It’s the most common question I get asked by my followers – what Welsh history books would you recommend?
I am flattered to be asked! And always so happy that someone wants to learn more about Welsh history!
So here’s my roundup of my personal favourite Welsh history books. I have purposely shied away from including too many academic books (as I fear they might put off a Welsh history novice) and tried to include a good range that will provide a broad introduction to the history of my homeland.
When I was studying Welsh History at Aberystwyth University this book was my bible. Holding it is truly like holding the history of Wales in the palm of your hand. If you can only buy one book from this list, I recommend this one!
Its comprehensive, its detailed, and (for me) it was eye opening in that it dispelled some Welsh history myths. The author John Davies is something of a hero for me, and I was lucky enough to meet him twice while I was alive.
Please excuse the picture of a very battered book – it has been well used!
If you’re interested in medieval Welsh history then Gerald is your guy! This book is almost like a diary of his tour of Wales as a missionary in 1188. So yes, its more of an historical source than a history book – but it is worth a read.
It’s an amazing source of information on medieval Wales, but I think I love this book because Gerald’s voice and personality comes across clear. Amazon calls him ‘witty and gently humorous’ but I think in truth Gerald was simply a bit sarcastic. Not that I’m complaining – it makes for a great read!
To an extent Wales is defined by its relationship with its neighbour England (this sounds very much like the start of an exam question I once had when studying for my degree…) – and I would argue that no historical period in Welsh history influenced this relationship more than the medieval period.
This period of Welsh history is not an easy one to study – boundaries and even names of Welsh kingdoms changed, and sometimes its really hard to follow who’s who. This book is the best I’ve come across in terms of making this complicated bit of history accessible.
One of my pet peeves is that when people talk about the ever-popular Tudor dynasty, they talk about Tudor England – not Tudor Wales. Even though its the country the famous family came from!
There are so many underappreciated Tudor sites in Wales, and luckily historian Nathen Amin has written this handy book which reveals these hidden gems. Its very comprehensive, and an essential read for any Tudor history lover.
I can almost visualise you all at home reading this list and wondering ‘Where is the book on Welsh castles?’. Controversially perhaps, I have decided not to include a book dedicated solely to the iconic fortresses.
Why? While I LOVE Welsh castles (seriously I do – I studied them at university) I think Wales has an amazing architectural heritage that is far more than these impressive fortresses. Being on the periphery geographically-speaking, we have many churches and other examples of vernacular architecture untouched by time and change. This book by Simon Jenkins takes a good look at them all.
The one coffee table book on my list, I was actually gifted this book as a leaving present by my National Trust colleagues. I still flick through it to this day.
Its a chronological and visual history of Wales through historical sites, buildings and monuments. There really are some ‘hidden histories’ in the book, and its helped me discover many new historical sites. As someone who has always loved historical travel and the shiver down the spine you get from standing in an ancient place, I really recommend this book.
P.S. If you’re interested in historical travel in Wales, why not sign up for my monthly newsletter? You get a free Welsh history mini-travel guide when you register.
Remember that unique relationship between Wales and England that I mentioned? Well, if you really want to try and get to grips with it then I recommend this book by Martin Johnes, probably the most prominent modern Welsh historian out there today.
It’s engaging and accessible, and does a truly great job of setting out the complex history and factors that you need to be aware of. I must admit I don’t agree with everything that Johnes says in the book, but that’s the great thing about studying history – you don’t have to. You just have to be open to asking new questions and entering new discussions.
A very timely read given the growing calls for Welsh independence.
As I said, this is my personal list of my favourite Welsh history books. There are many other great books out there, and if you are after something specific please feel free to get in touch and I would be more than happy to help.
Are there any Welsh history books not on the list that you love? Share the love and let us know in the comments below.
Please note that this page contains Amazon Affiliate links. You will be redirected to Amazon.co.uk. I earn a small commission from any purchases made. However, I truly like the books I have listed and would recommend them to anyone!