History has always been a passion of mine, and one era that fascinates me more than most is the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, that period covering the departure of the Romans and the German incursions. In the traditional interpretation of this period there is deliberate confusion about just who was living in England when the Anglo-Saxons arrived and, perhaps more importantly, what happened to them.
These elusive people are variously called ‘Celts’, ‘Britons’, ‘Romano-Britons’, ‘sub-Roman Britons’ or ‘Brythons’; the language they spoke can be ‘Celtic’, ‘Brythonic’ or ‘Brittonic’. They are never called what they really were – Welsh. (Obviously, this is not what they called themselves, which would have been something like Cumbrogi – from which Cumberland derives – developing into Cymry and thence Cymru.) To the German invaders our ancestors were waelisc; i.e, strangers . . . in their own country. In truth, the language they spoke was a form of early Welsh and would be understood by speakers of modern Welsh; but it must never be called Welsh, even though Anglo-Saxon, unintelligible to speakers of modern English, is now called ‘Early English’. This obfuscation explains the average English person’s sequential understanding of the period as: 1/ Celtic savages daubed in woad, 2/ Romans come and civilise Britain, 3/ Romans leave, 4/ Anglo-Saxons arrive. A seamless, and bloodless, transition from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England.
There were almost certainly German warriors in Britain during the time of the empire, for hiring mercenaries, auxiliaries or foedorati was an accepted way of augmenting the regular army, and in the empire’s later years a majority of Roman forces may have consisted of Germans. With the withdrawal of the last Roman outposts (c. AD 410) Britain came under attack from the Irish and the Picts; the former sailing up the Severn Sea as far as the prosperous Cotswolds, and the latter raiding down the east coast as far as London. Undefended, and lacking any experience in tackling seaborne raids, the leaders of the Romano-Welsh followed the imperial example of recruiting mercenaries.
This arrangement held until the German mercenaries got greedy and, using the traditional pretext that they were underpaid, rebelled against their Romano-Welsh paymasters. This First Saxon Revolt of 442 did not start well for the Germans and could have resulted in their total defeat had they not received reinforcements from their homelands. This marked the start of the mass migrations that were to turn the Romano-Welsh lowlands into England. The next few decades saw intermittent warfare before the English suffered a crushing defeat at Mons Badonicus / Mount Badon (attributed to ‘Arthur’) some time around 518 resulting in a period of ‘containment’ and, according to Gildas, relative prosperity. But internal strife, plus two visitations of ‘Yellow Plague’, greatly weakened the Welsh and prompted the Second Saxon Revolt of the mid-sixth century, which largely swept away what remained of Romano-Welsh Britain.
WHERE DID ALL THE WELSH GO?
To answer that question let us remember that the centuries of European expansion and colonisation were often justified by arguing that the conquered territory was ‘backward’, or by claiming that ‘civilisation’, Christianity, even cricket, were being taken to benighted savages. But the Anglo-Saxon takeover of England always presented a somewhat different problem. This was because the fertile lowlands the invaders coveted were the most Romanised parts of the island, inhabited by a sophisticated and Christian population. Something else was needed.
For while butchering and enslaving the original inhabitants of Britain didn’t bother the Anglo-Saxons of the time, it did cause their descendants and apologists a bit of a headache. How to justify it? Answer: Right of Conquest, enshrined in international law until fairly recently. This sees sturdy, ale-swigging blonds initially defending a degenerate population that had lost the will to live once their Roman protectors left. Then, after being short-changed by these ingrates, our heroes take over the whole country. (Which was largely empty anyway.) The kind of propaganda found here, from which the panel above is taken. A good clean fight after which the defeated Welsh trooped off to Wales, Cornwall, Cumbria, Brittany and Galicia
This version, told by the English to themselves and the wider world, would have been uncontested if we Welsh had all been killed off, or assimilated, but we weren’t, and the alternative version was kept alive in Welsh folk memory, to regularly surface for a wider audience. Such as when Henry Tudor marched into England in 1485 to take the throne of England. Harri Tudur (as he was known to us) was accompanied by thousands of Welsh soldiers, many of whom saw the venture as a crusade to avenge the Night of the Long Knives (Brad y Cyllyll Hirion) and other massacres, and to reconquer England. The memory of this massacre of three hundred unarmed Romano-Welsh elders at a peace conference with the Germans was still remembered in the nineteenth century, and inspired the term Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (Treachery of the Blue Books) to describe the defamation of a whole culture. One outcome of the Blue Books was of course the imposition of an English educational system on Wales, one that had no intention of teaching Welsh children their own history.
So what did happen to the Welsh of lowland Britain? The truth is, as Gildas and other sources attest, a combination of genocide, expulsion / migration, and enslavement. (The real history that Time Team and other Anglo-Saxon propaganda glosses over or ignores completely.) In the video, Dr. Mark Thomas of University College London, goes as far as suggesting that the Welsh remaining in what had become England were kept as slaves and subject to a controlled breeding programme, which might explain the lack of Welsh DNA in the English population. (Perhaps even a form of apartheid.) Not a pretty picture, is it? Small wonder it’s been necessary to draw a veil over this chapter of English history. More than a mere chapter, the very genesis of England.
ENGLAND LOST, WALES THREATENED
The intervening centuries saw a struggle to avoid being completely over-run and wiped out by the English. Constant wars and further incidents of duplicity such as Cilmeri brought us to the glorious national rising of Owain Glyndwr (1400 – 1412). After that war thousands of Welsh fighting men left (many with their families) to join the armies of France, England and other countries. At the battle of Agincourt in 1415 there may have been more Welsh on the French side than on the English, and God knows there were enough fighting with Henry V to provide Shakespeare with material. As late as the 1630s the great English writer John Milton (Paradise Lost) could describe the Welsh as “An old, and haughty nation proud in arms”. The English still hated and despised us; partly because we were truculent, stroppy buggers, and partly because, by our very existence, we kept reminding them of how they’d stolen England from us. (For as someone once said, “You always hate those you have wronged”.)
Yet by the eighteenth century Wales had been pacified. We were still unmistakably Welsh, with virtually all of us speaking the language, but something had changed. The old fighting spirit had gone, we now seemed resigned to being second-class citizens in an exploitive and suffocating Union; more concerned with salvation than with Y Tiroedd Coll (The Lost Lands); happy to serve a new wave of Germans occupying ‘the throne of London’. The harsh conditions brought by industrialisation, and rural unrest, saw a brief revival of the old stroppiness, but we were no longer Welsh, we had become ‘labour’, and the enemy was not England, but ‘capital’. For those who still cared, the struggle now was to avoid the complete loss of our identity by pathetically trying to prove to our masters that a Welsh-speaking population could be utterly and unquestioningly loyal . . . not like those horrid Irish (Catholics). The English pretended to accept this while plotting to totally destroy Welsh culture and identity. (For our benefit, of course.) On the national stage, the domination of the chapels in the nineteenth century was succeeded in the twentieth century by that of the Labour Party, with neither having much interest in defending Welsh identity, and promoting Welsh interests, unless it could serve narrow party political interest.
THE ENEMY WITHIN
Today the English come not to split our children’s skulls and rape our women but with the modern equivalents of beads and bibles. In one town there is a story being played out that encapsulates modern Wales. Supermarket chain Tesco wants to build a new hyper-super-mega-store in Aberystwyth, next door to it will be Marks and Spencer. The citizens of Aber’ pack the chapels and churches to thank God for this munificence. The local councillors, freemasons and other forms of pond life calculate their back-handers. There’s just one problem . . . the car park site allocated isn’t quite big enough, nearby houses will need to be demolished. The owners of these houses have been bribed or intimidated into selling, but one refuses. Fifty-nine-year-old Enid Jones has, with great dignity, maintained that she likes living in her house, and wants to stay.
For this unconscionable impertinence she has been vilified by shits in suits, while in the town’s lodges fearful incantations are heard, and the local business community throws the killer dart by accusing her of that crime against which there is no defence – standing in the way of progress! Since when did building yet another fucking supermarket equate with human ‘progress’? Anyone wanting to understand the change that has taken place in the relationship between the Welsh and the English over 1,600 years could do a lot worse than consider the case of Enid Jones. For it tells us that the English have won a great victory by making large numbers of Welsh think like them, by evaluating things through an English-benefit prism. To the point where Welsh people take the side of a massive English company interested in Wales solely for profit. A company that short-changes Welsh farmers and producers, and that – given recent experience – will bring in English staff to its Aber’ store, while almost certainly putting Welsh shops out of business. But Tesco must be supported, for it is the bringer of Progress – hallelujah! – and to facilitate this incalculable benefit to the citizenry of Aber’ a Welshwoman must lose her home.
Due to the ascendancy of these ‘English-thinkers’ who fester and slither among us we face a struggle now to avoid being completely over-run. This could be Dorset or Lincolnshire in the mid-sixth century; the objective has remained constant, only the methodology has changed. In large parts of Wales we are again becoming waelisc, strangers in our own land. Today they can just walk in and dispossess us with their money, and their laws. Their royals and their aristocrats can claim what lies beneath our feet, above our heads, even the Welsh sea! They come with smiles, and lies about loving Wales, wanting to do the best for us . . . yet it’s always them that benefit.
The nation that once covered this land from Cornwall to the Clyde is now reduced to second-class status, and is slowly losing even its remaining pockets of territory. Unless we start fighting colonialism, and its English-thinking supporters among us, it will soon all be over, for this time there is nowhere else to go.