The Conquest of Wales (1282)
Presented by Andrew Chater
Now if you were to read a history book about the British Empire, you might expect it to begin maybe in the 16th century, when the great Elizabethans explorers Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh sailed to the New World, or maybe the 17th century, when the first emigrants left these shores to found colonies in America and the West Indies. But this series is called “Timelines”, and we believe in taking the long view. We think nothing of travelling a thousand years in a mere hour. And so I’m going on a journey that goes a lot further back than you might expect.
I’m travelling west from Liverpool, along the coast of North Wales, and I‟m heading back to a very distant century the late 13th century – to the year 1282, to be exact. That was when an English king, Edward the First, sent an army along this route I’m travelling now. He conquered Wales, he built castles as symbols of his power, and he shipped in English settlers to exploit this land. And the Welsh became second-class citizens in their own country. Now in one sense, obviously, what happened here can’t be part of the ‘British’ Empire story. These events took place four centuries before Britain even existed; England and Scotland were separate nations back then. But what I think is fascinating, is that (centuries before the spread of British influence across the globe), we – the English – were doing exactly the same within these islands. Our influence spread to Wales, to Ireland, to Scotland. And in this forging of the United Kingdom we see patterns emerging that repeat themselves again and again in the Empire story that follows.