My, it rather pisses me off to hear on the news tonight, mixed in with the music from the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, that Elizabeth II has both English and Scottish ruling ancestors, as though Wales had never played a role in the United Kingdom at all. Although it was equally interesting to hear that Alex Salmond had said he wanted the Queen as Head of State in Scotland and ‘Queen of the Scots’. Perhaps an echo of that tragic story of Mary Queen of Scots who in the 16th Century become the focus of so many plots against Elizabeth I and met her fate via the headsmen, after such agonised doubt from the Queen, her cousin. Perhaps one of the greatest monarchs to sit on the English throne though, Elizabeth I, that ‘Virgin Queen’ whose image with the Reformation came to supplant the Catholic cult of The Virgin Mary, if such a thought is not politically incorrect. But of course Elizabeth I was from a dynasty that came to power after the battle of Bosworth Field, where Richard III sustained those now much discussed head injuries, and from a line that was half Welsh – the Tudors. In that sense Wales conquered England in 1485. The Tudors though, highly schooled in both Latin and Greek, would turn to Ancient Rome for a political ideology that helped a country find its confidence, so extraordinarily realised in the language of Shakespeare, and sent out a new breed of mercantile Capitalist adventurers to conquer the World, or put it up for sale.
Yet it was Elizabeth I’s grandfather’s Henry VII’s ruthless political realpolitik too that saw the almost immediate repression of the Welsh language, to carry right down to the late 19th Century with children being humiliated in Welsh schools in having to wear The Welsh Knot, a board slung on a rope around their necks if they spoke their own tongue. One that has proved far stronger and more of a living language than Gaelic, perhaps marking the stamp of the Welsh love affair with poetry, language and song. So to a friend’s question yesterday as to whether the Welsh resent the fact that the flag of Wales and that Red Dragon is not incorporated into the flag of The United Kingdom. In political and heraldic terms it is because Wales and England were already considered part of the same kingdom long before that act of Union with Scotland in 1801, thus the first son of the English Monarch being invested as The Prince of Wales at Caernarvon. Mind you, in all cultural identities there is a great deal that can be completely bogus, like the invention of the Tartan, the idealisation of Scotland by a Victorian monarchy and indeed that highly entertaining but historically inaccurate film Braveheart. The flag of Wales is of course my own favourite, barring the fact I still believe in a United Kingdom, in the richness and importance of a shared history and Culture that also acknowledges we are also all just human animals on a troubled planet. Which, whatever happens in the result of the Scottish Independence vote tomorrow, might be strengthened by more knowledge of and greater understanding and respect for our mutual cultural histories. Perhaps a Welsh Dragon will start to stir again too, if Wales does not have oil, had a terrain that was far easier to subdue than Scotland and was long sat on by the English Marcher Lords, always finding its identity in a far greater internalisation and sense of that sometimes fatal melancholy the Welsh call Hyraeth. Well, cheer up Wales, perhaps we’ll have to wake up to a Queen of the Welsh too, while we all wake up or don’t to war in the East and Middle East, Ebola, change, death and the rest! How about not just a United Kingdom, but a United Planet?!