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1536 Act of Union is displayed for the first time ever

From 5 May 2011 to 27 July 2011, the 1536 ‘Act of Union’ between England and Wales will be on display at St Fagans: National History Museum, Cardiff.

As the results of the Welsh Assembly elections come in on 5 May, over a decade since devolution, St Fagans: National History Museum will be displaying the Act that was primarily responsible for the political and legal union of England and Wales – the 1536 Act of Union. This will be the first time that the Act comes to Wales.


The English crown didn’t rule the whole of Wales before 1536. Southern and western parts of the country resembled a patchwork of independent lordships. The Marcher lords were powerful men who held their own courts raised taxes and had private armies. Henry VIII wanted legal and religious uniformity in England and Wales and he introduced new measures so that the whole of Wales came under his authority.


After 1536 the law of England was also the rule of Wales and new courts were set up. New counties were created and for the first time, each county could return a Member for Parliament – Wales had distinct political boundaries. English would be the language of the new institutions and those who spoke Welsh would be prohibited from holding public office.


Arguments have raged on the effect of the Act on the Welsh people ever since. Some say the measure led to an efficient Tudor administration and that new opportunities were handed to a number of Welshmen who now enjoyed the same rights and freedoms as their English neighbours. For others, the Act and its revision in1543 became a sign of English oppression. Because the measures restrained the ruling classes from speaking Welsh, it is alleged that this led to a disapproving attitude towards Welsh as the language was now only associated with the lower classes.


“...because that in the same country, principality, and dominion divers rights, usages, laws, and customs be far discrepant from the laws and customs of this realm, and also because that the people of the same dominion have and do daily use a speech nothing like nor consonant to the natural mother tongue used within this realm, some rude and ignorant people have made distinction and diversity between the king's subjects of this realm and his subjects of the said dominion...“


The 1536 ‘Act of Union’ can be seen at St Fagans: National History Museum as part of ‘Making History: 1500 -1700’, an exhibition and series of special events looking at these tumultuous 200 years.


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For more information and images, please contact Catrin Mears, Communications Officer on (029) 2057 3185 / 07920 027067, email or Iwan Llwyd, Communications Officer on (029) 2057 3486, email