Academic journal article History Review

The 'Loyal Unknown Soldier': Wales and the English Civil War: Robin Evans Assesses the Contribution of the Welsh to the Troubles of 1642-49

Academic journal article History Review

The 'Loyal Unknown Soldier': Wales and the English Civil War: Robin Evans Assesses the Contribution of the Welsh to the Troubles of 1642-49

Article excerpt

When civil war broke out in 1642 the conflict was not confined to England as all the nations of the British Isles found themselves part of the struggle. While historians have paid due attention to the war in the English regions and to the roles of Scotland and Ireland, Wales has been largely ignored. Yet in the civil war, as Gwyn Alf Williams states, 'Poor Taffy was certainly Charles the Martyr's most loyal unknown soldier'.

This article discusses Welsh attitudes towards the conflict, the nature and extent of Welsh support for the two sides at the outbreak of hostilities and the part played by Wales in the war.

Welsh Attitudes on the Eve of War

Wales had been officially incorporated into the English nation state through the Acts of Union (1536-1543). By these acts Welshmen were given equal rights with their English peers and for the following century the Welsh gentry had taken full advantage of their newfound status. The Tudors were regarded as a Welsh dynasty and loyalty to the crown was taken for granted and transferred to the Stuarts.

This is not to say that Wales slavishly supported the monarchy's policies in the decade preceding the outbreak of war. There had been a general condemnation of Charles' Personal Rule and throughout the country, as in England, county after county had defaulted on ship-money. There were also issues peculiar to Wales which caused resentment. The Council of Wales and the Marches in particular was accused by those appearing before it of having them 'questioned wrongfully ... and fined to as much as he is worth and more'.

Although most MPs from Welsh constituencies in the Long Parliament were royalist during the first months of its life, only Herbert Price of Brecon was totally supportive of the king. Nevertheless, by 1642, with Parliament attacking the church and the king's prerogative, only five out of 27 Welsh MPs supported the parliamentary cause. While many MPs may have had no reason to trust Charles, when war broke out it is fair to say that the majority were willing to side with him.

This is not to say that the war was greeted with any enthusiasm in Wales. The country was economically backward, geographically isolated, conservative and the vast majority of her people were monoglot Welsh speakers. Yet Wales was not totally parochial in outlook either. James Howell had witnessed the 30 Years War and the fear of war and its disastrous effects influenced the literature of the time. The Welsh were equally aware that war had proved disastrous to the people of Ireland. Of course the gentry's fears were based on self-preservation. Thus the gentry of the southwest were worried that Pembroke, being in the hands of Parliament, might soon find forces from abroad ravaging the region.

Welsh Loyalty to the Crown

On the whole it is fair to say that in England it was the areas most advanced socially, politically, economically, and in terms of religion which provided Parliament with its main support. Such areas were very rare in Wales and this partly explains why the Welsh, on the whole, were loyal to the crown.

Welsh support for the royalist cause was primarily due to the gentry having benefited politically, socially and economically in the century following the Acts of Union. Yet Wales was far from the centre of politics both geographically and in terms of outlook. Interest in Westminster was confined to 'a comparatively small body of Welsh gentry who regarded it as a means of promoting the anglicisation of their class'. The political arguments may not have inspired any great interest in Wales, but the legal argument certainly did. Charles may have had his many faults but he was king and the Welsh had had a century of prosperity, law and order and the opportunity for social advancement under the English monarchy. Indeed the Welsh gentry in the 16th century were noted for their litigiousness and this seems to have had a great influence on their attitudes in 1642. …

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