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Wales, Welsh Cymru, western peninsula and political division (principality) of Great Britain (2011 pop. 3,063,456), 8,016 sq mi (20,761 sq km), west of England; politically united with England since 1536. The capital is Cardiff. Wales is bounded by the Irish Sea (N), by the Bristol Channel (S), by the English unitary authority of Chester West and Chester and counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire (E), and by Cardigan Bay and St. George's Channel (W). Across the Menai Strait is the Welsh island of Anglesey.

Land and People

The Cambrian Mts. cover most of Wales, with high points at Snowdon (3,560 ft/1,085 m), Plynlimon (2,468 ft/752 m), and Cadair Idris (2,970 ft/905 m). The eastern rivers—the Dee, Severn, and Wye—drain into England. The Usk flows through Monmouthshire and Newport into the Bristol Channel. The Tywi (Towy), Taff, Teifi, Dovey (Dyfi), and Conwy (Conway) rivers lie completely in Wales. The eastern boundary, drawn in 1536, united England and Wales politically but disregarded cultural and linguistic distribution. Welsh-speaking areas were added to England's Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Gloucestershire; the language survived in Herefordshire until the 18th cent. and survives to a small extent in Shropshire today. Wales has maintained a distinctive culture despite its long union with England, though English has become the main language. In the 1990s about 25% of the population spoke Welsh, although in certain regions the percentage was much higher. Wales comprises 22 administrative divisions (unitary authorities): Flintshire, Wrexham, Denbighshire, Conwy, the Isle of Anglesey, Gwynedd, Powys, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, the Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport, and Monmouthshire.


N Wales is characterized by farms and pastoral highlands. There had been some industrial development around the coal fields centered on Wrexham, but the fields have largely been closed. The coastal towns of the Lleyn Peninsula (Gwynedd) are tourist and vacation centers for N England's industrial cities. The industrial wealth of Wales is concentrated in the southern counties bordering on the Bristol Channel. This area has large steelworks (Port Talbot), oil refineries (Milford Haven), tinplate and copper foundries, and the once-rich S Wales coal fields. The southeast also has the greatest concentration of investment in Britain, predominantly in electronics. Other important industrial cities and ports are Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, and Tenby. The labor force has tended to drift into the southern industrial areas, leaving the north sparsely populated. With the decline of the coal industry, the Welsh economy has become increasingly reliant on consumer electronics, automotive parts, chemicals, and tourism, information technology, and other service-related industries.


Early History

Welsh tradition stretches back into prehistory (see Celt; Great Britain). In the first centuries AD, Celtic-speaking clans of shepherds, farmers, and forest dwellers defended their homes against Roman invaders, who penetrated the north to found Segontium (near Caernarvon) and the south to found Maridunum (now Carmarthen). But the Roman effect upon Wales was light, and Welsh clans continued to dominate large areas of Great Britain, north to the Clyde and the Firth of Forth and south past the Bristol Channel into present Somerset, Devonshire, and Cornwall. They were converted to Christianity by Celtic monks, notably St. David. Although the Anglo-Saxon conquest of E Britain (late 5th cent.) did not seriously affect the Welsh, the invaders did thrust between the main body of Welsh and those south of the Bristol Channel (who nevertheless maintained their national identity for centuries).

Border wars were chronic between the Welsh and the seven English kingdoms known as the heptarchy. The sturdy Welsh fighters, who took the name Cymry [compatriots], withstood the forces of the kings of Mercia and Wessex and later the harrying of the Norsemen. The disparate clans of pastoral people gradually coalesced. Hywel Dda, king of Wales in the mid-10th cent., collected Welsh law and custom into a unified code. At the same time the position of the bard, which was later to yield a wealth of poetry, music, and learning, was formalized. Defense of the besieged hills went on, and Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the ruler of Wales, maintained Welsh independence until his death in 1063.

English Incursion to Union

William I of England tried to deal with the Welsh by setting up border earldoms to protect his newly won kingdom from their incursions. The power of the border earls (see Welsh Marches) grew steadily, and Wales was increasingly threatened with English conquest, although Welsh foot soldiers, moving swiftly and secretly over the mountain paths, resisted through 200 years of guerrilla warfare. When the English made inroads in the north, Rhys ap Tewdr held sway in the south, and only after his death (1093) did the Anglo-Norman barons take full possession of the Vale of Glamorgan. Dissension within England in the early 12th cent. relaxed pressure on the Welsh princes, and medieval Welsh culture approached its full blossom (see eisteddfod; Mabinogion).

Nevertheless, although invasions from England were repeatedly thwarted and although Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (d. 1240) united the Welsh and gained power by skillfully intervening in the troubled English affairs of King John, the end was certain. During the reign of Llywelyn's grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, English conquest of Wales was finally accomplished by Edward I in 1282. The Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) established English rule. To placate Welsh sentiment, Edward had his son (later Edward II), who had been born at Caernarvon Castle, made prince of Wales in 1301; thus originated the English custom of entitling the king's eldest son prince of Wales.

Changes in Welsh life, although few, included a gradual cultural decline and the growth of market towns through trade with England. Wool became a staple source of revenue. The Norman barons were left undisturbed in their marcher lordships. Early in the 15th cent. Owen Glendower led a revolt that had a brief but amazing success, and Welsh leaders continued to seek advantage from disturbances in the domestic affairs of their conquerors. Henry VII, the first Tudor king, who ascended the English throne in 1485, was the grandson of Owen Tudor, a Welshman. Tudor policy toward Wales was one of assimilation on a basis of equality. Welsh lands, including the marches, were converted into shires, and primogeniture replaced the old Welsh system of tenure (see gavelkind).

Leading Welsh families held their lands from the king; the others became leaseholders and tenants after the English pattern. The feudal aristocracy became versed in English manners and were received at the English court. Thus a deep breach, fostered by economic inequality, opened between landlord and tenant and remained unhealed for centuries. A judicial council of Wales, dating from the 15th cent., enhanced royal authority. The Act of Union (1536) and supplementary legislation completed the process of administrative assimilation by abolishing all Welsh customary law at variance with the English and by establishing English as the language of all legal proceedings. Welsh representatives entered the English Parliament; from 1536 onward, the separate history of Wales was mainly religious and cultural.

Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries

The Reformation came belatedly to Wales. Catholic tradition died slowly under Elizabeth I and James I; Puritanism was stoutly resisted, and the Welsh supported Charles I in the English civil war. Oliver Cromwell had to use oppressive measures to get the Welsh to adopt Puritan practices. In the 18th cent. Wales turned rapidly from the Established Church to dissent with strong Calvinist leanings. This was accompanied by great advances in the field of popular education, which attained unusually high standards. Welsh evangelicism had links with the English movement but was actually a native development. The Calvinistic Methodist Church gathered in great numbers of Welsh from the Church of England and bolstered Welsh nationalism, one of the most successful nonpolitical nationalist movements of the world. The strong hold of evangelical Protestantism on Wales was to make the establishment of the Church of England there the dominant question in Welsh politics in the later 19th cent.; one of the last acts of Parliament that applied to Wales alone was the disestablishment of the church in 1914.

Long before that time the tenor and tempo of Welsh life had been changed by the Industrial Revolution. The mineral wealth of Wales was opened to exploitation, at first in the north, then in the rich coal fields of the south. The accent shifted from the sheep walks and farms to the coal pits and factories. By the early 19th cent. the effects of industrialization threatened both cottage industry and agriculture. The distress of rural Wales was dramatically evidenced in the Rebecca Riots of 1843, when poor farmers destroyed toll booths, and in the emigration of large numbers of Welshmen, many to the United States. Numerous company towns sprang up in S Wales, which by the late 19th cent. was the world's chief coal-exporting region. With the benefits of industrialization, however, came poverty and unemployment, which intensified in the years of economic decline following World War I, particularly in the late 1920s and the 1930s.

Twentieth Century

Although Welsh interests had spokesmen in the British government in the early 20th cent.—the flamboyant David Lloyd George and the Welsh supporters of the Liberal party—chronic poverty and increasing unemployment continued almost unchecked until World War II. After the wartime industrial boom the Labour government, which drew substantial support from the socialist stronghold of S Wales, undertook a full-scale program of industrial redevelopment. This included reorganization of the coal mines and tinplate manufacture under government control, introduction of diversified industry, and improvement of communications, housing, and technical education. These actions did not save the coal industry; most of the mines in Wales have been closed, and the few remaining ones have been privatized.

As in earlier days, Welsh nationalism has undergone a revival since the mid-20th cent., with a special interest in education and the arts. The modern National Eisteddfod perpetuates interest in Welsh language, poetry, and choral music. Since 1944, primary and secondary schools have been established with Welsh as the sole language of instruction. A Welsh-language television channel opened in 1982, and there are several Welsh arts, opera, and literature councils on the national level (see also Welsh literature).

In 1979, Welsh voters decisively defeated a British proposal for limited home rule, but in 1997 they narrowly passed a referendum to establish a 60-member assembly. Elections were held in 1999, with the Labour party winning the most seats and forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Labour formed a government alone after the 2003 vote, in coalition with the nationalist Plaid Cymru after the 2007 vote, and alone after the 2011 vote.

Parliamentary legislation passed in 2006 and effective in mid-2007 allowed the assembly to enact laws for Wales, subject to approval from the British parliament, in areas in which the assembly has devolved responsibilities. In 2011 voters approved increased legislative powers for the assembly, allowing it to act independently of Parliament in areas for which it is responsible.


See J. Rhys and D. B. Jones, The Welsh People (1906, repr. 1969); A. H. Williams, An Introduction to the History of Wales (2 vol., 1962); K. O. Morgan, Wales in British Politics 1868–1922 (1963), Rebirth of a Nation: Wales, 1880–1980 (1981), and Modern Wales: Politics, Places, People (1996); W. Davies, Wales in the Early Middle Ages (1982); D. Smith, Wales! Wales? (1984); J. Davies, A History of Wales (1993, repr. 1995); A. D. Carr, Medieval Wales (1995).

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Wales shares with other Celtic countries an ancient mythology and traditional lore, although much of this was suppressed with the spread of Christianity from the fifth century on, and a succession of conquests by Romans, Normans, and English. Many of the enchanted stories of the King Arthur cycle are also found in Welsh tradition.

In the seventeenth century, Puritanism took a firm hold, and the spread of Methodism in the eighteenth century further worked to eradicate traditions of magic, although the religious revivals of the late nineteenth century had a wild, almost Pagan flavor about them and were accompanied by the appearance of various forms of paranormal phenomena.

Ancient Traditions

One of the great sources of Welsh legends is the Mabinogion, dating from medieval times, containing stories for oral recitation by bards in the halls of the ancient princes of Wales. Typical motifs in these tales are supernatural birth, visits to the Other World, and magic shape-changing. Rhiannon, the wife of Pwyll, possessed marvelous birds that came from the Unseen World, and their singing held warriors spellbound for 80 years. In another story, Lvevelys helps his brother Lludd to eradicate three plagues that have devastated Britainthe Coranians, a strange race whose knowledge is infinite and who hear everything uttered, even the softest whisper; a horrifying shriek that penetrates every house on a May evening, caused by the battle between two dragons; and a great giant who carries off all the food from the king's palace.

A well-known story is that of the birth of Taliesin, chief of the bards of the west. The hero, Gwion Bach, goes to the Land under Waves at the bottom of Lake Bala in North Wales. There he finds the giant Tegid the Bald and his wife Ceridwen, goddess of poetry and knowledge. Ceridwen owns an immense cauldron in which she brews a mixture of science and inspiration, with the aid of her books of magic. This great brew has to simmer for a year and a day, and she sets the blind man Morda to keep the fire going and Gwion to stir the brew. It is to yield three magical drops.

Toward the end of the year, as Ceridwen is picking herbs and making incantations, three drops of the brew spurt out of the cauldron and fall upon Gwion Bach's finger. With the sudden heat on his finger, he puts it into his mouth to cool, whereupon the three drops instantly give him knowledge and meaning of all things, and he becomes aware that he must guard against Ceridwen's cunning, so he flees to his own land. Meanwhile the cauldron bursts and the rest of the brew is a black poison that overflows into the waters, poisoning the horses of Gwyddno Garanhir.

Ceridwen seizes a billet of wood and strikes blind Morda on the head, but he declares that he is innocent and that it is the fault of Gwion Bach. She runs in pursuit of Gwion, but he sees her coming and changes himself into a hare. She changes herself into a greyhound and follows him. He runs toward a river and becomes a fish, but she, in the form of an otter, chases him under the water, so he must turn himself into a bird. She becomes a hawk and gives him no rest in the sky. Just as she is going to swoop on him, he sees a heap of winnowed wheat on the floor of a barn, so he drops among the wheat and turns himself into one of the grains. She turns herself into a black hen, scratches at the wheat and swallows him.

She carries him for nine months and is delivered of him, but cannot kill him because of his beauty, so she wraps him in a leather bag and casts him into the sea to the mercy of God. He is carried into the weir of Gwyddno Garanhir and found by Prince Elphin, who has come to catch fish in his net. Elphin renames him Taliesin, which can mean "beautiful brow" or "great value."


Wales is also considered a center for the cult of the Druids (brought by the Celts ), who came into Wales as early as 200 B.C.E. They were said to practice human sacrifice, although it has also been claimed that the victims were criminals. They also employed methods of divination.

The Druids are thought to have come from ancient Gaul, where they were suppressed in the Roman Conquest as a rival source of power and prestige. The historian Pliny the Elder re-corded their association with the mistletoe plant in their sacred rites.

He also mentioned a mysterious object used by the Druids, which he named the "serpent's egg." It was roughly the size and shape of a small apple, and it was said that a mass of hissing serpents threw this egg into the air. If it could be caught in a white cloak before touching the ground, it would convey powers of magic to the possessor, such as the ability to float against a river current, and success in legal undertakings.

Witchcraft and Demonology

Sir Dafydd Llwyd, who lived in Cardiganshire in the reign of Charles II, had studied black magic at Oxford. He practiced as a physician and was famous for his wonderful cures, but his skill was owed to a familiar spirit or demon that he kept locked up in a book of spells. One day, the story is told, he accidently left this grimoire behind and sent his pageboy home to fetch it, commanding him to on no account open it. Like most lads the boy could not resist being inquisitive; he lifted the cover and turned over the leaves, with their weird inscriptions.

Suddenly there came forth a huge demon who frowned and in a hoarse grumbling voice asked to be set to work. In spite of his terror, the boy had the wit to say, "Fetch me some stones out of the River Wye." In a few moments, stones and pebbles began hurtling through the air, when Sir Dafydd, aware that something was wrong, came hurrying back and conjured the spirit back into the book before any serious harm could be done.

As early as the twelfth century, Christian priests in Wales were warned about letting the Eucharistic Host get into the hands of magicians and witches, who might secretly slip it out of their mouths and hide it in a handkerchief or glove. In 1582 the wife of Edward Jones was called upon to prove to the satisfaction of the archdeacon of Lewes "that she did eat the Communion bread and put yt not in hir glove."

As late as the opening years of the eighteenth century, two old dames were said to have attended the morning service at Llanddewi Brefi Church to partake of Holy Communion, but instead of eating it like the other communicants, they kept it in their mouths and went out. Then they walked round the church nine times, and at the ninth circuit the Devil came out of the church wall in the form of a frog, to whom they gave the Host from their mouths, and by doing this, sold themselves to Satan and became witches.

There are many stories about Dr. John Harries (1785-1839), a celebrated Welsh physician and seer of Cërt-y-Cadno, Carmarthenshire, who was said to possess a great book of magic, which was kept locked to prevent any ignorant person from letting loose its powerful influences. Harries boasted of his knowledge of future and distant events, imparted to him by familiar spirits.

Belief in witchcraft persisted into the twentieth century in Wales, but it concerned "white witches" who cast useful spells and horoscopes, or averted evil events. In 1933 there was a wise man in Llangwrig, Montgomeryshire, who was famous throughout Wales for breaking the spells of witches. He kept his book of divination and an almanac in a rosewood casket.

In November 1936 a correspondent in John O'London's Weekly stated that "even now belief in witchcraft in the upper parts of the Wye Valley is not quite extinct." In the following month, another correspondent stated: "When we lived in a small village in Montgomeryshire some years ago we found a widespread belief in witchcraft among the farmers of the district." If the cattle became sick, farmers visited the wise man to find out who had bewitched their beasts. If two farmers had a serious quarrel, one of them went to the wise man to obtain a charm to injure his neighbor.

Phenomena at Religious Revivals

Welsh preaching is celebrated for its fervor, and the traditional hwyl or peroration of a sermon is said to have magic effects. During the nineteenth century, there were reports of mysterious luminous phenomena associated with revivalism, and such accounts were given again in 1904 and 1905 during the inspired revival campaigns of Mary Jones of Egryn. Jones was a happily married peasant woman with a family, when in December 1904 she received beatific visions instructing her to undertake the work of religious revival that had earlier been the mission of the preacher Evan Roberts in Glamorgan.

The first night of Jones' mission was marked by the appearance of a mysterious star and various lights. She herself reported seeing "a circle of small stars, encompassing a cross of diamond stars, and on this cross at times the draped figure of the Saviour." The strange luminous phenomena were witnessed by other individuals. A skeptical businessman was driving her home one evening from a meeting, and prayed that he might be accorded a sign if she was indeed a divinely ordained preacher. Immediately there appeared above the road, in front of the car, a misty star. As the man gazed a luminous cross was formed inside it, sparkling with diamonds, and upon this was a draped figure with bowed head.

On another occasion, Jones herself reported seeing the Devil, who first appeared in the figure of a man, but when she started singing revival hymns, suddenly stopped, turned on her and became transformed into an enormous black dog. She prayed for strength, and the dog rushed growling into a hillock.

The star and the light were seen by many people from the first day of Jones' mission. The star seemed to rest above particular houses where converts later came to the meetings. It also followed her on her journeys. On her trip to Criccieth, for example, the lights were witnessed by the people with her. At Bryncrug, a few miles inland from Towyn, the gallery of the chapel was flooded during the service by the mysterious light. After the service, the light, in the form of a ball of fire casting its rays down to earth, was seen by a party of young quarrymen. Overtaking the light, which had stopped, they knelt down in the middle of the road and held a prayer meeting, bathed in the unearthly light.

Some of these lights and their movements are reminiscent of many modern accounts of UFO s.

The Gardnerian Revival

In the last generation, growing out of the initial work of Gerald B. Gardner (the witch of the Isle of Man), a new neopagan witchcraft or Wicca movement spread from England through the British Isles, the lands of the commonwealth, and the United States. As the movement grew and broke into numerous segments, there arose a number who attached themselves to Welsh witchcraft traditions. Among the early covens in the northeastern United States in the 1970s were the New York Coven of Welsh Traditional Witchcraft and the New England Coven of Welsh Traditional Witchcraft, which supplemented their Gardnerian rituals with material from folkloric, archeological, and anthropological texts on Wales. Several significant groupsthe most notable possibly the Church and School of Wicca (Box 1502, New Bern, NC 28560) and the Cymry Wicca (Box 4196, Athens, GA 30605)claim to draw on Welsh traditions. In addition, many modern witches, drawing on the Mabinogion, have chosen such names as Ceridwen and Taliesin as their religious names.


Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1987.

Charlton, I. W. The Revival in Wales. London, 1905. (Pamphlet)

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. London: Faber & Faber, 1948.

Guest, Lady Charlotte, trans. The Mabinogion: From the Llyfr Coch o Hergest. 3 vols. London, 1948.

Jones, Edmund. A Relation of Ghosts and Apparitions Which Commonly Appear in the Principality of Wales. Bristol, England: 1767.

Jones, T. Gwynn. Welsh Folklore and Folk Customs. London: Methuen, 1930.

Morgan, J. V. The Welsh Religious Revival, 1904-05. London: Chapman & Hall, 1909.

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Archaeological and documented evidence show that the early Welsh economy was based on mixed farming. When journeying through Wales in 1188, Giraldus Cambrensis (also known as Gerald de Barri or Gerald of Wales) noted that most of the population lived on its flocks and on milk, cheese, butter, and oats. Numerous references to foods in literary works establish that this was generally how the Welsh subsisted until well into the nineteenth century.

Ingredients of the Traditional Diet

The Report of the Royal Commission on Land in Wales (London, 1896) shows that small farmers and tenants survived on home-cured meat from domestic animals, home-grown vegetables, dairy products, and cereal-based dishes. Farmers and cottagers would fatten and slaughter at least one pig a year to provide a constant supply of salted bacon. On larger farms, a bullock or barren cow was also butchered and the meat shared between neighboring farms. Keeping cattle provided sufficient milk to produce butter and cheese; vegetables were grown in the kitchen garden and fields, mostly leeks, carrots, cabbages, herbs, and, from the eighteenth century onward, potatoes. Wild fruits, plants, berries, wild animals and birds were utilized in season, and communities living close to coastal regions varied their diet by fishing and collecting shellfish such as cockles, mussels, periwinkles, and limpets. Inhabitants along the coastal regions of the Gower peninsula, Pembrokeshire, and Anglesey gathered the edible seaweed laver (porphyra umbilicalis ). Prepared as a commercial product by Glamorgan families, it was sold along with cockles and mussels in the market towns of south Wales, famously Pen-clawdd. It was usually tossed in oatmeal and fried in bacon fat; today laverbread is a recognized Welsh delicacy, sometimes known as Welsh caviar.

Traditional Dishes

The topography determined that oats and barley were the most commonly grown cereal crops, with wheat confined to the fertile lowlands. Oatmeal in its various forms was one of the basic elements in the diet of the Welsh. Llymru (flummery) and sucan (sowans), consisting of oatmeal steeped in cold water and buttermilk, boiled until thickened and served cool with milk or treacle, as well as bwdram (thin flummery), uwd (porridge), and griwel blawd ceirch (oatmeal gruel) were among the everyday fare served in most rural districts until the early twentieth century. The bread most regularly eaten throughout Wales until the late nineteenth century was oatbread, formed into wafer-thin circular loaves and baked on a bakestone or griddle over an open fire. It was used in the counties of north Wales as a basic ingredient in cereal pottages such as picws mali (shot) or siot (shot); a popular light meal consisting of crushed oatbread soaked in buttermilk. Brŵes (brose ) was a common dish in the agricultural areas of the north and regularly prepared as a breakfast dish for the menservants. It was made from crushed oatbread steeped in meat stock and sprinkled with crushed oatbread before serving.

Welsh rural society was largely self-supporting with the exception of sugar, salt, tea, rice, and currants, which had to be purchased. Sundays and special occasions usually merited a roast dinner for which a joint of fresh meat would be purchased from the local butcher; this was followed by homemade rice pudding. Very little fresh fruit was purchased, and eggs were eaten only on very rare occasions. The limited range of supplies also demanded great resourcefulness to provide an assorted menu. The ability to prepare an assortment of stews from one basic ingredient, namely oatmeal, required considerable dexterity. Similar skill was required for broths such as cawl and lobsgows using home-cured meat.

The open fire with its many appliances was central to cooking throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, in many rural homes, well into the twentieth century. Such limited cooking facilities also governed what could be prepared. Stews, joints of meat, and puddings were boiled in a cooking pot or cauldron. Pot ovens were used for roasting meat and baking cakes and fruit tarts, and the bakestone was widely used to bake oatcakes, drop scones, soda bread, pancakes, and griddle-cakes (such as Welsh Cakes). Additionally, spits, Dutch ovens, and bottle-jacks, clockwork implements in the shape of a bottle that were hung in front of the fire, were used for roasting meat.

The preparation and consumption of traditional foods were closely integrated with patterns of life in rural Wales. Before labor-saving agricultural machinery, farmers were dependent on the cooperation of their neighbors to fulfill seasonal work. Corn (grain) or hay harvesting, corn threshing, and sheep shearing were essentially communal efforts requiring communal meals and celebrations. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Boten Ben Fedi (harvest pie), consisting of mashed potatoes, minced beef, bacon, and onion was served for the corn harvest supper. Threshing and shearing days were also marked with plentiful meals of cold lamb or beef, potatoes, and peas followed by rice pudding for dessert. Tatws popty beef, onions, and potatoeswas a favorite in parts of Gwynedd, and afternoon tea consisted simply of home-baked bread, butter, cheese, and jam; while rich yeasted fruitcake and gooseberry pie were considered as shearing specialties in most regions.

In the industrial towns and villages during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, wives would often help to support their families in periods of hardship by preparing and selling home-cooked dishes, considered delicacies by members of the local community. Coal-miners' wives or widows prepared dishes of minced seasoned liver and pork fat called faggots, which were served with peas and sold from the women's homes or from market stalls. Pickled herrings were a comparable savory dish sold by women in the slate-quarrying communities of north Wales and consumed with homemade oatcakes by quarrymen and farm servants.

Although the tradition of living off the land survived until a later period, in the rural areas change came with improved roads, modern shopping facilities, refrigerators, and freezers. By the early twenty-first century, the majority of the above-mentioned dishes are mostly eaten on special occasions as traditional food.

See also Cake and Pancake; Cattle; Cereal Grains and Pseudo-Cereals; Dairy Products; Herding; Hearth Cookery; Meat, Salted; Stew.


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Mared Wyn Sutherland

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Wales, principality of

Wales, principality of. The term refers to the territorial dominion of the last Welsh princes of Wales; the estate granted to English princes of Wales after 1301; and the entire land of Wales following the Act of Union (1536). The first Welsh ruler to call himself prince of Wales (1244) was Dafydd ap Llywelyn; he was recognized by the pope and his principality was based on Gwynedd, of which his father Llywelyn ab Iorwerth had been prince. Dafydd's nephew Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d. 1282), prince of Wales, had a more extensive principality in north, north-east, and central Wales of which he was either direct ruler or overlord; his title and principality were acknowledged by Henry III to be hereditary (1267). Llywelyn's brother Dafydd (d. 1283) claimed to be prince of Wales, but his principality was swiftly conquered by Edward I, who annexed and united it to the English crown (1284). This modified principality, which included all royal lands in north Wales (much of Llywelyn's principality) and west Wales (formerly either royal enclaves or lordships held by Llywelyn's vassals), was bestowed in 1301 on Edward I's eldest surviving son, Edward, as the first English prince of Wales. From time to time thereafter, this principality was the territorial endowment of the heir to the throne. It covered half of Wales and should ‘never be separated from the crown, but should remain entirely to the kings of England for ever’ (1301). The title of prince lapsed for periods (e.g. between the accession of Edward II in 1307 and the creation of the Black Prince as prince of Wales in 1343), few heirs who were created prince of Wales in the Middle Ages reached manhood, and some heirs apparent were not created princes of Wales. However, the principality of Wales had a continuous existence as part of the inseparable crown estate, to be periodically vested in the king's eldest son, to be governed and exploited by him.

Edward I outlined an elaborate scheme of government for the principality of Wales in the statute of Wales (1284). It was based on existing arrangements and hence had two sectors, of three counties in north Wales (Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, and Merioneth) based on Caernarfon, and of two counties in west Wales (Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire) based on Carmarthen. Each sector had a justiciar with political and judicial competence, and a chamberlain with financial competence; each county had shire officials and great sessions; more local administrative arrangements were based on the commote with Welsh and English elements. The two sectors were frequently referred to, inaccurately, as the principality of north Wales and the principality of west (or south) Wales. Ultimately responsible to the king's court, council, and officials at Westminster, or (when there was one) to the prince's council, in practice the principality of Wales was a separate and independent jurisdiction. It was a development of Llywelyn's principality, rather than a clear break with it, and it was larger than Llywelyn's in some respects, in others smaller than his: Flintshire, though a royal shire, was attached for administrative convenience to Cheshire and lay outside the principality of Wales; the English princes were overlords of several marcher lordships in the north-east which had been part of Llywelyn's principality.

The council of Edward IV's eldest son began to undertake responsibility for order not only in the principality but also (by 1476) in the marcher lordships and border English shires and so had a Wales-wide authority (as the Council in the March) that was the germ of the arrangements made by the Act of Union (1536). These arrangements consolidated Wales administratively and constitutionally by extending the machinery of government of the principality of Wales to Wales as a whole, including Flintshire and the March. Thus, the ‘country and dominion of Wales’ became conterminous with the principality of Wales, and was so regarded from the 16th cent. onwards. This principality retained peculiar features of law and justice, with separate courts albeit dispensing English common law, until, first, the Council of Wales and the March was abolished as a prerogative court in 1689 and, second, the great sessions were abolished in 1830 and the judicial system assimilated to that of England. The revenues from rights of jurisdiction and lands continued to accrue to the crown and could be granted to individual princes of Wales by special Act of Parliament—though not all princes were granted them. In 1760 they were surrendered by George III along with the crown's hereditary revenues in return for a ‘civil list’; thereafter, no principality lands or financial rights could be bestowed on a prince (in contrast to the duchy of Cornwall).

Yet the concept of the principality of Wales within the United Kingdom survived, largely because of the distinctive culture, language, and sense of identity of the Welsh. Although in modern times prior to the 20th cent. princes of Wales visited their principality rarely, both prince and principality were a focus of Welsh sentiment. The investiture of Prince Edward (later Edward VIII; 1911) took place in an atmosphere of national euphoria, during a picturesque ceremony held at Caernarfon castle in deference to spurious tradition; that of Prince Charles (1969), though more controversial, was enthusiastically welcomed by most Welsh people.

Ralph Alan Griffiths


Edwards, J. G. , The Principality of Wales, 1267–1967 (Caernarfon, 1969);
Griffiths, R. A. , The Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages, i: South Wales, 1277–1536 (Cardiff, 1972);
Jones, F. , The Princes and Principality of Wales (Cardiff, 1969).

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Wales Principality of the United Kingdom, occupying a broad peninsula in w Great Britain; the capital is Cardiff. Other major cities include Swansea.

Land and climate

In the n lies Wales' highest peak, Snowdon, at 1085m (3560ft). Anglesey lies off the nw coast. The Black Mountains lie in the se. The border regions and coastal plains are lowlands. The principal rivers are the Severn and Dee. On average, Cardiff experiences twice as much annual rainfall as London. Winter sees the heaviest rains.


The Celtic-speaking Welsh stoutly resisted Roman invasion in the first centuries ad. In the 5th century, Saint David introduced Christianity. In the 10th century, political power was centralized. In the 11th century, the English conquered the border counties and established the Welsh Marches. In 1284, the Welsh were forced to relinquish their independence, and in 1301 Prince Edward (later Edward II) became Prince of Wales. In the early 15th century, Owain Glyn Dw̧r led spirited resistance to English rule. The accession of the Welsh Tudor dynasty to the English throne paved the way for the Act of Union (1536) of England and Wales. Wales supported the Royalist cause in the English Civil Wars. In the late 19th century, Wales became the world's leading producer of coal. Rapid industrialization brought large social problems, such as unemployment and poverty. From the 18th century, Wales had been a centre of Nonconformism, and Calvinism injected new life into Welsh nationalism. In 1914, the Church of England disestablished in Wales. The Welsh nationalist party (Plaid Cymru) was founded in 1926. The post-war Labour government, consisting of many Welsh members, nationalized industry and began to deal with regional inequality. In 1966, Plaid Cymru gained its first seat in the House of Commons. A 1979 referendum voted against devolution. The teaching of Welsh in schools and a separate Welsh-language television channel (since 1982) served to strengthen the distinctive Welsh culture. A 1997 referendum approved, by the narrowest of margins, the establishment of a separate Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.


North Wales is predominantly agricultural, with the world's greatest density of sheep. Dairy farming is also important. Tourism is important in the coastal region of Gwynedd. The s valleys and coastal plain are Wales' industrial heartland. The late 20th-century decline of its traditional heavy industries of coal and steel has been only partly offset by investment in light industries, such as electronics. Unemployment remains high (1996, 8.3% of the workforce). Area: 20,761sq km (8016sq mi). Pop. (1994) 2,913,000.

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Culture Name


Alternative Name

Cymru, the nation; Cymry, the people; Cymraeg, the language


Identification. The Britons, a Celtic tribe, who first settled in the area that is now Wales, had already begun to identify themselves as a distinct culture by the sixth century c.e. The word "Cymry," referring to the country, first appeared in a poem dating from 633. By 700 c.e., the Britons referred to themselves as Cymry, the country as Cymru, and the language as Cymraeg. The words "Wales" and "Welsh" are Saxon in origin and were used by the invading Germanic tribe to denote people who spoke a different language. The Welsh sense of identity has endured despite invasions, absorption into Great Britain, mass immigration, and, more recently, the arrival of non-Welsh residents.

Language has played a significant role in contributing to the sense of unity felt by the Welsh; more than the other Celtic languages, Welsh has maintained a significant number of speakers. During the eighteenth century a literary and cultural rebirth of the language occurred which further helped to solidify national identity and create ethnic pride among the Welsh. Central to Welsh culture is the centuries-old folk tradition of poetry and music which has helped keep the Welsh language alive. Welsh intellectuals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries wrote extensively on the subject of Welsh culture, promoting the language as the key to preserving national identity. Welsh literature, poetry, and music flourished in the nineteenth century as literacy rates and the availability of printed material increased. Tales that had traditionally been handed down orally were recorded, both in Welsh and English, and a new generation of Welsh writers emerged.

Location and Geography. Wales is a part of the United Kingdom and is located in a wide peninsula in the western portion of the island of Great Britain. The island of Anglesey is also considered a part of Wales and is separated from the mainland by the Menai Strait. Wales is surrounded by water on three sides: to the north, the Irish Sea; to the south, the Bristol Channel; and to the west, Saint George's Channel and Cardigan Bay. The English counties of Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford, Worcester, and Gloucestershire border Wales on the east. Wales covers an area of 8,020 square miles (20,760 square kilometers) and extends 137 miles (220 kilometers) from its most distant points and varies between 36 and 96 miles (58 and 154 kilometers) in width. The capital, Cardiff, is located in the southeast on the Severn Estuary and is also the most important seaport and shipbuilding center. Wales is very mountainous and has a rocky, irregular coastline with numerous bays, the largest of which is Cardigan Bay to the west. The Cambrian Mountains, the most significant range, run north-south through central Wales. Other mountain ranges include the Brecon Beacons to the southeast and Snowdon in the northwest, which reaches an elevation of 3,560 feet (1,085 meters) and is the highest mountain in Wales and England. The Dee River, with its headwaters in Bala Lake, the largest natural lake in Wales, flows through northern Wales into England. Numerous smaller rivers cover the south, including the Usk, Wye, Teifi, and Towy.

The temperate climate, mild and moist, has ensured the development of an abundance of plant and animal life. Ferns, mosses, and grasslands as well as numerous wooded areas cover Wales. Oak, mountain ash, and coniferous trees are found in mountainous regions under 1,000 feet (300 meters). The pine marten, a small animal similar to a mink, and the polecat, a member of the weasel family, are found only in Wales and nowhere else in Great Britain.

Demography. The latest surveys place the population of Wales at 2,921,000 with a density of approximately 364 people per square mile (141 per square kilometers). Almost three-quarters of the Welsh population reside in the mining centers of the south. The popularity of Wales as a vacation destination and weekend retreat, especially near the border with England, has created a new, nonpermanent population.

Linguistic Affiliation. There are approximately 500,000 Welsh speakers today and, due to a renewed interest in the language and culture, this number may increase. Most people in Wales, however, are English-speaking, with Welsh as a second language; in the north and west, many people are Welsh and English bilinguals. English is still the main language of everyday use with both Welsh and English appearing on signs. In some areas, Welsh is used exclusively and the number of Welsh publications is increasing.

Welsh, or Cymraeg, is a Celtic language belonging to the Brythonic group consisting of Breton, Welsh, and the extinct Cornish. Western Celtic tribes first settled in the area during the Iron Age, bringing with them their language which survived both Roman and Anglo-Saxon occupation and influence, although some features of Latin were introduced into the language and have survived in modern Welsh. Welsh epic poetry can be traced back to the sixth century c.e. and represents one of the oldest literary traditions in Europe. The poems of Taliesin and Aneirin dating from the late seventh century c.e. reflect a literary and cultural awareness from an early point in Welsh history. Although there were many factors affecting the Welsh language, especially contact with other language groups, the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries marked a dramatic decline in the number of Welsh speakers, as many non-Welsh people, attracted by the industry that had developed around coal mining in the south and east, moved into the area. At the same time, many Welsh people from rural areas left to find work in London or abroad. This large-scale migration of non-Welsh-speaking workers greatly accelerated the disappearance of Welsh-speaking communities. Even though there were still around forty Welsh-language publications in the mid-nineteenth century, the regular use of Welsh by the majority of the population began to drop. Over time two linguistic groups emerged in Wales; the Welsh-speaking region known as the Y Fro Cymraeg to the north and west, where more than 80 percent of the population speaks Welsh, and the Anglo-Welsh area to the south and east where the number of Welsh speakers is below 10 percent and English is the majority language. Up until 1900, however, almost half the population still spoke Welsh.

In 1967 the Welsh Language Act was passed, recognizing the status of Welsh as an official language. In 1988 the Welsh Language Board was established, helping to ensure the rebirth of Welsh. Throughout Wales there was a serious effort in the second half of the twentieth century to maintain and promote the language. Other efforts to support the language included Welsh-language television programs, bilingual Welsh-English schools, as well as exclusively Welsh-language nursery schools, and Welsh language courses for adults.

Symbolism. The symbol of Wales, which also appears on the flag, is a red dragon. Supposedly brought to the colony of Britain by the Romans, the dragon was a popular symbol in the ancient world and was used by the Romans, the Saxons, and the Parthians. It became the national symbol of Wales when Henry VII, who became king in 1485 and had used it as his battle flag during the battle of Bosworth Field, decreed that the red dragon should become the official flag of Wales. The leek and the daffodil are also important Welsh symbols. One legend connects the leek to Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, who defeated the pagan Saxons in a victorious battle that supposedly occurred in a field of leeks. It is more likely that leeks were adopted as a national symbol because of their importance to the Welsh diet, particularly during Lent when meat was not allowed. Another, less famous Welsh symbol consists of three ostrich plumes and the motto "Ich Dien" (translation: "I serve") from the Battle of Crecy, France, in 1346. It was probably borrowed from the motto of the King of Bohemia, who led the cavalry charge against the English.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The earliest evidence of a human presence in Wales dates from the Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, period almost 200,000 years ago. It was not until the Neolithic and Bronze Age period around 3,000 b.c.e., however, that a sedentary civilization began to develop. The first tribes to settle in Wales, who probably came from the western coastal areas of the Mediterranean, were people generally referred to as the Iberians. Later migrations from northern and eastern Europe brought the Brythonic Celts and Nordic tribes to the area. At the time of the Roman invasion in 55 b.c.e., the area was made up of the Iberian and Celtic tribes who referred to themselves as Cymry. The Cymry tribes were eventually subjugated by the Romans in the first century c.e. Anglo-Saxon tribes also settled in Britain during this period, pushing other Celtic tribes into the Welsh mountains where they eventually united with the Cymry already living there. In the first centuries c.e., Wales was divided into tribal kingdoms, the most important of which were Gwynedd, Gwent, Dyved, and Powys. All of the Welsh kingdoms later united against the Anglo-Saxon invaders, marking the beginning of an official division between England and Wales. This boundary became official with the construction of Offa's Dyke around the middle of the eighth century c.e. Offa's Dyke was at first a ditch constructed by Offa, the king of Mercia, in an attempt to give his territories a well-defined border to the west. The Dyke was later enlarged and fortified, becoming one of the largest human-made boundaries in Europe and covering 150 miles from the northeast coast to the southeast coast of Wales. It remains to this day the line that divides English and Welsh cultures.

When William the Conqueror (William I) and his Norman army conquered England in 1066, the three English earldoms of Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford were established on the border with Wales. These areas were used as strong points in attacks against the Welsh and as strategic political centers. Nevertheless, the only Welsh kingdom to fall under Norman control during the reign of William I (10661087) was Gwent, in the southeast. By 1100 the Norman lords had expanded their control to include the Welsh areas of Cardigan, Pembroke, Brecon, and Glamorgan. This expansion into Welsh territory led to the establishment of the March of Wales, an area previously ruled by the Welsh kings.

The Welsh continued to fight Norman and Anglo-Saxon control in the first part of the twelfth century. By the last half of the twelfth century the three Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth were firmly established, providing a permanent base for Welsh statehood. The principal settlements of Aberffraw in Gwynedd, Mathrafal in Powys, and Dinefwr in Deheubarth formed the core of Welsh political and cultural life. Although the Welsh kings were allies, each ruled separate territories swearing loyalty to the king of England. The establishment of the kingdoms marked the beginning of a period of stability and growth. Agriculture flourished, as did scholarship and the Welsh literary tradition. A period of unrest and contested succession followed the deaths of the three Welsh kings as different factions fought for control. The stability provided by the first kings was never restored in Powys and Deheubarth. The kingdom of Gwynedd was successfully united once again under the reign of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (d. 1240) following a brief power struggle. Viewing Llywelyn as a threat, King John (11671216) led a campaign against him which led to Llywelyn's humiliating defeat in 1211. Llywelyn, however, turned this to his advantage and secured the allegiance of other Welsh leaders who feared total subjugation under King John. Llywelyn became the leader of the Welsh forces and, although conflict with King John continued, he successfully united the Welsh politically and eventually minimized the king of England's involvement in Welsh affairs. Dafydd ap Llywelyn, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth's son and heir, attempted to broaden Welsh power before his premature death in 1246. With Dafydd leaving no heirs, succession to the Welsh throne was contested by Dafydd's nephews and in a series of battles between 1255 and 1258 Llwelyn ap Gruffydd (d. 1282), one of the nephews, assumed control of the Welsh throne, crowning himself Prince of Wales. Henry III officially recognized his authority over Wales in 1267 with the Treaty of Montgomery and in turn Llwelyn swore allegiance to the English crown.

Llwelyn succeeded in firmly establishing the Principality of Wales, which consisted of the twelfth century kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth as well as some parts of the March. This period of peace, however, did not last long. Conflict arose between Edward I, who succeeded Henry III, and Llwelyn, culminating in an English invasion of Wales in 1276, followed by war. Llwelyn was forced into a humiliating surrender that included relinquishing control over the eastern part of his territory and an acknowledgment of fealty paid to Edward I annually. In 1282 Llwelyn, aided this time by the Welsh nobility of other regions, rebelled against Edward I only to be killed in combat. The Welsh forces continued to fight but finally capitulated to Edward I in the summer of 1283, marking the beginning of a period of occupation by the English.

Although the Welsh were forced to surrender, the struggle for unity and independence over the previous one hundred years had been crucial in shaping Welsh politics and identity. During the fourteenth century economic and social difficulties prevailed in Wales. Edward I embarked on a program of castle building, both for defensive purposes and to shelter English colonists, which was continued by his heir Edward II. The result of his efforts can still be seen in Wales today, which has more castles per square mile than any other area of Europe.

At the end of the 1300s Henry IV seized the throne from Richard II, provoking a revolt in Wales where support for Richard II was strong. Under the leadership of Owain Glyndwr, Wales united to rebel against the English king. From 1400 to 1407 Wales once again asserted its independence from England. England did not regain control of Wales again until 1416 and the death of Glyndwr, marking the last Welsh uprising. The Welsh submitted to Henry VII (14571509), the first king of the house of Tudor, whom they regarded as a countryman. In 1536 Henry VIII declared the Act of Union, incorporating Wales into the English realm. For the first time in its history Wales obtained uniformity in the administration of law and justice, the same political rights as the English, and English common law in the courts. Wales also secured parliamentary representation. Welsh landowners exercised their authority locally, in the name of the king, who granted them their land and property. Wales, although no longer an independent nation, had finally obtained unity, stability, and, most importantly, statehood and recognition as a distinct culture.

National Identity. The different ethnic groups and tribes that settled in ancient Wales gradually merged, politically and culturally, to defend their territory from first, the Romans, and later the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invaders. The sense of national identity was formed over centuries as the people of Wales struggled against being absorbed into neighboring cultures. The heritage of a common Celtic origin was a key factor in shaping Welsh identity and uniting the warring kingdoms. Cut off from other Celtic cultures to the north in Britain and in Ireland, the Welsh tribes united against their non-Celtic enemies. The development and continued use of the Welsh language also played important roles in maintaining and strengthening the national identity. The tradition of handing down poetry and stories orally and the importance of music in daily life were essential to the culture's survival. With the arrival of book publishing and an increase in literacy, the Welsh language and culture were able to continue to flourish, through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, despite dramatic industrial and social changes in Great Britain. A revival of Welsh nationalism in the second half of the twentieth century once again brought to the forefront the concept of a unique Welsh identity.

Ethnic Relations. With the Act of Union, Wales gained peaceful relations with the English while maintaining their ethnic identity. Until the late eighteenth century Wales was predominantly rural with most of the population living in or near small farming villages; contact with other ethnic groups was minimal. The Welsh gentry, on the other hand, mixed socially and politically with the English and Scottish gentry, producing a very Anglicized upper class. The industry that grew up around coal mining and steel manufacturing attracted immigrants, principally from Ireland and England, to Wales starting in the late eighteenth century. Poor living and working conditions, combined with the arrival of large numbers of immigrants, caused social unrest and frequently led to conflictsoften violent in natureamong different ethnic groups. The decline of heavy industry in the late nineteenth century, however, caused an outward migration of Welsh and the country ceased to attract immigrants. The end of the twentieth century brought renewed industrialization and with it, once again, immigrants from all over the world, although without notable conflicts. The increased standard of living throughout Great Britain has also made Wales a popular vacation and weekend retreat, principally for people from large urban areas in England. This trend is causing significant tension, especially in Welsh-speaking and rural areas, among residents who feel that their way of life is being threatened.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The development of Welsh cities and towns did not begin until industrialization in the late 1700s. Rural areas are characterized by a scattering of isolated farms, typically consisting of the older, traditional whitewashed or stone buildings, usually with slate roofs. Villages evolved from the early settlements of the Celtic tribes who chose particular locations for their agricultural or defensive value. More successful settlements grew and became the political and economic centers, first of the kingdoms, then later the individual regions, in Wales. The Anglo-Norman manorial tradition of buildings clustered on a landowner's property, similar to rural villages in England, was introduced to Wales after the conquest of 1282. The village as a center of rural society, however, became significant only in southern and eastern Wales; other rural areas maintained scattered and more isolated building patterns. Timber-framed houses, originally constructed around a great hall, emerged in the Middle Ages in the north and east, and later throughout Wales. In the late sixteenth century, houses began to vary more in size and refinement, reflecting the growth of a middle class and increasing disparities in wealth. In Glamorgan and Monmouthshire, landowners built brick houses that reflected the vernacular style popular in England at the time as well as their social status. This imitation of English architecture set landowners apart from the rest of Welsh society. After the Norman conquest, urban development began to grow around castles and military camps. The bastide, or castle town, although not large, is still significant to political and administrative life. Industrialization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries caused an explosion of urban growth in the southeast and in Cardiff. Housing shortages were common and several families, often unrelated, shared dwellings. Economic affluence and a population increase created a demand for new construction in the late twentieth century. Slightly over 70 percent of homes in Wales are owner-occupied.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The importance of agriculture to the Welsh economy as well as the availability of local products has created high food standards and a national diet that is based on fresh, natural food. In coastal areas fishing and seafood are important to both the economy and the local cuisine. The type of food available in Wales is similar to that found in the rest of the United Kingdom and includes a variety of food from other cultures and nations.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Special traditional Welsh dishes include laverbread, a seaweed dish; cawl, a rich broth; bara brith, a traditional cake; and pice ar y maen, Welsh cakes. Traditional dishes are served at special occasions and holidays. Local markets and fairs usually offer regional products and baked goods. Wales is particularly known for its cheeses and meats. Welsh rabbit, also called Welsh rarebit, a dish of melted cheese mixed with ale, beer, milk, and spices served over toast, has been popular since the early eighteenth century.

Basic Economy. Mining, especially of coal, has been the chief economic activity of Wales since the seventeenth century and is still very important to the economy and one of the leading sources of employment. The largest coalfields are in the southeast and today produce about 10 percent of Great Britain's total coal production. Iron, steel, limestone, and slate production are also important industries. Although heavy industry has played a significant role in the Welsh economy and greatly affected Welsh society in the nineteenth century, the country remains largely agricultural with almost 80 percent of the land used for agricultural activities. The raising of livestock, particularly cattle and sheep, is more important than crop farming. The principal crops are barley, oats, potatoes, and hay. Fishing, centered on the Bristol Channel, is another important commercial activity. The economy is integrated with the rest of Great Britain and as such Wales is no longer exclusively dependent on its own production. Although agriculture accounts for much of the economy, only a small segment of the total population actually works in this area and agricultural output is largely destined for sale. Many foreign companies that produce consumer goods, particularly Japanese firms, have opened factories and offices in Wales in recent years, providing employment and encouraging economic growth.

Land Tenure and Property. In ancient Wales land was informally controlled by tribes who fiercely protected their territory. With the rise of the Welsh kingdoms, land ownership was controlled by the kings who granted their subjects tenure. Because of the scattered and relatively small population of Wales, however, most people lived on isolated farms or in small villages. After the Act of Union with England, the king granted land to the nobility and later, with the rise of a middle class, the Welsh gentry had the economic power to purchase small tracts of land. Most Welsh people were peasant farmers who either worked the land for landowners or were tenant farmers, renting small patches of land. The advent of the industrial revolution caused a radical change in the economy and farmworkers left the countryside in large numbers to seek work in urban areas and coal mines. Industrial workers rented living quarters or, sometimes, were provided with factory housing.

Today, land ownership is more evenly distributed throughout the population although there are still large privately owned tracts of land. A new awareness of environmental issues has led to the creation of national parks and protected wildlife zones. The Welsh Forestry Commission has acquired land formerly used for pasture and farming and initiated a program of reforestation.

Major Industries. Heavy industry, such as mining and other activities associated with the port of Cardiff, once the busiest industrial port in the world, declined in the last part of the twentieth century. The Welsh Office and Welsh Development Agency have worked to attract multinational companies to Wales in an effort to restructure the nation's economy. Unemployment, higher on average in the rest of the United Kingdom, is still a concern. Industrial growth in the late twentieth century was concentrated mostly in the area of science and technology. The Royal Mint was relocated to Llantrisant, Wales in 1968, helping create a banking and financial services industry. Manufacturing is still the largest Welsh industry, with financial services in second place, followed by education, health and social services, and wholesale and retail trade. Mining accounts for only 1 percent of the gross domestic product.

Trade. Integrated with the economy of the United Kingdom, Wales has important trade relations with other regions in Britain and with Europe. Agricultural products, electronic equipment, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, and automotive parts are the principal exports. The most important heavy industry is the refining of imported metal ore to produce tin and aluminum sheets.

Political Life

Government. The Principality of Wales is governed from Whitehall in London, the name of the administrative and political seat of the British government. Increasing pressure from Welsh leaders for more autonomy brought devolution of administration in May 1999, meaning that more political power has been given to the Welsh Office in Cardiff. The position of secretary of state for Wales, a part of the British prime minister's cabinet, was created in 1964. In a 1979 referendum a proposal for the creation of a nonlegislating Welsh Assembly was rejected but in 1997 another referendum passed by a slim margin, leading to the 1998 creation of the National Assembly for Wales. The assembly has sixty members and is responsible for setting policy and creating legislation in areas regarding education, health, agriculture, transportation, and social services. A general reorganization of government throughout the United Kingdom in 1974 included a simplification of Welsh administration with smaller districts regrouped to form larger constituencies for economic and political reasons. Wales was reorganized into eight new counties, from thirteen originally, and within the counties thirty-seven new districts were created.

Leadership and Political Officials. Wales has always had strong left wing and radical political parties and leaders. There is also a strong political awareness throughout Wales and voter turnout at elections is higher on average than in the United Kingdom as a whole. In most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Liberal Party dominated Welsh politics with the industrial regions supporting the Socialists. In 1925 the Welsh Nationalist Party, known as Plaid Cymru, was founded with the intention of gaining independence for Wales as a region within the European Economic Community. Between World Wars I and II severe economic depression caused almost 430,000 Welsh to immigrate and a new political activism was born with an emphasis on social and economic reform. After World War II the Labor Party gained a majority of support. During the late 1960s Plaid Cymru and the Conservative Party won seats in parliamentary elections, weakening the Labor Party's traditional dominance of Welsh politics. In the 1970s and 1980s Conservatives gained even more control, a trend that was reversed in the 1990s with the return of Labor dominance and the increased support for Plaid Cymru and Welsh nationalism. The Welsh separatist, nationalist movement also includes more extremist groups who seek the creation of a politically independent nation on the basis of cultural and linguistic differences. The Welsh Language Society is one of the more visible of these groups and has stated its willingness to use civil disobedience to further its goals.

Military Activity. Wales does not have an independent military and its defense falls under the authority of the military of the United Kingdom as a whole. There are, however, three army regiments, the Welsh Guards, the Royal Regiment of Wales, and the Royal Welch Fusiliers, that have historical associations with the country.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Health and social services fall under the administration and responsibility of the secretary of state for Wales. The Welsh Office, which works with the county and district authorities, plans and executes matters relating to housing, health, education, and welfare. Terrible working and living conditions in the nineteenth century brought significant changes and new policies regarding social welfare that continued to be improved upon throughout the twentieth century. Issues regarding health care, housing, education, and working conditions, combined with a high level of political activism, have created an awareness of and demand for social change programs in Wales.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Historically, women had few rights, although many worked outside the home, and were expected to fulfill the role of wife, mother, and, in the case of unmarried women, caregiver to an extended family. In agricultural areas women worked alongside male family members. When the Welsh economy began to become more industrialized, many women found work in factories that hired an exclusively female workforce for jobs not requiring physical strength. Women and children worked in mines, putting in fourteen-hour days under extremely harsh conditions. Legislation was passed in the mid-nineteenth century limiting the working hours for women and children but it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that Welsh women began to demand more civil rights. The Women's Institute, which now has chapters throughout the United Kingdom, was founded in Wales, although all of its activities are conducted in English. In the 1960s another organization, similar to the Women's Institute but exclusively Welsh in its goals, was founded. Known as the Merched y Wawr, or Women of the Dawn, it is dedicated to promoting the rights of Welshwomen, the Welsh language and culture, and organizing charitable projects.


Child Rearing and Education. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries children were exploited for labor, sent into mines to work in shafts that were too small for adults. Child and infant mortality rates were high; almost half of all children did not live past the age of five, and only half of those who lived past the age of ten could hope to live to their early twenties. Social reformers and religious organizations, particularly the Methodist Church, advocated for improved public education standards in the mid-nineteenth century. Conditions began to gradually improve for children when working hours were restricted and compulsory education enacted. The Education Act of 1870 passed to enforce basic standards, but also sought to banish Welsh completely from the education system.

Today, primary and nursery schools in areas with a Welsh-speaking majority provide instruction completely in Welsh and schools in areas where English is the first language offer bilingual instruction. The Welsh Language Nursery Schools Movement, Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin Cymraeg, founded in 1971, has been very successful in creating a network of nursery schools, or Ysgolion Meithrin, particularly in regions where English is used more frequently. Nursery, primary, and secondary schools are under the administration of the education authority of the Welsh Office. Low-cost, quality public education is available throughout Wales for students of all ages.

Higher Education. Most institutions of higher learning are publicly supported, but admission is competitive. The Welsh literary tradition, a high literacy rate, and political and religious factors have all contributed to shaping a culture where higher education is considered important. The principal institute of higher learning is the University of Wales, a public university financed by the Universities Funding Council in London, with six locations in Wales: Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Lampeter, Swansea, and the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff. The Welsh Office is responsible for the other universities and colleges, including the Polytechnic of Wales, near Pontypridd, and the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth. The Welsh Office, working with the Local Education Authorities and the Welsh Joint Education Committee, oversees all aspects of public education. Adult continuing education courses, particularly those in Welsh language and culture, are strongly promoted through regional programs.


Religious Beliefs. Religion has played a significant role in the shaping Welsh culture. Protestantism, namely Anglicanism, began to gather more support after Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church. On the eve of the English Civil War in 1642, Puritanism, practiced by Oliver Cromwell and his supporters, was widespread in the border counties of Wales and in Pembrokeshire. Welsh royalists, who supported the king and Anglicanism, were stripped of their property, incurring much resentment among non-Puritan Welsh. In 1650 the Act for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales was passed, taking over both political and religious life. During the period known as the Interregnum when Cromwell was in power, several non-Anglican, or Dissenting, Protestant congregations were formed which were to have significant influences on modern Welsh life. The most religiously and socially radical of these were the Quakers, who had a strong following in Montgomeryshire and Merioneth, and eventually spread their influence to areas including the Anglican border counties and the Welsh-speaking areas in the north and west. The Quakers, intensely disliked by both other Dissenting churches and the Anglican Church, were severely repressed with the result that large numbers were forced to emigrate to the American colonies. Other churches, such as the Baptist and Congregationalist, which were Calvinist in theology, grew and found many followers in rural communities and small towns. In the latter part of the eighteenth century many Welsh converted to Methodism after a revival movement in 1735. Methodism was supported within the established Anglican Church and was originally organized through local societies governed by a central association. The influence of the original Dissenting churches, combined with the spiritual revival of Methodism, gradually led Welsh society away from Anglicanism. Conflicts in leadership and chronic poverty made church growth difficult, but the popularity of Methodism eventually helped establish it permanently as the most widespread denomination. The Methodist and other Dissenting churches were also responsible for an increase in literacy through church-sponsored schools that promoted education as a way of spreading religious doctrine.

Today, followers of Methodism still constitute the largest religious group. The Anglican Church, or the Church of England, is the second largest sect, followed by the Roman Catholic Church. There are also much smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims. The Dissenting Protestant sects, and religion in general, played very important roles in modern Welsh society but the number of people who regularly participated in religious activities dropped significantly after World War II.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Cathedral of Saint David, in Pembrokeshire, is the most significant national holy place. David, the patron saint of Wales, was a religious crusader who arrived in Wales in the sixth century to spread Christianity and convert the Welsh tribes. He died in 589 on 1 March, now celebrated as Saint David's Day, a national holiday. His remains are buried in the cathedral.

Medicine and Health Care

Health care and medicine are government-funded and supported by the National Health Service of the United Kingdom. There is a very high standard of health care in Wales with approximately six medical practitioners per ten thousand people. The Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff offers quality medical training and education.

Secular Celebrations

During the nineteenth century, Welsh intellectuals began to promote the national culture and traditions, initiating a revival of Welsh folk culture. Over the last century these celebrations have evolved into major events and Wales now has several internationally important music and literary festivals. The Hay Festival of Literature, from 24 May to 4 June, in the town of Hay-on-Wye, annually attracts thousands, as does the Brecon Jazz Festival from 11 to 13 August. The most important Welsh secular celebration, however, is the Eisteddfod cultural gathering celebrating music, poetry, and storytelling.

The Eisteddfod has its origins in the twelfth century when it was essentially a meeting held by the Welsh bards for the exchange of information. Taking place irregularly and in different locations, the Eisteddfod was attended by poets, musicians and troubadours, all of whom had important roles in medieval Welsh culture. By the eighteenth century the tradition had become less cultural and more social, often degenerating into drunken tavern meetings, but in 1789 the Gwyneddigion Society revived the Eisteddfod as a competitive festival. It was Edward Williams, also known as Iolo Morgannwg, however, who reawakened Welsh interest in the Eisteddfod in the nineteenth century. Williams actively promoted the Eisteddfod among the Welsh community living in London, often giving dramatic speeches about the significance of Welsh culture and the importance of continuing ancient Celtic traditions. The nineteenth century revival of the Eisteddfod and the rise of Welsh nationalism, combined with a romantic image of ancient Welsh history, led to the creation of Welsh ceremonies and rituals that may not have any historical basis.

The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, held from 4 to 9 July, and the Royal National Eisteddfod at Llanelli, which features poetry and Welsh folk arts, held from 5 to 12 August, are the two most important secular celebrations. Other smaller, folk and cultural festivals are held throughout the year.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The traditional importance of music and poetry has encouraged a general appreciation of and support for all of the arts. There is strong public support throughout Wales for the arts, which are considered important to the national culture. Financial support is derived from both the private and public sectors. The Welsh Arts Council provides government assistance for literature, art, music, and theater. The council also organizes tours of foreign performance groups in Wales and provides grants to writers for both English- and Welsh-language publications.

Literature. Literature and poetry occupy an important position in Wales for historical and linguistic reasons. Welsh culture was based on an oral tradition of legends, myths, and folktales passed down from generation to generation. The most famous early bardic poets, Taliesin and Aneirin, wrote epic poems about Welsh events and legends around the seventh century. Increasing literacy in the eighteenth century and the concern of Welsh intellectuals for the preservation of the language and culture gave birth to modern written Welsh literature. As industrialization and Anglicization began to threaten traditional Welsh culture, efforts were made to promote the language, preserve Welsh poetry, and encourage Welsh writers. Dylan Thomas, however, the best known twentieth century Welsh poet, wrote in English. Literary festivals and competitions help keep this tradition alive, as does the continued promotion of Welsh, the Celtic language with the largest number of speakers today. Nevertheless, the influence of other cultures combined with the ease of communication through mass media, from both inside the United Kingdom and from other parts of the world, continually undermine efforts to preserve a purely Welsh form of literature.

Performance Arts. Singing is the most important of the performance arts in Wales and has its roots in ancient traditions. Music was both entertainment and a means for telling stories. The Welsh National Opera, supported by the Welsh Arts Council, is one of the leading opera companies in Britain. Wales is famous for its all-male choirs, which have evolved from the religious choral tradition. Traditional instruments, such as the harp, are still widely played and since 1906 the Welsh Folk Song Society has preserved, collected, and published traditional songs. The Welsh Theater Company is critically acclaimed and Wales has produced many internationally famous actors.

The State of Physical and Social Sciences

Until the last part of the twentieth century, limited professional and economic opportunities caused many Welsh scientists, scholars, and researchers to leave Wales. A changing economy and the investment of multinationals specializing in high technology are encouraging more people to remain in Wales and find work in the private sector. Research in the social and physical sciences is also supported by Welsh universities and colleges.


Curtis, Tony. Wales: The Imagined Nation, Essays in Cultural and National Identity, 1986.

Davies, William Watkin. Wales, 1925.

Durkaez, Victor E. The Decline of the Celtic Languages: A Study of Linguistic and Cultural Conflict in Scotland, Wales and Ireland from the Reformation to the Twentieth Century, 1983.

English, John. Slum Clearance: The Social and Administrative Context in England and Wales, 1976.

Fevre, Ralph, and Andrew Thompson. Nation, Identity and Social Theory: Perspectives from Wales, 1999.

Hopkin, Deian R., and Gregory S. Kealey. Class, Community, and the Labour Movement: Wales and Canada, 1989.

Jackson, William Eric. The Structure of Local Government in England and Wales, 1966.

Jones, Gareth Elwyn. Modern Wales: A Concise History, 14851979, 1984.

Owen, Trefor M. The Customs and Traditions of Wales, 1991.

Rees, David Ben. Wales: The Cultural Heritage, 1981.

Williams, David. A History of Modern Wales, 1950.

Williams, Glanmor. Religion, Language, and Nationality in Wales: Historical Essays by Glanmor Williams, 1979.

Williams, Glyn. Social and Cultural Change in Contemporary Wales, 1978.

. The Land Remembers: A View of Wales, 1977.

Web Sites

U.K. Government. "Culture: Wales." Electronic document. Available from

M. Cameron Arnold

See Also: United Kingdom

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