Chapter 3 – Welsh Information

April 17, 2009 - 2,227 views

Chapter 3 – Welsh Information NOTE – DRAFT IN PROGRESS

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Since out ancestors lived in Wales for so long, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the culture and history of Wales over the years they lived there.  This may give you new appreciation for some of the highlights that influenced our ancestors’ lives over the centuries.

Wales is a mountainous country that proved hard for invaders to conquer.  It is about 160 mi long and 80 miles wide – roughly the size of Massachusetts.

When the Celts of the Silure tribe arrived in Wales sometime between 2,000 BC and 400BC, they entered land that was occupied by an earlier generation of native peoples.

The next wave of new peoples to come to Wales were the Romans.  In May of 43 AD, 40 years after Christ’s crucifixion, 40,000 Romans sailed to Britain.  Around 75 AD the Roman Second Legion was garrisoned at a fortress in Caerlon , home of our Howell ancestors, whose coat-of-arms is one of the four on the coat of our emigrant ancestor John Lewis’s grave.

There were thirteen Roman campaigns to subdue Wales between 48 and 79 AD.  Grain, which was needed by the Romans to feed their forces, was scarce in Wales, so it was difficult for them to eat and fight the Welsh..  The Welsh fought with guerilla tactics.  The Romans built many hill forts scattered throughout Wales to protect themselves, and over 100 of them survive to this day.

By 300 AD Christianity had more followers than the Celtic religion in Britain.  In 400AD all religions but Christianity were banned in the Roman Empire.

Around 410 AD the Romans recalled their forces home, ending the Roman Empire and their domination of England.  After the Roman departure, Angles and Saxons, both Germanic tribes, invaded and conquered much of Britain.  These Germanic peoples planted small kingdoms in South East Britain.  The 200 years after Roman withdrawal were formative years for Briton and Wales, but the written records are scarce and not at all clear.  There were many myths and fantasies, especially in the years 400 – 600.  One of the greatest is Arthur, hero of the Britons in their battle against Anglo-Saxon invaders.

There are at least two historical records of Arthur, and a handful of allusions to him from that time.  A monk named Gildas wrote in his book De Excidio that in year of his birth (believed 496 AD) there was a battle victory at Mons Badonicus, attributed to Arthur.  From 490 – 555 the Saxon communities spread, and Arthur was a leader in fighting them.

Hundreds of years later Arthur was elevated to a great hero, tied to noble chivalry in his kingdom of Camelot and the knights of the round table.   It is reasonable to believe a man named Arthur did exist, he was a leader of Brythonic (tribal Celts, early Britain) people, won a battle in 496, and died or disappeared in 515 after the battle of Camlan.  The fame of Arthur is a mystery in the history of Wales, as is the location of Mons Badonicus.  Nennius, writing History of the Britons a thousand years ago, states Mons Badonicus was one of many victories.  This suggests Arthur led mobile cavalrymen across Britain, which would be consistent with the many Arthurian traditions across Britain.

Another person of this era was Caradawg Freichfras, (Caradawg Strong Arm or Caradawg Brawny Arm).  According to Arthurian legend, Caradawg Freichfras was one of the main knights of Arthur, and his horse was named Luagor (Host -Splitter).  He is said to have died in the battle of Cattreath  in 546 AD where 360 of Arthur’s knights fought and only three survived.  In A History of Wales, Davies says Caradawg Freichfras was ………  We’ll see in the next chapter how Caradawg Freichfras fits in our family tree.

Caradawg Freichfras was the great-great grandson of Brychan, his mother being a granddaughter of Brychan.  Caradawg Freichfras became ruler of Brychenoig (early Brecon) through the right of his mother.  Breconshire is the ancient name for a section of Wales similar to a county, today part of Powys??.  It is famous for mountains called the Beacons, and contains the Brecon Beacons National Park.  These are all named after Brychan.

By 550 there were secluded monasteries in Wales.  They later dominant parts of Wales, both spiritually and materially (they controlled up to 25% of the land in Wales at their height), and were (taken over by King Edward?? in 15xx).

Llans (enclosures) were built as consecrated enclosures to bury the dead.  Later churches were built within the enclosures, and they were called llan, followed by the name of the saint or patron the church was dedicated to.  By 1200, there were over 60 churches dedicated to St David (llandewi), Teilo was #2 with 25 churches (Llantilio).  Towns and villages often took their name from the local church, which is why there are so many towns in Wales whose names starts with Llan.  Some locations of interest to our family are Llanelli, home of our ancestors for centuries,  Llandewi Rhydderch, the home parish of Emigrant John’s first wife Johanne, and Llantilio Pertholey, the church where emigrant John and his children were baptized.

There was a great plague in 549, much like the more famous Black Plague in 1349/50.  It is estimated that each plague killed about a quarter of the population of Wales.  The high percentage of people who lived outside towns probably accounts for the relatively fewer deaths in Wales compared to other parts of Europe that were more urbanized.

Approximately 600 AD the Welsh language began being written down.

Wales was divided into many small kingdoms, with much fighting between them over the centuries.  The kingdoms of Wales began being united by marriage starting around 800.

In 789, Northmen (Vikings) ravaged the coast of England.  The pagan Northmen had no respect for religion and plundered monasteries close to the coast.  By 911 the Northmen (Normans) possessed a large part of Northern France.

Around 950, Wales was wholly rural, without any cities.  People had summer (highland) pasture called hafod where they lived in huts called hafety. In the winter, the lived in lowland houses called hendre.  Their agricultural economy centered around pasturing cattle.  In later years sheep were introduced by the monks.  Grains were grown in the lowlands by this time, but raising grain did not represent the majority of the agriculture.

There were no coins in 1050 – you paid your bills in cattle.

A man’s right to own land depended on his status.  The Welsh law had a basic division between free and unfree people.  Free people included two groups – King and his relations, and a gentleman of ancestry.   Some unfree people had rights protected by law.  Others, the slaves, had no rights.  By 1300, over 50% of males were free, which was a fairly recent phenomenon.

One interesting insight into Welsh culture was galanus (blood money).  It was a fine that had to be paid to kindred if a man was killed (or paid to the owner if the person killed was a slave).  Murder was considered an offense against the family of the deceased, not a crime to punished by the state.  The amount of the galanus depended on the status of the deceased, and his status was largely determined by his ancestry.   This was spelled out in the Welsh Law, with the useful purpose of soothing anger and preventing retaliation.  Galanus was set for a male, and calculated for females.  A daughter had half the galanus of her brother.  A wife had one third the galanus of her husband.  At this time, a woman could neither own land nor transfer land to her children.

Welsh law treated marriage as a contract, unlike the Catholic Church which treated it as a sacrament.  The Welsh Law had provisions for how to distribute property in the event of divorce.  Catholics regarded Welsh Law as the “Law of the Devil” because of the way it addressed divorce.

The Norman Invasion of England occurred in 1099.  On Oct 14, 1066, William of Normandy had victory at Hastings, defeating the English King.  The Normans then spread out, conquering more land across Britain.  By 1110 the Normans built many shore castles like the one they built at Chepstow in 1086.  We will see later the Chepstow Castle played an important role in our ancestor’s decision to emigrate to Virginia.

The book History of Kings of Britain was written in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth, 2nd Bishop of St Asaph.  About a third of the book is about “King” Arthur.  When historians checked the book against other documentation, it appears most of the book was developed from Geoffrey’s imagination.  His descriptions of King Arthur were vivid, and seem to be the basis for many of the legends about Arthur.

The various kingdoms in Wales were engaged on nearly ongoing hostility over the centuries.  There had been many Kings in Wales, but by around 1200 there were only two Princes, others were “Lords”

The monasteries proliferated from 1140 – 1202 under Norman patronage.  They were large estates, containing thousands of acres.  Monks introduced sheep, and the Welsh woolen industry was pioneered at Stone Abbey?? around year???  Monks copied and preserved Welsh literature, and wrote its history.  DUPLICATE

The Welsh people were looked down upon by the English as a crude, rough people.  In 1159, the Archbishop of Canterbury said these things about the Welsh – “Welsh are Christians in name only”, “They are barbarians”, “They are a wild people who cannot be tamed”.

John signs the Magna Carta in 1215

The years following 1225 were considered a high point in Welsh history.  They were the age of Llywelyn, where the importance and power of the prince and state increased.  The autonomy of the community and kinship group declined.  Murder was now an offense against the state, not against kindred.  Money was in circulation by this point.

In 1282/3 the Principality of Wales was defeated by the army of Edward I, King of England.  In 1283 Llywelyn was killed, and the Welsh were subjugated.  Edward built many castles to help control Wales, the most famous of which is at Caernarfron. These new castles formed an “Iron Ring” around Wales that Edward used to control the land.

The Welsh revolted in 1294, and Edward led a 35,000 man army to Wales.  The revolt came to end March 5, 1295, and  five days later 500 Welshmen were slaughtered in their sleep.

By 1300, about 10% of the population lived in towns.  Before 1300 there is little evidence of trading.  By 1250 slaves were long gone as a class.  There was a smaller group of taeogion (not slaves, but not freemen either).  Most of the population were free men, bonheldwyr.

167 – Burgess??  Measure of self-government – legal and economic

172 – Welshmen in Edward II’s army were dressed in Green and White – perhaps the first national uniform.  Welsh were reputed to be troublesome soldiers -tended to get drunk, pillage and vandalize, killed prisoners rather than offer them for ransom.

180 – In the generation after the conquest, the Bardic order fell into decay

Black Plague of 1347 – 1350.  Probably about a quarter of the inhabitants of Wales died 1349 – 1350.

Welsh Law had land shared among descendents.  In 1350 the English Law system was adopted, and the oldest son got the inheritance.  Wales went from a community of fairly poor small landowners to a community of a few wealthy estate owners and a large landless proletariat

Dragon Banner was Britain’s symbol of victory in 1401

1530 – 1770 the Welsh were members of Episcopalian Church.  Wales was incorporated into England in 1536

1530 – 1770 was an era of gentry – a privileged few

Articles of Faith 1536.  Monasteries across Wales and the rest of Britain were vandalized for their wealth.  By 1539, the King had seized all property of monasteries.  NAME of King

Feb 1539 – Act of Union, listed new counties in Wales.  Established the boundaries of Wales that exist to today.  Welsh penal code was abandoned, Law of England was only law that was recognized.  In the eyes of the law, the Welsh were English.

English was to be the only language in the courts of Wales.  Those using the Welsh language were not to receive public office.  Implicit was the need to create a Welsh ruling class fluent in English.  Welsh was allowed to be spoken in church services.

2543, Second Act of Union

The New Testament was printed in Welsh in 1567.  By 1588 the entire Bible was translated to Welsh, with an updated translation in 1620 that was used for centuries.

Puritanism crystallized in 1570.  It was stronger in England, almost wholly absent in Wales.  John Perry, the first Welsh dissenter, was hanged in 1593.

Allegiance of most Welsh to the Church of England was superficial.  In 1577 it was reported that some clergy were saying mass in secret, and conducting baptisms and funerals by the Catholic rite.  People made the sign of the cross, cherished holy wells.

Morgan, Herbert, Turbeville were “members of some of the most distinguished lineages in Wales”.  They were prepared to offer protection to the Catholic loyalists who dwelt on their estates.

By the late 1500s the bards (poets) were in decline as a measure of social status.  The wealthy had more desire for family seclusion, and used books for enlightenment vs. poets reciting in large halls with guests.  The ways of expressing gentility were through coat-of-arms, grandiose tombs and extravagant expenditures.

By 1610 wool was increasing in importance, as many as 100,000 people were employed converting fleece to cloth

Gentry lusted for land – it provided substantial and stable returns

For 200 years after 1097 there were fights between King and Normans, Lords and Welsh.  Marsher Lords were loyal to the King, had border holdings (both sides of current border), and provided a buffer between the King and Welsh

Wales is a land of castles.  Unlike continental Europe where castles were homes of Kings and Lords, the castles in Wales were primarily military in nature.  The Romans constructed large garrison forts as well as smaller hill forts.  The Normans built many forts in their conquest of Wales.  King Edward I built a ring of castles around Wales to dominate the country.

1070 – 1135 there were 20 towns established in Wales, 60 by 1300

The Patronymic naming system was used in Wales though the early 1600s, making it difficult to conduct genealogical research.  A son whose first name was Mark and whose father was Harry would have the name Mark ap Harry or simply Mark Harry.  Instead of a surname that identified a family over generations like we have now, their last name changed every generation.  A daughter Ann, son of Glenn, who marked Mark Harry would be named Ann verch Glenn before marriage and Ann Harry after marriage.  Rather a confusing system by today’s standards, don’t you think?  But to the Welsh of that time, it made perfect sense.

One constant in identifying lineage of gentlemen in Wales was the Coat-of-Arms.  It was passed from father to son to grandson.  Arms were only borne by gentlemen, and you could only be a gentleman by birth.  Only individuals bearing arms could own land.  The use of the arms was taken very seriously – it was a crime punishable by imprisonment to use a Coat-of-Arms that was not yours.  Arms passed from father to sons, although upon marrying an heiress (oldest daughter whose father had no sons who produced heirs) a husband could add his wife’s coat to his shield. Wales was a land of economic inequality – most wealth was owned by a small percentage of population – and our ancestors were in that small percentage of wealthy landowners.

“The structure of Welsh society from very early times was essentially aristocratic, and it remained so until the destruction by Henry VIII of the legal concept that buttressed it.  The Welsh theory was that no one could be a freeman, inherit property, enjoy privileges, or be received into the community, unless he could prove an agnatic ancestry for a certain number of generations.”  {Heraldry and the Herald (1982), Rodney Dennis, p. 66.}  From these excerpts it is possible to understand that “bloodlines” were of the utmost importance to Welshmen of this period.

The flag of Wales is a red dragon on a background of white and green.  The dragon has been associated with Wales and our family since the Dark Ages.