Monday, July 25, 2011

BBC History 2011-08

IN THE MID-13th century Wales was to all intents and purposes an independent nation. Its people not only spoke their own language, they also lived according to their own laws and customs, and were governed by their own native princes. Yet in the space of a single generation this independence was decisively terminated. By the end of the 13th century, the halls of the Welsh princes had been razed and replaced by English castles. The country was governed by Englishmen, and English law prevailed. Wales, in a word, had been conquered. Anglo-Welsh hostility had a long history - not for nothing were the two peoples separated by the eighth-century earthwork known as Offa's Dyke - but in the century or so before the conquest this hostility had been sharpened by contrasting economic fortunes. Thanks to its expanding agricultural base, 12th-century England could boast new towns, large cities, great cathedrals, international trade and a plentiful silver coinage. Wales, with its pastoral economy, had none of these things, though Englishmen at the time felt that the fault lay in the Welsh themselves, whom they began to regard as wilfully backward, indolent and immoral - barbarians in need of taming. A more recent cause of the conquest was political change in Wales. Before the 13th century it had been a country divided against itself, with dozens of petty kings and princes fighting each other for supremacy. Because Welsh custom decreed that a man's possessions must be divided on his death, any territorial gains made in one generation were generally lost during the next, with brother fighting brother for a share of the spoils.