National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

The rise of national consciousness (part 2)

Growing recognition

The key to the ability of the Welsh to turn substance into recognition was the increasingly democratic nature of Welsh society.

The Anglican gentry who had dominated the country for centuries, while not bereft of Welsh sympathies, saw themselves as members of the British ruling class and developed something of a bunker mentality when they were challenged by their tenants and when assertive Welshness became a weapon of radical Nonconformists.

It was the rights of the Welsh as Nonconformists which were stressed by Henry Richard, MP for Merthyr Tydfil from 1868 to 1888.

Younger politicians such as Thomas Edward Ellis, MP for Merioneth from 1886 to 1899, had less sectarian views. Influenced by the Home Rule movement in Ireland, Ellis and others sought a degree of self-government for Wales, government support for a distinctly Welsh system of education, and legislation to enable Welsh tenants to be freed from the power of their landlords.

Others went further. Michael D. Jones, a supporter of the attempt in the 1860s to establish a new Wales in Patagonia, sought full freedom for Wales, and Robert Ambrose Jones (Emrys ap Iwan) saw full official status for the Welsh language as essential to the dignity of the Welsh people.

By the outbreak of the First World War recognition of Wales had made considerable progress. The most significant developments occurred in the fields of education and culture. The Welsh language won a limited role in schools in 1889. The founding of the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth in 1872, and of colleges at Cardiff and Bangor in the 1880s, led in 1893 to the establishment of the University of Wales. The National Library and the National Museum receive royal charters in 1907. J. E. Lloyd placed Welsh medieval history on a sound academic footing in 1911, and John Morris-Jones did the same for the Welsh language in 1913.

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