Wales (Welsh: Cymru; pronounced /"k@mrI/ SAMPA, ˌkəmɽɪ IPA, 'Kumree' approximate pronunciation) is one of the four nations comprising the United Kingdom (the other three being England, Scotland and Northern Ireland). The term Principality of Wales, Welsh: Tywysogaeth Cymru, is often used, although the Prince of Wales has no role in the governance of Wales. The nation has had no real independence since 1282, when it was taken by the English King. It has no significant national government (see the National Assembly for Wales), and like the other three nations of the UK, it does not issue its own currency and is not in control of any armed forces. These are the powers of the national government of the UK, based at Westminster. The capital of Wales is Cardiff, although the smaller, historic town of Caernarfon, in north Wales, is the location of the vestiture of the Prince of Wales.
Main article: History of Wales
The Romans established a string of forts across the southern part of the country, as far west as Carmarthen (Maridunum). There is evidence that they progressed even further west. They also built the legionary fortress at Caerleon (Isca), whose magnificent amphitheatre is the best preserved in Britain. The Romans were also busy in north Wales, and an old legend claims that Magnus Maximus, one of the last emperors, married Elen or Helen, the daughter of a Welsh chieftain from Segontium, near present-day Caernarfon.
Wales was never conquered by the Saxons, due to the fierce resistance of its people and its mountainous terrain. A Saxon king, Offa of Mercia, is credited with having constructed a great earth wall, or dyke, along the border with his kingdom, to mark off a large part of Powys which he had conquered from the Welsh. Parts of Offa's Dyke can still be seen today.
Wales remained a Celtic region, and its people kept speaking the Welsh language, even as the Celtic elements of neighbouring England and Scotland gradually disappeared. The name 'Wales' is evidence of this, as it comes from a Germanic root meaning "stranger", and as such is related to Wallonia, and Wallachia in Romania, also regions where a 'strange' (non-Germanic) language was spoken.
Wales continued to be a Christian country when its neighbour, England, was overrun by German and Scandinavian tribes, though many older beliefs and customs survived among its people. Thus, Saint David went on a pilgrimage to Rome during the 6th century, and was serving as a bishop in Wales well before Augustine arrived to convert the king of Kent and founded the diocese of Canterbury. Although the Druidic religion is alleged to have had its stronghold in Wales until the Roman invasion, many of the so-called traditions, such as the gorsedd or assembly of bards, were the invention of eighteenth-century "historians". The traditional women's Welsh costume, incorporating a tall black hat, was devised in the nineteenth century by Lady Llanover, herself a prominent patron of the Welsh language and culture.
The conquest of Wales by England did not take place in 1066, when England was conquered by the Normans, but was gradual, not being complete until 1282, when King Edward I of England defeated Llywelyn the Last, Wales's last independent prince, in battle. Edward constructed a series of great stone castles in order to keep the Welsh under control. The best known are at Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech. Wales was legally annexed by the Act of Union 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII of England. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 provided that all laws that applied to England would automatically apply to Wales (and Berwick, a town located on the Anglo-Scottish border) unless the law explicitly stated otherwise. This act, with regard to Wales, was repealed in 1967.
See: Annales Cambriae
Main article: Politics of Wales, also Politics of the United Kingdom
Wales has been a principality since the 13th century, initially under the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great, and later under his grandson, Llywelyn the Last, who took the title Prince of Wales around 1258, and was recognised by the English Crown in 1277 by the Treaty of Aberconwy. Following his defeat by Edward I, however, Welsh independence in the 14th century was limited to a number of minor revolts. The greatest such revolt was that of Owain Glyndwr, who gained popular support in 1400, and defeated an English force at Pumlumon in 1401. In response, the English parliament passed repressive measures denying the Welsh the right of assembly. Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and sought assistance from the French, but by 1409 his forces were scattered under the attacks of King Henry IV of England and further measures imposed against the Welsh.
The Act of Union 1536 partitioned Wales into thirteen counties: Anglesey, Brecon, Caernarfon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Denbigh, Flint, Glamorgan, Merioneth, Monmouth, Montgomery, Pembroke, and Radnor, and applied the Law of England to both England and Wales, making English the language to be used for official purposes. This excluded most native Welsh from any formal office. Wales continues to share a legal identity with England to a large degree as the joint entity of England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland retain separate legal systems and identities.
Wales was for centuries dwarfed by its larger neighbour, England. Indeed, one well-known British encyclopedia was said - perhaps apocryphally - to have had an entry reading "WALES. See under ENGLAND". In 1955 steps were taken to re-establish a sense of national identity for Wales when Cardiff was established as its capital. Before this, legislation passed by the UK parliament had simply referred to England, rather than England and Wales.
The National Assembly for Wales sitting in Cardiff, first elected in 1999, is elected by the Welsh people and has its powers defined by the Government of Wales Act, 1998. The title of Prince of Wales is still given by the reigning British monarch to his or her eldest son, but in modern times the Prince does not live in Wales and does not have anything to do with its administration or government. The Prince is, however, still symbolically linked to the principality; the investiture of Charles took place at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, a place traditionally associated with the creation of the title in the 13th century.
Much of Wales is mountainous, particularly North Wales and Mid Wales. The Brecon Beacons in the south and Snowdonia in the north are joined by the Cambrian Mountains. The highest mountain in Wales is Snowdon.
There are several islands off the north and west coasts, with Anglesey being the largest.
For a list of significant settlements in Wales, see List of towns in Wales.
For more details and recent history of the political divisions of Wales, see Subdivisions of Wales.
Main article: Economy of Wales
Parts of Wales have been heavily industrialised since the eighteenth century. Coal, copper, iron, lead, and gold have been mined in Wales, and slate has been quarried. Ironworks and tinplate works, along with the coal mines, attracted large numbers of immigrants during the nineteenth century, particularly to the valleys north of Cardiff, which is now the capital city.
Demographics of Wales as at the 2001 Census:
Main article: Culture of Wales
Photos of Wales
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