Custodians of our Nation’s Heritage: Propagandists of Conquest and Empire

BY A GUEST WRITER

Having followed a series of excellent reports published by Jac related to the custodianship of our nation’s heritage, I should like to return to that telling mission statement of the National Trust for Scotland:-

“Scotland’s rich cultural heritage is not only an invaluable economic and social resource, it is what gives Scotland’s people a sense of belonging and identity; as such it is one of our nation’s most precious assets.”  Read it for yourself.

A sense of belonging and identity …

So what are the priorities of the official custodians of our nation’s heritage? And what does that reveal about how they see the Welsh people and their identity?

Just to recap, the most prominent custodians of our nation’s heritage are:-

Cadw sets out its own three-fold mission statement with admirable clarity:-

  • “We conserve Wales’s heritage.”
  • “We help people understand and care about their history.”
  • “We help sustain the distinctive character of Wales.”

Worthy goals but, as we all know, there are mission statements and mission statements.  Some provide organizations with clarity of purpose, motivation and a tool for making better decisions and focusing resources.  Others are sidestepped and forgotten with the same ease with which they were adopted – in short, a complete waste of time and effort.

Let’s take a look at what Cadw does in practice.  Their resourcing priorities, exhibitions and events, educational activities, and interpretation of historical sites, is overwhelmingly skewed towards the Edwardian Conquest castles – Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech, Rhuddlan, Criccieth and Flint.  These are, after all, the great draws for visiting English tourists, and for UK Lottery grants.

cadw-year-of-adventure

Furthermore, in its interpretation of historical sites, Cadw presents a very one-sided view of Welsh history.  The significance of the conquest castles was encapsulated by Thomas Pennant in 1772 when he described Caernarfon Castle as “the most magnificent badge of our subjection”.  It is for this reason that some have questioned whether CADW’s name was in fact an acronym for “Celebrate All Defeats of the Welsh”.

Cadw fails utterly, for example, to link the construction of the conquest castles with the corresponding systematic looting and destruction of all of the sites, structures and artefacts associated with sovereign and independent Welsh power and authority – Aberconwy Abbey (the mausoleum of the Princes of Gwynedd), the royal “llys” at Aberffraw, the Welsh regalia including the “Talaith” (coronet) and “Y Groes Naid” (the sacred relic believed to be a fragment of the True Cross).

harlech_badge-of-subjection
Harlech Castle

So what is the aspect of the Welsh identity that Cadw seeks to present, in order to foster our nation’s understanding of our history and distinctive character?  Subjection.  English overlordship.  The futility of aspiring to our own national destiny.

The secondary areas of focus for Cadw appear to be the castles of the Marches, those bastions of alien encroachment.  Chepstow, Monmouth, Skenfrith, Grosmont, Tretower, Montgomery, Oxwich, Weobley, Kidwelly, Llansteffan, Cilgerran.  Again, these are presented in a sanitized manner that utterly disregards the centuries of racial segregation of Englishries and Welshries, of penal laws excluding the Welsh from holding offices, or living, trading or owning property in the boroughs developed for English colonists under the protection of those castles.

Meanwhile, the recent article highlighting the “Powis” Castle experience showed how uninterested and ill-equipped the National Trust is to foster an understanding in our nation of our own history and distinctive character.  The National Trust perpetuates the 19th century taxonomic convention: “For Wales, see England”.

For the National Trust, any historical interpretation of its sites beyond the superficial Downton Abbey upstairs-downstairs world of Anglo-gentry of the 18th and 19th centuries and their anonymous native servants falls well outside their comfort zone.  This is the context in which their sites at Newton House (Dinefwr), Penrhyn Castle, Llanerchaeron and Tredegar are presented.

To illustrate further the stupendous bias of the custodians of our nation’s heritage in presenting our history, I have started to gather a list of the most neglected (or misrepresented) sites of primary importance in the history of Wales, focusing on sites that pre-date the Acts of Union (or Penal Assimilation Acts) of the 1530s.


Here is the list that I have gathered to date:-

Sycharth (“Llys Owain Glyndŵr“).  This was the birthplace and home of Owain Glyndŵr, our last Welsh Prince of Wales, and the subject of Iolo Goch’s famous poem.  The buildings were destroyed by Harry of Monmouth (later Henry V, King of England) in 1403.  For a description of the shameful neglect of this site today, I commend this article.

sycharth

Church of SS. Mael and Sulien, Corwen.  The dedication to two Welsh saints of the 6th century indicates that this lovely 14th century building is located on the site of a church foundation of great antiquity.  This is believed to have been the location where Owain Glyndŵr was acclaimed as the true and rightful Prince of Wales on 16 September 1400 in the presence of Ieuan Trefor, Bishop of St. Asaph.  It is this event that elevates this site to one of primary importance in the history of our nation, and the proper focal point for annual celebrations of Owain Glyndŵr Day (Sept 16).

acclamation-of-owain-prince-of-wales_corwen-1400
Acclamation of Glyndŵr

Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Pennal (Gwynedd).  The church was founded in the 6th century, but was so re-named and dedicated by Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, in competition with the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, one of the chapels royal of his rival, Henry IV, King of England. Pennal was regarded with honour because of its status as one of the 21 llysoedd, the courts of the true Welsh Princes of Gwynedd.  The real significance of this site stems from it being the location of the parliament at which Owain Glyndŵr set out his policy programme for the independent state of Wales, recorded in the famous “Pennal Letter” addressed to Charles VI, King of France.  The enlightened policies which he expounded included establishing two universities in Wales, one in the North and one in the South, ending the subjection of the metropolitan church of St. David (St. David’s Cathedral) to Canterbury, re-establishing the independence of the Welsh Church, and ending oppression “by the fury of the barbarous Saxons”.

Bryn Glas (Pilleth) battlefield.  The battle, which was fought on 22 June 1402, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne (Powys), was one of the greatest Welsh victories against an English army in the open field.  It paved the way for a truly national rising in Wales, the establishment of an independent state ruled by Owain Glyndŵr, our last Welsh Prince of Wales, and the alliance with France.  The battle also provoked punitive expeditions by Henry IV (King of England) that were marked by many acts of brutality and rape.

Aberffraw “Llys/Maerdref”.  This is the site of the “llys” (royal court) of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, from the 9th to 12th century, and symbolic throne of the Kings of Gwynedd until the 13th century Wars of Independence.  The Llys was dismantled in 1315 to provide building materials for nearby Beaumaris Castle.

aberffraw-llys
Aberffraw

Abergwyngregyn.  This site, surrounded by the most majestic scenery, was the seat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, and location of his brother Dafydd’s capture by the English invaders in 1283.  Abergwyngregyn is also the setting for “Siwan”, Saunders Lewis’s masterpiece of Welsh language drama based on the marriage of Siwan/Joan (daughter of the King of England) and Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales.

Aberconwy Abbey (pre-conquest site).  On this site a Cistercian house was developed under the patronage of Llywelyn the Great and his successors.  This was the burial place of Llywelyn the Great, his sons Dafydd and Gruffudd.  It was also seat of “Y Groes Naid” kept by the kings of Gwynedd, the sacred relic believed to be a fragment of the True Cross, expropriated by the English (with the “Talaith” and other Welsh regalia) in 1283 and removed to London.  In an act of deliberate symbolism, Edward I (King of England) destroyed this mausoleum of the princes of Gwynedd following the Wars of Independence in order to build his own castle on the site where the abbey had stood.

coffin-of-llywelyn-the-great
Coffin of Llywelyn Fawr (now in St Grwst’s, Llanrwst)

When will our nation have worthy custodians of our own historical, architectural and cultural heritage?  When will the official custodians accept and apply the guiding principle in of the National Trust for Scotland that the nation’s heritage is so much more than an economic resource: it gives our people “a sense of belonging and identity”?  When will they truly embrace the goals of helping our nation to “understand and care about their history” and sustaining “the distinctive character of Wales”?

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Jac adds . . . Anyone who is still in any doubt about Cadw’s purpose should know that in a few weeks time Caernarfon Castle will host an orgy of Britishness that will seek to engender loyalty to the most unequal and undemocy-groes-naid-black-backgroundratic state in Europe by cynically exploiting the butchery of the First World War. Yes, folks, the poppies are coming to town!

So get great-uncle Arthur’s medals out of the cupboard, bone up on the Somme, explain to the kids that Britain was defending democracy and freedom, and start whistling Tipperary.

Our guest writer mentioned Y Groes Naid, and while no one knows what it looked like, a few years back someone knocked up an imagined Groes Naid. I can’t be sure, but I’m reasonably certain it was somehow connected with Cambria magazine. Maybe someone reading this will know, so get in touch and I’ll be happy to attribute it. (Click to enlarge.)

Our guest writer also mentioned the coffin of Llywelyn Fawr; well I visited St Grwst’s earlier this year and I would recommend that all patriots do the same.

UPDATE 09.09.2016: Someone has made me aware of a consultation process being undertaken by the ‘Welsh Government on proposals for secondary legislation to support the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Here’s a link. Also available is Technical Advice Note (TAN) 24 asking for “your views on . . . detailed planning advice on the historic environment in Wales”.

Was anyone aware of this legislation, this ‘consultation’ process? Or was it restricted to interested parties guaranteed not to challenge the status quo? Anyway, the deadline is October 3, so tell them what you think.

March of the Foederati

SUBMERGED HISTORY

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.

BRITAIN c. 540 (click to enlarge)

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.

Homework full

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”.)

Welsh migrations
ESCAPING GENOCIDE AND SLAVERY (click to enlarge)

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.

What echoes!

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.