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Senedd of Wales (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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Ty Senedd Caerdydd

Ty Senedd, Caerdydd

The Senedd i Cymru is the Parliament of Wales. First established as a unicameral legislature by Prince Owain Glyndwr during the First War of Independence it has existed in one shape or another until today’s bicameral system. The current system dates from the Great War (1939-45) and the American led reforms of the early 1950’s and sees two houses. Ty Uchaf and Ty Isod

Machynlleth Period

The first Senedd was called by Prince Owain IV in 1404. This parliament confirmed Owain as Prince of Wales, agreed the return to the traditional laws of Hywel Dda and also confirmed Gruffydd Young as Owain’s Chancellor. During Owain’s reign the Senedd continued to act as a gathering of the leaders of the Commotes of Wales, whereby each commote sent two of the leading men to meet in Machynlleth to pass laws and order the raising of taxes. Its first act as a recognised national parliament was the passing of the Treaty of London. This system continued under the reign of Owain’s heir, Prince Maredudd I of Wales. Under Maredudd, the Senedd would legitimise his elevation to Kingship, pass marriage treaties (Treaty of Shrewsbury) and continue to organise the raising of taxes. During Owain’s and Maredudd’s reigns the control of the Senedd fell within the grasp of three men. The first Chancellor of Wales, Gruffydd Young (who was also the Archbishop of St Davids and Primate of Wales), then after Gruffydd came Ieuan ap Bleddyn, Bishop of St Asaph and then Einion Trefor, Bishop of Hereford. This was the first period of ecclesiastical rule. With the coming to power of Owain V a break was achieved. During his fathers reign, Maredudd had held a tight grip on power, with his chosen clergy controlling the political apparatus. With his elevation to the kingship, Owain replaced Einion with Daffyd Young, nephew to the first Chancellor. Dafydd was the first non-ecclesiastical chancellor and approached his role with vigour.

1st Golden Era - Reigns of Owain V & Hywel I

Under Owain and Dafydd the Senedd enjoyed a period of extended authority, with the Long Parliament (1472-79) noted for its codification of Welsh Law, the establishment of Judges and Courts, the establishment of the Welsh Universities as well as its ratification of several international treaties. The Senators in this period grew used to wielding power in Wales and when following the rise of Richard III in England and Owain’s decision to not recognise him as overlord the Senedd again passed a new law recognising only God as the Welsh King’s superior.

During this time and under the guiding hand of Dafydd Young, the Senedd also passed the laws that helped create the Tripartite Principalities, and also confirming the Kings grants of titles to the newly made Earls of Wales. Under Hywel I, the Senedd continued to be a strong vibrant place, with Gwillym Young, son of Dafydd, gaining the Chancellorship in 1489. Treaties with England and Scotland secured land, cities, and the promise of a dynastic match (with Scotland). The Senedd continued to raise taxes and provide the King with advice. Problems with the Senedd, however, began with the arrival of the Earl of Pembroke as Chancellor. The Kings Brother in Law was a hard man and attempted to break the Senedd to his own will. His tenure in office lasted until the advent of Rhys, Prince of Powys.

Years 1512-1600

It is during Hywel II’s reign that the Senedd begins its first period of decline. At the beginning of Hywel’s reign the Regency Council, headed by Pembroke’s brother, the Duke of Dyfed and their sister, the Queen of Wales, worked closely with the Senedd. Following the debacle of the Treaty of Woodstock however, the Senedd was to side increasingly with the Prince of Powys. The Senedd would later be used by both Rhys of Powys and Cadell
Portrait of Abott Tomas Goch of Valle Crucis Abbey Chancellor 1560-72

20th Century portrait of Chancellor Tomos Goch (1560-72)

of Brycheiniog to elevate first Prince Owain of Powys to the rank of Duke (Duchy of Gwent) and then raising of the House of Mortimer from an Earldom to Dukes of March. The Senedd was necessary to legitimise Powys’ role as Chancellor and so continued to meet, regulating the collection of taxes and passing laws. The growing impotence of the Senedd, however, was to be seen in the 1st Anglo-Welsh War. Many members spoke out against the war, but all Senatorial opposition was crushed by Powys in his desire for war with England, and the Senedd also became the battle ground of choice with the supporters of Crown Prince Rhodri and Prince Rhys of Powys clashing in the chambers as the tension between the two men grew.

During the nine year reign of Rhodri, the Senedd was largely confined to infighting over the 2nd Anglo-Welsh war and the rise in Protestantism in Wales. Laws were passed in an attempt to control this new religion, whilst the new Chancellor, Gruffudd Fychan began what was called the 1st Period of Monastic Chancellors. The Senedd would continue the rest of Rhodri’s reign in a curious limbo. Under a Gruffudd the Senedd would remain a vibrant debating chamber, but its powers were already diminishing, with the two English wars testament to the Senedd’s inability to prevent a king from going to war.

During the reign of Elen, the Senedd continued as it had been under Rhodri, important but impotent. With a Queen Regnant the Senedd assumed a greater importance than it had seen during the last two reigns, but its powers were still not as great as it had been. Trade and religion continued to dominate the laws leaving the Senedd.The long peaceful reign of Elen served to keep the Senedd on its dormant state, passing laws, raising taxes but no longer full of men seeking power. It had ceased to be seen as a way or means to power within Wales.

With Elen growing older and her son and heir being a protestant, the Senedd began again to take on the air of importance. The Chancellor, Fychan Parry, authorised monies to refurbish and renovate the Parliament buildings in Machynlleth, expanding the main debating chamber, building a Royal Apartment attached to the complex and adding new law courts. With the 1590’s came more debates about religion, more debates concerning the succession as supporters of the Edling, Marc moved to ensure his smooth succession to the throne, and then with Marc’s accession on the 4th November 1598 the Senedd entered a critical period. In the February of 1599 Marc convened a parliament that was to pass some of most liberal religious laws in Welsh legal history, it was also to witness both the public breaking of the Royal Family with Duke Rhys of Deheubarth breaking with his brother, it would also witness the Dukes attack on the town later in the year. For the remainder of the reign, parliament would not meet, with its members spread out amongst the political camps they had chosen to join.


The 2nd Golden Period of Parliament

With Dafydd came a new period for the Senedd. During the new kings technical minority, the Kingdom was controlled by a Regency Council, with the king busy reconstituting the parliament. On the 1st March 1601, the Senedd, now packed with “kings’ men” passed an Act of Parliament, revoking the Regency Council. Gwydion ap Hael, Bishop of Bangor was to be Chancellor of Wales for 20 years and he was a battle hardened, sharp political operator and he put the Senedd back on track. Acts were passed revoking the legislation passed during Marc’s reign, with new legislation passed tightening control on Protestants within the kingdom. The Senedd settles down for the first 20 years of Dafydd’s reign, with Gwydion guiding it and the state. The Senedd slowly during this period garners prestige and dignitas though not new powers. Then under the guidance of Rhys Fychan, Bishop of Llandaff (chancellor 1621-35) Dafydd convened the Long Session (1625-34), a nine year period of re-codifying Welsh law in all areas. The Senedd came out of this session with new wide ranging powers and a belief in itself that it had lacked, with the Great Act (Gweithredu Fawr) of 1634 a milestone in Welsh politics, though Dafydd had also laid the seeds of destruction with his increased use of the Privy Council to circumvent parliament when required.

The greatest testament, however, to Dafydd’s reign was that during a two year period with an absent king, the Senedd continued to meet, continued to pass laws, and comported itself in a manner benefiting its status. During the 1640’s however, the Senedd looked on nervously as the English Parliament waged war against Charles I, with Hywel at first not consulting the Senedd before pledging Welsh aid to the beleaguered Anglo-Scottish King. Under the Chancellor, Gruffud Young, Lord of Cemais and descendant of the Gwillym Young (Chancellor 1488-1499) the Senedd began to intrude on the private Councils of the King, and pushed for support of the English Parliamentarians. The 1646 Neutrality Act was therefore a triumph of parliamentarianism and the Senedd was also closely involved with the Army reforms of Duke Tomos, ratifying the Kings Charter of 1650 which led to the formation of the first professional army in Welsh history.

The period of the English Commonwealth would see the Senedd ascend in influence. With the Princely Plot of 1654 a failure, Hywel would begin to lean on the Senedd, using it to rule Wales. The Senedd become flush with men seeking influence, power and prestige. During this period, the Senedd also provided the funds to build the Navy under Prince Maredudd, and therefore entered into political battles with the Prince as the Navy endured defeat and humiliation, eventually with the Senedd winning the battle, the Prince exiled to the English capital.

With the end of the 3rd Anglo-Dutch war, Hywel retires from the effective rule of Wales, and the Chancellor, Llewellyn Preece; Abbott Tintern Abbey effectively seizes control of Wales for the Senedd. 1674 to 1683 would be the zenith of parliamentarian rule in Wales. Under Preece, the country was stable, well governed, and in peace with all its neighbours. Wealth poured into the exchequer and in general living conditions for all improved.

This all ended with the death of Hywel III and the ascension of his son, Hywel IV. Hywel Anffodus (the Unfortunate) had allowed the growth of parliament, his gradual dislocation from the exercise of power allowing both Preece and the Senedd to move to the centre stage, to begin to accrete the sorts of powers and privileges that were by now second nature to the Westminster Parliament. Hywel Rhagargoeli (the foreshadow), however, was young brash and eager to retake the political initiative.

The pretext was the Catholic Bill being passed in England in an attempt to disinherit the Catholic Duke of York. Preece and the Senedd did not oppose the Bill, seeing that such a move would destabilise the English, Hywel wanted to support his Catholic cousin. Armed with the Army and with legal right, he dismissed Preece from office and dissolved the Senedd. In one fell swoop Hywel undid the work of several generations. From 1683 to 1703 there would be no sitting Senedd and no Chancellor. The King ruled via the complicated bureaucracy that had built up and via the Privy or Kings Council. This saw the beginning of the long nadir of the Senedd, it also marked the end of the Machynlleth Period with the Senedd never to sit there in a permanent setting again.

Much as Charles I had discovered earlier in England, Hywel found by 1703 that ruling without a parliament was difficult, and in 1703 the Senedd was reformed, but now it was a tool subservient to the Monarchs wishes, meeting at the Royal Palaces and not in its own house in Machynlleth

The Period 1703-1718

During the final years of Hywel Rhagargoeli and the reign of Dafydd V Anystyriol (the Rash) the Senedd would begin a slow rise from its deep nadir. Tomos Eifion, the efficient busy Chancellor of Hywel IV continued his role under Dafydd, making the Senedd busy without intruding on the Royal Prerogatives. A delicate balancing act and one designed to play the waiting game, waiting for another Dafydd IV or Hywel III in order to regain parliament’s power. The Senedd, however, did fail in 1709 to prevent the Gower Uprising, a religious uprising by Gwyr’s protestant population against the unfair Protestant Tax introduced by Parliament in that year to help fund the tax shortfall.

Seith Vaughan - Chancellor 1709-14

Seith Vaughan

The weak status of parliament also ensured that its role in the English Act of Succession and Exclusion Crisis of 1701 & 1707 respectively was muted, with the Senedd having no role to play in Dafydd’s decision to stake a claim to the Anglo-Scottish “British” crown. This weakness was further highlighted by the crisis which built with the death of Queen Anne in 1714. The Senedd and Seith Vaughan, the Chancellor were opposed to any declarations of intent towards the British throne. Dafydd overruled the Senedd and made his claim, further damaging Wales’ relationship with her neighbour. The final insult was in the declaration of war in February 1718. The Senedd and Chancellor were informed only after the letters were sent mobilising the army. With war declared, the Senedd was dissolved and it would not meet again until after the invasion of Rhisiart in the 1750’s


Second Period of the Senedd – The 1st Ricardian Era

Following Dafydd’s dissolution of the Senedd in 1718, there followed the English or British Occupation, where Wales formed part of the Kingdom of Britain. With the invasion of Rhisiart in 1759 an independent Wales resurfaces. Following his coronation in August 1760, Rhisiart brings back the Senedd, but he brings back a Senedd which would be unrecognisable to those men of 1718. Before the Senedd had been a single house. Nobles and Commote Members sitting together.

Under Rhisiart a division was introduced. The Ty Uchaf (Upper House) was created containing members of the aristocracy, the Ty Isod (Lower House) was created to house the Commote Members. Power, however, was vested in the Ty Uchaf and the Kings Council (Privy Council) with only minimal tax raising and regulating powers granted to the Ty Isod. As Wales was still under martial law (on both sides of the divide) the Senedd (both houses) was limited as to its function, but one thing was clear, it was subservient to the King now.

Under Rhisiart II things did not go any better for the Senedd. By far the most undemocratic and decidedly autocratic monarch Wales had seen, Rhisiart ruled by dictat and Kings (Privy) Council mandates. One important factor of his reign, however, was the emergence of a Merchant class that began to be involved with national politics, with members of the Ty Isod beginning to be appointed from outside the gentry classes. His reign sees Wales regain its total independence, but also slide close to economic disintegration. His reign also see’s the reintroduction of the Great Offices of State, including the Chancellorship and the rank of Distain.

The 1st Arthurian Period

During the reign of Arthur I the Senedd would continue its relatively lowly Ricardian role. However, following the economic damage done during the reign of Rhisiart II, the Senedd was given greater tax raising powers, with the Ty Uchaf meeting regularly at the kings’ behest, thought the Ty Isod met more infrequently. Both houses passed the Treaty of Trerawlson however, which created the Welsh Empire with its first colony being y Wladfa (Patagonia). Both houses would also be instrumental in the 1821 Army Creation Acts and the Arthurian Charter, with the Ty Isod particularly instrumental in the passing and implementing of the acts. The most important element of the Charter and Acts though was the placing of the Army as “an organ of the State, and under the direction of the Senedd of Wales”. This placed the Army under the control of both Houses of the Senedd, and raised the profile of both Ty Uchaf and Isod considerably. The Senedd continued to make slow progress throughout Arthur’s reign, meeting on a regular basis and though he retained the Crown’s political pre-eminence the signs were there of Parliaments growing impatience with that settlement.&nbsp

The Constantinian Period

Cystennin inherited not only a country at peace, but a country with a thriving political establishment and class of people to run it. During his short reign the Senedd would continue to grow at the snail’s pace established under Arthur, but with Cystennin disinclined to micro-manage in the same fashion as Arthur allowed the Chancellors a degree of freedom and movement not enjoyed since the reign of Hywel III.

With the movement of the Imperial capital to Caerdydd, and the explosion of Royal Charters establishing museums, societies and commerce, Parliament was well placed to take advantage of these improvements. One important event occurred with the Argentine-Cymro War of 1840. Whilst the Army was under the control of the Ty Isod, the war was run by the Royal Officers and not directed through the newly created Swyddfa Rhyfel (War Office).

The resulting fallout over the loss of the colony to the Argentine Republic allowed the Senedd to claw more powers over foreign affairs to itself, empowering the office of Distain in ways never seen before in Wales. The weakness inherent in the system was, however, exposed in 1843 with the prolonged illness of Cystennin. With his incapacitation the wheels of government ground to a halt.

The Prince of Gwynedd, using his man (the Earl of Mon) who was at the time Chancellor, attempted to gain control of the Senedd and the political machine. The War Office, however, and the Army was under the control of the Dug Y Mers (Duke of March) and thus prevented the collapse of the House of Morgannwg.

The Civil War

During the Civil War, the Senedd was a key supporter of Rhisiart III. During the early phases of the war, the Senedd continued to meet in the Palas Caerdydd, authorising the raising of taxes, the War Office co-ordinating the movement of troops to the front line. With the advance, however, of Prince Meurig, many politicians took up arms to fight on the eastern front. Notable Senators included Tomos Preece, Fychan Griffith, Arthur Penhellion, all dying at Clehanger in the March. With the advancing Gwyneddian forces, many other politicians fled to Caerodor, before being called back to Caerdydd by a disgusted Rhisiart.

During 1846, there were of course two parliaments. The Llandeilo and the Caerdydd Parliaments. Both voted to not recognise the other as the legitimate body of government and both voted to recognise their respective man as King. With Rhys II and Rhisiart III both voted the crown and Rhys was subsequently crowned in Llandeilo to that effect. The Caerdydd Parliament however, had a distinct advantage; it still controlled the major economic heartlands of South Wales, and still controlled considerable tax raising capabilities, something the Northern Parliament did not possess. Caerdydd also voted to cast as traitors the men on the other side of the fence.


With the opening of 1847 the Senedd gained a new role. Active government of the realm. With Rhisiart fighting the war, and not yet crowned as King, the political machinery was thrown into a form of chaos. Into that breach stepped the Chancellor, Gwillym Tomos, Archbishop of Brecon, wielding the reins of power in the absence of either a king or a Lord President of the Privy Council. The final year or so of the war saw Tomos guiding laws through the Senedd and a gradual clawing of powers which would have been impossible during peacetime. He also had to deal with an increasingly precarious Wales. War had left the country poor, and in threat of famine, strong government helped prevent the total collapse of Royal Power until the war was concluded.

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