Invasions and battles pockmark the history of Wales. The Romans, the Saxons and the Normans all eyed up the Welsh countryside and set off across the River Severn to see what they could claim – with mixed results. Today, the rugged castles still dotted around the country stand as testament to attempts by these invaders to keep the locals in check.
Welsh historical heroes range from the semi-mythical King Arthur – who is also claimed by the Cornish and who features in ancient Welsh documents as an emperor and war hero – to bona fide legends such as Owain Glyndwr. Also known as Owen Glendower, he featured in Shakespeare's Henry IV and waged violent battles against the English, claiming right to the title Prince of Wales.
After winning a series of conflicts and signing an allegiance with France, Glyndwr drew the wrath of the English king, who clamped down on the Welsh, banning substantial gatherings of people and preventing Welshmen from holding office. Glyndwr's period of glory eventually came to an end when the forces of Henry V took back the castles and strongholds the Prince of Wales had gained.
Non-conformist religion, particularly in the form of the Baptist and Methodist Churches, marked the rise of Welsh nationalism in the 19th century. The non-conformists broke off from the official state religion (Anglican) and taught the Welsh language at Sunday schools. Even today, the country still has a strong sense of identity and national pride.
The industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries left a heavy mark on Welsh history, altering the focus of the countryside and its workforce from agriculture onto coalmining and ironwork. The period was also marked by increased immigration into Wales, boosting the population.
The University of Wales was established in 1893, and the national library and museum both received their royal charters in 1907. From 1999, an elected Welsh assembly was established in Cardiff, with powers devolved from Westminster. Less positive was the decline of the coalmining industry, which some communities are still reeling from today.
The Welsh assembly quickly established an independent frame of mind and has taken a different route from English policies on some issues, most famously free prescriptions and university tuition fees.
Did you know?
• It’s claimed that lawn tennis was invented in the 1870s at Nantclwyd Hall, a stately home in Denbighshire.
• Mount Everest is named after a Welshman, the 19th-century surveyor Colonel Sir George Everest.
• When the Menai Bridge across to Anglesey was opened in 1826, it was the longest bridge in the world.