After the decline and fall of the Roman Empire which occupied Britain until about 410 AD, the area which is now Wales comprised a number of separate kingdoms, including Powys in the east. Over the next few centuries, the Angles, Saxons and others gradually conquered and settled in eastern and southern Britain. The kingdom of Mercia, under Penda, became established around Lichfield, and initially established strong alliances with the Welsh kings. However, his successors sought to expand Mercia further westwards into what is now Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. As the power of Mercia grew, a string of garrisoned market towns such as Shrewsbury and Hereford defined the borderlands as much as Offa's Dyke, a strong boundary earthwork erected by King Offa of Mercia in the late 8th century. The Dyke still exists, and can best be seen at Knighton, close to the modern border between England and Wales.
In the centuries which followed, Offa's Dyke largely remained the frontier between the Wales and England.
Immediately after the Norman Conquest, King William of England installed three of his most trusted confidants, Hugh d'Avranches, Roger de Montgomerie, and William FitzOsbern, as Earls of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford respectively, with responsibilities for containing and subduing the Welsh. The process took a century and was never permanently effective. The term "March of Wales" was first used in the Domesday Book of 1086. Over the next four centuries, Norman lords established mostly small marcher lordships between the Dee and Severn, and further west. Military adventurers came to Wales from Normandy and elsewhere, raided an area of Wales, and then fortified it and granted land to some of their supporters
The Welsh Marches, or Marchia Wallie, was to a some extent independent of both the English monarchy and the Principality of Wales. By the early 12th century, the Marches covered the areas which would later become Monmouthshire and much of Flintshire, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, Brecknockshire, Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. This amounted to about two-thirds of Wales. During the period, the Marches were a frontier society in every sense, and a stamp was set on the region that lasted into the time of the Industrial Revolution.
Hundreds of small castles were built in the border area in the 12th and 13th centuries, predominantly by Norman lords as assertions of power as well as defences against Welsh raiders and rebels. The area still contains Britain's densest concentration of motte-and-bailey castles. The Marcher lords encouraged immigration from all the Norman-Angevin realms, and encouraged trade from "fair haven" ports like Cardiff. Peasants came to Wales in large numbers: Henry I encouraged Bretons, Flemings, Normans, and English settlers to move into the south of Wales. Many new towns were established, some such as Chepstow, Monmouth, Ludlow and Newtown becoming successful trading centres, and these tended also to be a focus of English settlement. At the same time, the Welsh continued to attack English soil and supported rebellions against the Normans.
The Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 followed the conquest of the Principality by Edward I of England. It assumed the lands held by the Princes of Gwynedd under the title "Prince of Wales" as legally part of the lands of England, and established shire counties on the English model over those areas. The Marcher Lords were progressively tied to the English kings by the grants of lands and lordships in England, where control was stricter, and where many marcher lords spent most of their time, and through the English kings' dynastic alliances with the great magnates. The Council of Wales and the Marches, administered from Ludlow Castle, was initially established in 1472 by Edward IV of England to govern the lands held under the Principality of Wales which had become directly administered by the English crown following the Edwardian conquest of Wales in the 13th century.
Ludlow - The Capital of the Marches
The Council of Wales and the Marches was a regional administrative body within the Kingdom of England between the 15th and 17th centuries, similar to the Council of the North. Its area of responsibility varied but generally covered all of modern Wales and the English counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
The 15th Century
The Council was initially responsible for governing the lands held under the Principality of Wales, the lands directly administered by the English crown following the Edwardian conquest of Wales in the 13th century. It was first established in 1472 by Edward IV of England as a body to counsel and act on behalf of his son, the infant Edward, Prince of Wales. King Edward had recently been restored to the monarchy during the Wars of the Roses, and he and his allies controlled most of the marcher lordships within and adjoining Wales. He established his son at Ludlow Castle, and appointed his allies from the Woodville and Stanley families as leading figures in the Council.
The 16th Century
The Council continued after the death of Edward IV and the disappearance of his son. Under Henry VII, the Council was responsible for acting on behalf of his sons as successive Princes of Wales, first Arthur and then Henry.
The second Laws in Wales Act of 1542 gave the Council statutory recognition; it had previously been based solely upon the king's prerogative. The full Council was composed of the Lord President and his deputy, with twenty members nominated by the king; these included members of the royal household, some of the bishops of Wales, and the justices of the Court of Great Sessions. It continued to sit at Ludlow, and had responsibilities for the whole of Wales together with the Welsh Marches. These were initially deemed to comprise Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire; the City of Bristol was exempted in 1562, and Cheshire in 1569. Worcestershire unsuccessfully attempted to free itself in 1576, and the Council's authority over the English counties was relaxed in 1606 but restored by royal decree in 1609.
The 17th Century
The Council was abolished on 25 July 1689, following the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 which overthrew James II (VII of Scotland) and established William III (William of Orange) as king. According to Davies, "when the Council at Ludlow was abolished...there was very little protest in Wales. Instead, the Welsh gentry embraced London..." Its abolition led to Ludlow Castle's falling into disuse and then dereliction.