The Constitutional Status of Wales

Arms of the House of Aberffraw, senior line descendents of the House of Cunedda

Arms of the House of Aberffraw, senior line descendents of the House of Cunedda

In 1283, when Edward I defeated Llewellyn the Last, the Principality of Wales (Llewelyn’s lands in Gwynedd and those of his native vassals) came under the rule of the English king by the Statute of Rhuddlan. In other words, the title of Prince of Wales was merged in the English Crown but not abolished, since it was granted by Edward I to his son. The Principality of Wales remained a distinct entity, a right of the English crown, administered by the Council of Wales. The Council’s continuing existence until its abolition after the Revolution in 1689 indicates that the ‘Principality of Wales’ can be spoken of until that point, and for Jacobites the abolition of the Council and, implicitly, the Principality of Wales as a distinct entity from England by a revolutionary government cannot be regarded as legitimate. It is incorrect to see Henry VIII’s series of acts to harmonise English and Welsh law between 1535 and 1542 as Acts of Union in the same sense as the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801; they were designed to incorporate the March of Wales more fully into England and their effect on the Principality was incidental. To all intents and purposes, in spite of the imposition of county administration on the Welsh and the acts of Henry VIII, the Principality of Wales continued to exist as a theoretical entity until the Revolution.

Numerous Welsh aristocrats, many descended from the old native nobility, showed great loyalty to the House of Stuart and Wales was a hotbed of Jacobitism. Most famously, Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 3rd Baronet, decided not to raise a Welsh force to join with the Prince Regent when he entered England in 1745. Had he done so, the retreat from Derby might never have taken place and George of Hanover might have been overthrown. Sir Watkin was the son of Jane Thelwall, great-granddaughter of Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet of Gwydir, who was the descendent of Owain Glyndwr (last native Prince of Wales) and Head of the House of Aberffraw.

The Houses of Cunedda, Aberffraw and Dinefwr

In around 440AD, if the ancient Welsh genealogies are to be believed, Cunedda Wledig, a descendent of Roman or Romano-British war leaders in the ‘Old North’ came from the Kingdom of Gododdin (near Edinburgh) to the land of the Venedoti, Gwynedd. The straggling dynasty that Cunedda established and that bore his name provided the kings of both Gwynedd and Deheubarth.

Rhodri Mawr (c. 820-878), was one of the few kings of the House of Cunedda to unite Wales but the traditional principle of partition required him to divide his kingdom between his sons. Rhodri’s eldest son Anarawd ap Rhodri established the senior House of Aberffraw, which ruled Gwynedd and then all Wales until the defeat of Llewellyn the Last (1223-83). Rhodri’s grandson Hywel Dda (880-950) established the Kingdom of Deheubarth. However, the Kingdoms of Wales were united in the Principality of Wales, ruled by the House of Aberffraw, in the 1160s.

Owain Glyndwr, the last native Prince of Wales (who asserted his sovereignty by summoning a Parliament at Machynlleth) apparently died without issue. At this point the position of head of the House of Aberffraw reverted to Robert, eldest son of Maredudd ap Hywel of Tywyn, who became the progenitor of the Wynns of Gwydir, the last of whom was Sir John Wynn, 5th Baronet, who died in 1719. Sir John died without issue but Jane Thelwall, descendent of a daughter of the 1st Baronet, continued the line into the Williams-Wynn family. On this interpretation of the descent of the House of Aberffraw, the present head of the House is the descendent of Jane Thelwall, Sir David Watkin Williams-Wynn, 11th Baronet of Bodelwyddan (b. 1940).

Arms of the Williams-Wynn Baronets, descendents of the House of Aberffraw through Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet and Jane Thelwall

Arms of the Williams-Wynn Baronets, descendents of the House of Aberffraw through Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet and Jane Thelwall

The Kings of Deheubarth, the junior descendents of Rhodri Mawr, also have descendents today. Rhys ap Gruffydd, King of Deheubarth (1132-97) had a daughter Gwenllian (d. 1236) who married Edynfed Fychan, Seneschal of Gwynedd, who was the ancestor of Owain Tewdyr who apparently married Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V. His second son by Catherine, Edmund Tudor, 1st Duke of Richmond, married Lady Margaret Beaufort, making him the progenitor of the Tudor dynasty. When Elizabeth died in 1603, the last of the direct Tudor line, the Tudor succession reverted to the descendents of Margaret, eldest daughter of Henry VII, who had married James IV of Scotland and was the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots and great-grandmother of James VI of Scotland, the first Stuart to rule England.

Arms of Owain Tewdyr, descendent of the House of Dinefwr (Kings of Deheubarth)

Arms of Owain Tewdyr, descendent of the House of Dinefwr (Kings of Deheubarth)

If the House of Tudor is taken to represent the legitimate descent of the House of Dinefwr, the successor of the House of Tudor (Franz von Wittelsbach) is the head of the House of Dinefwr.

Wales’ Constitutional Status

It is clear that, for Jacobites, the Principality of Wales exists as a separate entity from England, administered by the Council of Wales. What is less clear is whether the English Crown ever had the right to annexe the Principality to itself. Aside from questions concerning the legitimacy of the Plantagenets as rulers of England (let alone Wales), the legitimacy of the Statute of Rhuddlan is doubtful. If the Statute of Rhuddlan were to be repealed it would leave Jane Thelwall’s successor as Prince of Wales and, presumably, legitimate the acts of Owain Glyndwr as Prince of Wales, most notably his summoning of a Parliament. This would require a Parliament to be established for Wales.

It may be that Jacobite legitimism requires one, in all honesty, to disregard the Statute of Rhuddlan. In the absence of this solution and, bearing in mind the present King’s descent from Hywel Dda and the Stuart monarchs’ implicit recognition of the Statute of Rhuddlan, it seems that a Jacobite must at the very least support Welsh devolution and the Welsh Assembly as an approximation to the legal and constitutional recognition of the Principality of Wales.

In this regard it is interesting that, when the Welsh Assembly requested armorial bearings the College of Arms responded in 2008 by producing a new badge for Wales. This is the arms of the Princes of Wales surmounted by St. Edward’s Crown (rather than the Prince of Wales’ coronet, as in the arms of Charles, Prince of Wales). The use of St. Edward’s Crown symbolises the sovereignty of the Queen of England rather than the Prince of Wales (who has no actual sovereignty over Wales), and the placing of the Crown over the arms of Llewellyn would heraldically indicate that these are the arms of the Queen in right of Prince of Wales (compare the use of St. Edward’s Crown in the arms of the Isle of Man). Whilst a coat of arms can scarcely be accounted a constitutional change, the use of these arms on Welsh Assembly measures is equivalent to the use of the royal arms on Acts of the Westminster Parliament, thereby suggesting that Wales is a distinct constitutional entity from England.

The Royal Badge of Wales, symbolising the royal authority of the Welsh Assembly

The Royal Badge of Wales, symbolising the royal authority of the Welsh Assembly

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Filed under constitutional matters, history, jacobitism

3 responses to “The Constitutional Status of Wales

  1. An addendum: Franz von Wittelsbach may not be the heir of the House of Dinefwr if one considers that Welsh Law permitted illegitimate children to succeed to the throne on a par with legitimate offspring. On this basis the Duke of Grafton, the eldest surviving illegitimate descendent of Charles II, has a stronger claim.

  2. Surely Wales has its own situation in black and white. In 1955, the term England and Wales became common for describing the area to which English law applied, and Cardiff was proclaimed as capital city of Wales.

    • Deborah

      My ancestor james gordon appeared in aberystwyth with his wife Margaret in 1690,s .He was a court bailiff in 1693 and once again. His son Alexander was supposed to have been born circa 1690/1. Alexander was 4 times mayor of Aberystwyth and numerous times bailiff and coroner in Aberystwyth and its court leet by George Eyre.He married a mary and had numerous children ,one of which alice gordon married ( 2nd marriage to Lewis pugh my ancestor)The Gordons seemed to disappear without a trace. James died in 1717 and Alexander 1776.I would appreciate any help to trace this family further back. We assume in the family that they were jacobites.

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