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Welsh Cymru, western peninsula and political division (principality) of Great Britain (2011 pop. 3,063,456), 8,016 sq mi (20,761 sq km), west of England; politically united with England since 1536. The capital is Cardiff. Wales is bounded by the Irish Sea (N), by the Bristol Channel (S), by the English unitary authority of Chester West and Chester and counties of ShropshireShropshire
, county (1991 pop. 401,600), 1,348 sq mi (3,491 sq km), W England; administratively, Shropshire is a unitary authority (since 2009). It is also sometimes called Salop. The adminstrative center is Shrewsbury.
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, HerefordshireHerefordshire,
county, 842 sq mi (2,181 sq km), W central England, on the Welsh border; adminstratively, it is a unitary authority (since 1998). Herefordshire has an undulating terrain, which reaches its greatest height in the Black Mts. and Malvern Hills.
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, and GloucestershireGloucestershire
, county (1991 pop. 520,600), 1,025 sq mi (2,655 sq km), W central England. The county seat is Gloucester. Administratively, the county is divided into six districts: Forest of Dean, Stroud, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, and Cotswold.
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 (E), and by Cardigan Bay and St. George's Channel (W). Across the Menai Strait is the Welsh island of AngleseyAnglesey
or Anglesea
, island and county (1985 est. pop. 68,800), 278 sq mi (719 sq km), NW Wales. Beaumaris is the chief town. It is a region of low, rolling hills. The principal industries are agriculture and stock raising.
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Land and People

The Cambrian Mts. cover most of Wales, with high points at SnowdonSnowdon,
Welsh Yr Wyddfa, highest mountain of Wales, 3,560 ft (1,085 m) high, Gwynedd, NW Wales. Its five peaks are separated by passes. There is a rack and pinion railway (opened 1896) from Llanberis to the summit.
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 (3,560 ft/1,085 m), PlynlimonPlynlimon
or Plinlimon
, Welsh Plumlumon Fawr, mountain, 2,468 ft (752 m) high, W Wales, on the Powys-Ceredigion border W of Llanidloes. It has three summits and is the source of the Wye, Severn, and other waters.
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 (2,468 ft/752 m), and Cadair Idris (2,970 ft/905 m). The eastern rivers—the Dee, Severn, and Wye—drain into England. The Usk flows through Monmouthshire and Newport into the Bristol Channel. The Tywi (Towy), Taff, Teifi, Dovey (Dyfi), and Conwy (Conway) rivers lie completely in Wales. The eastern boundary, drawn in 1536, united England and Wales politically but disregarded cultural and linguistic distribution. Welsh-speaking areas were added to England's Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Gloucestershire; the language survived in Herefordshire until the 18th cent. and survives to a small extent in Shropshire today. Wales has maintained a distinctive culture despite its long union with England, though English has become the main language. In the 1990s about 25% of the population spoke Welsh, although in certain regions the percentage was much higher. Wales comprises 22 administrative divisions (unitary authorities): Flintshire, Wrexham, Denbighshire, Conwy, the Isle of Anglesey, Gwynedd, Powys, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend, the Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Newport, and Monmouthshire.


N Wales is characterized by farms and pastoral highlands. There had been some industrial development around the coal fields centered on Wrexham, but the fields have largely been closed. The coastal towns of the Lleyn Peninsula (Gwynedd) are tourist and vacation centers for N England's industrial cities. The industrial wealth of Wales is concentrated in the southern counties bordering on the Bristol Channel. This area has large steelworks (Port TalbotPort Talbot
, town (1981 pop. 40,078), Neath Port Talbot, S Wales, at the mouth of the Avon (Afan) River on Swansea Bay. Port Talbot is a popular seaside resort. Nearby are the steelworks at Margam and the oil refinery at Baglan.
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), oil refineries (Milford HavenMilford Haven,
Welsh Aberdaugleddau, town (1981 pop. 13,883), Pembrokeshire, SW Wales. It is a seaport on the northern side of the estuary called Milford Haven. The bay forms a natural harbor that can handle large oil and liquefied natural gas tankers, making the town a
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), tinplate and copper foundries, and the once-rich S Wales coal fields. The southeast also has the greatest concentration of investment in Britain, predominantly in electronics. Other important industrial cities and ports are NewportNewport,
Welsh Casnewydd, city and unitary authority (1991 pop. 129,900), 74 sq mi (191 sq km), SE Wales, on the Usk River. Lumber, tea, automobiles, electronics, semiconductors, and aircraft are made; steel and various other metals, paper, and chemicals are manufactured.
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, CardiffCardiff
, Welsh Caerdydd, city and county (1998 est. pop. 320,900), S Wales, on the Taff River near its mouth on the Bristol Channel. Cardiff is the capital of Wales and an important port. Until the early 20th cent.
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, SwanseaSwansea
, Welsh Abertawe, city (1981 pop. 172,433) and county, 146 sq mi (378 sq km), S Wales. Located on Swansea Bay at the mouth of the Tawe River, the city of Swansea is a metallurgical center with sheet-metal mills, foundries, and smelting works.
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, and Tenby. The labor force has tended to drift into the southern industrial areas, leaving the north sparsely populated. With the decline of the coal industry, the Welsh economy has become increasingly reliant on consumer electronics, automotive parts, chemicals, and tourism, information technology, and other service-related industries.


Early History

Welsh tradition stretches back into prehistory (see CeltCelt
or Kelt
. 1 One who speaks a Celtic language or who derives ancestry from an area where a Celtic language was spoken; i.e., one from Ireland, the Scottish Hebrides and Highlands, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, or Brittany.
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; Great BritainGreat Britain,
officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (2015 est. pop. 65,397,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. The country is often referred to simply as Britain.
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). In the first centuries A.D., Celtic-speaking clans of shepherds, farmers, and forest dwellers defended their homes against Roman invaders, who penetrated the north to found Segontium (near Caernarvon) and the south to found Maridunum (now Carmarthen). But the Roman effect upon Wales was light, and Welsh clans continued to dominate large areas of Great Britain, north to the Clyde and the Firth of Forth and south past the Bristol Channel into present Somerset, Devonshire, and Cornwall. They were converted to Christianity by Celtic monks, notably St. DavidDavid, Saint,
d.588?, patron saint of Wales, first abbot of Menevia (present-day Saint David's). He apparently established a strict rule and was a zealous missionary, founding 12 monasteries.
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. Although the Anglo-Saxon conquest of E Britain (late 5th cent.) did not seriously affect the Welsh, the invaders did thrust between the main body of Welsh and those south of the Bristol Channel (who nevertheless maintained their national identity for centuries).

Border wars were chronic between the Welsh and the seven English kingdoms known as the heptarchy. The sturdy Welsh fighters, who took the name Cymry [compatriots], withstood the forces of the kings of MerciaMercia
, one of the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, consisting generally of the region of the Midlands. It was settled by Angles c.500, probably first along the Trent valley.
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 and WessexWessex
, one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. It may have been settled as early as 495 by Saxons under Cerdic, who is reputed to have landed in Hampshire. Cerdic's grandson, Ceawlin (560–93), annexed scattered Saxon settlements in the Chiltern Hills and drove the
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 and later the harrying of the Norsemen. The disparate clans of pastoral people gradually coalesced. Hywel Dda, king of Wales in the mid-10th cent., collected Welsh law and custom into a unified code. At the same time the position of the bardbard,
in Wales, term originally used to refer to the order of minstrel-poets who composed and recited the poems that celebrated the feats of Celtic chieftains and warriors. The term bard in present-day usage has become synonymous with poet, particularly a revered poet.
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, which was later to yield a wealth of poetry, music, and learning, was formalized. Defense of the besieged hills went on, and Gruffydd ap LlywelynGruffydd ap Llywelyn or Llewelyn
, d. 1063, ruler of Wales (1039–63). A series of campaigns against other Welsh princes made him the ruler of virtually all Wales.
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, the ruler of Wales, maintained Welsh independence until his death in 1063.

English Incursion to Union

William I of England tried to deal with the Welsh by setting up border earldoms to protect his newly won kingdom from their incursions. The power of the border earls (see Welsh MarchesWelsh Marches,
lands in Wales along the English border. After the Norman conquest of England in the 11th cent., William I established the border earldoms of Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford to protect his English kingdom.
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) grew steadily, and Wales was increasingly threatened with English conquest, although Welsh foot soldiers, moving swiftly and secretly over the mountain paths, resisted through 200 years of guerrilla warfare. When the English made inroads in the north, Rhys ap Tewdr held sway in the south, and only after his death (1093) did the Anglo-Norman barons take full possession of the Vale of Glamorgan. Dissension within England in the early 12th cent. relaxed pressure on the Welsh princes, and medieval Welsh culture approached its full blossom (see eisteddfodeisteddfod
[Welsh,=session], Welsh competitive festival. Contests traditionally are held in all the arts and crafts, with special emphasis on music and poetry. The National Eisteddfod is held annually for one week in August, alternately in the north and the south, but local
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; MabinogionMabinogion
, title given to a collection of medieval Welsh stories. Scholars differ as to the meaning of the word mabinogion: some think it to be the plural of the Welsh word mabinogi, which means "youthful career"; others think it derives from the Welsh word
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Nevertheless, although invasions from England were repeatedly thwarted and although Llywelyn ap IorwerthLlywelyn or Llewelyn ap Iorwerth
(Llywelyn the Great), 1173–1240, Welsh prince; grandson of Owain Gwynedd.
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 (d. 1240) united the Welsh and gained power by skillfully intervening in the troubled English affairs of King John, the end was certain. During the reign of Llywelyn's grandson, Llywelyn ap GruffyddLlywelyn or Llewelyn ap Gruffydd
, d. 1282, Welsh prince, grandson of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. He succeeded (1246) his uncle, David II, as ruler of North Wales and in 1247, with his brother Owen as coruler, did homage to
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, English conquest of Wales was finally accomplished by Edward I in 1282. The Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) established English rule. To placate Welsh sentiment, Edward had his son (later Edward II), who had been born at Caernarvon Castle, made prince of Wales in 1301; thus originated the English custom of entitling the king's eldest son prince of Wales.

Changes in Welsh life, although few, included a gradual cultural decline and the growth of market towns through trade with England. Wool became a staple source of revenue. The Norman barons were left undisturbed in their marcher lordships. Early in the 15th cent. Owen GlendowerOwen Glendower
, Welsh Owain Glyndwr, 1359?–1416?, Welsh national leader. A scion of the princes of Powys, he was also claimant through his mother to the lands of Rhys ap Gruffydd; he was thus one of the most powerful lords in Wales.
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 led a revolt that had a brief but amazing success, and Welsh leaders continued to seek advantage from disturbances in the domestic affairs of their conquerors. Henry VIIHenry VII,
1457–1509, king of England (1485–1509) and founder of the Tudor dynasty. Claim to the Throne

Henry was the son of Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, who died before Henry was born, and Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III through John
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, the first Tudor king, who ascended the English throne in 1485, was the grandson of Owen TudorTudor, Owen,
d. 1461, founder of the Tudor dynasty. He belonged to an ancient Welsh family. He was a squire at the court of Henry V, and, probably in 1429, he married Henry's widow, Catherine of Valois, by whom he had five children.
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, a Welshman. Tudor policy toward Wales was one of assimilation on a basis of equality. Welsh lands, including the marches, were converted into shires, and primogenitureprimogeniture,
in law, the rule of inheritance whereby land descends to the oldest son. Under the feudal system of medieval Europe, primogeniture generally governed the inheritance of land held in military tenure (see feudalism; knight).
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 replaced the old Welsh system of tenure (see gavelkindgavelkind
[M.E.,=family tenure], custom of inheritance of lands held in socage tenure, whereby all the sons of a holder of an estate in land share equally in such lands upon the death of the father.
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Leading Welsh families held their lands from the king; the others became leaseholders and tenants after the English pattern. The feudal aristocracy became versed in English manners and were received at the English court. Thus a deep breach, fostered by economic inequality, opened between landlord and tenant and remained unhealed for centuries. A judicial council of Wales, dating from the 15th cent., enhanced royal authority. The Act of Union (1536) and supplementary legislation completed the process of administrative assimilation by abolishing all Welsh customary law at variance with the English and by establishing English as the language of all legal proceedings. Welsh representatives entered the English Parliament; from 1536 onward, the separate history of Wales was mainly religious and cultural.

Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries

The Reformation came belatedly to Wales. Catholic tradition died slowly under Elizabeth I and James I; Puritanism was stoutly resisted, and the Welsh supported Charles I in the English civil warEnglish civil war,
1642–48, the conflict between King Charles I of England and a large body of his subjects, generally called the "parliamentarians," that culminated in the defeat and execution of the king and the establishment of a republican commonwealth.
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. Oliver Cromwell had to use oppressive measures to get the Welsh to adopt Puritan practices. In the 18th cent. Wales turned rapidly from the Established Church to dissent with strong Calvinist leanings. This was accompanied by great advances in the field of popular education, which attained unusually high standards. Welsh evangelicism had links with the English movement but was actually a native development. The Calvinistic Methodist ChurchCalvinistic Methodist Church,
Protestant Christian denomination, closely allied to Presbyterianism. It originated in Wales (1735–36) with the evangelistic preaching of Howell Harris, Daniel Rowlands, and others.
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 gathered in great numbers of Welsh from the Church of England and bolstered Welsh nationalism, one of the most successful nonpolitical nationalist movements of the world. The strong hold of evangelical Protestantism on Wales was to make the establishment of the Church of England there the dominant question in Welsh politics in the later 19th cent.; one of the last acts of Parliament that applied to Wales alone was the disestablishment of the church in 1914.

Long before that time the tenor and tempo of Welsh life had been changed by the Industrial Revolution. The mineral wealth of Wales was opened to exploitation, at first in the north, then in the rich coal fields of the south. The accent shifted from the sheep walks and farms to the coal pits and factories. By the early 19th cent. the effects of industrialization threatened both cottage industry and agriculture. The distress of rural Wales was dramatically evidenced in the Rebecca Riots of 1843, when poor farmers destroyed toll booths, and in the emigration of large numbers of Welshmen, many to the United States. Numerous company towns sprang up in S Wales, which by the late 19th cent. was the world's chief coal-exporting region. With the benefits of industrialization, however, came poverty and unemployment, which intensified in the years of economic decline following World War I, particularly in the late 1920s and the 1930s.

Twentieth Century

Although Welsh interests had spokesmen in the British government in the early 20th cent.—the flamboyant David Lloyd GeorgeLloyd George, David, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor
, 1863–1945, British statesman, of Welsh extraction.
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 and the Welsh supporters of the Liberal party—chronic poverty and increasing unemployment continued almost unchecked until World War II. After the wartime industrial boom the Labour government, which drew substantial support from the socialist stronghold of S Wales, undertook a full-scale program of industrial redevelopment. This included reorganization of the coal mines and tinplate manufacture under government control, introduction of diversified industry, and improvement of communications, housing, and technical education. These actions did not save the coal industry; most of the mines in Wales have been closed, and the few remaining ones have been privatized.

As in earlier days, Welsh nationalism has undergone a revival since the mid-20th cent., with a special interest in education and the arts. The modern National Eisteddfod perpetuates interest in Welsh language, poetry, and choral music. Since 1944, primary and secondary schools have been established with Welsh as the sole language of instruction. A Welsh-language television channel opened in 1982, and there are several Welsh arts, opera, and literature councils on the national level (see also Welsh literatureWelsh literature,
literary writings in the Welsh language. Early Works

The earliest Welsh literature is preserved in about half a dozen manuscripts written with one exception after the 12th cent.
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In 1979, Welsh voters decisively defeated a British proposal for limited home rule, but in 1997 they narrowly passed a referendum to establish a 60-member assembly. Elections were held in 1999, with the Labour party winning the most seats and forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Labour formed a government alone after the 2003 vote, in coalition with the nationalist Plaid Cymru after the 2007 vote, and alone after the 2011 and 2016 votes.

Parliamentary legislation passed in 2006 and effective in mid-2007 allowed the assembly to enact laws for Wales, subject to approval from the British parliament, in areas in which the assembly has devolved responsibilities. In 2011 voters approved increased legislative powers for the assembly, allowing it to act independently of Parliament in areas for which it is responsible.


See J. Rhys and D. B. Jones, The Welsh People (1906, repr. 1969); A. H. Williams, An Introduction to the History of Wales (2 vol., 1962); K. O. Morgan, Wales in British Politics 1868–1922 (1963), Rebirth of a Nation: Wales, 1880–1980 (1981), and Modern Wales: Politics, Places, People (1996); W. Davies, Wales in the Early Middle Ages (1982); D. Smith, Wales! Wales? (1984); J. Davies, A History of Wales (1993, repr. 1995); A. D. Carr, Medieval Wales (1995).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a peninsula in western Great Britain, bounded to the south by the Bristol Channel, to the north by the Irish Sea, and to the west by Cardigan Bay and St. George’s Channel. It has a jagged coastline and predominantly ingressive and rocky shores. Most of the territory is occupied by the Cambrian Mountains, which rise to 1,085 m on Mount Snowdon. In the south lies the South Wales Coalfield. The climate is temperate and maritime, with mean temperatures of 5°–6°C in January and 15°–17°C in July. The plains receive 750–1,500 mm of precipitation annually and the mountains more than 2,500 mm in places. Peat bogs, meadows, and heaths cover the summits, and broad-leaved forests of oak, beech, and ash are found on the plains and foothills. The Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia national parks are on the peninsula.



an administrative and political subdivision of Great Britain, occupying the peninsula of Wales and the adjacent island of Anglesey. Wales has an area of 20,800 sq km and a population of 2.7 million (1973). The capital is Cardiff. Under the administrative reform of 1973–75, Wales was divided into eight counties: Clwyd, Gwynedd, Dyfed, Powys, Gwent, Mid Glamorgan, South Glamorgan, and West Glamorgan. The indigenous inhabitants, called Welshmen, have preserved their national identity and culture and to some extent their native language, which has largely given way to English in the north and south.

Economy. The economic development of South Wales, an important industrial region and Great Britain’s ferrous metallurgy center, is linked with the South Wales Coalfield. The leading branches of industry in the south are coal mining (chiefly around Rhondda), ferrous metallurgy (Port Talbot, Newport, Llanelly, Cardiff, Ebbw Vale), nonferrous metallurgy (Swansea, Llanelly), oil refining (Llandarcy, Milford Haven, Pembroke, Barry), and the manufacture of petrochemicals and chemicals (Baglan Bay, Barry). The economy of North Wales, less developed industrially, rests on coal mining, ferrous metallurgy (Shotton), chemical manufacture, and machine building. In the predominantly agricultural central and western parts of Wales sheep and cattle are raised in the mountainous areas and crops are cultivated in the coastal lowlands.

Historical survey. The oldest settlements in Wales date from the third millennium B.C. Celtic tribes called Cymry began settling in the area probably around 1000 B.C. Roman rule, which lasted from the end of the first century to the beginning of the fifth century AD., extended only over a narrow coastal strip, mostly in southeastern Wales. During the second half of the seventh century, as a result of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of the British Isles, the Celts of Wales, together with the Britons who had retreated into the area, were isolated from the other Celtic-speaking areas. Out of these Celts and Britons evolved the Welsh nation. In this period the Welsh were organized into large clans, vestiges of which survived in the mountain regions of Wales into the 20th century. The first efforts to unify Wales politically date from the ninth century.

At the end of the 11th century, after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the Anglo-Norman feudal lords subjugated the parts of Wales that bordered on England. The interior regions remained virtually independent down to the late 13th century. It was not until 1282–84 that English troops succeeded in breaking the resistance of the Welsh and asserting English domination over all of Wales. In 1301, Wales was given as a fief to the son of the English king Edward III, and since that time the heir to the British throne has been called the Prince of Wales. Welsh uprisings against English domination, the most important of which was the early 15th-century rebellion led by Owen Glendower, were harshly suppressed. Hitherto nominally an autonomous principality, Wales was fully united with England in 1536. During the English Civil War (17th century) economically backward Wales was a hotbed of royalist conspiracies and revolts.

In the 18th century, in the course of the industrial revolution, Wales became a major center of coal mining, metallurgy, and the textile industry. From the late 18th century the working people of Wales played an important role in the labor movement of Great Britain. They were active in the Chartist movement, which culminated in the Newport Uprising of 1839. In February 1843 disturbances, known as the Rebecca Riots, broke out among Welsh farm laborers and small tenant farmers. From the late 19th century there was a growing desire to make Welsh an official language along with English; this demand was met by the British government only in 1967. Wales was one of the centers of the shop-steward movement, the “hands off Russia” movement, the class struggles of 1919–21 and 1929–33, and the General Strike of 1926.

Since World War II, declining production in the coal and shipbuilding industries and reduced railroad shipping have sharply affected the welfare of the working people of Wales, many of whom are employed in these traditional branches. The movement for national autonomy and self-rule, a major political goal since the 19th century, has gained momentum. The Wales Trades Union Council was established in 1973. The position of the Plaid Cymru, a nationalist party founded in 1925, has been strengthened. Although it condemns bourgeois-separatist views on the nationality question, the Communist Party of Great Britain has repeatedly supported the Welsh people’s struggle for the creation of an autonomous parliament and for the right to solve independently problems relating to the economic, social, and cultural development of Wales.

Architecture and art. The artistic culture of Wales passed through the same developmental stages as English art. Welsh folk architecture and decorative-applied art are highly distinctive. The peasant farms and cottages of Wales, built on hillside slopes for protection against the wind, have severe rectangular forms and low pitched roofs. Their rough stone walls are sometimes whitewashed or painted yellow or pink.

The most popular forms of folk decorative-applied art are weaving (tweed and Welsh flannel), furniture-making (with geometrical or sometimes floral decoration), pottery (black designs under a greenish yellow glaze), and the carving of wooden vessels.


Lloyd, J. E., A History of Wales From the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, 3rd ed., vols. 1–2. London-New York, 1939.
Williams, D. A History of Modern Wales. London, 1965.
A Bibliography of the History of Wales, 2nd ed. London, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a principality that is part of the United Kingdom, in the west of Great Britain; conquered by the English in 1282; parliamentary union with England took place in 1536: a separate Welsh Assembly with limited powers was established in 1999. Wales consists mainly of moorlands and mountains and has an economy that is chiefly agricultural, with an industrial and former coal-mining area in the south. Capital: Cardiff. Pop.: 2 938 000 (2003 est.). Area: 20 768 sq. km (8017 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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