"Heddwch! Heddwch!" sport and cultural identity in early modern Wales

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Doug Krehbiel (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
Web Site: http://library.uncw.edu/
Larry Usilton

Abstract: In a popular and remarkably detailed narrative of life in seventeenth-century Pembrokeshire, Wales, chronicler George Owen took particular pains to describe a sport “rare to hear, troublesome to describe and painful to practise (sic).” Played during many of the dozen annual festival days in Wales, the game was particularly violent, as hundreds of players on opposing teams attempted to get a leather or wooden ball either into a goal or across a determined end line (customarily the parish boundary) by any means necessary. Thrown, carried, or struck with a club, the ball and its pursuers would careen wildly through the Welsh countryside. The game was called Cnapan. It found its way to Wales through an adaptation of an earlier game played in Cornwall, and before that, in France. Although the basic sport would be familiar to fans of modern-day games such as rugby or football, early modern cnapan was purely a local Welsh pursuit. The communal nature and method of play of the game, and its ferocious intensity were not found elsewhere in western Europe, and certainly not in the British Isles, where sport was beginning to undergo a transformation towards more organized, “respectable” sports, and Welsh cnapan aroused suspicion in England. The sight of thousands of half-naked Welshmen roaming the countryside met with an official English response, and in the county of Pembrokeshire, the response was criminal prosecution of cnapan players, ostensibly on a charge of rioting. The English desire for order and legislation manifested itself in the weapon of legal action in the Courts of Quarter Sessions. Can the development of this peculiar Welsh sport and the English legal response it engendered answer larger questions about the nature of the early modern Anglo-Welsh relationship? Through the sport and its opposition I will examine a particular facet of that relationship – the development of an early modern Welsh cultural identity. Similar to the expressions of Welsh bardic poets and the Cymric language itself, cnapan was a distinct element of Welsh identity, despite the arguments of English scholars that any sense of Welshness was subsumed very quickly in the years after the Tudor Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543. Cnapan and its uniquely Welsh character contradicts that argument, and may force historians to refocus their arguments away from nationalist-centered stories – which have tended to marginalize Wales – towards broader examinations of the interactions of cultural identity. Historians have long identified a strong link between sport and national identity, and such a link has been particularly identified in other parts of the Celtic fringe. I will argue that Cnapan was a vibrant and heretofore marginalized facet of that identity, and will also attempt to challenge existing historiography to open new avenues of discovery for England’s western neighbor.

Additional Information

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirement for the Degree of Masters of Arts
Language: English
Date: 2009
Ball games--Wales--History, Rugby football--Wales--History, Sports--Political aspects--Wales--History, Sports and stats--Wales--History
Sports and state -- Wales -- History
Sports -- Political aspects -- Wales -- History
Ball games -- Wales -- History
Rugby football -- Wales -- History

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