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History of Wales

Scroll through our timeline for a brief history of Wales through the ages:


Prehistoric Wales

The spectacular landscapes of Wales were forged in part, by the last Ice Age. Cave Bears, Giant Deer, Scimitar-toothed cats and Woolly Mammoths roamed the land. In fact, you can see the teeth and jawbone of a mammoth at the Holyhead Maritime Museum after the remains were found nearby.

It is believed Humans have inhabited Wales for at least 230,000 years as a jawbone of a Neanderthal was found in North Wales, which dates back to that time period. Wales also has claim to the oldest ceremonial burial in Europe as the skeleton of a man dating back to 33,000 years ago, was found in limestone caves in the Gower Peninsula, South West Wales, named The Red Lady of Paviland. The skeleton was found along with jewellery and a mammoth's skull.

[credit The Trustees of the British Museum]

The Bronze Age - Parts of Wales were now farmed and some historians think settlements had been established. The Bronze found in Wales such as at the Great Orme site in Llandudno, North West Wales, is thought to have been important for the production of tools and axes used across the region and further. One of the most significant Bronze Age artefacts ever found, the Mold Cape, was discovered in a tomb at Bryn yr Ellyllion, Mold, North East Wales. It dates back to around 1900BC, and is made from a single a solid sheet of gold ingot.

1000 BC and the Iron Age

The Celts began migrating from their central European homeland around 1000 BC. Their cultural influence on the region would become very important to the history of Wales. An impressive collection of Celtic weapons, chariots, tools and pottery was found at Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey North Wales and some items can now be viewed at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. There are around 600 hillforts from the Iron Age which in Wales which indicates a large number of settlements. 


48AD

The recorded history of Wales begins with the arrival of the Romans on Welsh borders as they invaded Britton. At that time people spoke a Celtic language – Brythonic, the language that would eventually evolve into Welsh.

[Roman Baths in Caerleon]


550

The Saxon advance resumes in Wales. A great figure in the fight between the British and the Saxons was King Arthur. There are many legends surrounding Arthur but many believe he was first mentioned in Welsh poetry around 594.


784

Offa, King of Mercia builds a dyke from sea to sea as a defensive border, the first permanent boundary between the Welsh and English people. Offa’s Dyke shaped the territory of Wales and much of it can still be walked today. 


1066

The Normans invade England. Wales proves resistant to the Normans' power and the Welsh rise in revolt. By 1100 the Normans had been driven out of Gwynedd, Ceredigion and most of Powys.


1176

Lord Rhys holds a grand gathering of poets and musicians from all over Wales at Cardigan Castle. This was known as the very first Eisteddfod, a Welsh festival of music and literature that is still held all across Wales today.


1283

Edward I orders the building of castles in Wales. Between 1276 and 1295 he built or repaired 17 castles. Today we have over 600 castles in Wales.


1400

Charismatic national hero Owain Glyndŵr begins his rebellion against King Henry IV to establish an independent Wales.

1404

The castles of Harlech and Aberystwyth fall to Owain Glyndŵr. Soon after he calls his first Cynulliad or Parliament at Machynlleth and crowns himself Prince of Wales.

 

1415

Owain Glyndŵr disappears. After his defeat, he was never captured. No-one knows for sure what became of him but hills, caves and churches across Wales are claimed to be his last resting place.


1485

Henry Tudor defeats Richard III at Bosworth to become King of England. The Tudor dynasty had its origins in Wales and accelerated the integration of Welsh nobility into English public life.


1536

The first Act of Union was passed between England and Wales. Wales becomes united politically with England and is governed by English law.


1768

The copper industry is now using Welsh ore mined at Parys Mountain on the Isle of Anglesey. It's the beginning of an industry that would control half the world's production by the end of the century.


1801

The first official census record, the population of Wales is 587,000. Merthyr Tydfil with 7,705 inhabitants is the largest town in Wales.


1839

Bute Dock is built at Cardiff, supplying vast amounts of coal to the world's new navies, and causing Cardiff’s rapid expansion into the largest and most important city in Wales.


1856

Evan James and James James of Pontypridd compose 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' (Land of my Fathers) which is now the Welsh national anthem.


1881

The Welsh Rugby Union is established to become guardians of Wales's national sport.


1885

Dan Isaac Davies founds the first Welsh language society to protect one of the oldest languages in Europe and to promote the use of Welsh in education.


1905

Cardiff is elevated to city status. It has experienced a seven-fold population increase in less than 50 years.


1911

Prince Edward, the future King Edward VII is invested as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle.


1916

David Lloyd George becomes the first Welsh Prime Minister of the UK. He was also the only Prime Minister to speak English as a second language, Welsh being his first.


1935

The first radio broadcast in Welsh is made. The BBC begins to broadcast Welsh language programmes from their studio at Bangor, Gwynedd.


1946

Welshmen James Griffiths and Aneurin Bevan produce the National Insurance Act of 1946, which sets up the UK's welfare state, known today as the National Health Service (NHS).


1953

Famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas dies in New York City at the age of 39. His best known works include 'Under Milk Wood' and 'Do not go gentle into that good night'.


1955

Cardiff is officially declared capital of Wales. Cardiff is Europe's youngest capital city.


1977

BBC Radio Cymru, Wales's Welsh language radio station, is launched. It was one of the few FM-only radio services in the UK at the time.


1982

Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C), the Welsh language television station is opened. S4C now has an animation catalogue that is broadcast all over the world, and has had two Oscar nominations for 'Famous Fred' and 'The Canterbury Tales'.


1997

The Welsh public votes yes to the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales, allowing Wales to become a distinct constitutional entity within the UK for the first time in 40 years.


1999

The National Assembly for Wales is officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen.


1999

The Millennium Stadium (now called the Principality Stadium) opens. The stadium is situated in the heart of  Cardiff and has a capacity for 74,500 people. It is the first stadium in the UK to feature a retractable roof.


2004

Her Majesty the Queen opens the Wales Millennium Centre. It is one of the most unique and lively performing arts centres in Europe.


2007

The Senedd opens in 2006, and the separation between the legislative National Assembly for Wales and the executive Welsh Assembly took effect under the Government of Wales act 2006. The act increased the National Assembly’s law making powers.


2010

The Ryder Cup came to Wales for the first time. The prestigious golfing event took place at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.


2011

Wales votes in favour of giving the National Assembly further law making powers


2014

We enjoyed celebrating Dylan Thomas' centenary with people and organisations throughout Wales, the UK and the world.


2016

Wales National Men's football team impressed the world by reaching the semi-finals of the EURO 2016 competition in France.