Wales is now a recognised separate country of the U.K., with its own assembly, the National Assembly for Wales. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, recently declared their intentions for independance.
From the rolling hills of the south, to the majestic mountains of the north, Wales is a rugged beautiful land of hidden valleys, dramatic coastlines and golden beaches, dotted with massive imposing castles. The native name for Wales is Cymru. Although the Welsh language still thrives in this land (with its own Welsh language TV channel), English is the day to day tongue of most people. With a population of about 3 million, nearly 20% speak Welsh. St David is the patron saint of Wales, and Welsh around the world celebrate their culture on March 1st, St.David's Day. Another celebration of Welsh culture and tradition are the yearly Eisteddfod festivals. A medieval gathering of the Bards was called an 'eisteddfod', and today the Gorsedd of Bards oversee competitions of dancing, poetry, music, singing and other arts.
The history of Wales is a complicated story of repelling invaders. The ancients built hillforts and burial mounds, and their tribal lifestyle was untouched until Roman times, and although the Romans occupied Wales, and had forts and towns mainly in the south, they never subdued the Welsh. Nor did the Saxons, one of their kings, Offa (King of neighbouring Mercia in 757), building a wall running the whole length of the Welsh border, which is still there today as an earthwork known as 'Offa's Dyke'. The Saxons legendary opponent was Arthur, King of the Britons. Wales lays claim to many connections to Arthur. He was probably a very powerful Celtic king who for the first time, united the local Celtic kingdoms to withstand the Saxon invasion. There is much speculation as to the origins of Arthur, and even his existence, but most evidence points to him being at large during the 5th century, ranging from Wales to Cornwall, even Brittany and as far north as Scotland. The Saxons did push far enough west in Britain to drive a geographical wedge between the Welsh and their ancient relations, the Cornish, defining what was to become today's country of Wales.
By the 9th century there were 4 kingdoms in Wales, the larger Gwynedd in the north and Deheubarth in the south, and the smaller Morgannwg in the south-east and Powys in the east. The first king of much of this area was Rhodri Mawr (the Great), followed by Hywel Dda (the Good), but the first King of all Wales was Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.
The Norman invasion of Britain resulted in the later occupation of Wales, with a turbulent time of warlords and rebellious princes, lasting hundreds of years. The huge stone castles all over the country all date from this era. LLywelyn ap Iowerth (the Great) ruled North Wales for nearly 50 years from 1194, taking advantage of weak English monarchy, followed by LLywelyn the Last, who signed a treaty with English King Henry 3rd, to secure the title 'Prince of Wales'. 1282 saw a great Welsh revolt, ending in defeat and death for LLywelyn and his brother Dafydd. In 1400, Owain Glyndwr was a rebel who waged such effective guerrilla warfare against the English, that he gained the reputation of a Welsh wizard with supernatural powers. Welsh independence disappeared with him in 1412. The Welshman Henry Tudur, who claimed descent from King Arthur, beat King Richard 3rd in the English Wars of the Roses, and gained the English throne in 1485, becoming Henry 7th. An act of parliament in 1536 unified Wales with England. Welsh history after this is beyond the scope of Maui Celtic and this website, and more Welsh history can be found via our links page.
The Welsh flag is a red dragon, on a split background of a white above green stripe. The red dragon represents the nation's heritage as one of the early Celtic peoples of the island of Britain. Ancient poets used the Welsh word 'draig' to also describe a leader or warrior, and the Medieval image of the red dragon of the Britons battling the white dragon of the Saxons was well known. The Tudor dynasty of the Middle ages used the dragon as their symbol, and Henry Tudor claimed to be descended from the ancient Briton Kings. There have been slightly different versions of the dragon, which always faces to the left.