Tudor estate

The impact of the Acts of Union

Historian John Davies on the impact of the 16th century Acts of Union between England and Wales.

By the reign of Elizabeth I, the Tudor settlement in Wales had won general acceptance. The justices of the peace were drawn from the ranks of the Welsh gentry.

The Tudors, stated the contemporary commentator George Owen of Henllys (Pembrokeshire), 'gave to Welsh magistrates of their own nation'.

As they had been appointed to enforce the law, the gentry were obliged to abandon their semi-anarchic traditions. They waxed greatly; the acts of 1536 and 1543, particularly the granting to them monopoly of the magistrates' bench, enhanced their power over the classes beneath them.

With the abandonment of Welsh law, estates were passed intact to the eldest son furthering the concentration of land in the hands of the few.

For the next 250 years at least, the Welsh historical record was dominated by the activities of landed families. They were loud in praise of the Tudor settlement which removed any ambiguity concerning the status of the Welsh. With that settlement the Welsh, in the eyes of the law, became English.

Yet it would be equally valid to argue - as there was no longer any advantage in boasting of the condition of being English - that henceforth everyone living in Wales was Welsh, a principle which would be built upon over succeeding generations.


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