- For alternate meanings, see Wales (disambiguation)
Wales (Welsh: Cymru; pronounced IPA: , approximately "KUM-ree") is a nation, a country, and one of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom (along with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland). Wales is located in the south-west of Great Britain, and is bordered by England to the east, the Bristol Channel to the south, St George's Channel in the west, and the Irish Sea to the north.
The term Principality of Wales, in Welsh, Tywysogaeth Cymru, is often used, although the Prince of Wales has no role in the governance of Wales and this term is unpopular among many in Wales. The nation has not been politically independent since 1282, when it was conquered by the English King Edward I. Until 1999, Wales was ruled directly from London; that year saw the first elections to the National Assembly for Wales, which has limited domestic powers and cannot make law. Wales does not issue its own currency and is not in control of any armed forces. These are the powers of the national government of the UK, based at Westminster. The official capital of Wales is Cardiff, although Caernarfon is the location where the Prince of Wales is invested, and Machynlleth was the home of parliaments held by Welsh princes before English rule.
Main article: History of Wales
The Romans established a string of forts across the southern part of the country, as far west as Carmarthen (Maridunum). There is evidence that they progressed even further west. They also built the legionary fortress at Caerleon (Isca), whose magnificent amphitheatre is the best preserved in Britain. The Romans were also busy in north Wales, and an old legend claims that Magnus Maximus, one of the last emperors, married Elen or Helen, the daughter of a Welsh chieftain from Segontium, near present-day Caernarfon.
Wales was never conquered by the Anglo-Saxons, due to the fierce resistance of its people and its mountainous terrain. An Anglo-Saxon king, Offa of Mercia, is credited with having constructed a great earth wall, or dyke, along the border with his kingdom, to mark off a large part of Powys which he had conquered from the Welsh. Parts of Offa's Dyke can still be seen today.
Wales remained a Celtic region, and its people kept speaking the Welsh language, even as the Celtic elements of neighbouring England and Scotland gradually disappeared. The name Wales is evidence of this, as it comes from a Germanic root word meaning stranger or foreigner, and as such is related to the names of several other European regions where Germanic peoples came into contact with non-Germanic cultures including Wallonia (Belgium),Valais (Switzerland) and Wallachia in Romania, as well as the "-wall" of Cornwall.
Wales continued to be a Christian country (see. 1904-1905 Welsh Revival and Welsh Methodist revival) when its neighbour, England, was overrun by German and Scandinavian tribes, though many older beliefs and customs survived among its people. Thus, Saint David went on a pilgrimage to Rome during the 6th century, and was serving as a bishop in Wales well before Augustine arrived to convert the king of Kent and founded the diocese of Canterbury. Although the Druidic religion is alleged to have had its stronghold in Wales until the Roman invasion, many of the so-called traditions, such as the gorsedd, or assembly of bards, were the invention of eighteenth-century "historians". The traditional women's Welsh costume, incorporating a tall black hat, was devised in the nineteenth century by Lady Llanover, herself a prominent patron of the Welsh language and culture.
The conquest of Wales by England did not take place in 1066, when England was conquered by the Normans, but was gradual, not being complete until 1282, when King Edward I of England defeated Llywelyn the Last, Wales's last independent prince, in battle. Edward constructed a series of great stone castles in order to keep the Welsh under control. The best known are at Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech. Wales was legally annexed by the Act of Union 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII of England. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 provided that all laws that applied to England would automatically apply to Wales (and Berwick, a town located on the Anglo-Scottish border) unless the law explicitly stated otherwise. This act, with regard to Wales, was repealed in 1967.
See: Annales Cambriae
Main article: Politics of Wales ; see also Politics of the United Kingdom
Wales has been a principality since the 13th century, initially under the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great, and later under his grandson, Llywelyn the Last, who took the title Prince of Wales around 1258, and was recognised by the English Crown in 1277 by the Treaty of Aberconwy . Following his defeat by Edward I, however, Welsh independence in the 14th century was limited to a number of minor revolts. The greatest such revolt was that of Owain Glyndwr, who gained popular support in 1400, and defeated an English force at Pumlumon in 1401. In response, the English parliament passed repressive measures denying the Welsh the right of assembly. Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and sought assistance from the French, but by 1409 his forces were scattered under the attacks of King Henry IV of England and further measures imposed against the Welsh.
The Act of Union 1536 abolished the remaining Marcher Lordships, leaving Wales with thirteen counties: Anglesey, Brecon, Caernarfon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Denbigh, Flint, Glamorgan, Merioneth, Monmouth, Montgomery, Pembroke, and Radnor, and applied the Law of England to both England and Wales, making English the language to be used for official purposes. This excluded most native Welsh from any formal office. Wales continues to share a legal identity with England to a large degree as the joint entity of England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland retain separate legal systems and identities.
Wales was for centuries dwarfed by its larger neighbour, England. Indeed, one well-known British encyclopedia was said — perhaps apocryphally — to have had an entry reading "WALES. See under ENGLAND". In 1955 steps were taken to re-establish a sense of national identity for Wales when Cardiff was established as its capital. Before this, legislation passed by the UK parliament had simply referred to England, rather than England and Wales.
The National Assembly for Wales, sitting in Cardiff, first elected in 1999, is elected by the Welsh people and has its powers defined by the Government of Wales Act, 1998. The title of Prince of Wales is still given by the reigning British monarch to his or her eldest son, but in modern times the Prince does not live in Wales and has nothing to do with its administration or government. The Prince is, however, still symbolically linked to the principality; the investiture of Charles took place at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, a place traditionally associated with the creation of the title in the 13th century.
Main article: Geography of Wales
Wales is located on a peninsula in central-west Great Britain. The entire area of Wales is about 20,779 km2 (8,023 square miles). It is about 274 km (170 miles) long and 97 km (60 miles) wide. Wales borders by England to the east and by sea in the other three directions: the Bristol Channel to the south, St George's Channel to the west, and the Irish Sea to the north. Together, Wales has over 965 km (600 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest being Anglesey in the northwest.
The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, including the capital, Cardiff, and the other two major cities, Swansea and Newport.
Much of Wales's diverse landscape is mountainous, particularly in the north and central regions. The mountains were shaped during the last ice age, the Devensian glaciation. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia, and include Snowdon, which, at 1085 m (3,560 feet) is the highest peak in England and Wales. The 14 Welsh mountains over 3000 feet high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s.
The Brecon Beacons are in the south and are joined by the Cambrian Mountains in mid-Wales.
The Seven Wonders of Wales is a traditional list of seven geographic and cultural landmarks in Wales: Snowdon (the highest mountain), the Gresford bells (the peal of bells in the medieval church of All Saints at Gresford), the Llangollen bridge (built in 1347 over the River Dee), St Winefride's Well (a pilgrimage site at Holywell in Flintshire) the Wrexham steeple (16th century tower of St. Giles Church in Wrexham), the Overton yew trees (ancient yew trees in the churchyard of St Mary's at Overton-on-Dee) and Pistyll Rhaeadr (Wales's tallest waterfall, at 240 feet or 75 m). The wonders are part of the traditional rhyme:
- Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
- Snowdon's mountain without its people,
- Overton yew trees, St Winefride wells,
- Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.
See also: List of towns in Wales
For administrative purposes, Wales has been divided since 1996 into 22 unitary authorities:
For more details and recent history of the political divisions of Wales, see Subdivisions of Wales.
Main article: Economy of Wales
Parts of Wales have been heavily industrialised since the eighteenth century. Coal, copper, iron, lead, and gold have been mined in Wales, and slate has been quarried. Ironworks and tinplate works, along with the coal mines, attracted large numbers of immigrants during the nineteenth century, particularly to the valleys north of Cardiff, which is now the capital city.
Demographics of Wales as at the 2001 Census:
- Population: 2,903,085, Male: 1,403,782 Female: 1,499,303
- Percentage of the population born in:
- England: 20.32%
- Wales: 75.39%
- Scotland: 0.84%
- Northern Ireland: 0.27%
- Republic of Ireland: 0.44%
- Ethnic groups:
- White: British: 95.99%
- White: Irish: 0.61%
- White: other: 1.28%
- Mixed: white and black: 0.29%
- Mixed: white and Asian: 0.17%
- Mixed: other: 0.15%
- Indian/British Indian: 0.28%
- Pakistani/British Pakistani: 0.29%
- Bangladeshi/British Bangladeshi: 0.19%
- Other Asian: 0.12%
- Black: 0.25%
- Chinese: 0.40%
- Percentage of the population self-identifying as Welsh: 14.39% (controversially, there was no question on the Census form asking this — people had to write this in).
- Christian: 71.9%
- Buddhist: 0.19%
- Hindu: 0.19%
- Jewish: 0.08%
- Muslim: 0.75%
- Sîkh: 0.07%
- Other religion: 0.24%
- No religion: 18.53%
- Not disclosed: 8.07%
- Age structure of the population:
- 0-4: 167,903
- 5-7: 108,149
- 8-9: 77,176
- 10-14: 195,976
- 15: 37,951
- 16-17: 75,234
- 18-19: 71,519
- 20-24: 169,493
- 25-29: 166,348
- 30-44: 605,962
- 45-59: 569,676
- 60-64: 152,924
- 65-74: 264,191
- 75-84: 182,202
- 85-89: 38,977
- 90+: 19,404
- Knowledge of the Welsh language:
- Percentage of the population aged 3 or more knowing spoken Welsh only: 4.93%
- Percentage of the population aged 3 or more speaking Welsh but not reading or writing it: 2.83%
- Percentage of the population aged 3 or more speaking and reading Welsh but not writing it: 1.37%
- Percentage of the population aged 3 or more speaking, reading, and writing Welsh: 16.32%
- Percentage of the population aged 3 or more with some other skills combination: 2.98%
- Percentage of the population aged 3 or more with no knowledge of Welsh: 71.57%
Main article: Culture of Wales
Photos of Wales
- Jones's History of Wales.