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Book - Wales: England's Colony? - Paperback

Book - Wales: England's Colony? - Paperback

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ISBN: 9781912681419 (1912681412)

Publication Date: 07 March 2019

Publisher: Parthian Books

Format: Paperback, 203x127 mm, 208 pages

Language: English

From the very beginnings of Wales, its people have defined themselves against their large neighbour. Wales - England's Colony? shows that relationship has not only defined what it has meant to be Welsh, it has also been central to making and defining Wales as a nation.

Gwales Review (from, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council):-

Wales: England’s Colony? is a very readable and thought-provoking tour d’horizon of Welsh history from its Iron Age beginnings to the present day. It is divided into three sections: Conquest, Assimilation, and Recreation, each representing a major shift in our long history, with one significant thread linking them all: Martin Johnes’ contention that from the beginning Wales had to live with, and accommodate, powerful neighbours to the east, beginning with the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.

This continued through the Middle Ages, Welsh kings being engaged in constantly shifting alliances with Norman Marcher lords and successive English kings to maintain their own power bases within Wales.

The conquest of Wales by Edward I in the thirteenth century, and the repressive laws introduced after Owain Glyndŵr’s defeat at the beginning of the fifteenth, changed the parameters of the relationship. While these laws may not have been enacted with equal severity everywhere, they nonetheless began a period of semi-colonisation in which the Welsh became second-class inhabitants of their own country in a way not so dissimilar from the plight of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank today.

Wales never experienced complete colonisation, however, and after the Acts of Union in the sixteenth century a process of assimilation was begun which saw the gentry turning increasingly toward London and the opportunities that were opening up for them there.

This relates to one of Martin Johnes’ main themes, which is that as the idea of ‘Britishness’ developed in the eighteenth century many Welsh people were complicit in the notion that Wales was a contributing nation to the formation of ‘Britain’ and the creation of the British Empire. As he reminds the reader, generations of Welsh men gladly served as soldiers, administrators and missionaries in the ever-expanding conquests of an empire that began as an English enterprise. Even Y Wladfa, the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, is fraught with contradiction: initiated as an escape from the power of England, the Welsh pioneers settled on land that had been the traditional territory of indigenous peoples – becoming colonisers, no matter how well meaning, in their own right.

Martin Johnes maintains a delicate balance in this way between the undoubted injustices and prejudices forced on Wales by the English, and the ways in which many Welsh people colluded in the process. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fate of the Welsh language. Successive English governments, he argues, did not set out intentionally to undermine the language, though that is what numerous policies in fields like education effectively resulted in. Yet many Welsh people themselves, in the nineteenth century and after, went along with this, seeing English as the language of advancement, and Welsh as the language of the past.

The final section, Re-creation, examines the remarkable ways in which we have reinvented ourselves yet again, with many of the attributes of statehood, most notably the creation of the Assembly after the 1997 referendum. One theme of the book, in fact, is this capacity for renewal and survival, often against seemingly insuperable odds.

I doubt anyone will agree with all of Martin Johnes’ emphases and conclusions, but Wales: England’s Colony? is an extremely able survey of our history that deserves to be widely read, both by Welsh people as a corrective to some cherished convictions, and by the English who, as he points out, so frequently misunderstand Wales, seeing us still (when they think about Wales at all) as not quite up to the mark, not quite as good as them.

John Barnie
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