Wales, (in Welsh: Cymru), is the western part of Great Britain and a principality of the United Kingdom.
Physically: Wales measures roughly 225km (140 mls) from north to south and between 60 and 160 km
from west to east, where it borders England. This border region, the Marches, is a stretch of pastureland much
broken by hills, woods, and twisting rivers.
It rises to the Cambrian Mountains, which stretch down the centre of the country. In the south-east are the
Brecon Beacons and coalfields, and in the south-west the Pembroke Peninsula with its rocky coasts. Snowdonia is in
the north-west. Wales enjoys an Atlantic maritime climate.
Even on the higher peaks, snow seldom lies long, for they face the warm westerlies which come in on the north
Atlantic drift. The water flows into lakes, the largest of which is Bala, and into rivers such as the
southward-flowing Towy and Usk. There are deposits of coal and slate and water is an important Welsh resource.
Economy: Coal-mining and steel production were the main economic activities in Wales until the
1980s, when depletion of the coal seams led to closure of most of the mines. Coal mined in South Wales was of
extremely high quality and the region was the world's chief exporter of coal in the 19th century. Heavy industry
developed close to the mines. In the 1930s unemployment rose dramatically and the government encouraged industrial
diversification. There are oil-refining and petrochemical industries concentrated in South Wales around the
deep-water port of Milford Haven. Forestry and farming, especially the rearing of sheep and cattle, have remained
important. Tourism is an increasingly significant source of revenue and employment.
History: The population of Wales, which is Celtic in origin, resisted the Romans (who penetrated
as far as Anglesey in a campaign against the druids) and after the departure of the Romans was increased in size by
British refugees from the Saxon invaders (c.400). By the 7th century Wales was isolated from the other Celtic lands
of Cornwall and Scotland. Christianity was gradually spread throughout Wales by such missionaries as St Illtud and
St David, but politically the land remained disunited, having many different tribes, kingdoms, and jurisdictions;
Gwynedd, Deheu-barth, Powys, and Dyfed emerged as the largest kingdoms, one notable ruler being Hwyel Dda (the
Good), traditionally associated with an important code of laws. From the 11th century the Normans colonized and
feudalized much of Wales and Romanized the Church, but the native Welsh retained their own laws and tribal
organization. There were several uprisings but as each revolt was crushed the English kings tightened their grip.
Although Llywelyn the Great (ruled 1194-1240) recovered a measure of independence, Edward I's invasion in 1277
ended hopes of a Welsh state: Llywelyn II was killed in 1282, and in 1301 Edward of Caernavon (Edward II) was made
Prince of Wales. Thereafter Wales was divided between the Principality, royal lands, and virtually independent
marcher lordships. The unsuccessful revolt of Owen Glyndw in the early 15th century revived Welsh aspirations, but
Henry viii, the son of the Welsh Henry VII, united Wales with England in 1536, bringing it within the English legal
and parliamentary systems. Welsh culture was eroded as the gentry and Church became Anglicized, although most of
the population spoke only Welsh, given a standard form in the Bible of 1588, until the 19th century. The strong
hold of the nonconformists, especially of the Baptists and Methodists, made the formal position of the Anglican
Church there the dominant question of Welsh politics in the later 19th century, leading to the disestablishment of
the Church from 1920. The social unrest of rural Wales, voiced in the Rebecca riots, resulted in significant
emigration. The industrial revolution brought prosperity to South Wales but during the Great Depression in the
1930s many people lost their jobs. Unemployment was exacerbated by the closure of most of the coalfields by the
1980s and remains a problem despite the introduction of a more diversified industry. Political, cultural, and
linguistic nationalism survive, and have manifested themselves in the Plaid Cymru party, the National Eisteddfod,
and Welsh-language campaigns. A Welsh referendum in 1979 voted overwhelmingly against partial devolution from the
United Kingdom. A second referendum in 1997 reversed this decision.