Chapter 9

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Union with England

After the failure of the Glyndwr rebellion, it was inevitable that Wales would be annexed to England. Union had really been achieved by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284; that formal recognition had to wait until 1536 was only because of the troubles faced by English kings in dealing with their territories in France and with their own subjects in England. The conclusion of what is known as the Hundred Years War took care of the first problem, and the conclusion of what is known as the Wars of the Roses took care of the other by the time Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509.

After his great victory at Agincourt, Henry died on one of his French campaigns in 1422; his widow Katherine then married Owen Tudor, from a prominent Anglesey family. The Wars of the Roses involving rival factions for the throne of England began in the reign of the next king, Henry VI. They continued up to Bosworth in 1485 with the defeat of Richard III at the hands of the grandson of Owen Tudor, the Duke of Richmond, who took the crown as Henry VII.

Most of Wales had supported Richmond's rebellion against King Richard and were delighted that the throne was to be occupied by one of Welsh lineage. Henry acknowledged Wales and Welsh support by naming his son and heir Arthur. His daughter, meanwhile, married James IV of Scotland. It was apparent that a united kingdom of Great Britain was rapidly being created by those in power in London. The policy was continued when Henry VIII succeeded his father in 1509 after young Arthur's premature death. The problem of Scotland remained a thorn in the side of the early Tudors, but in the meantime Wales could be dealt with permanently.

After Henry VIII had broken with Rome, he felt ready to further show his power as rightful king of Wales as well as England. The first of the Acts of Union (a modern term describing several acts of legislation having to do with Wales) took place in 1536. Its provisions ensured the political annexation of Wales to England, for it gave notice that part of their intent was "[henceforth] . . .to utterly extirpate all and singular the sinister usage and customs differing from the same {English laws]."

Despite the above, the Act was welcomed by many in Wales, certainly by the gentry, the commercial interests and the religious reformers among others, and why not? Didn't it also state that "Persons born or to be born in the said Principality...of Wales shall have and enjoy and inherit all and singular Freedoms, Liberties, Rights, Privileges and other the King's subjects have, enjoy or inherit"?

In any case, the foundations of the great Welsh landed-estates had already been firmly settled. Much of the day-to-day affairs of the nation were controlled by its landed gentry, many of whom were English or had descended from English families and intermarried with the Welsh. They looked to London for their advancement (they could hardly look elsewhere) Wales was not to get its own capital city until 1955.

The Act authorized the appointments of many of these gentry as Welsh Justices of the Peace, abolished any legal distinction between citizens of Wales and those of England, settled the border by the creation of new counties (out of the old lordships), and gave Wales representation in Parliament.

It was apparent that the Act of 1536 produced no great changes for the common folk of Wales; all the ingredients for its acceptance had been put in place long before. Even the harsh, repressive measures of Bishop Rowland Lee, who had been appointed President of the Council of Wales in 1534, seemed to have caused no great reaction on the part of the Welsh, whom he seemed to have regarded as little more than "congenital thieves." There was no major rebellion, for example, as occurred in Cornwall and Yorkshire, against the great religious changes instituted by the Crown. Either the majority of the people of Wales realized the hopelessness of their position, or their leading citizens were too busy enjoying the fruits of cooperation with London. The continuing struggle would have to wait for a while.

There certainly were major benefits to be gained from close ties with England. The Act opened up opportunities for individual advancement in all walks of life, and hundreds of ambitious Welshmen flocked to London to take full advantage of their chances. Yet, it must be noted that the Act, one of the most important in the whole history of Wales, was passed without consultation with the Welsh people; there was no agreement of a central Welsh authority or parliament, simply because such an authority did not exist.

The title of the Act of 1536 is : "An Act for Laws and Justices to be ministered in Wales in like form as it is in this Realm." Its preamble states:
His Highness. . .of the singular love and favour that he bears towards his subjects of this said dominion of Wales, and intending to reduce them to the perfect order, notice and knowledge of the laws of this Realm, and utterly to extirpate all and singular the sinister usage and customs differing from the same...hath...ordained, enacted and established that his said country or dominion of Wales shall stand and continue forever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with his Realm of England"
From this time on, English law would be the only law recognized by the courts of Wales. In addition, for the placing of the administration of Wales in the hands of the Welsh gentry, a class was created, not only fluent in English, but also who would use it in all legal and civil matters. Thus inevitably, before very long, this Welsh ruling class would be divorced from the language and the common folk of their own country.

Chapter 9 Continued
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