We need to rebuild Welsh history from the ground up

Dolbadarn Castle

Steve Jones

Wales. A weak nation. A conquered nation. A colony, enslaved.

Rubbish. This isn’t who we are. We’re not the victims. And to think we are is to see our history through an English lens.

We keep telling ourselves that we ‘need to start teaching our own history’. There is currently a very popular petition on the National Assembly website calling for a debate on this.

But we need to do more than that. Before we start teaching our history we need to rebuild it from the ground up. Because the very foundations that history is built on are cracked.

If you strip back the assumptions, what evidence is there that the Welsh are a conquered people? That we’re this rather pathetic race, subordinate to our superior neighbours?

None. In fact, the only reason we survive as a people with our own history, our own culture, even our own language at all, is because they failed to conquer us.

Compare this with England’s fate. They’ve been conquered by everybody.

Look at who has sat on the throne of England. The Anglo-Saxons had a go. Then the Normans conquered them. Then the Plantagenets (French). The Tudors (Welsh). The Stuarts (Scottish).  The Hanoverians (German). And let us not mention the Windsors (aka the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha).

‘Fortress England’ is rubbish. England is Europe’s village bicycle – everyone has had a ride.

Compare with us – thousands of years of unbroken cultural and linguistic continuity, going back to the Bronze Age. They may call us something different. But Britons or Welsh, we’re still us.

A culture and language that still thrives, even though it’s been parked next to the lingua franca of two of the last centuries’ most ruthless global empires (British and American).

It’s not the conquest of Wales that’s the story. It’s that we haven’t been conquered.

Propaganda

So why do we think we’re second best?

They say that history is written by the winners. This isn’t entirely accurate – history is written by those who have the means to write it.

England didn’t conquer Wales, but they didn’t need to if they could convince us otherwise.

The means of doing that has been to control the narrative. Which they’ve been very careful to do since the 12th century.

The Normans pilfered our monasteries of books, an anglicised landowner class neglected our manuscripts.

England banned the establishment of a printing press outside of London and Oxbridge. And meanwhile, propaganda extolling the virtues of English rule flooded over the border.

The Welsh were ‘too poor, too small, and too stupid’ to look after themselves. A message that reached its crescendo in the 19th century when trains crossed into Wales daily loaded with London’s newspapers.

As the Times thundered in 1866: “A rare existence on the most primitive food of a mountainous race is all that the Welsh could enjoy if left to themselves. All the progress and civilization of Wales has come from England.”

We’ve only just begun to control our own history. At the turn of the 20th century, we started establishing Welsh universities, a National Library, a National Museum, and so on.

However, by then the general tone of Wales’ history was set. The Welsh believed the British version of events, which is that the Welsh were a rather pathetic, conquered people.

And the truth is that most of us still believe it.

The English write their own history. The unconquerable people, frequently conquered. They decided they were the winners, despite all evidence to the contrary, and that the Welsh are the losers. Evidence doesn’t matter if people believe it.

Power is a trick. We believe people have power over us because they tell us they have power. If we just stop believing, their power disappears.

We must stop seeing ourselves as the powerless. We must stop seeing ourselves as victims, waiting to be saved. We must stop seeing ourselves through an English/British lens.

We’re Welsh, and we’re here to stay. Let’s start acting that way.

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