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Welsh nationalism (Welsh: Cenedlaetholdeb Cymreig) emphasises the distinctiveness of Welsh language, culture, and history, and calls for more self-determination for Wales, which might include more devolved powers for the Welsh Assembly or full independence from the United Kingdom.
Through most of its history before the Anglo-Norman Conquest, Wales was divided into several kingdoms. From time to time, rulers such as Hywel Dda, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn and Rhodri the Great managed to unify many of the kingdoms, but their lands were divided on their deaths. Incursions from the English and Normans also amplified divisions between the kingdoms. In the 12th century, Norman king Henry II of England exploited differences between the three most powerful Welsh kingdoms, Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth, allowing him to make great gains in Wales. He defeated and then allied with Madog ap Maredudd of Powys in 1157, and used this alliance to overwhelm Owain Gwynedd. He then turned on Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth, who finally submitted to him in 1171, effectively subjugating much of Wales to Henry's Angevin Empire. By 1282, only Gwynedd, whose ruler was accorded the title Prince of Wales, remained independent. With the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd by Edward I Wales lost its last independent kingdom and became subject to the English crown, either directly or indirectly. It retained some vestiges of distinction from its neighbour however, retaining the Welsh language, law, and culture.
Until the victory of Henry VII at Bosworth in 1485, the Welsh on many occasions revolted against English rule in an attempt to gain their independence. The greatest such revolt was that of Owain Glyndŵr, who gained popular support in 1400, and defeated an English force at Plynlimon in 1401. In response, the English parliament passed repressive measures that included denying the Welsh the right of assembly. Glyndŵr was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and sought assistance from Charles VI of France, but by 1409 his forces were scattered under the attacks of King Henry IV of England and further repressive measures imposed on the Welsh. Glyndŵr himself vanished, and his final resting place remains a mystery.
Throughout the period of conquest the Welsh poets kept alive the dream of independence. In what was known as the canu brud (prophetic poetry), the idea was set out of the coming of a messiah-like figure, known as Y Mab Darogan (The Son of Destiny), who would not only remove the English yoke but win back the whole of the Great Britain for the Britons (i.e. the Welsh). In the Welsh-born Henry VII the Welsh believed that "the Son of Destiny" had come, and there were no more revolts or talk of revolt – the people of Wales became as loyal as any of the King's other subjects.
During the reign of Henry VIII the Laws in Wales Acts were passed without any democratic mandate, annexing Wales into the English legal system. The repressive measures against the Welsh that had been in place since the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr over a century earlier were removed. These Acts also gave political representation for Wales in the Westminster Parliament. Wales continues to share a legal identity with England to a large degree as part of a joint entity known simply as England until 1967 and England and Wales since then. The laws also finished the partitioning of Wales into counties that was begun in 1282 and established local government on the English model. The laws had the effect of making English the language to be used for all official purposes, thus effectively excluding non-English speakers from formal office.
On the whole those Welsh people who had a way of expressing an opinion welcomed these moves and saw them as further proof that Henry VII and his descendants were the long-awaited sons of destiny and that Wales had regained what it had lost at the conquest of 1282. Patriotism, or a non-politicised form of nationalism, remained a strong force in Wales, with pride in its language, customs and history common amongst all levels of society.
Along with the rest of Europe the effects of the French Revolution were felt in Wales. It brought to the forefront a small minority of Welsh people who sympathised with revolutionary ideas: people such as Richard Price (1723–1791), Iolo Morganwg (1747–1826), and Morgan John Rhys (1760–1804).
In the meantime, counter-revolutionary ideas flourished amongst the leaders of the Welsh Methodist revival, but the consequences of turning Wales into a nation with a nonconformist majority was to create a new sense of Welshness.
The rapid industrialisation of parts of Wales, especially Merthyr Tydfil and adjoining areas, gave rise to strong and radical Welsh working class movements which led to the Merthyr Rising of 1831, the widespread support for Chartism, and the Newport Rising of 1839.
With the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, nonconformism triumphed in Wales, and gradually the previous majority of conservative voices within the church allied themselves with the more radical and liberal voices within the older dissenting churches of the Baptists and Congregationalists. This radicalism was exemplified by the Congregationalist minister David Rees of Llanelli, who edited the radical magazine Y Diwygiwr (The Reformer) from 1835 until 1865. But he was not a lone voice: William Rees (also known as Gwilym Hiraethog) established the radical Yr Amserau (The Times) in 1843, and in the same year Samuel Roberts also established another radical magazine, Y Cronicl (The Chronicle). Both were Congregationalist pastors.
The growth of radicalism and the gradual politicisation of Welsh life did not include any successful attempt to establish a separate political vehicle for promoting Welsh nationalism. On the contrary Welsh nationalism weakened under the economic pressure as the coal industry of South Wales increasingly was integrated links with English industry. On the whole nationalism was the preserve of antiquarians not political activists.
But voices did appear within the Liberal Party, which made great gains in Wales in the 19th century with the extension of the franchise and the tacit support of Welsh nonconformity. An intended independence movement established on the pattern of Young Ireland, Cymru Fydd, was established in 1886 but was short-lived.
For the majority in Wales, however, the important question was not one of independence or self-government, but of the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. Nevertheless, their non-political nationalism was strong enough to establish national institutions such as the University of Wales in 1893, and the National Library of Wales and the National Museum of Wales in 1907.
Welsh nationalists were outraged by the "Reports of the commissioners of enquiry into the state of education in Wales" in 1847. The reports had blue covers, and were ridiculed as Brad y Llyfrau Gleision, or in English, "The Treachery of the Blue Books". They found the education system in Wales to be in a dreadful state; they condemned the Welsh language and Nonconformist religion. Ralph Lingen was responsible for the Blue Books of 1846. By contrast the Reverend Henry Longueville Jones, Her Majesty's Inspector of church schools in Wales between 1848 and 1865, led the opposition to subordination to the education department under Lingen. Jones's reports supported bilingual education and praised the work of many church elementary schools. They came under attack in Whitehall. Jones failed to gain full support in Wales because of his Anglicanism and his criticisms of many certified teachers.
Two 19th-century figures are associated with the beginnings of Welsh nationalism in the specific political sense: Michael D. Jones (1822–1898) and Emrys ap Iwan (1848–1906). Inspired by the Revolutions of 1848 and the growth of Irish nationalism they saw that Wales was different from England in having its own language which the majority of its residents spoke and in holding to a nonconformist form of the Christian religion which faced many disabilities in the face of the state church.
Nationalism grew as an influence in 20th-century Wales. At various times both the Labour Party and the Liberal Party took up the cause of Welsh home rule, or devolution. But it was with the establishment of Plaid Cymru (The Party of Wales) in August 1925 (by David John Williams, Fred Jones, Saunders Lewis, Moses Gruffydd, H. R. Jones and Lewis Valentine) that Welsh independence from the UK was first advocated.
The Labour Party dominated politics in 1920s; it suffered a sharp setback in 1931, but maintained its hold on Wales. The leftists such as Aneurin Bevan who dominated the Party in Wales rejected nationalism as a backward reactionary movement that was more favorable to capitalism and not to socialism. Instead they wanted a strong government in London to reshape the entire state economy.
The election of a Labour Government in 1997 included a commitment to hold a referendum on the establishment of a Welsh Assembly. The referendum was narrowly won, with Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and much of Welsh civic society supporting the Labour Government's proposals.
A 2007 survey by BBC Wales Newsnight found that 20% of Welsh people surveyed favoured Wales becoming independent of the United Kingdom.
A YouGov poll taken in September 2015 suggested that 17% of Welsh people would vote for independence. Another poll by Face for Business suggests support could be as high as 28%. These are in stark contrast to the last two polls conducted by icm for the BBC which said support is as low as 5% and 3% respectively.
The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016 saw the voters in Wales choosing the "Leave" option by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.
A Welsh Political Barometer poll, conducted for ITV-Cymru Wales and Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre from 30 June to 4 July 2016, showed support for Welsh independence had increased following the Brexit vote. Responding to the question “And please imagine a scenario where the rest of the UK left the European Union but Wales could remain a member of the European Union if it became an independent country. If a referendum was then held in Wales about becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should Wales be an independent country?” the results were: Yes: 28%, No: 53% Would Not Vote/Don’t Know: 20%. Removing non-committed voters, 35% of those polled would vote for independence.
Plaid Cymru was founded in the 1925. Its first Member of Parliament, Gwynfor Evans, was elected in the Carmarthen by-election, 1966, and today has four such representatives, along with eleven members of the Welsh Assembly. Historically, support for the party is concentrated in rural Welsh-speaking areas of north and west Wales, where most of its MPs have been elected. In the late 1960s and 1990s the party enjoyed brief surges in support.
Though mainstream nationalism in Wales has been constitutional, there have been violent movements associated with it. In 1952 a small republican movement, Y Gweriniaethwyr ("The Republicans"), were the first to use violence when they made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up a pipeline leading from the Claerwen dam in mid Wales to Birmingham.
In the 1960s two movements were established in protest against the drowning of the Tryweryn valley and the 1969 investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales: Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru ("Movement for the Defence of Wales", also known as MAC) and the Free Wales Army (also known as FWA, in Welsh Byddin Rhyddid Cymru). MAC were responsible for numerous bombing attacks on water pipelines and power lines across Wales. On the eve of the investiture two members of MAC, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, died as the bomb they were planting on the railway line to be used by the Royal Train exploded.
The late 1970s and the 1980s saw an organisation calling itself Meibion Glyndŵr ("sons of Glyndŵr") responsible for a spate of arson attacks against holiday homes throughout Wales. In the 1970s, a Welsh Socialist Republican Army arose, whose initials in Welsh spelt out the English word "DAWN".