A History of Wales (Magill Book Reviews)
John Davies’ A HISTORY OF WALES is extraordinary, not only because this massive book appeared first in Welsh but also because it treats virtually every aspect of its country’s development. It begins with pristine topography—Wales as it would have appeared in the Paleolithic era. Using archaeological, geographical, and anthropological evidence, Davis vividly reconstructs the country’s nomadic, Roman, legendary, and monarchic periods.
Clearly Wales and the Brythonic kingdoms which would become England had a joined destiny. It dictated as early as the seventh century, despite violent, often bloody encounters, that Wales would serve the interests of the Crown. By the thirteenth century, Henry I had placed the Marcher Lords, wealthy families loyal to England, at strategic locations throughout Wales. These principalities provided a counterweight to, but never stifled, Welsh separateness. They did, however, set the pattern of Anglo-Welsh and pure Welsh ethnicity which one discerns throughout Welsh history. They also established the historic ruling class for which educational and professional opportunity was reserved.
Davies devotes nearly one-third of his study to Wales during the Victorian and modern periods. He examines dispassionately the coming of the railroads and with them the relentless exploitation of the country’s coal and iron resources. The railroads opened new markets and spurred development of wool production as well, though...
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A History of Wales (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Written histories of Wales, until the appearance of John Davies’ masterful volume, have had a severely restricted focus, a distorted and subjective point of view, or a markedly Anglophilic agenda. Davies’ A History of Wales, despite its simple title, is a work of massive and complex scholarship which presents a comprehensive examination of Wales, its people, and its distinctive identity, and it achieves this without any of the shortcomings of its predecessors. Indeed, the volume knows virtually no limits in its consideration of Wales and things Welsh, and it remains remarkably unbiased in its patient examination.
The 1970’s and 1980’s produced ten historical studies on Welsh history. Davies cites this modern historiography in the appropriate places, though he begins by considering the land area that would be called Wales as it existed during the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods. Geological evidence points to 6000 b.c.e. as an approximate date for the appearance of a coastal configuration comparable with that recognizable on modern maps. Tacitus, the second century Roman historian, records a Roman attack in 48 c.e. upon the Deceangli, a pre-Welsh tribe. The territorial name for Wales, Cymry, appears in runic form in 580, approximately 180 years after the legendary royal houses of the territory, while the precise date of 790 marks the construction of Offa’s Dyke, which separates the Cymric from the Brythonic kingdom....
(The entire section is 1960 words.)