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Welsh nationalism is the Welsh expression of nationalism, a movement that became popular in nineteenth-century Europe and gradually became a global phenomenon in the twentieth century. It generally seeks independence for Wales within the United Kingdom or outside it.
Until its conquest in 1282 Wales' national aspirations were centred on its princes, especially the princes of Gwynedd, often styled princes of Wales. But following the defeat of Llywelyn the Last by Edward I Wales lost its independence and became subject to the English crown, either directly or indirectly. It retained some vestiges of its independence and difference: 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 regain their independence. The greatest such revolt was that of Owain Glyndwr, who gained popular support in 1400, and defeated an English force at Pumlumon in 1401. In response, the English parliament passed repressive measures denying the Welsh the right of assembly. Glyndwr 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.
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 island of Britain for the British (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 kings' other subjects.
When that loyalty was put to the test during the reign of Henry VIII and the great changes in religion, the Welsh were kept on side by passing the Acts of Union 1536-1543 in which England annexed Wales, but also removed the repressive measures against the Welsh that had been in place since the revolt of Owain Glyndwr over century earlier. It also gave political representation at the Westminster Parliament for Wales and established a system of justice throughout Wales and applied the Law of England throughout the country. Wales continues to share a legal identity with England to a large degree as the joint entity of England and Wales. The laws also partitioned Wales into thirteen counties 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.
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.
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 Calvinistic Methodist Church nonconformity 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 independent movement, Cymru Fydd , established on the pattern of Young Ireland was established in 1886 but was short lived.
But for the majority in Wales the important question was not independence or self-government, but the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales and that is where most of their energy was expended. But 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 they formed this opinion because the Commissioners were exclusively English-speaking while the education system was then largely conducted in Welsh, therefore the Commissioners could not form a realistic opinion of the education system. 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. 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 Italy and Hungary and Wales, weren't they all nations "struggling to be free".
Nationalism became a strong factor in twentieth-century Wales, but not as strong as it was amongst the people of eastern Europe, or Ireland. At various times both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party took up the cause of Welsh self-government, but it was with the establishment of Plaid Cymru (=The party of Wales) in 1925 that it gained a distinct voice of its own.
Perhaps the end of the twentieth century saw the culmination of a hundred and fifty years of Welsh nationalism with the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999.
Plaid Cymru was founded in the 1920s by the existing organisations Byddin Ymreolwyr Cymru (a nationalist party of North Wales) and Y Mudiad Cymreig (an underground nationalist movement of South Wales). Plaid Cymru has been increasingly successful in elections since the 1970s and since 1997 has been the second Welsh party in the UK Parliament in terms of the number of Members of Parliament representing the interests of the party.
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 still a living 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 notoriety by producing their own Welsh passports.
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 1960's two movements were established in protest against the drowning of the Tryweryn valley and the 1969 investiture of Charles Mountbatten-Windsor as Prince of Wales: Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (= Welsh Defence Movment, also known as MAC) and the Free Wales Army (also known as FWA). 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 Glyndwr (= the Sons of Glyndwr ) responsible for a spate of arson attacks against holiday homes throughout Wales.
- Modern Celts
- Cultural imperialism
- Irish nationalism
- Scottish nationalism
- Cornish nationalism
- Celtic Congress
- Celtic League
- List of active autonomist and secessionist movements
- Clewes, Roy (1980), To dream of freedom: the struggle of M.A.C. and the Free Wales Army. Talybont: Y Lolfa. ISBN 0904864952.
- Davies, John (Ed.) (1981), Cymru'n deffro: hanes y Blaid Genedlaethol, 1925-75. Talybont: Y Lolfa. ISBN 0862430119. A series of essays on the history of the first fifty years of Plaid Cymru.
- Morgan, K. O. (1971), 'Radicalism and nationalism'. In A. J. Roderick (Ed.), Wales through the ages. Vol II: Modern Wales, pp. 193-200. Llandyb´e: Christopher Davies (Publishers) Ltd. ISBN 0715402927.
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