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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Roger Harris
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Roger Harris

The biggest problem is the majority in Wales are either from England or are descendents of English people who have migrated into Wales. So they have no loyalty to Wales and are not in the least bit interested in the History, Culure or Language of Wales. They are loyal to England. Which is why Wales votes Labour and for Brexit even though Labour have no interest in Wales and can not see how EU financing is keeping Wales from being the equivalent of a Third World Country.

CambroUiDunlainge
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CambroUiDunlainge

I half agree I half disagree with this. I think its more of a case of many settlers have come to a country which did not really teach its identity therefor those settlers and their descendants never really become fully “assimilated”. I don’t think they have loyalty to England necessarily just the vehicle of Welsh identity is missing a few wheels.

Hannah
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Hannah

Agreeing with the premise that a more positive approach is necessary, I’m not sure about the logic of the argument that England has been conquered while Wales hasn’t. A couple of points, gently pressing against what I see as an essentialism in this post: 1. Yes, Wales still has its language (sort of — at least to a degree), but doesn’t England too? Yes, the English spoken today is no longer the ‘same’ English spoken by Aethelred, but then neither is the Welsh spoken today that of the early Middle Ages or the Bronze Age (a remarkable claim). Languages change,… Read more »

Robert Williams
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Robert Williams

Hannah, ‘rwy’n cytuno gyda’r rhan fwyaf o’ch dadansoddiad, ond mae’n rhaid gofyn, os nad ydym i ‘gwyno am ….. wlad a diwylliant ac ( yn enwedig) hen, hen… iaith’ – wel, beth sy ar ol i gwyno amdano neu i weithio amdano?

Trailorboy
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Trailorboy

I agree with this, but it’s not rebuilding our history as such, our history is what it is. What is needed is the historical narrative – the glue that binds and entices. Our history should be enticing and alluring to the many and not simply to the few who choose to take an interest. British history is currently being revised and revisited to write out our significance. Anyone reading Wikipedia would think that English is the oldest language of these isles and that the anglo saxons were some lovely benevolent group who brought civilisation to the land. Wales is still… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
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Graham John Hathaway

The sanitised versions of what schools teach of Welsh history, if you are lucky, reflects the dominance of the radio messages by their nature are repetitive, reinforced and compelling. The hill is steep. The dominant will always seek to dominate, by all or any means given and the resources available. Ironically from the very set of people it has power over. Quantify our natural resources, like water eg. Limitless, bountiful, priceless. Wales is a rich Country. The fact that our unabridged Welsh history is hidden is simply because it is more powerful than any other part of the UK. Particulaly… Read more »

Nic
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Nic

Quote of the year “‘Fortress England’ is rubbish. England is Europe’s village bicycle – everyone has had a ride.”. Caught me completely by surprise and yes, I did LOL.

Benjiman L. Angwin
Guest
Benjiman L. Angwin

Drudlwyr ei draffwyr i ar dryffun–feirch O’i drafferth rhag Fforddun, Saeson sang ddyllest yng Ngwestun, Bu creu eu calon eu cymun! Utterly thorough is horrific horror upon panting — steeds From his (Owain Cyfeiliog) battle-work upon the Eastern border, English, their shape trampled in Shropshire, Their hearts’ blood was their communion! – Cynddelw, ‘Canu Owain Cyfeiliog’

Tame Frontiersman
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Tame Frontiersman

African proverb: Until lions write their own history, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter

CambroUiDunlainge
Guest
CambroUiDunlainge

I think there’s two pathways here: the one you’ve presented as Wales as unconquered, and the earthy truth. The earthy truth – one which Michael Sheen also missed out on is that England was not our peoples only foe. Strathclyde for example fought both Viking and Anglo-Saxon… but their major adversary would turn out to be the Scots who would go on to suppress and assimilate them into their culture. William Wallace proud Scot… but he wasn’t was he? He was Cumbrian – one of us. The same goes for “what is now Wales”. Settled by Irish, some driven out,… Read more »

Siarl ap Meurig
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Siarl ap Meurig

At last, a refreshing breath of truth that will bode ill for the Sais of our land, well said and not before time.

Edeyrn
Guest
Edeyrn

I enjoyed the article’s sentiments and humour, but I disagree withe delusionary statements that Wales has never suffered any effects of colonisation

England did colonise Wales. That is the reality. The language almost went extinct. Classic economic colonialism of all goods and skilled workers going to England on top

Trailorboy
Guest
Trailorboy

Another aspect of our history that perhaps should be used more is our interpretation of the period from the 18th to the end of the 20th century. Yes we were manipulated and our resources pilaged etc in the industrial revolution, but there was real strength of character and comaraderie in the industrialised parts of Wales. The initial migrations were primarily within Wales from rural to industrial areas and that created new bonds and links within Wales. Later imiigrations were not solely from England – Irish, Italian, Spanish, Belgian, Scottish, Cornish etc and the people who came from across Offa’s Dyke,… Read more »

Graham John Hathaway
Guest
Graham John Hathaway

I do recognise the colour and pace of life in Wales in the era described. It needed saying, and highlighting.
The remnants are still visible but slowly vanishing. I’m a “friends of” group of an old colliery spoil tip. The amount of visible regeneration of distinct wild life and flora is remarkable. But not so our politics.