Renewal and Reformation: Wales C. 1415-1642

Renewal and Reformation: Wales C. 1415-1642

Renewal and Reformation: Wales C. 1415-1642

Renewal and Reformation: Wales C. 1415-1642

Synopsis

This is the first comprehensive history of the two decisive centuries that followed the defeat of Owain Glyndwr in 1415. The fifteenth century was a time of resilience and recovery from the Rebellion, and one which saw the emergence of ruling gentry families, whose power, and that of the monarchy, was confirmed by the Tudor Act of Union, 1536-43. This was an age of outstanding personalities and achievements as impressive as they were diverse: Owain Glyndwr, Henry Tudor, John Dee, Robert Devereux, William Morgan, Matthew Gough, and Robert Mansell. Throughout, the Welsh remained prouder and more conscious of their national identity than has usually been thought.

Excerpt

In 1919, when W. Llewelyn Williams, last of the Liberal-progressive interpreters of the history of early-modern Wales, published his vigorously argued and influential book, The Making of Modern Wales, no shadow of doubt crossed his mind that Henry VIII's reign was the great watershed of Welsh history; the line of demarcation between medieval and modern Wales. Nor, in an equally, if not more, seminal short study of Welsh literature published some years later, Braslun o Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymraeg, did Saunders Lewis, though writing from an almost diametrically different and strongly nationalist standpoint, have any uncertainty about the significance of the Henrician epoch. For Williams, Henry was an autocrat but a benevolent one, who broke the shackles of papal dominion, freed Wales from the outworn vestiges of medieval servitude and lawlessness, gave it a liberal constitution, and set it on the road to enlightenment and progress. Saunders Lewis, on the contrary, viewed Henry as a Machiavellian tyrant, embodying the imperialist instincts of the English state, who finally snuffed out what remained of Welsh independence, brought to an end the golden epoch of cultural autonomy, literary achievement, and deep religious faith, and fatally lured the Welsh ruling class into an era of swift anglicization and subservience to English masters.

Both have had followers; Saunders Lewis many more than Llewelyn Williams. There was, and indeed still is, much to be said for the concept of a fateful break with the past, whether regarded as an act of emancipation or of oppression. Henry's Act of Union, 1536-43, cleared away much of the debris of medieval political and legal systems, merged Wales wholly with England, made the Welsh full citizens of the realm, imposed on them uniform law and administration based on English custom and practice, and entrusted authority within the shires and hundreds to the local gentry -- on condition that for all official purposes they spoke only English. His reign also introduced the first instalment of sweeping modifications of the medieval Church, shattering papal authority and cutting England and Wales off from western Christendom, dissolving the houses of religion and establishing himself as Supreme Head of a national church co-terminous with the boundaries of his realm. These were drastic and long-lasting changes. For good and ill, in politics, law, administration, religion, and culture, Wales would never be the same again.

In the past half-century or so, historians have come to attach less weight to political changes and have given greater attention to social and . . .

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