Wales, one of the three great divisions of the island of Great Britain, is bounded on its eastern side by the English counties of Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford, and Monmouth, and on the other three sides is washed by the sea. Its greatest length, N. to S., is 135 miles; its breadth, E. to W., varies from 37 miles near the parallel of Aberystwith, where it is narrowest, to 95 miles near the parallel of St. David's, where it is widest. It has an area (ancient counties, not registration counties) of 7,468 square miles, and the population, according to the census of 1891, of 1,519,035. Though administered in the main as a part of England, it is recognized by Parliament as an organic and homogeneous unit, and as such has received separate and distinct treatment in the Intermediate Education and other exclusively Welsh Acts.
The names Wales and Welsh are from a Teutonic root, meaning "foreign" (compare Ger. Walsch = "Italian"), but the Welsh themselves call their country Cymru and its people Cymry -- names which, however, according to Professor Rhys, and did not originate earlier than the 6th century. The country is divided into 12 counties, the largest being Caermarthenshire, and the most populous Glamorgan, and its present dimensions date from 1535, when Henry VIII. severed Monmouthshire from Wales and joined it to England. Its general aspect is bold, romantic and mountainous. It is intersected by beautiful valleys, and traversed by numerous streams, and although it has no rivers of any magnitude, it gives rise to the Severn and the Wye. The principal mountains of North Wales are the Snowdon group, with Y Wyddfa (3,571 feet) as its culminating pinnacle, the Cader Idris chain, and the Berwyn Range, while in South Wales are the Beacons of Brecon and Caermarthen, and the Black Mountains. Though largely an agricultural country, Wales contains some of the most important coal-fields and iron industries of Great Britain, and in a lesser degree produces lead and copper; gold is found in Merionethshire, and silver-mines used to be worked in Cardiganshire, where, in the 17th century, a coinage was issued stamped on one side with the ostrich plumes of the prince of Wales. The largest slate-quarries in the world lie in the Cambrian rocks of Caernarvonshire. The Church of England is legally established there, but is greatly outnumbered by the various Nonconformist bodies. Wales sounds thirty representatives to the Imperial Parliament.
Language and Literature. Though English is very generally understood throughout Wales, and has even largely displaced the native tongue in Radnorshire, part of Pembrokeshire, Gower, Cardiff, and other towns in South Wales, Welsh is still spoken, according to the census of 1891, by 910,289 people in Wales and Monmouthshire. It is full of life and vigor, and though not in any great extent the language of commerce, it is still the language of social life, of religion, and literature. In 1865 a Welsh colony was established on the Chupat river in Patagonia. Modern Welsh literature is both large in quantity and progressive in excellence, and over 40 newspapers and periodicals are now being issued in the Welsh language. Classic Welsh literature has a continuous history extending from the 6th century to the present day, divided by Stephens, in his Literature of the Kymry, into four periods. Of the productions of the first of these little exists besides the Gododin of Aneurin (q.v.). In the second, between 1080 and 1350, appeared a number of lyric poets, remains of whose works we still possess, and whose themes were generally patriotism and war. Among them were Gwalchmai, Hywel ab Owain, Cynddelw, and Rhys Goch ab Rhiccert. It was in this period that the Arthurian and other romances known as the Mabinogion were written down, having probably been in circulation as tales for centuries before. The Welsh traditions of Arthur and his knights have had a marked influence on the literature of Europe. In the third period (1352 to 1650) flourished Dafydd ab Gwilym, the most celebrated of all Welsh poets, Lewis Glyn Cothi, Tudur Aled and Rhys Pritchard; and to this era most of the Welsh Triads are attributed. The fourth period begins with the poet Huw Morus, and includes Goronwy Owen, Elis Wyn, Eben Fardd, Carnhuanawc, Dr. Lewis Edwards, Daniel Owen, and many others. Classic Welsh poetry is weighed down by the iron chains of alliteration, and the rules of "cynghanedd." Welsh prose is largely theological and biographical; the drama is absent except in the interludes of Twm o'r Nant, and the novel has only lately come into existence in the works of Daniel Owen.
History. The real history of the Welsh people, as distinguished from the fortunes of kings and princes, remains yet to be extracted from the poetry, the traditions, and the ancient walls of Wales, in which it lives. The history of Wales as an independent political community is one long tragedy of internal strife, attacks from without, and final conquest by Edward I. After the Romans left Britain, about the year 410, the two Brittanias were governed by native successors of the Dux Brittaniarum called Gwledigs, who probably continued for a long time to hold some sort of lordship over the British states, comprising Wales proper, Cornwall, Cumbria, and Strathclyde. By the Battle of Deorham in 577 Cornwall was isolated, and by the Battle of Chester in 613 Wales proper was separated from the other British states. The two Gwledigs of whom we know anything were Cunedda Wledig early in the fifth century, and Maelgwn Gwynedd in the 6th, and their descendents appear not only to have reigned as princes over the various lesser states of Wales, but also to have retained amongst them the power of the Gwledig for several centuries. In the 9th century we find Rhodri Fawr reigning as king of all Wales, and after the death of his grandson, Hywel Dda, a long period of the internecene strife, and wars with the Danes and the English. In 1055 Gruffydd ab Llewelyn became king of all Wales, and the next half-century is filled with the attempts of the Norman barons to establish themselves in various districts, and the efforts of the Welsh princes to expel them. Invasions of Wales were made by Harold, William the Conqueror, Rufus, Henry I., Henry II., John, and Edward I. The last century of Welsh independence is nearly covered by the long reigns of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth (1194-1246), and Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (1246-83). With the death of the latter in a skirmish on the banks of the Wye, Welsh independence came to an end.