During the Roman period the Britons (bilingual) had adopted much of the cultural world of Rome. After their departure, they kept many of these customs (some knowledge of Latin, Roman names, Christianity, governance). This memory of having been Roman citizens lasted certainly until the time of Llywelyn the Great in the !2th century.
At the same time, especially in western Britain and what would become Wales, the Celtic culture of pre-Roman times persisted. Especially language, the bardic system, and the emphasis on aristocracy and the rule by heriditary chieftains. In this context with the admixture of post- Roman culture, such figures as Arthur emerged.
We cannot know if Arthur existed, although the earliest references to him suggest a war-lord of some description in the late 5 th century. He was a Romano-Briton, spoke bad Latin and Brittonic/early Welsh, fought against Saxons, Britons, Picts and possibly the Irish. If he existed at all, he was never a king. He is the ultimate Romano-British hero, after the Romans had gone. A hybrid Briton, a superficial Christian, who because of his charisma attracted others to him.
The Britons, Romano-Britons or Cymry created new kingdoms especially in the north and west. In the east, and south east, new settlements cme about. These were the Germanic speaking peoples from NW Europe. The Welsh called them SAESON (<*saksones)= Saxons.
When the Saxons settled mostly peacefully, they must have found large numbers of Britons as well. Mainly farm-workers, and probably unilingual in very early Welsh. What happened to them? We know that in England especially the south, and NE, English (Englisc) became the predominant language. In the west Welsh prevailed.
And it was in Wales, that Celtic culture was mostly preserved and promoted after the 6 th century AD. Nowhere were the ties to the past stronger. A past which the Welsh remembered as a Golden Age of British (ie=Celtic) heroes, saints and above all political autonomy.
In inhabitants of Wales were soon cut off from the Britons (ie=Celts) of Cornwall and Cumbria (northern Britain) by the expansion of the Germanic kingdoms of Wessex, and Northumbria. The Vikings too, who assumed power on the Isle of Man and later Ireland were able to attack the Welsh coastal areas.
In most ways Wales became by the late centuries of the first millenium a highly conservative and isolated people. Yet, the Welsh language, one of the three languages that derived from Brittonic (=British Celtic), survived through the centuries until our own day (600,000 speakers -2013). When did Wales ‘begin’?
Before c600, Britain was divided into Germanic speakers and Welsh speakers. The Welsh had called themselves ‘Brython” (Britons) but although this word was retained in literature for many more centuries, it mainly replaced by the word ‘Cymry’ (fellow countrymen and women).
Cymry was mainly used by those in the far west (later Wales) and in the NW of Britain- the ‘Cumbrians’ (cf Cumberland St). Those who emigrated to Brittany, retained the name ‘Britons’ (Bretons, Breiziz). Eventually the area which became “Wales’ was named Cymru ( a variant of Cymry).
As much as anything, Wales owes its early existence to the various small kingdoms which emerged in the period 400-1000AD. From the cleric Gildas we have the names of five regional Welsh kings during the 500s AD. Two kingdoms in particular emerged: Gwynedd in the NW and Dyfed in the SW.
In the North traditions claimed that their dynasty had been founded by Britons from Northern Britain, in particular Cunedda.
The 800s were a turning point in the history of Wales. This was a time which saw a new political power, the descendants of Merfyn Frych. He ultimately was the founder of the very powerful Llywelyn dynasty of Gwynedd, and all Wales. His son Rhodri Mawr engaged in border warfare with the English.
His son Anarawd was given the title ‘king of the Britons’ which was reserved for the most powerful Welsh kings. One of the most influencial of such kings was Hywel Dda- the lawmaker, and often seen by the medieval Welsh as an ideal of kingship. 900s AD.
Although Wales was still a collection of kingdoms (5 in all), we see the beginnings of a desire for some form of unity. Under Hywel Dda (Hywel the ‘Good’), Wales codified its law system (no small matter for a nation that wants to find a sense of unity). He had a vast territory which had brough most of Wales under his rule.
Gruffudd ap Cynan 1137 Owain Gwynedd 1170 Llywelyn the Great 1240 Gruffudd Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf 1282 (only descendant Gwenllian)
This early Welsh society had evolved a kind of ‘tribal’ society in which blood relationships were all-important. This society was found in scattered settlements called maenors, groups of which formed cantrevs, the basic unit of royal administration.
Llywelyn was killed shortly before the battle of Irfon Bridge in mid Wales on 11 December 1282. Llywelyn, the last native Prince of Wales, was beheaded. His brother Dafydd fought on for another year. Welsh independence was at an end. Wales became an integral, if troublesome, part of the realm of England.
Cilmeri The Battle of Irfon Bridge 1282 (December) Llywelyn killed by Stephen de Frankton
Caernarfon occupies a special place in the history of Wales. It had been an important Roman garrison in the first three centuries AD. (Segontium) The Roman connections continued. The connection with Macsen Wledig (Magnus Maximus) in medieval Welsh literature.
His son Publicus (according to legend), became a local religious leader and gives his name in Welsh (Peblig) to the church (Llanbeblig), the mother church of Caernarfon.
The site in Caernarfon had been a court (llys) for Llywelyn and his father before the latter’s defeat at Cilmeri. The building of the magnificent castle took place between 1283-1330. The idea was to build a castle that would echo the walls of the emperor Contantine”s city of Constantinople.
Edward I’s son was born in Caernarfon castle in 1284. he became king Edward II in 1307. He was named Prince of Wales in 1301.