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Welsh Identity In The C18th Essay, Research Paper
How accurate is Gwyn A. Williams assessment of Welsh identity in the eighteen century when he states that they were A people who, apart from their language, lacked practically every attribute of a nation except for the perverse and persistent belief that they were one? Certainly, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Wales was facing a crisis of identity. This crisis was a long time in the making. The Norman invasion had given the Welsh a common enemy, breaking down the regional and community loyalties in favor of a national front. However, with the death of Llywelyn II in 1282, the idea of a Welsh nation began to quickly erode. The Glyn Dwr uprising of the fifteenth century and the subsequent rise of the Tudor dynasty brought back a sense of national pride and identity that lasted throughout the reign of the Stuart kings. With the fall of the Stuart line, Wales lost what little commonality it shared with the centralized government in England. In turn, this plunged Welsh identity into a darkness that would take years of hard work to crawl out of.
Understandably, the English polity did little to encourage Welsh nationalism. The Acts of Union from 1536-1545 incorporated England and Wales and made English the official language of the government, dealing a crushing blow to both nationalism and the Welsh language. The 1707 Act of Union with Scotland established Great Britain. This affectively meant that, not only were the Welsh called foriegners in their own land, but the oppressors had stolen the once noble name of the Isle of the Mighty. 1746 could have marked the end of Wales as a nation, for it was in 1746 that Parliament enacted legislation ruling that the term England would now include Wales as well. Fortunately, some enterprising individuals were already ensuring that Wales would live on.
Yet another threat to Welsh identity was the rapid Anglicization that was taking place at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The gentry were becoming less Welsh, instead turning to the fashions, customs, and language of the English. This led to a gradual decline in paternalism as well as patronage to the bardic tradition and other art forms. Once again, this decline had began as far back as the first Acts of Union.
As the English language began to creep more and more into the daily lives of the Welsh, the old tongue was dieing out. This was epecially true in border and market towns. Furthermore, the Church was used as an Anglicising force in many areas, preaching, singing, and sometimes teaching in English. Luckily, Anglicisation had a hard road to travel, sometimes in a quite literal sense, when it came to the lower and middle orders. While the lower orders were more reluctant to learn English, it was the middling sorts that rose to fill the shoes of the gentry by becoming the new intelligentsia and patronising the Welsh Arts.
When looking at the facts above, one would tend to belive that Gwyn A. Williams was completely justified in his statement. However, a revolution was beginning in Wales, a revolution whose seeds were planted as early as 1567 with the printing of the first Welsh Bible, but was not cultivated until the early eighteen century. Indeed, it was the period of the mid-eighteenth century all the way through the early nineteenth century that produced the greastest contributions to the Welsh revival. This revival produced a new image of Wales complete with a revamped history and new developments in the language. The result was a cohesive national identity which united the Welsh through a common language, history, culture and, to a lesser extent, religion.
Arguably, language is the most important factor in shaping national identity and giving one a sense of belonging. Undoubtedly, language is the most important factor in the creation of a new uniquely Welsh consciousness. After all, one cannot examine any of the issues involved in the Welsh revival without first discussing the great strides that were made in the area of Welsh language. As previously stated, the Welsh language was suffering a decline at the start of the eighteenth century. With the Anglicisation of the gentry, the native language was increasingly looked at with disdain. Indeed, at the end of the seventeenth century Welsh seemed to be going the way of Cornish and Manx. However, Welsh is still in use today.
One of the contributing factors to the proliferation of the Welsh language in this time of turmoil wast the expiration of the 1662 Licensing Act in 1695. With the establishment of printing presses in Wales, first in Trerhedyn in 1718, then in Carmarthen in 1721, the printing of Welsh books and pamphlets became much easier. Before this time, books had to be sent to London for publishing which invariably led to numerous misprints. Some of the first people to take advantage of the new publishing freedon were members of the religious community. Pamphlets, hymn books, and Bibles were printed and distributed by Anglican and Dissenter alike. The religious community set about furiously translating the most popular religious texts into Welsh as well as creating new texts. It would be the religious community that would bring education and literacy to the masses as well. While the Welsh Trust and the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) made great strides in educating the common children in English and distributing Bibles, it was the Circulating Schools of Griffith Jones that had the greatest impact on the Welsh revival. In the thirty years between establishing his first school in Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, in 1731 and his death in 1761, Jones established 3,325 schools reaching approximately 250,000 pupils. He was the first to realize the importance of teaching literacy thruogh the medium of Welsh. Jones goal was to save souls. Little did he know, his charity schools would help breathe life-blood into a cold and dieing language.
As the number of literate people increased the demand for printed material increased as well. The amount of books printed in Welsh tripled from 1660-1700, the tripled again from 1700-1740. The bulk of these printed works consisted of religious matirial and works that had been translated from English. Some of these works, like Paul-Yves Pezron s L Antiquite de la Nation et la Langue des Celtes first translated from French to English, would have a tremendous effect in the shaping of the new Welsh indentity. This is not to say that works were not being written in Welsh. In 1716, Theophilus Evans first published Drych y Prif Oesedd (A Mirror of the First Ages), sparked by the Celtomania that Pezron had begun. There were also a number of grammars and dictionaries printed in this period, possibly the most scholarly of these being Edward Lhuyd s Archaeologia Britannica which contained information on Breton, Cornish and Welsh language. Other dictionaries and grammers were to follow. Indeed, lexicography became a hobby for the cultural elite, especially among the Morris Circle, inspired by the earlier works of Lhuyd and John Davies. One such scholar was John Walthers who, with the help of a young Iolo Morganwg, published his English-Welsh Dictionary, in fourteen volumes, from 1770-1783. Seeing the need for the language to evolve, Welsh scholars began to create new words and, in some cases, change grammar rules. This free-for-all of change and invention would spread to other forms of scholarship. The subsequent culture of invention would change the face of Wales forever.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the Welsh people were facing a crisis of history. In shory, Wales had no immediate history unique unto itself. This led Welsh historians to look to the ancient past. Every Welsh scholar was well versed in the works of Gildas, Taliesin, Nennius, and of course Geoffrey of Monmouth. Although scholars were beginning to discredit Geoffrey, the Welsh need for identity and the tidal wave of Romanticism proved more than legitimate history could bear. Theophilus Evans Drych y Prif Oesoedd, in which he combined and eloborated on previous histories, was built on Geoffrey s model.
Most Welshmen were already familiar with the rich lineage of the Welsh princes. With a role call including Belli Mawr, Brutus, Cunedda, Maximius, Arthur, and ultimately Llywelyn II, the Welsh people were far from lacking when it came to cultural heroes. Owain Glyn Dwr s death had marked the last of the great Welsh heroes. A people deeply ingrained in the mythology of the land, the Welsh needed more to take hold of as new advances in scholarship quickly tore apart the accepted history. Ironically, the new heroes and history created was ancient and remote from the Wales of the eighteenth century. The influence of Romanticism probably had a great deal to do with this tendency. It was Romanticism afterall that tended to look to primitive cultures in search of the noble savage.
Not surprisingly though, the new movement in historiography began with studies of the Welsh language. In 1632, John Davies, Mallwyd, published his Welsh Grammar and Dictionary. In his Latin preface, he makes the revolutionary claim that Welsh was a direct descendent of Hebrew. Arguably, this started the trickle that led to the deluge of the Welsh revival. Charles Edwards elaborated on Davies point in his Hebraismorum Cambro-Britannicorum (1675), in which he points out the similarities in Welsh and Hebrew phonetics, and again with Y Ffydd Ddi-ffvant (The Unfeigned Faith) in 1677. Pezron, reviving a theory first established by William Camden in 1586, connected the Welsh with the Gauls and therefore to Gomer, Japhet, and Noah, confirming bothe the nobility of the language and the noble origins of the people of Wales. The first English translation of L Antiquite was published in 1706. It was only a matter of time bofore Celtomania would sweep the nation.
When it came to Celtomania, and the rediscovery/rebuilding of Welsh history and culture, no one did it better than the Welsh societies of London. With the Anglicisation of the gentry, it is not all together surprising to find the bulk of Welsh intelligentsia living in London. The Lewis brothers of Anglesey, along with some friends, founded the Cymmrodorion Society in London in 1751. The Society was meant to be a support group for the London Welsh, and its goals were simple. The members were to support uniquely Welsh ambitions. They collected manuscripts, promoted the arts and the study of Welsh history and language. Overall, the members of the Society produced a disappointingly small body of work. Much of what was produced came from what historians call the Morris Circle, the Morris brothers, their friends and proteges. The Morris Circle included some to the greatest minds of the age, including Goronwy Owen, Evan Evans, and Thomas Pennant.
The Gwyneddigion, founded by Owen Jones (Owain Myfyr) in 1770 as a support group for North Walians in exile, followed the lead of the Cymmrodorion Society and took its place shortly after the death of Richard Morris in 1779. The Gwyneddigion proved to be much more successful than the Society, partly because of its open policy on membership. Any Welsh-speaking Welshmen living in London could join. The Gwyneddigion served as the launching point for many activities in service to Wales as wall as the birthplace of Welsh political radicalism. With membership including William Owen-Pughe and Iolo Morganwg, the Gwyneddigion was collectively the greatest source of historical and cultural invention in the eighteenth century.
Of all the forgers, inventors and revisionist historians, Iolo Morganwg was perhaps the most accomplished.
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