Wales


Wales
   Comprising the western peninsula of the island of Britain, Wales was officially part of England since 1536. The last independent Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, died in 1283, after which Wales was administered directly by England and in 1536 was joined to England by the Act of Union. Even though the majority of Welsh people spoke Welsh as a first language, there was no longer any official difference between the two countries. The government was the same, the established church was the same, and only English could be used as an official language in the law courts. As a comparatively remote and rural part of the British Isles, Wales was not much affected by the early stages of British imperialism. Some Welsh people called Dissenters, however, did move to the American colonies for religious reasons, especially to Pennsylvania.
   The Industrial Revolution transformed the British Isles and was the engine of growth behind British imperialism. This transformation was not just economic but also political and social. Its end result was the creation of a global economic system with the imperialist countries at its center. Wales was intimately connected to this growth of imperialism and was itself transformed as part of the process. The rich coalfields of south and northeast Wales provided a large percentage of the energy, which fueled the industrial revolution. They also made these areas centers for steel and other industrial production, as well as major shipping and trading centers. These in turn created a large demand for industrial labor. Initially this demand was met from within Wales, but increasingly workers moved to Wales from other parts of Britain. At the beginning, Welsh remained the language of work and of religious and social occasions. These industrial regions were Welsh in language and strongly involved in both religious and labor union organization. Welsh remained dominant in religious life, but over time English became the more important language. English was the language of influence in this industrial and imperialist world, and it opened new horizons for many Welsh people in Britain and the empire. The Welsh were active in industrial organization. They also took their skills with them to other parts of the British Empire and to the United States. The education of this workforce was addressed by the Education Act of 1870, which required school attendance. Education was compulsory and it was in English. Wales was still distinctive, but it was at the center of the industrial British Empire and was proud of its place in this empire.
   FURTHER READING:
    Davies, John. A History of Wales. London: Penguin, 1995;
    Morgan, Kenneth O. Modern Wales: Politics, Places and People. Cardiff: University of Wales, 1995;
    Williams, Gwyn. When Was Wales? London: Penguin, 1985.
   MICHAEL THOMPSON

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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