The making of Wales

When did the Welsh principalities become one country called Wales?

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From the fifth century to the late Middle Ages, the area we know as Wales was a loose collection of separate kingdoms. The most powerful ruler, usually the king of Gwynedd or Powys, could exert considerable influence over other territories, but none could unite the Welsh-speaking peoples for very long.

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By 1485, when Henry VII ascended to the English throne, Wales remained divided: the Principality covered territories that had been under native Welsh rule before Edward I conquered the area in 1282, while the March was a network of semi-independent lordships in the south and east resulting from piecemeal invasion by Norman knights.

In 1536, fearing the potential threat posed by the Marcher lords, parliament under Henry VIII passed the Laws in Wales Act (later known as the ‘Act of Union’) to incorporate Wales into England. It abolished any distinction between English and Welsh legal systems and banned the Welsh language in the courts of Wales.

The act defined the England-Wales border for the first time and allowed Welsh representation at parliament. It also abolished the Marcher lordships and placed the seven counties that replaced them under the same administrative system established in the Principality. Wales became unified as one country for the first time, albeit under the authority of the English crown.

The act was followed by a statute in 1543, which established a distinct Welsh system of courts and gave statutory recognition to the Council of Wales at Ludlow.
 

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Answered by: Dan Cossins, freelance journalist