The National Archives
Search our website
  • Search our website
  • Search our records

Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603



Land, Trade and Settlement

Throughout the Middle Ages, agriculture was the mainstay of the Welsh economy. In the mountains, animal husbandry shaped the year, with cattle, sheep and people moving to upland pastures in the summer, and back down to the valleys in the winter. Livestock provided meat, wool for cloth, hides for leather, and draught power. Oats were the main crop. In the lowlands of Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and Glamorgan, wheat production was more important. Anglesey supplied much of North Wales, and further afield, with grain.

Leather goods and rough cloth were exported; cattle were herded to the marches, and down to the pastures of England. Lead from Flint was mined for castle-building. Later, minerals like coal and copper were exploited.

Good years brought enough for most to survive. Bad years (like the 1590s) saw starvation among the poor in Wales. Even in good times, the practice of partible inheritanceGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window meant that many young men did not have enough land for subsistence and became soldiers in order to make a living.


Thumbnail linking to pop-up window


Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

Ship at Amlwch, Anglesey, exporting copper


Ogmore Castle and mill

Wales was not a land of towns or castles until, after 1066, Norman lords began to fortify their conquered lands. Next to these castles they founded towns where English and Flemings settled. The Welsh princes also began building on a similar pattern, as at Dolforwyn in mid-Wales. Two centuries later, Edward I, too, built towns for English settlers as well as castles, in order to subjugate north Wales.

The English towns disrupted local economies. The 'mere Welsh' were not allowed access to the privileges. Many towns were attacked. Most suffered badly under the Black DeathGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window in the 1340s and from the Welsh Rising of 1400.

With peace under the Tudors, however, the castles - and sometimes their towns - decayed. Great houses were built for comfort, and trade began to flourish.

For more on Welsh and English castles, visit CastlewalesExternal website - link opens in a new window.

Next chapter

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.