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Useful Notes / Wales

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"Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed."

"Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra mor yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau."
The first verse and chorus of "Land of My Fathers", the Welsh National Anthem.

Cymru, the land of the Welsh Dragon, Tom Jones, the revival of Doctor Who, Torchwood and the rest of The BBC Sci-fi/fantasy TV programmes.

In Roman times, the whole of Great Britain was inhabited by various Celtic societies. During the Dark Ages, the Germanic Anglo-Saxons invaded and took over most of the island, but one of the parts they didn't initially take over was the little corner we now call Wales.note  Wales was conquered by the English in The Middle Ages and became legally a part of the Kingdom of England — which is why there's no "Welsh Bit" of the Union Jack, which was formed from the flags of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and, later, Ireland. Being conquered and repressed has given Wales both a strong sense of identity and the mother of all chips on shoulders. Do not call Welsh people "English"; it will cause immediate and lasting discomfort (ditto for Scottish and Irish people).

Welsh History in Five Minutes

Because of the continuty of the Welsh with earlier Brittonic peoples (see Celtic Kingdoms) as a distinct entity doesn't have a clear starting point. However, by the late Dark Ages there would have been a distinct sense of the Welsh being a people in their own right, speaking a different language to the English. Welsh Mythology has its origins in this period, and the conflict with the Anglo-Saxons (i.e. the English) often features prominently in Welsh legend, particularly in those concerning King Arthur - the oldest in any language and generally agreed to be the origin of that particular figure - whom in Welsh legend is a hero who successfully resists the Anglo-Saxon invasion - at least for a while.

Much like Ireland, for much of its history both before and after this point Wales was fractured into numerous minor kingdoms ruled by individual houses, whose leaders were usually identified by the Welsh word Tywysog which is usually translated into English as Prince; the terms are not really equivalent though and Welsh Princes should not be understood as being subordinate to a King in the way we would understand a Prince to be in Englishnote . Only occasionally were these various small kingdoms ever politically united, and rarely for long; on these occasions the successful ruler might claim the title Tywysog Cymru i.e. Prince of Wales, a title now given to the heir to the English throne (long story). By a quirk of Welsh legal tradition all sons would inherit equal portions of their father's estate, rather than the eldest and designated heir getting everything: this made it very difficult to establish lasting political dynasties because things would simply fracture again as soon as the Tywysog died.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, also known in Wales as Llywelyn the Last, was one such ruler who had largely united the country in the 13th century. Edward I nevertheless managed to annex the realm as a principality of England, but in a rare display of benevolence, "Longshanks" agreed to let Llywelyn keep his title in exchange for recognizing English sovereignty. Llywelyn was effectively a vassal to the English throne, much as Alexander was in Scotland at the same time, and things were more or less peaceful. Edward also sanctioned the marriage of Llywelyn to Eleanor de Montfort, a granddaughter of King John, in what is believed to have been a Perfectly Arranged Marriage; Llywelyn is not recorded to have ever had a mistress or sired any illegitimate offspring, which was very unusual for the Welsh nobility.

Unfortunately, the happy marriage was the downfall of the royal house. Eleanor died shortly after giving birth to Princess Gwenllian, Llywelyn's only child, in June 1282. Llywelyn was frankly distraught by her death. In this state, the prince's conniving half-brother Dafydd was able to persuade him to once again take up arms against the English. On December 11, 1282, Llywelyn was lured into a trap and killed, possibly (nobody knows for sure) thanks to Dafydd double-crossing him. Dafydd claimed guardianship of Gwenllian, who was now the rightful Princess of Wales - the first and only woman to be born to that title - and took her and his own children into hiding in a bog in northern Wales. They were captured there in June 1283 and taken to England, where Dafydd eventually became the first man in recorded history to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. His sons were imprisoned, and his daughters and the infant Gwenllian were handed over to various convents and raised to become nuns in order to end the Welsh royal line. Llywelyn's body was never recovered, but his countrymen eventually gave him a memorial stone which calls him "our last prince/our last leader." His daughter, who died in the Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire in 1337, is memorialized with a plaque at the summit of Snowdon (one of Llywelyn's titles was "Lord of Snowdonia"), and they both have mountains named after them in the region.

The nobles of Wales insisted that Edward I give them a prince who spoke no English and was born on Welsh soil. He invoked some clever Loophole Abuse by presenting his own infant son, the future Edward II, who had recently been born in Caernarfon Castle; he thus spoke no English (nor any other language) and had indeed been born on Welsh soil. Ever since, with only a handful of exceptions, the male heir apparent to the British crown has been called the Prince of Wales.note 

Although soverign rule by the native Welsh thus came to an end in 1283, for most normal people things carried on as before, with the local Feudal Overlord having far more significance than the remote king of England; and some parts of Wales had already been ruled by local anglo-norman lords for centuries; in fact the period between Llywelyn's defeat and 1536 was in some senses a Golden Age for Welsh culture, with a flowering of poetry in particular. The period was also punctuated by frequent Welsh rebellions, leading the English to construct a series of formidable castles throughout the country; and Wales is noted for the sheer number and size of its castles relative to the size of the country (with some 300 known castles of which at least 100 have some kind of visual remains, which are often quite impressive) - a testimony to how fiercely the Welsh resisted conquest. The most famous rebellion was that of Owain Glyndŵrnote . Glyndŵr was briefly able to liberate the whole nation, naturally proclaiming himself Tywysog Cymru in the process; although his rebellion was ultimately defeated, he then disappeared without a trace. He understandably remains a popular hero to many Welsh people (and therefore a villain to the English).

Military resistance to English rule effectively came to an end with the ascendancy of The House of Tudor to the English throne in 1485. The Tudors numbered both Welsh and English royal families amongst their ancestors, and Henry Tudor (Henry VII of England) had in fact been born in Wales and may have spoken Welsh, though it's far from clear to what extent he would have actually thought of himself as a Welshman, and to what extent his Welshness was instead emphasised as cunning propaganda. Regardless, the Tudors were strongly supported in Wales, and some Welshmen at the time welcomed his victory in the Wars of the Roses as the final victory of the Welsh over the English. He did incorporate the red dragon of Wales into his personal coat of arms, and there were a number of people who accepted his rule based on an ancient prophecy (attributed to Merlin, no less) that a son of Wales would one day rule in London as king. Perversely, Henry's son, Henry VIII, legally incorporated Wales into England, and banned the use of the Welsh language in public office.

Although Wales would remain part of England for legal purposes until 1967note  thanks in a large part to its language (see below) and a continuing sense of national difference Wales continued to be considered a nation in its own right even though it had no political autonomy in practice. Cardiff (Caerdydd) had been proclaimed the capital of Wales in 1955. This was mostly because it was Wales' largest city; there was no government based there at the time, and pre-conquest Wales never really had a fixed capital. Since 1999 Wales now has a devolved parliament based there, albeit one with less power than the Scottish Parliament. Initially known as the Welsh Assembly, it was renamed the Welsh Parliament in 2020, although even in English many refer to it by its Welsh name, the Senedd. Although Welsh is by far the healthiest modern Celtic language and Welsh identity is widespread and firm, the majority of Welsh are comfortable with being called British (not English, of course—British), and are less interested in independence than the Scots, although there is an active independence movement.

The Welsh Language

The Welsh language is a Celtic tongue that derives ultimately from languages spoken prior to the Roman conquest. It is closely related to Breton and Cornish (spoken in the northwestern French province of Brittany and Cornwall, respectively, with all three making up the Brittonic or Brythonic subfamily), and more distantly related to the Goidelic Celtic languages - Scottish Gaelic, a surviving native language of Scotland; Irish, the native language of Ireland; and Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man.

Welsh is generally regarded by English-speakers as a formidably difficult language, and a glance at the map shows such jaw-crackers as Machynlleth, Pwllheli, and the truly majestic Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. As a result, Welsh speakers tend to find it absolutely hilarious when non-Welsh speakers try to pronounce Welsh words and names. That said, the pronunciation rules are consistent (unlike English) and once you know that a "u" is pronounced "ee"; "dd" is a soft "th" (as in 'there' rather than 'think') ; and a "ll" is a sort-of cross between 'l' and 'th', then it will always be so, although the actual spelling (and hence pronunciation) of a word may change depending on the word preceding it. "Cwm", that perennial favourite of crossword-puzzle enthusiasts, is pronounced "coom" (and means "a hollow in the side of a mountain"). Welsh vowels ('a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u', 'w', and 'y') have two distinct pronunciations: one long, one short. For example, 'mẁg' (with a vowel sound like the one in 'book') and mwg (vowel sound like in 'pool'). In addition there are two variations of "y", which can be heard in "yn" (like 'un-' as in 'unhealthy') and "byd" (like 'bead') (obscure and clear sounds, respectively). Welsh English often uses "like" as an interjection, but contrary to stereotypes the word 'boyo' is practically nonexistent.

The Welsh language was suppressed with varying degrees of viciousness by the English from the Middle Ages right up until the 1960s, but survived better than its Celtic cousins, perhaps because of the relative peace and stability of Wales and the lack of crises equivalent to the Irish Potato Famine or the Highland Clearances. Welsh began to decline relatively during the nineteenth century, falling under 50% of the population by 1911. Although this decline continued during the 20th century, revival efforts and political nationalism beginning in the 1960s have stabilised the proportion at around 20% of the population, with hundreds of thousands using the language every day.

Northern and Southern versions differ in details, and 'gogs' (as North Walians are referred to in the Southnote ) are sometimes said to sound like Russian porn stars. Welsh is accorded equal status with English within Wales, so all road signs and official notices have to be in both. (East of Conwy, English is given precedence. West of Conwy, Welsh comes first. Welsh language road signage generally begins at the border: visitors are often consternated that Welsh signage begins even before you have left Chester, largely because Saltney, although part of the city of Chester, lies within Wales. (Big supermarkets in Oswestry, nominally inside England, have bilingual signage.)) The language is the butt of many jokes in England, usually along the lines of "Welsh is very difficult to speak unless you have either a lifetime's study, or a serious throat infection"note . Welsh spellings are also the subject of English humour, often being decried for a lack of vowelsnote , compared to anagrams of breakfast cereal names, some form of encrypted message used by intelligence agents, or escapees from H. P. Lovecraft's less well-known works.

There is also a community of Welsh-speakers in Argentina, dating back to the 19th century, and Welsh is spoken in Patagonia, albeit with a Spanish accent. Eastern Pennsylvania (north of Philadelphia) had a heavy influx of Welsh immigrants in the 19th century due to its booming coal industry, and accordingly had a number of small communities where Welsh was spoken extensively; this has dwindled over time, but is still present in the names of many locations such as Bala Cynwyd.

Wales Today

Wales is notable for its sheep population — c. 10.9 million of them against a human population of about 3.1 million. So, the usual jokes apply. Wales is also notable for its level of rainfall — even more so than the UK as a whole. Second city Swansea (Abertawe) officially holds the distinction of "wettest city in Britain".

The majority of the population live in the southeastern corner, in the corridor between Swansea and Newport. The mountainous middle of Wales is quite sparsely populated. This, as well as the lack of north-to-south transport links (trains from Cardiff to North Wales go through England), means there is a degree of cultural separation between the North and South of Wales. Historically, Wales' population was more dispersed, but South Wales (and to a lesser extent, Wrexham and the North East) boomed in the 19th century due to immense coal deposits. A lot of Welsh cultural identity stems from the 19th-century mining industry, when "the Valleys" saw religious revivals, the enthusiastic adoption of the game of Rugby, and a great tradition of choral singing.

The heavily industrial economy ensured that Welsh politics have always favoured the left. This has continued after the industry declined, as Margaret Thatcher is often blamed for the post-industrial misfortunes of regions like "The Valleys" (to the north of Cardiff). In 1997 and 2001, the Conservatives failed to win a single Welsh seat, although they have since made some inroads. Wales also has its own secessionist party Plaid Cymru ("Party of Wales"), which is left-leaning.

A lot of people in Wales are called Jones, Williams or Davies, due to the way the Welsh Patronymic naming system was Anglicised — people in small villages will have to use their first names or get nicknames to distinguish each other. Traditionally these were often in the form of "Surname The Occupation", such as Jones The Steam [engine driver] from Ivor the Engine. This results in SAT exams (see British Education System) having to have candidate numbers in Wales. This is also the case with soldiers in Welsh army regiments, who even in the late 20th century were still identified by their unique Army number and not by one of a limited number of family names. Although Jones is traditionally considered the Welsh surname, current surveys show that the most common surname nowadays is Williams — Owen, Jones, and Powell then tied for the next most populous name with Davies and Hughes coming up not far behind.

There are two regiments of the British Army that require their officer candidates to be fluent, and ideally bilingual, in a language other than English. One is the Gurkha Rifles and the other is the Royal Welch Fusiliers (they were founded in 1690, and still insist on the archaic spelling of the word currently rendered as "Welsh").

See also Portmeirion.

There are a lot of famous Welsh people such as:

Welsh Films

  • Hedd Wyn, an anti-war film about a Welsh poet sucked into World War I.
  • Solomon & Gaenor, about a tragic romance between a young Jewish man and a Christian woman in 1911 Wales.
  • Pride (2014)

Welsh TV shows:

Famous Welsh Bands:

Fictional Welsh People and Settings:

  • Pixie from the X-Men comics.
  • Will and Cecily Herondale from The Infernal Devices.
  • Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones and Rhys Williams, Torchwood.
  • Fluellen, Henry V.
  • Wizard Howl, of Howl's Moving Castle fame.
  • Brother Cadfael.
  • Negi Springfield from Negima! Magister Negi Magi spent a good deal of his childhood there.
  • The West clan of Gavin & Stacey, plus their friends and neighbors.
    • Also from Ruth Jones, A Child's Christmases in Wales.
  • Ivor the Engine.
  • Several characters from Channel 4's classic sketch show Absolutely, particularly DIY 'expert' Denzil and his equally repulsive wife, Gwyneth (played by Welsh comedy actor John Sparks and Morwenna Banks).
  • Welshy from Futurama is a Red Shirt replacement for Star Trek: The Original Series's Scotty.
  • Able Seaman Goldstein from The Navy Lark, apparently he joined the Navy to work his passage to Swansea.
  • Madoc and all of his descendants in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
  • The Owl Service by Alan Garner is set in Wales, based on themes from the Mabinogion.
  • The Grey King, part of the series The Dark is Rising, is set in Wales and has a Welsh-speaking boy as its second-most-important character.
  • Jeff from Coupling (the crazy one). Oddly, Richard Coyle — the actor who plays him — is English but used a Welsh accent for no discernible reason, although it was so convincing that several other cast members assumed he was Welsh.
  • The setting of the Chronicles of Prydain is based on Welsh mythology.
  • The country of Llamedos on the Discworld is an extreme parody of Welsh stereotypes, best known as the original home of Imp y Celyn and noted for its rain mines.
    • Llamedos is "Sod 'em all" backwards, a joke taken from the fictional village of Llareggub ("Bugger all") in Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.
  • The King Arthur of Welsh legend was a Celtic Briton and not necessarily considered to hail from (what is today) Wales, but as the descendants of the Britons, the Welsh always considered him as one of their heroes. Likely as a direct result, Sir Ystin from Demon Knights.
    • Percival is assimilated to the Welsh hero Peredur in some versions.
    • Merlin. The original Merlin was a bard called Myrddin, the founder of Carmarthen (from Caer Myrddin, "Merlin's City").
  • Swansea-born Edward Kenway, the protagonist of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. (The in-universe creators of Devils of the Caribbean choose to remove his Welsh accent to make him more marketable worldwide.)
  • Ddraig of High School D×D is a Welsh Dragon, and of course his name means Dragon in Welsh. It's implied that he looks like a realistic version of the dragon on the Welsh flag.
  • Brother Wales in Scandinavia and the World by Humon plays on all the stereotypes. He is in a meaningful relationship with New Zealand (portrayed as a sheep). The Welsh language, as it appears to this particular Great Dane, is explored here. note 
  • American film How Green Was My Valley, like the novel on which it's based, is set in a Welsh mining town.
  • InCryptid characters Enid Healy (born Carew), and Gwendolyn and Peter Brandt are all Welsh-born members of the Covenant, though Enid leaves even before the prequels.
  • Wales is a prominent location in the final arc of the third installment of the Gardens Inc series.
  • The final Hidden Expedition installment, A King's Line, is based heavily around the myths of King Arthur and takes place partly in Wales.

The Welsh flag
The flag's white and green halves recall the colours of the House of Tudor, itself a Welsh family; at the centre is the Welsh Dragon ("Y Ddraig Goch", or "The Red Dragon" in Welsh), said to have been the standard of King Arthur and other Celtic warlords.

The Welsh national anthem
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad,
Dros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.

Gwlad! Gwlad! Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd,
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i'm golwg sydd hardd;
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i fi.

Gwlad! Gwlad! Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad tan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.

Gwlad! Gwlad! Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra môr yn fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

The land of my fathers is dear to me,
Old land where the minstrels are honoured and free;
Its warring defenders so gallant and brave,
For freedom their life's blood they gave.

Home, home, true I am to home,
While seas secure the land so pure,
O may the old language endure.

Old land of the mountains, the Eden of bards,
Each gorge and each valley a loveliness guards;
Through love of my country, charmed voices will be
Its streams, and its rivers, to me.

Home, home, true I am to home,
While seas secure the land so pure,
O may the old language endure.

Though foemen have trampled my land 'neath their feet,
The language of Cambria still knows no retreat;
The muse is not vanquished by traitor's fell hand,
Nor silenced the harp of my land.

Home, home, true I am to home,
While seas secure the land so pure,
O may the old language endure.

  • Devolved parliamentary legislature within a constitutional monarchy
    • Monarch: Charles III
    • First Minister: Mark Drakeford

"The land where history sleeps, and so does everybody else."
Griff Rhys Jones

"I think most of all, the Welsh were doomed by English superiority to become objects of terminal quaintness. The quaint language, the quaint songs. Those amusing choirs and chants"
Simon Schama's A History of Britain

Alternative Title(s): Land Of My Fathers And Their Sheep