The perception of Wales has changed over the past two millennia not only within its own borders, but also how others look at it. The Story of Wales by Jon Gower follows the 30,000-year history of the land that would one day become Wales that’s story is still being told today.
Beginning with a prehistoric burial during a warm period of the Ice Age era, Gower takes the reader through the human occupation of the 8,023 square miles that would become Wales. Until after the Roman occupation, the people within Wales were apart of the larger Briton culture, it was only after the Anglo-Saxons came that Wales came into being and the Welsh identity began to be formed. While both the evolving English and the evolving Welsh had many petty kingdoms eventually the English unite while the Welsh didn’t not, resulting in the larger kingdom slowly beginning to influence its smaller neighbors. After the Norman conquest, the Welsh were almost always on the cultural defensive until they finally were overthrown by Edward I. As a conquered people the Welsh attempted to keep themselves united but the things changed with the Welsh-descended Tudors making their leaders important but also saw them annexed by England resulting in English laws and language being more and more forced upon them for the next 400 years. Gower goes into the effects of the Reformation and later Nonconformity upon the Welsh as well as how the land, or more importantly what’s under the surface, lead to the nation becoming the first to be industrialized not England. Yet even with all the work, the Welsh were still oppressed as outside—English—money and ownership dominated them resulting the rise of labor unions resulting in first Welsh liberalism then later Labour beliefs in the 20th Century. Gower ends the book about how modern Welsh identity has been centered around saving the Welsh language and how it’s unique cultural traits are being revived and saved along with how the successes of Welsh Rugby have united the nation over the past century ultimately resulting the political devolution.
Boiling down millennia of history is not easy, but Gower does a remarkable good job at juggling the political, the cultural, and everything in between. However, how accurate some of the details are is a little questionable especially in relation to other nations as Gower has several mistakes especially relating to English history—Henry Tudor is mentioned as both a Lancastrian and Yorkist claimant within a few paragraphs—thus making it not a perfect book. Yet it feels that Gower, a Welshman himself, knows his Welsh history and facts thus making this a very reliable read.
The Story of Wales is fascinating read of a small nation that has survived its uniqueness throughout almost two millennia of facing a large political and cultural entity on its doorstep. Jon Gower knows Wales and its history thus making this a very good read for anyone of Welsh descent—like me—interested about where their ancestors came from.