1588: Elizabeth’s Great Achievement

Robin Evans extols the outstanding success of 1588: not the defeat of the Spanish Armada but the publication of the Welsh Bible.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada was both a nationalistic and religious success and its effect on the English psyche has been such that 1588 remains a key date in English history. However, the year also witnessed another event within Elizabeth's realm whose short- and long-term effects were, arguably, far more significant than the Armada, especially in Wales.

Wales and the Reformation

Wales became part of the new English nation state by the Acts of Union (1536-1543), and religious legislation, so important in the establishing of that state, passed originally by the English Parliament of Henry VIII, now applied equally to Wales. However, the Welsh proved indifferent to the English Reformation - simply because they could not understand it! 

The Welsh were chiefly a monoglot people, as indeed were the English during this period, but English was the only official language of this nation state. The Bible and the Book of Common Prayer were now available in English, to be read in all the churches of England and Wales. Uniformity was the order of the day, be it political, religious or linguistic. This uniformity would threaten the very existence of the Welsh language and Welsh national identity, and the government soon realised that a choice would have to be made between the nation state's desire for religious uniformity on the one hand, and linguistic uniformity on the other.

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