Welsh nationalism

Welsh nationalism

Welsh nationalism is a political and cultural movement that emerged during the nineteenth century. It generally seeks independence from the United Kingdom for Wales, an aspiration supported by around 12% of the electorate of Wales, [ [http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/newspolitics/tm_headline=parliament-for-wales-says-poll%26method=full%26objectid=19800292%26siteid=50082-name_page.html Parliament for Wales says poll - icWales ] ] and is further defined by a desire to protect and enhance the cultural distinctiveness 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 and Rhodri the Great managed to unify many of the kingdoms, but their lands were divided on their deaths. By 1282, only Gwynedd stood out, whose ruler was accorded the title "Prince of Wales". Following the defeat of Llywelyn the Last 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, namely the Welsh language, culture, law and customs.

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 Welsh nobleman 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 denying the Welsh the right of assembly. Glyndŵr was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and sought assistance from the French, 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 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 Brythonic (i.e. Welsh) people. 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, formally integrating 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. It also gave political representation at the Westminster Parliament for Wales. Wales continues to share a legal identity with England to a large degree as the 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 also had the effect of making English the language to be used for all official purposes. This excluded most native Welsh from any formal office unless they adopted English to some degree or other.

On the whole the Welsh 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 Europe the effects of the French Revolution were felt in Wales. It brought to the forefront a small minority of Welsh people who sympathised with revolutionary ideas: people such as Richard Price (1723–1791), Iolo Morganwg (1747–1826), and Morgan John Rhys (1760–1804).

In the meantime, counter-revolutionary or even anti-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.

Nineteenth 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 previously majority of conservative voices within it 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 see 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 nineteenth century with the extension of the franchise and the tacit support of Welsh nonconformity. An intended independence movement, Cymru Fydd, established on the pattern of Young Ireland 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 institiutions 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 results of 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 WelshFact|date=October 2007. Very quickly, because of its blue covers, the report was labelled "Brad y Llyfrau Gleision", or in English, "The Treachery of the Blue Books".

The influence of European nationalism

Two nineteenth-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 vast 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. Gradually they started to ask what was the difference between nations like Ireland and Hungary, and Wales, weren't they all nations "struggling to be free"?

There is also some influence from Scottish nationalism.

Twentieth century

Nationalism grew as an influence in twentieth-century Wales, but not as much as in eastern Europe, or Ireland. At various times both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party took up the cause of Welsh home rule, or devolution. It was with the establishment of Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) in 1925, however 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.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru was founded in the 1920s by Saunders Lewis [ See the Main Article on Saunders Lewis] and existing organisations "Byddin Ymreolwyr Cymru" and "Y Mudiad Cymreig". Plaid Cymru returned its first Member of Parliament in 1966 in the Carmarthen by-election, and today has three such representatives, along with 15 Members of the 60 strong Welsh Assembly. Traditionally, support for the party is concentrated in rural Welsh-speaking areas of north and west Wales, whence all its MPs hail. 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 as the movement was popularly known, 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.

*Independent Wales (Welsh: "Cymru Annibynnol"). 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" (= The 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" (= The 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.

*"Mudiad Adfer" was a splinter group of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh language Society) 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 the 10th January 2004 between representatives of Balchder Cymru, Cymru 1400, Medi 16, and the RDM. It was agreed during the meeting that all four organisations should amalgamate to form a stronger nationalist / republican movement. It is believed that such a move will strengthen the struggle for an independent Welsh republic. The new movement has been named 'Mudiad Rhyddhad Cymru' (MRC). Aims a. To campaign for an independent Welsh republic; b. To defend Cymru, its language and culture.

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.

In the 1960s two movements were established in protest against the drowning of the Tryweryn valley and the 1969 investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales: Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (= Movement for the Defence of Wales, also known as MAC) and the "Free Wales Army" (also known as FWA, in Welsh Byddin Rhyddid Cymru). These two movements were responsible for numerous bombing attacks on water pipelines and power lines across Wales. On the eve of the investiture two members of MAC, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, died as the bomb they were planting on the railway line to be used by the Royal Train exploded.

The late 1970s and the 1980s saw an organisation calling itself Meibion Glyndŵr ("the sons of Glyndŵr") responsible for a spate of arson attacks against holiday homes throughout Wales.

Also there existed in the 1970s, a Welsh Socialist Republican Army, whose initials in Welsh spelt out the English word DAWN, see Williams, Gwyn A.'When was Wales'.

ee also

*Irish nationalism and independence
*Scottish independence
*Cornish self-government
*English self-government
*Breton nationalism "(Brittany)"
*Modern Celts
*Cultural imperialism
*Celtic Congress
*Celtic League (political organisation)
*List of active autonomist and secessionist movements
*Welsh history



*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

External links

*cite news | first= | last=Economic & Social Research Council | coauthors= | title=Younger Scots and Welsh may become more likely to support Nationalist parties | date=May 4, 2007. | publisher= | url =http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-05/esr-ysa050307.php | work =EurekAlert | pages = | accessdate = 2007-05-05 | language =

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