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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603

 
   

England

Soldiers and Poets

Although the Welsh were few in number, there were more young men than could make a living from the land. They turned to soldiering: for the glory, and for hope of reward.

For English kings, the pool of Welsh soldiers was the main resource of Wales. Archers usually came from south Wales; men from the wooded and mountainous north were more skilled with lances.

Soon after his conquest of Wales, Edward I conscripted thousands of Welshmen for his wars in Scotland and Flanders. The Hundred Years' War saw thousands more fighting in France. During the Wars of the RosesGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window, Welshmen fought for lords and princes on both sides.

 

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Delivering Welsh soldiers for the king

 

A Welsh view of soldiering

 

A Flemish view of Welsh soldiering

The Welsh retained and developed their own culture during the Middle Ages. Celtic Wales had an unbroken history of Christianity. The country overflowed with local saints and holy places, and was garlanded with churches and monasteries. Its religious heart was at St David's, on the great western seaway of Celtic Europe.

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Welsh cultural life was united by Welsh law, the Welsh language and artists of the spoken word. Poems of political prophecy circulated widely, and were so influential that Henry IV tried to ban their performance. Poets and story-tellers served a long apprenticeship and were men of status, travelling widely in Wales. Dafydd ap Gwilym, one of the greatest poets of the 14th century, tried to persuade his girl that it was far better to love a poet (him!) than any soldier.

The Welsh language, spoken by over 95% of the people in Wales, was ushered into the new era of print, courtesy of the new ProtestantGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window religion. The first book printed in Welsh, in 1546, included the creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, for the use of unlearned people. A Welsh New Testament and Prayer Book were printed in 1567, and this encouraged an outburst of publications in Welsh.

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Detail from Edward I creating his son Prince of Wales. By permission of the British Library.
 
Detail from Edward I creating his son Prince of Wales. By permission of the British Library.