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Identity and the British State: Wales, 1485-1660 - 30 credits (HS1872)

Module Tutor: Dr Lloyd Bowen Bowen, Politics of the Principality: Wales c1603-42

Course Description

This course considers a minority culture within the expanding early modern state. This was a transformative period for Wales which was annexed to England by the ‘Acts of Union’ in the mid-sixteenth century. This was a vital era for state building in early modern Britain, and we shall be considering the ways in which this process impacted on identity, politics, religion and culture in Wales. The topics covered include: the accession of the ‘Welsh’ Tudors, the impact of the Reformation and identity politics during the mid-seventeenth century civil wars. The course also adopts a comparative approach and discusses Wales’s experience of British state building alongside those of Ireland and Scotland.  We will also look at how the Welsh constructed their own self-image through myths, maps and national histories, as well as the English view of their Celtic neighbours in sources such as the plays of Shakespeare and the pamphlets of the civil war during the 1640s.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites N/A

Necessary for N/A

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures, seminar discussion of major issues and workshops for the study of primary source material.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures provide a framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

Seminar and Source Workshops:
The primary aim of the sessions will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants, focused in particular on primary source material. Seminars and source workshops for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students:

(a) to discuss topics or issues introduced by the lectures,
or (b) to discuss related themes, perhaps not directly addressed by the lectures, but drawing on ideas culled from those lectures.
and (c) to analyse different types of primary sources available, discussing the principal ways in which they can be used by historians.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one essay relating to primary sources [20%], an assessed essay [30%] and an examination paper [50%].

Course assignments:

The Assessed Essay relating to primary sources will contribute 20% of the final mark for the module and must be no longer than 1,000 words.

The Assessed Essay will contribute 30% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words.

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

The materials of identity:
When Was Wales? Nationality, ethnicity and identity in early modern Britain.
Tudor or Tudur? Dynasty and Identity
The ‘Union’ of England and Wales: its effects on Welsh identity.
‘For Wee are the Anciente Britons’: Origins and Antiquity.
‘A Memorious People’? History, Myth and the Welsh.
Language and Nationhood: Welsh in its Secular Contexts.
Reforming the Self? Religion, Language and Identity.
Political Identities (i): ‘Everie Welchman Bee a Genealogist’: Lineage, Genealogy and Identity.
Political Identities (ii): A Political Nation? Wales and the Early Modern Polity.
‘Poore Taffy’ or ‘Ancient Briton’? The English view of the Welsh from Shakespeare to Cromwell.
Cross-currents and encounters: Interactions between Wales and its neighbours under Elizabeth and the early Stuarts.
Government at a Distance: Core-Periphery Relations in early modern Britain.
Comparisons: Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall:
Mapping Difference: Chorography, Cartography and Representing Place in Early Modern Britain
State Building, Minority Cultures and the Construction of Britain
History, Religion and Identity in Early Modern Scotland and Ireland.
Identity Politics in a Minority Culture: Early Modern Cornwall
Case Study: Politics, Identity and Civil War:
‘Loyall Britons’? Allegiance, nationality and the outbreak of Civil War.
The British Civil Wars: an “ethnic conflict”?

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical and systematic knowledge the history of Welsh identity, politics and religion between 1485 and 1660, and a critical understanding of the relevant historical and historiographical ideas, contexts and frameworks.
  • Contextualize and analyse critically selected primary sources.
  • Use primary evidence to construct and evaluate historical arguments.

Skills that will be practised and developed

Students will be extend their ability to:

  • Formulate and justify their arguments and conclusions in seminar discussions.
  • Communicate ideas and arguments effectively in class discussions and in writing.
  • Modify and defend their own positions on issues of interpretation and the evaluation of the historiography and the sources which support it.
  • Manage their time and organise their own study methods and workload.
  • Present their analyses and arguments clearly and concisely in one 1,000 word non-assessed assignment and one 2,000 word assessed essay in accordance with scholarly conventions of historical writing and in examination answers.

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Geraint H. Jenkins, The Foundations of Modern Wales, 1642-1780 (Oxford, 1987; 1993 pbk.)
Philip Jenkins, A History of Modern Wales, 1536-1990 (Harlow, 1992).
Glanmor Williams, Renewal and Reformation: Wales c.1415-1642 (Oxford, 1987; 1993 pbk).
Gwyn A. Williams, When was Wales? (Harmondsworth, 1985).
Barry Coward, ed., A Companion to Stuart Britain (Oxford, 2004) [Available as an e-book through Voyager]
Robert Tittler and Norman Jones, eds., A Companion to Tudor Britain (Oxford, 2004) [Available as an e-book through Voyager]
Patrick Collinson, ed., The Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 2002)
J.A. Guy, Tudor England (Oxford, 1988).
Penry Williams, The Later Tudors: England, 1547-1603 (Oxford, 1995).
Jenny Wormald, ed., The Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 2008).