In Britain, at least for a few hundred years after the Roman victories on mainland Europe,the Celts held on to much of their customs and especially to their distinctive language, which has miraculously survived until today as Welsh. The language of most of Britain was derived from a branch of Celtic known as Brythonic: it later gave rise to Welsh, Cornish and Breton (these differ from the Celtic languages derived from Goidelic; namely, Irish, Scots, and Manx Gaelic). Accompanying these languages were the Celtic religions, particularly that of the Druids, the guardians of traditions and learning.
Though the Celtic tongue survived as the medium of everyday speech, Latin being used mainly administrative purposes, many loan words entered the native vocabulary, and these are still found in modern-day Welsh, though many of these have entered at various times since the end of the Roman occupation. Today's visitors to Wales who know some Latin are surprised to find hundreds of place names containing Pont (bridge), while ffenest (window), pysgod (fish), milltir (mile), melys (sweet or honey) cyllell (knife), ceffyl (horse), perygl (danger), eglwys (church), pared (wall or partition), tarw (bull) and many others attest to Roman or Latin influence.
When the city of Rome fell to the invading Goths under Alaric, Roman Britain, which had experienced hundreds of years of comparative peace and prosperity, was left to its own defences under its local Romano-British leaders, one of whom may have been a tribal chieftain named Arthur. It quickly crumbled under the onslaught of Germanic tribes (usually collectively referred to as Anglo-Saxons) themselves under attack from tribes to the east and wishing to settle in the sparsely populated, but agriculturally rich lands across the narrow channel that separated them.
More than two hundred years of fighting between the native Celts, as brave as ever but comparatively disorganized, and the ever-increasing numbers of Germanic tribesmen eventually resulted in Britain sorting itself out into three distinct areas: the Britonic West, the Teutonic East, and the Gaelic North. It was these areas that later came to be identified as Wales, England, and Scotland, all with their very separate cultural and linguistic characteristics (Ireland, of course, remained Gaelic: many of its peoples migrated to Scotland, taking their language with them to replace the native Pictish).
From the momentous year 616, the date of their defeat at the hands of the Saxons in the Battle of Chester, the Welsh people in Wales were on their own. Separated from their fellow Celts in Cornwall and Cumbria, those who lived in the western peninsular gradually began to think of themselves as a distinct nation in spite of the many different rival kingdoms that developed within their borders such as Morgannwg, Powys, Brycheinion, Dyfed and Gwynedd. It is also from this period that we can speak of the Welsh language, as distinct from the older Brythonic.
In a poem dated 633, the word Cymry appears, referring to the country; and it was not too long before the Britons came to be known as the Cymry, by which term they are known today. At this point, we should point out that the word Welsh (from Wealas) is a later word used by the Saxon invaders of the British Isles perhaps to denote people they considered "foreign" or at least to denote people who had been Romanized. It originally had signified a Germanic neighbor, but eventually came to be used for those people who spoke a different language.
The Welsh people themselves still prefer to call themselves Cymry, their country Cymru, and their language Cymraeg. It is also from this time that the Celtic word Llan appears, signifying a church settlement and usually followed by the name of a saint, as in Llandewi (St. David) or Llangurig (St. Curig), but sometimes by the name of a disciple of Christ, such as Llanbedr (St. Peter) or even a holy personage such as Llanfair (St. Mary).
It is in Wales, perhaps, that today's cultural separation of the British Isles remains strongest, certainly linguistically, and for that, we must look to the mid 8th Century, when a long ditch was constructed, flanking a high earthen rampart that divided the Celts of the West from the Saxons to the East and which, even today, marks the boundary between those who consider themselves Welsh from those who consider themselves English. The boundary, known as "Offa's Dyke," in memory of its builder Offa, the king of Mercia (the middle kingdom) runs from the northeast of Wales to the southeast coast, a distance of 149 miles.
English-speaking peoples began to cross Offa's Dyke in substantial numbers when settlements were created by Edward 1st in his ambition to unite the whole of the island of Britain under his kingship. After a period of military conquest, the English king forced Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd to give up most of his lands, keeping only Gwynedd west of the River Conwy.
Edward then followed up his successes by building English strongholds around the perimeter of what remained of Llewelyn's possessions, and strong, easily defended castles were erected at Flint, Rhuddlan, Aberystwyth, and Builth., garrisoned by large detachments of English immigrants and soldiers. Some of these towns have remained stubbornly English ever since. Urban settlement, in any case, was entirely foreign to the Celtic way of life.
In 1294, the Statute of Rhuddlan confirmed Edward's plans regarding the governing of Wales. The statute created the counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon, and Merioneth, to be governed by the Justice of North Wales; Flint, to be placed under the Justice of Chester; and the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan were left under the Justice of South Wales.
In the year 1300, the situation seemed permanently established, when "King Edward of England made Lord Edward his son [born at Caernarfon Castle], Prince of Wales and Count of Chester," and ever since that date these titles have been automatically conferred upon the first-born son of the English monarch. The Welsh people were not consulted in the matter, although an obviously biased entry in Historia Anglicana for the year 1300 reads:
In this year King Edward of England made Lord Edward, his son and heir, Prince of Wales and Count of Chester. When the Welsh heard this, they were overjoyed, thinking him their lawful master, for he was born in their lands.
Following his successes in Wales, signified by the Statute of Rhuddlan, sometimes referred to as The Statute of Wales, Edward embarked on yet another massive castle-building program, creating such world-heritage sites of today as Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris