Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Wales (Cymru)

Principality Capital : Cardiff


Traditional: Anglesey, Breconshire, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Carnarvonshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Glamorganshire, Merionethshire, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, Pembrokeshire, Radnorshire

Modern: Anglesey, Clwyd, Dyfed, Gwent, Gwynedd, Mid Glamorgan, Powys, South Glamorgan, West Glamorgan


The original inhabitants of the British Isles were heavily influenced and displaced by the Celts in the first few centuries BC although Wales was probably one of the places least affected due to its remoteness. By 59 AD it was part of the Roman province of Britannia Superior which became Christian in around 200 AD. After the Roman withdrawal, Scots arrived from Ireland and 'Cambria' joined the Celtic church. From 450-600, Wales was the main Celtic stronghold in the west as the Saxons invaded and settled southern Britain. The island of Anglesey was under Scandinavian rule following the Viking raids of the C9th and C10th and although Wales remained outside the Danelaw (borders imposed on Anglo-Saxon England) it was part of the empire of Cnut the Great, King of Norway and Denmark (1014-35). There was not even an official boundary with England until King Offa of Mercia built Offa's Dyke to protect against Welsh attacks in the late C8th.

The country was divided into various principalities under their own kings who sometimes ruled more than one area. There were several attempts to unify all Wales under one king but these were not successful in time to keep out the English. The four main kingdoms of the Middle Ages were Gwynedd (Snowdonia and Anglesey), Powys (borders of Mercia to central Wales), Dyfed (south-west) and Deheubarth (united various smaller kingdoms of south Wales). There was a great deal of conflict between princes and even members of the same family. (This may be due to the custom of having sons fostered so they grew up with little or no family loyalty). Hywel Dda (the Good) of Gwynedd gained control of Powys, Ceredigion (border area between kingdoms) and Dyfed in the mid C10th and laid the foundations for a unified Welsh law.

In England, multiple kingship was abandoned in favour of a single kingdom under the Wessex royal line in the C10th, and it increased English intervention in Wales. This had dated from as far back as 878 when five princes of southern Wales asked for protection from Alfred the Great, and the English kings gradually became recognised as the overlords of the Welsh. Despite opposition from Hywel ab Edwin of Deheubarth and Gruffydd ap Rhyderch of south-east Wales, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd controlled most of Wales in the later C11th. After his death, the Welsh kingdoms went to men who were more or less client-kings of Edward the Confessor of England.

After the Norman Conquest of England, the Angevin kings laid claim to the feudal overlordship of Wales and the Marcher Lordships were established along the border. This met with much resistance from the Welsh princes, notably Llywelyn Fawr (the Great) of Gwynedd who controlled most of Wales in the first half of the C13th. His son, Dafydd, used the title 'Prince of Wales' towards the end of his short reign and this was also taken up by his nephew and successor, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, who at first shared power with his brother, Owain Goch, under the auspices of Henry III of England. Their brother, Dafydd, rebelled against the English in 1282, forcing Llywelyn to join him. Llywelyn died in a minor skirmish after a long struggle for peace and political unity, including an alliance with Simon de Montfort, the leader of the civil war against the weak Henry III.

Henry's son, Edward I, was a much stronger king who finally defeated the Welsh in 1284 and built a series of castles around the Welsh coast to prevent further uprisings. It was his son, Edward II, who as an infant became the first English 'Prince of Wales', a title now traditionally borne by the eldest son of the reigning British monarch. The Statute of Rhuddlan of 1284 laid down guidelines for the Edwardian settlement, proclaiming the annexation of Wales and the extension of English law to Wales. English officials (sheriffs, coroners, bailiffs) were established in central and south-west Wales and a justiciar was appointed to keep the peace. The Welsh rebelled against the Edwardian settlement in 1294 under Madog ap Llywelyn (from a junior line of the ruling dynasty of Gwynedd) and were not entirely defeated until the following year. Another claimant, Owain Lawgoch (Redhand), a grandson of Rhodri, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd's younger brother, who had been brought up in England, never managed to gather enough support to invade but was taken seriously enough to be assassinated by John Lamb, a Scot in English pay, in 1378.

The last real attempt to gain Welsh independence was made by Owain Glyndwr (Owen Glendower), a descendant of the princes of Northern Powys, and his kinsmen, Rhys and Gwilym ap Tudur, towards the end of the C14th. He had considerable support, possibly influenced more by economic than political factors which also may have contributed to the downfall of the English king, Richard II, by 1399. The new king, Henry IV, made a peace offer on condition that Owain submitted completely with his friend and ally, the earl of Northumberland (father of Henry Percy called 'Hotspur'). Owain refused and although fighting continued for some years, by 1415 he had virtually given up and was offered another pardon which he again refused. He seems to have tacitly accepted Henry's terms, traditionally being thought to have lived with his daughter and her husband in Herefordshire for the rest of his life.

Wales declined rapidly during the C15th and many men took service on the English side during the wars with France. During the Wars of the Roses, the country, like England, was divided between Lancaster and York although many of the English overlords rarely visited their Welsh estates. In 1485, the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III, lost the throne to a Welsh usurper descended from a half-brother of Henry VI on his mother's side, Henry Tudor. This did not lead to greater freedom for Wales to which royal control was extended in 1536 and 1543 under the Acts of Union. English became the official language and Wales became subject to English law and sent representatives to the English parliament.

The Welsh Anglican Church became strongly Protestant during the C16th but declined under a succession of English bishops in the C17th and 18th and was disestablished in 1920. During the C18th, the evangelical revival led to Non-Conformism becoming a significant part of Welsh life and a strong coal and iron industry developed in the south. The miners and ironworkers became strong supporters of Chartism during the C19th and Wales became a stronghold of trade unions and socialism. The University of Wales was founded in 1893. During the 1920s and 30s, Wales was badly affected by the industrial depression with 21% unemployment by 1937, and there was a large population exodus. After 1945, the nationalist movement began to grow and the Welsh language was revived. The Welsh National Party, Plaid Cymru, gained its first seat in Parliament in 1966. In 1979, a referendum rejected a proposal for limited home rule but Welsh resentment towards the English continued and in 1988, there was a bombing campaign against estate agents who sold Welsh properties to English buyers. Under the Labour government of Tony Blair, a second referendum of 1997 voted in favour of a Welsh parliament.

With the help of legislation, Welsh has recovered from English bans to be one of the most widely spoken of Celtic languages. It is once again taught and conversed in without reprisal and retains a full vocabulary and a personal name stock which is now more widely used and being added to with word-borrowings from the language. For many people, especially in north Wales and Anglesey, it is the first language, although virtually everybody speaks English as well.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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