English Conquest Wales

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Results of the English Conquest in Wales During the Reign of Edward I

Before King Edward I came to the throne of England many of the previous kings invaded Wales but their efforts proved to be unsuccessful. Contrary to those efforts, Edward I was victorious in the Welsh Wars and brought most of the northern Welsh lands under the jurisdiction of the English monarch. As with any conquest, there were consequences for both the English and the Welsh. First, the Statute of Wales concluded the wars and introduced English authority to the newly gained territories in Wales. Upon the integration of the two societies, there were clear distinctions between the English and the Welsh, leading to a division amongst the people. The separation between the two cultures and oppressive measures forced upon the Welsh led to revolts by individuals and the masses. Finally, following his victory in Wales, Edward I built a series of castles throughout the English territories in Wales in order to prevent resistance to his authority….

To consolidate his triumph over Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Wales, Edward I issued the Statute of Wales in 1284. The document confirmed the annexation of northern Wales to England, expanding the territory of the Crown. Even though not all of Wales was conquered, the statute divided the acquired land into four shires: Anglesey, Caernarfon, Merioneth, and Flint. The rest of the land in northeastern Wales remained under the power of the Marcher lords. By expanding his land, Edward I was bringing a larger population under his power; however, a larger population meant more people to satisfy and a higher risk of rebellion if they were discontent with the monarch. The statute also recognized certain Welsh customs, while ignoring others and replacing them with English customs. For example, it declared that only English criminal law could be used throughout the principality, whereas it permitted some aspects of Welsh inheritance laws relating to the division of inheritance. By forcing English law upon the Welsh people, Edward I provided the opportunity for the spread of dissatisfaction, thus increasing the risk of revolt. At the same time, he made clear his intent to assimilate Wales into the English culture by conceding to Welsh inheritance laws. In addition, the Statute of Wales introduced an English government system to Wales. Administrative positions, such as the sheriff, justiciar, and the chamberlain, were important representatives of the monarch in the counties. There were also a number of courts set up, each having a specific function. The most important court was the county court, which was the main link between the monarch and the people of Wales. On one hand, the county court expressed the desires of the king, and on the other, it expressed the desires of the people to the monarch. The establishment of the English government system was evidence that Wales was in the midst of not only Anglicization, but most importantly, it was a sign that the principality was in the midst of civilization. Through the issue of the Statute of Wales, Edward I defined the extent of the power of England in Wales and implied that England was superior to Wales, which further separated the two cultures.

After the initial conquest and the introduction of the Statute of Wales, the opportunity arose for an issue in the integration of the two societies to develop. The most obvious difference between the English and the Welsh was race. To the English, the Welsh were an inferior race and second-class citizens, thus resulting in their poor treatment. Their poor treatment was shown by the fact that the Welsh were prohibited from living in the English occupied boroughs, which at this time were the centres of English society. Although the unification of Wales and England could have provided prosperity to both races, it was only the English who significantly profited from the boroughs and the unification. Along with the racial distinction, there were also differences administratively. The Welsh had their own rights, taxes, and laws, mainly due to their customs. Despite it was more likely that the variations were a matter of adjusting the Welsh to English society, there was a chance that the English profited from these differences, especially economically through taxes. To further segregate the two cultures, there were already stereotypes of the Welsh spread amongst the English prior to the conquest. Rumours of “murder, robbery, and every other sort of crime” shaped the English vision of the people of Wales. Evidently, these rumours contributed to the English belief of superiority and the need to civilize them. As a result of the growing separation between the English and the Welsh, Welshmen became discontent with the English rule and supported the revolts against the oppressive English occupation.

During the five decades following the initial conquest of Wales, there was opposition to the English authority that was sometimes widely supported and other times, simply a personal vendetta. The first revolt, although minor, occurred in 1287. Rhys ap Maredudd, a Welsh lord, was unhappy with the extent of power of the English government and their lack of respect for him even though he supported Edward I in the Welsh Wars. In response, he attempted to act against England but was easily defeated by the mass armies raised by Edward I and Welsh support against him. Edward's quick reaction to the uprising and the Welsh support was evidence of the military strength of England compared to Wales and that many Welshmen approved his rule. The largest and most threatening revolt occurred a few years later in 1294. Contrary to the previous revolt, there was a widespread uprising against the unjust English policies regarding finances and military presence. Once again, the English military easily dispelled the uprising due to its size and strength. The uprising proved that the conquest was not secure but it also contributed to Edward's harsher policies against the Welsh to maintain order. Furthermore, it was the last significant rebellion for over a century. In 1316, during the reign of Edward II, there was another minor uprising by Llywelyn Bren in Glamorgan. At the time, many people throughout Wales were upset with the borough and castle system that Edward I had established following the conquest and their lack of profit from the system. The rebellion attacked the system, attracting the support of many Welshmen. It was ironic that the systems Edward I created to maintain order and peace in Wales were actually the sources of bitterness and disorder amongst the Welsh. Overall, the revolts occurring after the conquest demonstrated that peace in Wales was not guaranteed but was certainly a possibility in the future.

Shortly after the conquest of Wales, Edward I began constructing castles all throughout the dominated territory. The main purpose of the castles was to defend the acquired land from Welsh rebellions. The majority of the castles Edward I built were located in northern Wales, where opposition to the monarch was more likely. Clearly, they successfully secured English rule as there were few revolts after the conquest. Aside from military security, the castles symbolized the permanence and power of England in Wales. Edward I intended his conquest to last