Is Monmouth Welsh or English?

Is Monmouth Welsh or English

If you wish to see the position in the 7th century A.D. stand in Dixton churchyard and look at the River Wye below you. You are standing in the llan or religious enclosure of an obscure Welsh holy man, Tyddwg. He gave his name to Dixton. Upstream and across the river is Hadnock, Hodda's oak, a Saxon settlement on the site of a Roman Villa. The river bank on the Hadnock side marks Offa's Dyke, dividing England from Wales.

Many Welsh customs survived the Conquest and are enshrined in the Monmouth section of the Doomsday Book: payment of rents in honey, for instance, or: "If a Welshman kills a Welshman, the family of the dead man may kill and plunder the family of the murderer until noon the following day, when all the bodies must be buried".

As the early lords of Monmouth were Bretons, many of these customs survived until 1256 when the lordship passed to the House of Lancaster and in so doing became firmly linked to the English crown. Already it was difficult for a Welshman to become a burgess of Monmouth because he was obliged to give military service against Wales. To emphasise this the western walls of Monmouth castle are twice as thick as those facing England. It was also illegal under Edward I for a Welshman to live within a walled town.

The matter was settled politically by the Act of Union (1536), which in order to abolish the anarchy in the Marcher lordships, divided Wales into the thirteen counties, twelve of them under the Welsh Court of Great Sessions, the thirteenth, Monmouthshire, under the English courts and in the Oxford Circuit. The same act ordained that all the officials would be expelled if they used any language but "the English tongue".

To return to Dixton church in 1996. You will find yourself standing in a parish which is in the County and Borough of Monmouth, but along with Wyesham, in the Church of England. The other half of the borough is in the Church in Wales, a very satisfactory solution to Monmouth's ambiguous past.

....Keith Kissack

Mr Kissack was a well known local historian who has written extensively about Monmouth and its history.