Wales joined the union ‘peacefully’ says Simon Jenkins
Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins has said that Wales “came into union peacefully” – despite being the subject of a Norman conquest.
Wales was conquered by the Normans between 1067 and 1083, culminating with the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (‘the Last’) and the building of the castles of Edward I.
Owain Glyndwr also launched an unsuccessful war of independence from 1400 to 1415.
However, while conceding that Wales “was forced to join in 1536” with the Acts of Union Simon Jenkins said that “Wales came into union peacefully” – perhaps neglecting the fact that it had already been conquered and split between a principality and marcher lordships centuries earlier.
Simon Jenkins made the comments in an article on his new book, The Celts: A Sceptical History, which has been criticised by some historians and academics.
In the book, he argues that the people of Wales, Scotland and Ireland never united into what has been termed a ‘Celtic’ identity.
“It is significant that this collective abuse of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish never met a collective response,” he said.
“There was no Celtic solidarity, never one nation, language or culture, let alone a military or political alliance.
“To the English these peoples should see themselves as what amounted to English counties, like Yorkshire or Kent, to be assimilated into a “great British” union. Wales was forced to join in 1536, Scotland in 1707 and Ireland in 1801.
“Wales came into union peacefully, Scotland grudgingly and Ireland never. Irish rebellions followed one after another until it won its independence in 1922.
“Thereafter a rump United Kingdom did cohere. It was sustained by a Tory unionist obsession and by a Labour party that saw it as embodying Aneurin Bevan’s ‘unity of the British working class’. Celts were for fairy tales and antiquarians.”
While he does not recognise a united Celtic identity, Simon Jenkins does support further autonomy for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“Lumping Celts together as one people and one problem that can be swept under a unionist carpet is demeaning to the ambitions of Irish, Scots and Welsh,” he says. “It will not silence them.
“It will not help the search for what is now critical, a bespoke autonomy for each nation in a new British federation.”
The book has however been criticised by Patrick Sims-Williams, a professor of Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University.
In a review posted in the Times Literary Supplement, Patrick Sims-Williams described the book’s claims as “ahistorical” and compares parts of it to “Horrible Histories”.
“Jenkins’s grasp of Celtic scholarship is shaky,” he says, noting that the author “exploits prehistory to foreshadow his opinions on modern Britain and Ireland”.
In his review, Prof. Sims-Williams also debunks Jenkins’ claim in the book that there is no evidence of people in Austria/Switzerland speaking anything like Celtic, or that Celtic itself was a derogatory word applied to the people from without.
He is particularly bemused however by Simon Jenkins’ argument that “the generally accepted idea that Saxons brought the English language to England in the fifth and sixth centuries is also a myth”.
He notes of the suggestion that English was spoken in Wales before the Anglo-Saxons arrived: “The fantasy that lowland Britain was always Germanic-speaking is rare outside the darker reaches of the internet.”
Overall he said The Celts: A Sceptical History fell into the category of books likely to “have left readers as confused as the authors themselves” and was “an odd way to tackle a modern non-problem”.
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