Welsh Marches

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Wales, march of (or marches of Wales). Comparable to ‘mark’ (German) and ‘marche’ (French), signifying, from the 11th cent., the frontier or borderland between the English shires and unsubdued Welsh kingdoms. It was an extensive and fluctuating region covered by a large number of lordships, from the north-east coast of Wales (e.g. Denbigh lordship) to the far south-west of Wales (e.g. Pembroke lordship). It arose from the Anglo-Norman conquests from the 11th cent. onwards, and parts were a theatre of war until the late 13th. By 1300 the march enjoyed stability, politically and militarily, governmentally and socially. Its distinctive society embraced native and immigrant, Welsh, English, and French languages, and peculiar customs and laws. ‘Marcher lords’ enjoyed great authority to govern and exploit; the king's writ did not run and the common law did not normally operate there. Although marcher lordships had common characteristics, they formed a diverse and fragmented polity. There was no effective, supervisory authority, and the march acquired a reputation for independence and lawlessness. These matters were seriously addressed from Edward IV's reign by a Council of the March', developing from the councils of English princes of Wales. The march played a significant role in English politics, for many marcher lords were English nobles and their lordships provided men, money, power, and a refuge in uncertain times. By the Act of Union (1536), the marcher lordships were absorbed in new or existing English or Welsh shires; but marcher lords survived and so did some of their rights over land and tenant.

Ralph Alan Griffiths

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Welsh Marches, lands in Wales along the English border. After the Norman conquest of England in the 11th cent., William I established the border earldoms of Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford to protect his English kingdom. Norman barons were encouraged by William's successors to conquer and hold other earldoms in the east of Wales. These nobles ruled as petty feudal princes, owing allegiance only to the king. Attempts to control the resulting lawlessness were made by Edward I and by Edward IV, who set up the Council of Wales and the Marches in 1471. Finally the act of Union (1536) abolished the more than 100 marcher lordships, providing for their division into Welsh shires or their incorporation into English counties.