Bangor Uni: When did Welsh identity in Wales begin?

Wales supportersImage source, PA
Image caption,
A medieval historian will be examining "Welshness" and where it came from

Daffodils, the anthem, singing and the dragon - they are all seen as symbols of "Welshness".

But what is Welshness and where did it come from?

Medieval historian Dr Rebecca Thomas has been awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship to research the development of Welsh identity in the Middle Ages.

She will be looking at the first Wales and Welsh references in early literature, and why they are there.

"I'm interested not only in when the Welsh emerged as a people, but why that is," Dr Thomas said.

It is generally agreed by historians that a sense of Welsh identity existed by the 12th Century, and Dr Thomas will be turning to medieval Latin chronicles and histories to find evidence of how the identity was constructed.

Dividing the world

She said the ninth and 10th Centuries were a "key period" in the construction of identities.

"If you look at the chronicles and histories being written in this period, they are preoccupied with dividing the world into different peoples and pinpointing origins for these peoples," Dr Thomas said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There is more to Wales than Welshcakes

Medieval writers claimed the Welsh originally came from Troy - an idea popular on the European continent, with the Franks also seeing themselves as descended from Trojans.

"And so Welsh writers were tapping into a much broader phenomenon," Dr Thomas said.

"It seems likely, too, that they were very much aware of how texts produced in other parts of Britain were beginning to talk of England and the English.

"I want to ask how important contact with the wider world was in shaping Welsh identity in this period, and to think about what Welsh writers thought set the Welsh apart from other peoples.

"What made the Welsh a people in their eyes?"

Media caption,
"Wales is not acknowledged as a country as much as England or Scotland"

When Asser, a scholar from St Davids, wrote in 893 that King Offa had built a dyke between Mercia and Britannia from sea to sea - for him Britannia was Wales, Dr Thomas said.

And when Nennius, a ninth-century scholar from Gwynedd, included place names in both English and Welsh in his Latin text, he referred to Welsh as "our language".

Dr Thomas is one of only 53 early career researchers to be awarded the fellowship, and the second from Bangor University to get the award.

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