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Welsh nationalism


Welsh nationalism

Welsh nationalism (Welsh: Cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig) emphasises the distinctiveness of Welsh language, culture, and history, and calls for more self-determination for Wales, which might include more devolved powers for the Welsh Assembly or full independence from the United Kingdom.


  • Conquest 1
  • Annexation 2
  • Revolutionary ideas 3
  • 19th century 4
  • Treachery of the Blue Books 5
  • Influence of European nationalism 6
  • 20th and 21st centuries 7
    • Plaid Cymru 7.1
    • Other nationalist parties and movements 7.2
    • Violent nationalism 7.3
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Sources/bibliography 10
  • External links 11


The medieval kingdoms of Wales

Through most of its history before the Anglo-Norman Conquest, Wales was divided into several kingdoms. From time to time, rulers such as Hywel Dda, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn and Rhodri the Great managed to unify many of the kingdoms, but their lands were divided on their deaths. Incursions from the English and Normans also amplified divisions between the kingdoms. In the 12th century, Norman king Henry II of England exploited differences between the three most powerful Welsh kingdoms, Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth, allowing him to make great gains in Wales.[1] He defeated and then allied with Madog ap Maredudd of Powys in 1157, and used this alliance to overwhelm Owain Gwynedd. He then turned on Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth, who finally submitted to him in 1171, effectively subjugating much of Wales to Henry's Angevin Empire.[1] By 1282, only Gwynedd stood out, whose ruler was accorded the title Prince of Wales. Following the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd by Edward I Wales lost its last independent kingdom and became subject to the English crown, either directly or indirectly. It retained some vestiges of distinction from its neighbour however, retaining the Welsh language, law, and culture.

Until the victory of Henry VII at Bosworth in 1485, the Welsh on many occasions revolted against English rule in an attempt to gain their independence. The greatest such revolt was that of Owain Glyndŵr, who gained popular support in 1400, and defeated an English force at Plynlimon in 1401. In response, the English parliament passed repressive measures that included denying the Welsh the right of assembly. Glyndŵr was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and sought assistance from Charles VI of France, but by 1409 his forces were scattered under the attacks of King Henry IV of England and further repressive measures imposed on the Welsh. Glyndŵr himself vanished, and his final resting place remains a mystery.


Throughout the period of conquest the Welsh poets kept alive the dream of independence. In what was known as the canu brud (prophetic poetry), the idea was set out of the coming of a messiah-like figure, known as Y Mab Darogan (The Son of Destiny), who would not only remove the English yoke but win back the whole of the Great Britain for the Britons (i.e. the Welsh). In the Welsh-born Henry VII the Welsh believed that "the Son of Destiny" had come, and there were no more revolts or talk of revolt – the people of Wales became as loyal as any of the King's other subjects.

During the reign of Henry VIII the Laws in Wales Acts were passed without any democratic mandate, annexing Wales into the English legal system. The repressive measures against the Welsh that had been in place since the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr over a century earlier were removed. These Acts also gave political representation for Wales in the Westminster Parliament. Wales continues to share a legal identity with England to a large degree as part of a joint entity known simply as England until 1967 and England and Wales since then. The laws also finished the partitioning of Wales into counties that was begun in 1282 and established local government on the English model. The laws had the effect of making English the language to be used for all official purposes, thus effectively excluding non-English speakers from formal office.

On the whole those Welsh people who had a way of expressing an opinion welcomed these moves and saw them as further proof that Henry VII and his descendants were the long-awaited sons of destiny and that Wales had regained what it had lost at the conquest of 1282. Patriotism, or a non-politicised form of nationalism, remained a strong force in Wales, with pride in its language, customs and history common amongst all levels of society.

Revolutionary ideas

Along with the rest of Morgan John Rhys (1760–1804).

In the meantime, counter-revolutionary ideas flourished amongst the leaders of the Welsh Methodist revival, but the consequences of turning Wales into a nation with a nonconformist majority was to create a new sense of Welshness.

19th century

The rapid industrialisation of parts of Wales, especially Merthyr Tydfil and adjoining areas, gave rise to strong and radical Welsh working class movements which led to the Merthyr Rising of 1831, the widespread support for Chartism, and the Newport Rising of 1839.

With the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, nonconformism triumphed in Wales, and gradually the previous majority of conservative voices within the church allied themselves with the more radical and liberal voices within the older dissenting churches of the Baptists and Congregationalists. This radicalism was exemplified by the Congregationalist minister David Rees of Llanelli, who edited the radical magazine Y Diwygiwr (The Reformer) from 1835 until 1865. But he was not a lone voice: William Rees (also known as Gwilym Hiraethog) established the radical Yr Amserau (The Times) in 1843, and in the same year Samuel Roberts also established another radical magazine, Y Cronicl (The Chronicle). Both were Congregationalist pastors.

The growth of radicalism and the gradual politicisation of Welsh life did not include any successful attempt to establish a separate political vehicle for promoting Welsh nationalism. But voices did appear within the Liberal Party, which made great gains in Wales in the 19th century with the extension of the franchise and the tacit support of Welsh nonconformity. An intended independence movement established on the pattern of Young Ireland, Cymru Fydd, was established in 1886 but was short-lived.

For the majority in Wales, however, the important question was not one of independence or self-government, but of the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. Nevertheless, their non-political nationalism was strong enough to establish national institutions such as the University of Wales in 1893, and the National Library of Wales and the National Museum of Wales in 1907.

Treachery of the Blue Books

This feeling of difference was exacerbated by the publication of the "Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales" in 1847. The reports found the education system in Wales to be in a dreadful state, although the Commissioners were exclusively English-speaking while the education system was then largely conducted in Welsh. However, they concluded that the Welsh as a people were dirty, ignorant, lazy, drunk, superstitious, lying, and cheating because they were Nonconformists and spoke Welsh. Because of its blue covers, the report was soon labelled Brad y Llyfrau Gleision, or in English, "The Treachery of the Blue Books".

Influence of European nationalism

Two 19th-century figures are associated with the beginnings of Welsh nationalism in the specific political sense: Michael D. Jones (1822–1898) and Emrys ap Iwan (1848–1906). Inspired by the Revolutions of 1848 and the growth of Irish nationalism they saw that Wales was different from England in having its own language which the majority of its residents spoke and in holding to a nonconformist form of the Christian religion which faced many disabilities in the face of the state church.

20th and 21st centuries

The Senedd, home to the National Assembly for Wales

Nationalism grew as an influence in 20th-century Wales. At various times both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party took up the cause of Welsh home rule, or devolution. But it was with the establishment of Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) in 1925 that Welsh independence from the UK was first advocated.

The election of a Labour Government in 1997 included a commitment to hold a referendum on the establishment of a Welsh Assembly. The referendum was narrowly won, with Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and much of Welsh civic society supporting the Labour Government's proposals.

A 2007 survey by BBC Wales Newsnight found that 20% of Welsh people surveyed favoured Wales becoming independent of the United Kingdom.[2]

In 2009 the National Assembly to be granted full law-making powers, calling for a "greater degree of self-determination" for Wales.[3]

A recent poll taken by yougov suggests that up to 17% would vote for independence.[4] Another poll by Face for Business suggests support could be as high as 28%. These are in stark contrast to the last two polls conducted by icm for the BBC which said support is as low as 5% and 3% respectively.[5]

Plaid Cymru

Byddin Ymreolwyr Cymru (Wales Army of Home Rule) and Y Mudiad Cymreig (The Welsh Movement). Plaid Cymru's first Member of Parliament, Gwynfor Evans, was elected in the Carmarthen by-election, 1966, and today has three such representatives, along with 15 Members of the 60 strong Welsh Assembly. Historically, support for the party is concentrated in rural Welsh-speaking areas of north and west Wales, where all its MPs have been elected. In the late 1960s and 1990s the party enjoyed brief surges in support.

Other nationalist parties and movements

  • Cymru Goch ("Red Wales" or "Welsh Socialists"). Cymru Goch was founded in 1987 to fight for a free and socialist Wales. It published the monthly magazine Y Faner Goch (The Red Flag). In 2003, it became part of Forward Wales.
  • Cymru Annibynnol (Independent Wales). A political party founded in 2000 by some former members of Plaid Cymru under the leadership of John Humphries, a former journalist and editor of the Western Mail. The party fought the 2003 National Assembly elections by putting up candidates for the regional seats. Shortly after the election they dissolved. The main reason for its existence was unhappiness with the level of Plaid Cymru's commitment to independence.
  • Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society). Established in 1962 by members of Plaid Cymru, it is a pressure group campaigning for Welsh language rights. It uses non-violent direct action in its campaigning, and sees itself as part of the global resistance movement.
  • Cymuned (Community). A pressure group campaigning for Welsh language rights established in 2001, it mainly concentrates its efforts in the western parts of Wales where Welsh is the main community language. Also sees itself as part of global movements for the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • Cymdeithas Cyfamod y Cymry Rhydd (Society of the Covenant of the Free Welsh). Established in 1987, again because of unhappiness with the level of Plaid Cymru's commitment to independence. They achieved publicity by producing their own Welsh "passports".
  • Llais Gwynedd (Voice of Gwynedd). Established due to dissatisfaction with Plaid Cymru in Gwynedd. Currently has 13 seats on Gwynedd Council.
  • Mudiad Adfer (Restoration Movement) was a splinter group of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg in the 1970s. Taking its Welsh-only philosophy from the works and teachings of Owain Owain and Emyr Llewelyn, it believed in the creation of "Y Fro Gymraeg" - a monoglot region based on the existing Welsh language heartlands in the west of Wales. Adfer slowly disappeared from the scene in the late 1980s.
  • Mudiad Rhyddhad Cymru ("Cymru Liberation Movement"): A meeting took place in Flintshire on 10 January 2004 between representatives of Mudiad Rhyddhad Cymru' (MRC). Aims: To campaign for an independent Welsh republic, and to defend Cymru, its language and culture.
  • Plaid Glyndŵr ("Party of [Owain] Glyndŵr"). Founded by Dennis Morris in 2012, the party campaigns for full independence for Wales and against perceived colonialism.[6][7]

Violent nationalism

Though mainstream nationalism in Wales has been constitutional, there have been violent movements associated with it. In 1952 a small republican movement, Y Gweriniaethwyr ("The Republicans"), were the first to use violence when they made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up a pipeline leading from the Claerwen dam in mid Wales to Birmingham.[8]

In the 1960s two movements were established in protest against the drowning of the Royal Train exploded.

The late 1970s and the 1980s saw an organisation calling itself Meibion Glyndŵr ("sons of Glyndŵr") responsible for a spate of arson attacks against holiday homes throughout Wales. In the 1970s, a Welsh Socialist Republican Army arose, whose initials in Welsh spelt out the English word "DAWN".[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ "Welsh firmly back Britain's Union".  
  3. ^ "WalesOnline - News - Wales News - Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan supports further Welsh devolution". WalesOnline website. Media Wales Ltd. 2009-07-13. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  4. ^ "scot-vote-boosts-welsh-independence-support". 
  5. ^ Face for Business 
  6. ^ Martin Shipman (8 January 2014). "Campaign launched against 'national disgrace' of Welsh town hall that flies the Red Dragon below the Union Flag".  
  7. ^ "Home". Plaid Glyndŵr website. 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  8. ^ Gruffydd, Gethin (2007-02-13). "Welsh Republican Movement 1946 – 1956: Time Line". Alternative Welsh Nationalist Archive. Retrieved 2010-09-08. 
  9. ^ see: Williams, Gwyn A. 'When was Wales?'


  • Clewes, Roy (1980), To dream of freedom: the struggle of M.A.C. and the Free Wales Army. Talybont: Y Lolfa. ISBN 0-904864-95-2.
  • Davies, John (Ed.) (1981), Cymru'n deffro: hanes y Blaid Genedlaethol, 1925-75. Talybont: Y Lolfa. ISBN 0-86243-011-9. A series of essays on the history of the first fifty years of Plaid Cymru.
  • Davies, R. R (1997) The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr. Oxford, OUP, ISBN 0-19-285336-8.
  • Morgan, K. O. (1971), 'Radicalism and nationalism'. In A. J. Roderick (Ed.), Wales through the ages. Vol II: Modern Wales, pp. 193–200. Llandybïe: Christopher Davies (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0-7154-0292-7.
  • Williams, G. A, When Was Wales?: A History of the Welsh. London. Black Raven Press, ISBN 0-85159-003-9
  • Humphries, John, "Freedom Fighters: Wales' forgotten war, 1963-1993," Cardiff, University of Wales Press, ISBN 978-0-7083-2177-5.

External links

  • Economic & Social Research Council (May 4, 2007). "Younger Scots and Welsh may become more likely to support Nationalist parties". EurekAlert. Retrieved 2007-05-05. 
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