Her Majesty the Queen bursts into a rare smile as she passes her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh

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Wales was previously a Kingdom; however it was a Celtic/Gaelic (they’re not actually Gaelic, but used a similar system) kingdom in that it was very much based on power and support. As such, it was not always in existence and not always held by one person. While the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms coalesced into England, Wales was sort of left to its own devices. According to tradition at the time, one person to hold the title of King of Wales was in fact the mythical King Arthur, who was also King of the Britons. For a long time, there was no King of Wales, or of “the Britons”, while the Anglo-Saxons ran amok across the island.

This became important, because one Welsh Duke wanted to conquer another and declare himself King; he was about to do so with English support. However, this presented a verbal issue: this would make the Welshman, by tradition, King of the Britons; a title that could be construed as represented the vestiges of pre-Saxon culture and the people of Britain in general. Would that make this lowly duke in fact more elevated than the King of England himself?

In order to avoid this, the new ‘king’ took the title “Prince of Wales”; Prince being a very old title considered lower than a King (for instance, without holy blessing, a merchant could not simply buy a country and call himself king, but he could call himself a Prince – hence the Principality of Monaco). The Prince of Wales then would subjugate himself to the King of England and the proper hierarchy would be upheld.

All of this was fine for a century or two until England took more direct control of Wales. The King of England at the time, Edward I (‘Longshanks’), decided to invest his own son as ‘Prince of Wales’. This would mean that once his son inherited the Kingdom of England, the two would be held by the same person and, practically if not legally, join Wales and England together.

In 1542 the pretence of Welsh independance was finally put to rest; the Principality of Wales was disbanded. However the title was kept as a nice honorific to apply to the heir of the Kingdom of England. English laws applied automatically to Wales. The Kingdom of England now included Wales, but it was asking for trouble to say so. It took until 1746 to pass a law that clarified that “England” included “Wales”.

Long before that, a Welsh mystic, fantasist and all-round nutjob named John Dee advised that the best way to get around the problem of ‘unifying’ the two would be to take back up that title of “of the Britons”, but since Brittany existed in France, he went with “Britain”. The same guy used a fictional story of King Arthur conquering Ireland (he manifestly didn’t) to reinvent the term ‘British Isles’ (much to everyone’s annoyance; the Irish didn’t want to be British and proper Britons didn’t want them to be British either); he recommended the quite popular name “British Empire” and the much less successful “British Ocean” (turns out everyone was quite attached to “Atlantic” already).

The first Act of Union then was between England and Scotland with no mention of Wales. The new kingdom was termed the United Kingdom of Great Britain; the flag was a mix of England and Scotland’s. This and the later Act of Union that added Ireland to the UK leads to the curious fact that Ireland is represented on the Union Jack while Wales is not.

It wasn’t until 1948, in the same restructuring of legal terms that finally saw the traditional claim on Ireland removed, that Wales was finally re-given legal existence: the laws of England (including Wales) were now declared to be “The laws of England and Wales”, affording Wales a theoretical equal standing with England, though still tied together in perpetuity. This complex relationship leads to things like certain parts of England being ‘kind of Welsh’ and certain parts of Wales ‘kind of English’. The oldest Welsh football teams play in the English football system; Welsh cricketers play for England. Conversely, Wales has its own rugby and football teams; and these days has even got a little ‘parliament’ for itself, though in contrast to in Scotland, anything they come up with has to be passed by the ‘English’/UK Parliament.

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