The creation of medieval Wales
Wales was formed from the Romano-British pushed into the west by the Saxons. Its tribal culture and language existed throughout the period.
During the Dark Ages Wales was simply an area to the west of the easily-cultivated English lands of the Anglo-Saxons. The indigenous celtic peoples, the Romano-British, had been pushed westwards by the invading Saxons who labelled them 'Walha' meaning foreigner or stranger.
In turn, the new 'Welsh' referred to themselves as 'Brythoniaid' or Britons, reflecting the fact that the Welsh were a society which had once existed across the length and breadth of mainland Britain. It is thought that at some point in the latter centuries of the first millennium, the Welsh began to refer to themselves as Y Cymry - 'fellow countrymen'. This term gained precedence and - if true - is a nice riposte to the dismissal of the nation as mere 'foreigners'.
This nation of descendents of the original Britons, with a language still recognisable today, was a tribal one, even within their cultural unity. By the medieval period, the kingdoms within Wales had largely solidified into Gwynedd, Brycheiniog, Powys, Deheubarth, Gwent and Morgannwg. A map showing these kingdoms at the height of the medieval period is on our site about Welsh royalty.
The Norman conquest of 1066 didn't impact on the majority of Wales for some years. William and his lords solidified their grip on England, implementing a state system not seen on the British isles since the Romans. It was agreed that the Welsh would have to be conquered at some point, but for in the first instance, containment was the obejctive.
Castles were built in the marcher areas of the Welsh border, and the soft, fertile lands on the south and east of Wales fell to the Normans by 1100.
The efforts of the Normans to subdue the Welsh - sometimes politically, sometimes militarily - extended over three centuries and more. It was Edward I who is largely credited with the greatest military success over the Welsh, but even after his strong-arm tactics had broken much of the resistance, occasional rebellions by the likes of Owain Glyndwr still occurred.
It was the Tudors, themselves of Welsh extraction, who put the final nail in the coffin of the idea of an independent 'Wales' which had existed throughout the medieval period.
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