Union with England|
This was hardly an unexpected or unanticipated development. As pointed out earlier, the eyes of the Welsh gentry were focused on what London or other large cities of England had to offer, not upon what remained as crumbs to be scavenged in Wales itself. Without a government of its own, without a capital city, and without even a town large enough to attract an opportunistic urban middle class, and stuck with a language "nothing like nor consonant to the natural mother tongue used within this realm."
There is an expression coined in the 19th century that describes a Welshman who pretends to have forgotten his native language or who affects the loss of his national identity in order to succeed in English society or who wishes to be thought well of among his friends. Such a man is known as Dic Sion Dafydd (it is similar in meaning to the American term "Uncle Tom").
The term was unknown in 16th century Wales, but owing to the harsh penal legislation imposed upon its inhabitants, it became necessary for many Welshmen to petition Parliament to be "made English" so that they could enjoy privileges restricted to Englishmen. These privileges included the right to buy and hold land according to English law. Such petitions may have been anathema to the patriotic Welsh, but for the ambitious and socially mobile gentry rapidly emerging in Wales and on the Marches, they were very necessary for any chance of advancement.
In 1561, William Herbert of Raglan, in Southeast Wales was appointed to Parliament. As Baron Herbert, he was the first full-blooded Welshman to become part of the English aristocracy and the first in a long tradition that for centuries to come would result in draining the Welsh nation of its leaders and men and women of influence.
In the military, of course, Welsh mercenaries, no longer fighting under Glyndwr for an independent Wales, were highly sought after; the skills of the Welsh archers in such battles as Agincourt had become legendary. Such examples of allegiance to their commander, the English sovereign, went a long way in dispelling an latent thoughts of independence and helped paved the way for the overwhelming Welsh allegiance to the Tudors. By 1583, in fact, Sir Henry Sidney could write: "A better people to govern than the Welsh [Europe] holdeth not."
Welsh men were found in strategic position in legal, military and professional circles. They were in the forefront of England's colonial enterprises, filled leading positions in the Welsh Church (for the first time in many centuries) and in 1571 were successful in having Jesus College, Oxford founded a Welsh college. Thus, according to modern historian Gwyn Williams, they moved upward from a position of junior partners in the Elizabethan state to that of senior partners in the creation of the new and imperial British identity. In 1603, George Owen had written:
No country in England (sic) so flourished in one
hundred years as Wales hath done since the
government of Henry VII to this time; in so much
that if our fathers were now living they would think
it some strange country inhabited with a foreign
nation, so altered is the countrymen, the people
changed in heart with and the land altered in hue
without, from evil to good, and from bad to better
A few years later, Sir John Davies (of Hereford) was pleased to compare the peaceful nature of his native Wales with that of Ireland. Of the Act of Union Davies wrote:
...by means whereof that entire country in a short
time was securely settled in peace and obedience, and
hath attained to that civility of manners and plenty of
all things, as now we find it not inferior to the best parts of
It was apparent that a new and permanent British identity was being forged out of the people of Wales. Though its full expression had to wait until the Act of Union in 1707, which joined Scotland to England and Wales, it was the glorious age of Elizabeth I, scathingly called by historian A.L. Rowse as a "red-headed Welsh harridan," that saw the emergence of an overseas empire and the successful defence of the realm. It was then that the foundations of the new attitude were set firmly in place. A key figure in this expansion of Britain overseas was the enigmatic John Dee, (1527-1608) a London Welshman and scholar of note.
After Britain's relatively peaceful conversion to Protestantism, certainly peaceful compared to what transpired on the Continent, threats of invasion from Spain and the fear of a return to what was considered a morally and spiritually bankrupt foreign church (or foreign rule, in the case of Mary and Philip) kept the majority of people in Wales closely allied to their fellow islanders in England. Any measures to make the Counter-Reformation productive in Wales utterly failed. In spite of the activities of a few important Catholic intellectuals, mostly in exile on the Continent, the coercive power of the state kept Wales in the Protestant fold.
It was this sense of a shared religious destiny that slowly integrated itself into the minds of the peoples of both countries so that they also began to think of themselves as sharing a common British heritage. Wales had no legal system of its own; its religious organization was modeled after that of England, and as we have seen, no capital city or center (or university) to serve as a center for its cultural life. Forward-looking Welshmen regarded London as a model for Wales. Humphrey Llwyd wrote of his fellow Welshmen in 1572:
Of late, [they] are applying themselves to settle
in towns, learn mechanics, engage in commerce,
cultivate the soil, and undertake all other public
duties equally with Englishmen.
When Elizabeth died in 1603, it was a Scottish king who came to the throne of Britain. Outside London, in Wales, there must have been a sense of despair at the end of the Tudor reign: the old prophecy of Welsh supremacy over the island of Britain had not been fulfilled. From that time on, any differences between Wales and England, and the Welsh people and English people, cannot be found in the political arena. In so many ways, they were truly part of the diversity that made up Great Britain, yet the struggle to remain Welsh continued, however fitful, and with good reason.
The social and cultural differences of the Welsh, especially in the matter of their language, kept them apart from their neighbors and made their society seem so strange and "closed" to the rest of Britain, and it is in the language of Wales where the differences are most experienced. To a large extent, language (with its corollary literature), and to a lesser extent the Protestant religion, were the two pillars that kept the struggle for independence alive, as dismal and as hopeless as it seemed after 1536 and even more so after 1603. Both had been helped immeasurably by the fortuitous arrival of and widespread dissemination of the Welsh Bible.
Chapter 10: Welsh Bible
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