh people had felt a general religious apathy. For most, they had their Bible; it was enough. That is until the itinerant evangelical preacher arrived on the scene. A great awakening was to take place.
After the defeat of King Charles, Parliament was anxious to provide sufficient ministers of the gospel to reach those areas of the country they deemed sufficiently in need, Wales being perhaps on top of their list. In 1650 the Act for the Better Propagation and Preaching of the Gospel was passed. It appointed many prominent government officials as Commissioners in Wales. Their job, and they carried out their duties most efficiently, was to investigate complaints against the resident clergy (who had mostly supported Charles), following the doctrine of Divine Right (now anathema to the Puritans), and to eject those ministers they considered unsuitable or disloyal. They also appointed "godly and painful men" to replace those who were deprived of their livings.
Once again, Welsh congregations seemed to take most of the changes in stride. Puritan doctrines had long been taking root in many of the urban centres and market towns, aided and abetted by wealthy London merchants. Since having their own Bible in 1588, in any case, (as Elizabeth had wished) the Welsh were fast becoming a "People of the Book"; the travelling clergymen now appealed to their sense of religious independence; furthermore, they were able to preach to them in their own language. They were thus welcomed in communities all over Wales.
Evangelists such as William Wroth, Walter Cradock and Vavasor Powell provided a great and lasting influence. The latter, who first advocated public hymn singing, was the most dynamic preacher and recruiter of them all. From the efforts of such tireless and inspired workers came the founding of the first "gathered church" of independents in Wales in 1639. In 1649, John Miles launched the first Baptist Church in Wales, in Ilston in the Gower. The seeds were thus planted for a new religious consciousness in Wales that had an enormous impact on the future political, social and cultural development of the nation.
Chapter 12 Continued
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