After an occupation lasting 360 years, the Romans left a Britain which
was thoroughly permeated by the civilization of the Empire. In this Wales
largely participated, though it is chiefly in Southeast Wales that the
traces of Imperial Rome must be sought. Recent excavation has exposed vast
remains of the power and luxury of the conquering race, at Caerwent in
Monmouthshire (once a seaport); and at Caerleon, in the same county, classical
antiquity competes with Arthurian romance for the visitor's attention.
Many Welsh pedigrees assign existing families a Roman ancestor in the person
of some official who lived in the period between the departure of the legions
and the Saxon conquest. It is, however, chiefly in the domains of language
and religion that Rome has left an abiding imprint on Wales.
After the departure of the Romans from Britain, the native inhabitants
retained a semblance of Roman institutions. Considerable vestiges of these
remained among the Welsh in the time of the Saxon Heptarchy. The clan system
and other Celtic customs, however, continued in force long after imperial
forms were forgotten. Only for a brief period were the Welsh united under
one sovereign, in the successive reigns of Rhydderch Mawr (Roderick the
Great) and his son Howel Dda, or the Good, both of whom were strong rulers
and wise legislators. The laws of Howel Dda are yet extant. They commence
with a declaration that the king had obtained their sanction by the Pope
of Rome, and their tenor is one of reverence for the Christian Faith and
It was only by slow degrees that the native laws and customs were ousted
by Anglo-Norman usages and the machinery of feudalism. The feudal system,
indeed, hardly penetrated beyond the borderland (called the Marches) where,
in their castles and walled towns, dwelled the Palatine lords who held
those lands by right of conquest. By Henry VIII the laws of the principality,
native and feudal, were assimilated to those of England -- though certain
peculiar legal institutions, such as the courts of great session, remained
till the reign of William IV. At the same time Wales was divided into counties
or shires, some of which were based on and named after the ancient lordships.
Though possessing many old boroughs, Wales had no capital town until a
few years ago. In 1905 King Edward VII by royal charter conferred on the
county of Cardiff the rank of a city, and gave to its chief magistrate
the title of lord mayor. This action afforded great satisfaction to the
Welsh people, inasmuch as Cardiff is superior to any other town in Wales
both in commercial importance and in antiquity. Its history goes back to
the Roman occupation, and the place is linked with Llandaff, the oldest
episcopal see. These considerations have earned for Cardiff universal recognition
as the capital of Wales.
The conquest of Wales by England did not take place until 1066, when
England was conquered by the Normans, but was gradual, not being complete
until 1282, when King Edward I of England defeated Llywelyn the Last, Wales's
last independent prince, in battle. Edward constructed a series of great
stone castles in order to keep the Welsh under control. The best known
are at Caernarfon, Conwy, and Harlech. Wales was legally annexed by the
Act of Union 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII of England. The Wales and
Berwick Act 1746 provided that all laws that applied to England would automatically
apply to Wales (and Berwick, a town located on the Anglo-Scottish border)
unless the law explicitly stated otherwise. This act, with regard to Wales,
was repealed in 1967.
Following the defeat of Llywelyn the Last by Edward I, Welsh independence
in the 14th century was limited to a number of minor revolts. The greatest
such revolt was that of Owain Glyndwr, who gained popular support in 1400,
and defeated an English force at Pumlumon in 1401. In response, the English
parliament passed repressive measures denying the Welsh the right of assembly.
Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and sought assistance from the
French, but by 1409 his forces were scattered under the attacks of King
Henry IV of England and further measures imposed against the Welsh.
In 1955 steps were taken to re-establish a sense of national identity
for Wales when Cardiff was established as its capital. Before this, legislation
passed by the UK parliament had simply referred to England, rather than
England and Wales.
Since 1993 and the passing of the Welsh Language Act it has been law
for all documents produced by public bodies to be in both English and Welsh.
Many private companies have followed suit, producing literature with similar
The National Assembly for Wales, sitting in Cardiff, first elected in
1999, is elected by the Welsh people and has its powers defined by the
Government of Wales Act 1998. The title of Prince of Wales is still given
by the reigning British monarch to his or her eldest son, but in modern
times the Prince does not live in Wales and has no direct involvement with
administration or government. The Prince is, however, still symbolically
linked to the principality; the investiture of Charles took place at Caernarfon
Castle in North Wales, a place traditionally associated with the creation
of the title in the 13th century.