St Fagans puts Henry VIII's 1536 Act of Union on display in Wales for the first time

By Culture24 Staff | 09 May 2011
a photo detail of a late medieval written document
The 1536 Act of Union between England and Wales © National Museum Wales
As newly elected members of the Welsh assembly pick over the results of an election that saw the Labour party make gains without securing a majority, Saint Fagans, the National History Museum in Cardiff, has put a document on display explaining the origins of Welsh government as we know it today.

The 1536 ‘Act of Union’ between England and Wales has gone on show in Wales for the first time in a display that reveals how the English crown didn’t rule the whole of the country until Henry VIII wrested control from the powerful Marcher Lords.

Until 1536, southern and western parts of Cymru resembled a patchwork of independent lordships with the Marcher Lords holding their own courts and raising taxes and private armies.

The Act ensured the whole of Wales came under the authority of the Tudor Monarch. New courts were set up, new counties were created and for the first time, each county could return a Member for Parliament.

The caveat to the latter 'privilege' was that English also became the language of the new institutions. Those who spoke Welsh would be prohibited from holding public office.

Unsurprisingly argument still rages about the effect of the Act of Union. Some interpret it as a new beginning and opportunity for Wales; others continue to see it and the subjugation of the Welsh language as a symbol of English repression.

The 1536 Act of Union is on display as part of Making History: 1500 -1700, an exhibition and series of special events looking at these tumultuous 200 years.

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