A Map of Greater Cambria.[1]
Philip Schwyzer
UC Berkeley

Schwyzer, Philip. "A Map of Greater Cambria." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.2/ Special Issue 3 (September, 1998): 4.1-13<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-2/schwamap.htm>.

  1. At the dawn of the eleventh century BC, Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas and first king of the island of Britain, lay dying. Like his famously unfortunate descendant King Lear, Brutus hit upon the notion of dividing the island between his three children. To his eldest son, Locrine, he bequeathed the fertile region east of the river Severn and south of the Humber; the portion west of the Severn he gave to his second son, Camber, and the northern remnant to the youngest, Albanactus. The map of Britain as Brutus drew it presents to modern eyes a truncated version of England, known then as Lhoegria, a gigantic Scotland, called Albania, and a somewhat distended Wales: Cambria.

  3. This is the story told in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). Needless to say, the political map of Britain in Geoffrey's day did not resemble the one drawn by old king Brutus. The age when the Severn had marked the boundary between Saxon and British kingdoms, between Old English and early Welsh, was already five centuries past. Yet the ancient division did to some degree reflect contemporary administrative realities and political aspirations. Geoffrey of Monmouth was certainly no Welsh nationalist, but his allegiances were Cambro-Norman and Breton, rather than English; his patron was the Marcher Lord Robert Earl of Gloucester who, in common with his fellow regional warlords, had every interest in resisting the incursion of English monarchical authority over the Severn into the Welsh Marches.

  5. Perhaps because it had never reflected anything so mundane as established fact in the first place, Geoffrey's claim that the Severn marked the original -- and, by implication, essential and inalienable -- border between England and Wales remained current for centuries. Even after the domains of the old Marcher Lords had been extinguished forever by the Union of England and Wales under Henry VIII, chroniclers and chorographers continued to take the old claim seriously. Then as today, the Severn rose on the slopes of Plynlimon in Wales and crossed into England north of Welshpool, the greater part of its course to the sea running through the apparently English counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. Nevertheless, William Harrison, taking it as his brief in The Description of Britain to record the true facts rather than ever-shifting political realities, insisted that the Severn marked the boundary between England and Wales.[2] Harrison and those of his contemporaries who stuck by the borders decreed by the first king of Britain were tracing the river to its "source", in the sense explored by David Quint; if the physical source of the Severn lay in Montgomeryshire, its source as a border lay at the outset of history and outside of it, in a moment of transcendent authority and "timeless, originary truth." [3] To fly in the face of such authority was no light matter, even when that authority flew in the face of contemporary fact; John Stow clearly knew what was at stake when he declared that the river Wye was the true border of Wales, "although it be new."[4]

  7. Those with little faith in the fables of Geoffrey of Monmouth had of course no reason to worry about his version of Britain's original divisions. William Camden was a pronounced skeptic, and he wrote of the Severn and the Wye alike as temporarily convenient markers to be discarded in the face of altered realities: "Athelstan thrust out the Welsh Britons from hence . . . And whereas before his time, Severn was the bound between the English and the Welshmen, he appointed Wye to be the limit confining them both."[5] By the same token, however, Wales and England were to Camden little more than recent and fleeting political constructs, superimposed on the essential map of the island. Camden's Britannia is organized along the lines of what he called "the ancient divisions of these kingdoms," meaning the boundaries already in place when Caesar came to Britain. For Camden, the real significance of the Severn would always be that it marked the extent of the domain of the Silures.

  9. While large swathes of territory on the west bank of the Severn lay technically within England, the counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire fell under the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches of Wales, based in Ludlow. The importance of the river in determining the extent of the Council's authority is indicated by the fact that while Cheshire and the city of Bristol won their freedom from Ludlow's jurisdiction in the 1560s, the counties embraced or crossed by the Severn had to wait for their release until the sitting of the Long Parliament. The aggrieved English gentry of these counties, known in the early seventeenth century as the "gentleman opposers", complained bitterly in Parliament and the courts that they were being denied their rights as freeborn Englishmen. But James I insisted that the four TransSevernian English counties should continue to be ruled by the same body that governed Wales; his inflexibility on this question of the royal prerogative was enough to reduce Chief Justice Coke to tears.[6]

  11. If the "gentlemen opposers" suspected that in the eyes of the world and of Westminster they were not counted as Englishmen, they had only to look to the atlas for cartographic confirmation of their fears. The supplement to Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum published in 1573 included a map drawn by the Welsh physician, philologist and antiquarian Humphrey Lhuyd. Here Wales, or Cambria, is divided into its three traditional regions, Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys -- none of which had possessed a political existence for several centuries -- and the eastern border of Powys is the river Severn.(Figure 1) Through this audacious cartographical land-grab, Wales is made to extend as far as Worcester and Tewkesbury, at some points more than doubling in width. While the representation of physical geography is faulty in many respects -- particularly in the depiction of the cartographer's native North Wales -- and the delineation of boundaries apparently anachronistic and fanciful, there is no denying the enduring appeal of Lhuyd's map, which was reprinted nearly fifty times in continental and English editions of the atlases of Ortelius, Mercator, Jannson and Horn, including cheap epitomes. It last appeared in 1741, a life in print of almost 170 years.[7]

  13. Lhuyd set out his principles very clearly in his Commentarioli Brittanicae descriptionis Fragmentum, which appeared in English as The Breviary of Britain:
  14. Let us now proceed to Wales, the third part of Britain. The same is now divided from Lhoëgr, that is England, by the Rivers Severn & Dee, and on every other side is environed by Vergivian, or Irish, Ocean. And it was called Cambria, as our chronicles do report, of Camber, the third son of Brutus, like as Lhoëgr of Locrinus, and Albania of Albanactus his other sons also. This same only, with Cornwall, a most ancient country of Britons, enjoyeth as yet the old inhabitants. The Welshmen use the British tongue and are the very true Britons by birth. And although some do write that Wales doth not stretch forth on this side the River Vaga, or Wye, this can be no fraud to us. For we have taken in hand to describe Cambria, and not Wallia, Wales, as it is now called by a new name, and unacquainted to the Welshmen. In Northwales, the Welshmen keep their old bounds. But in Southwales the Englishmen are come over Severn, and have possessed all the land between it and Wye. So that all Herefordshire, & the Forest of Dean, and Gloucestershire, & a great part of Worcestershire, & Shropshire on this side Severn are inhabited by Englishmen at this day. [8]
    For Lhuyd and his colleague Sir John Price, co-author of A Description of Cambria, the seizure of the west bank by the Saxons was a historical crime of a different order from the loss of England to those Germanic invaders; whereas the latter had been ordained by heaven and might, at least partially, be redressed by the return of a Welsh dynasty to the throne in the form of the Tudors, the loss to Cambria of "the plaine and champion country over the rivers" was a violation of the island's essential geography not to be countenanced.[9] That Lloegr could no longer be enjoyed by its old British inhabitants was a misfortune; but to say that Cambria stopped anywhere short of the Severn was simply a lie. Reminiscent though it is of the maps of Greater Serbia, Greater Albania, Greater Bulgaria, etc. produced in recent years, Lhuyd's depiction of a Greater Cambria stops just short of full-fledged irredentism. The cartographer is careful, at least intermittently, to draw a distinction between Cambria, the eternal and immutable entity, and Wales, the temporal and temporary political construct. But if, as I have suggested, Lhuyd's map and the ideology underlying and promoted by it contributed to the maintenance of the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches over the border counties, then it was certainly not without political implications. Conversely, the dissolution of the council seems to have dealt a fatal blow to Lhuyd's claims to represent a timeless geography. Although the map continued to be reprinted for another century, after the 1640s it no longer appeared in atlases representing contemporary geography, but only in versions of George Horn's Accuratissima Orbis Antiqui Delineatio, a collection of maps of the ancient world.
  15. For more than half a century following the initial publication of the map, references to the Severn as border abound in poetry and prose. Thomas Churchyard's The Worthines of Wales (1587) includes the entire west bank within its survey, with more attention paid to the author's native Shrewsbury than to any part of Wales as we know it. Christopher Ockland wrote of "Wales on part of Albion land, which doth on Severn bound,/ (Severn a mighty flood, which twixt the borders, sliding flows) . . . "[10] In the next century, John Stradling's adoration of Charles I emanated "from Sabrine's farthest shore,/ (The semicircling bound of that dominion,/ Where hardy Britons your great name adore)"; and William Slatyer in his Palae-Albion gave praise to "The sandy stream that Sea-like flows,/ And Wales, and England's parting shows."[11] Such references are particularly prominent in the early years of the reign of James I, regarded by some as a second Brutus destined to repair the division of the island made by the first. Anthony Munday's masque "The Triumphs of Re-United Britannia" is one of several works in which the Severn is made to celebrate its demise as a border. In fact, of course, James was the strongest supporter of the continued authority of the Council of the Marches over transSevernian England.

  17. The significance of the Severn in Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion, in part a celebration of the union of Britain, requires special consideration. The front-matter of the long chorographical poem includes a special message "To My Friends the Cambro-Britons" in which Drayton describes himself as:
  18. Striving, as my much loved (the learned) Humfrey Floyd, in his description of Cambria to Abraham Ortelius, to uphold her ancient bounds, Severn and Dee, and therefore have included the parts of those three English Shires of Gloster, Worster, and Sallop, that lie on the west of Severn, within their ancient mother Wales: In which if I have not done her right, the want is in my ability, not in my love.[12]
    The Severn plays multiple roles in Poly-Olbion; as the border between England and Wales, she is queen of western Britain, reigning over her tributaries of both nations and resolving their factional disputes. This she does by prophesying that soon the island will be truly united, and her own role as border finished forever: "Why strive ye then for that, in little time that shall/ (As you are all made one) be one unto you all" (5.77-8). Yet later in the poem the river laments the theft of her west bank by the English, and she cheers the oppressed Cambrians by reminding them of their high and ancient lineage: "My Wales, then hold thine own, and let the Britons stand/ Upon their right, to be the noblest of the Land" (8.375-6). Such partisanship is hardly in keeping with her previous desire "That she would not be found t'incline to either side" (4.40), but is revealing of the extent to which Jacobean pan-Britannicism and Welsh patriotism drew on precisely the same sources and discourses -- sometimes with awkward results.
  19. It must be noted that while the Severn was widely regarded as the true border between England and Wales, the status of the river Humber, which once divided the realms of Locrine and Albanactus, was generally held to have long since lapsed. I am not aware of any map, chronicle, chorography or other work before or after 1603 which represents the Humber as the real contemporary border between England and Scotland. The implication is obvious, but we should not conclude that the Severn was allowed to retain its status simply because this was deemed to be without threatening political consequences. If it is fair to say that the fulminations of men like Lhuyd were tolerated because they were regarded as harmless, it must also be acknowledged that Welsh irredentism drew on the same source which allowed the Tudors to claim descent from ancient British monarchs and James I the title of a second Brutus. It was not forgotten that, prior to the successful appropriation of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Henry Tudor and his heirs, Welsh territorial aspirations drawn from this source had posed a serious threat to the English throne.

  21. As Shakespeare reminded his audience in 1 Henry IV, Owain Glyndwr had claimed the entire west bank for his enlarged and independent Cambria. The Welsh rebel's grandiose territorial ambitions spring from the same source as the prophecies of Merlin to which he is addicted. On a deeper level, they are rooted in that geographical conservatism which provokes him to bafflement at Hotspur's idea of changing the winding of the river Trent, though this would not affect his own allotted portion: "Not wind? It shall, it must; you see it doth."[13] To Glyndwr, as to many in Shakespeare's audience, political and natural geography are essentially the same subject; that the ancient borders of the island should ever be altered is as unthinkable as that the rivers themselves should change course. Shakespeare seems to have been at least intrigued, if not altogether swayed by this point of view. The Severn attains a symbolic status early on in the play when the blood of the English Mortimer mingles in its waters with that of the Welsh rebel, as it will shortly be mingled again through Mortimer's marriage to Glyndwr's daughter. There is as well the strange moment in Cymbeline when the king commands his lord to escort the Roman ambassador as far as the Severn -- strange in that the Roman has just requested conduct as far as Milford Haven, and we had thought Cymbeline was king of all Britain.[14] The river clearly has border significance here, though whether it marks the bounds of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Cambria or of William Camden's Silures, we are not quite sure. Similarly ambiguous and intriguing references occur in other Jacobean plays set in Roman-era Britain, notably Jasper Fisher's True Trojans and William Rowley's A Shoe-maker, a Gentleman, in which the Welshman Sir Hugh displays his patriotism, proclaiming "There's not a crag beyond the Severn flood,/ But I have held against the Roman Foes."[15]

  23. The role of the Severn and of the nymph Sabrina in Milton's Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, aka Comus, is well-known. The masque was presented before the Earl of Bridgewater, Lord President of the Council in the Marches, and starred several of his children. Comus has been read by some as calling for greater sympathy for the Welsh and their traditions, by others as recommending a firmer English hand. I incline to the latter view, but the point I would make here is simply that Wales, as we know it, does not figure in the masque at all. The children are travelling west towards Ludlow and have just crossed the Severn when the trouble starts, putting them probably more than thirty miles from the nearest Welsh county. They are in a part of Britain which is at once beyond and before the Welsh border, and the hybrid nature of the monsters they have to deal with -- human beings with the heads of beasts -- is suggestive of a region whose inhabitants Humphrey Lhuyd called Englishmen, while slyly adding that they "are taken almost everywhere of all other Englishmen for Welshmen."[16] The "barbarous dissonance" these creatures use for speech is reminiscent of those inhabitants of the border counties of whom the Welsh grammarian Gruffudd Robert complained: "so soon as they see the river Severn . . . begin to put their Welsh out of mind and to speak it in most corrupt fashion. Their Welsh will be of an English cut, and their English (God knows) too much after the Welsh fashion."[17] Neither truly Welsh nor properly English, the border-dwellers in Robert's imagination and in Milton's are hybrids, grotesques -- monsters. Insofar as the danger threatening the Lord President's children takes the form of cultural hybridity on the west bank, Milton's masque endorses the old idea of the Severn as true border, and hence of the Council's continued jurisdiction over the four restless English counties situated partly or wholly in TransSevernia.[18]

  25. The Council was abolished by the Long Parliament just a few years after Comus was performed, and, when briefly revived after the Restoration, its authority was limited to Wales as we know it. Although Humphrey Lhuyd's map continued to be reprinted into the 1740s, there was no longer any administrative correlative to the idea that Cambria in its essential and immutable form extended as far as the Severn. Today, the idea must certainly be regarded as defunct. Yet it seems we have not quite abandoned the notion that Britain's "real," original and eternal internal borders persist like unfading palimpsests beneath the arbitrary lines superimposed by later generations. After all, Powys and Gwynnedd, names long out of use and largely forgotten when Lhuyd put them on his map, were revived as recently as 1974, albeit diminished in extent. The Border Reforms in Wales invite us to believe in the essential reality of certain places -- to believe in a timeless Powys more "real" than the three counties it replaced -- counties whose extinction need not be mourned because they were "really" Powys all along. Powys is to Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, and Breconshire, as Lhuyd's Cambria is to Wallia, transhistorical entity to temporary political construct. From this point of view, the re-emergence of Powys is at once a resurrection and an apocalypse -- an apocalypse in the root sense of an unveiling, revealing the truth that had lain hid. Few, of course, are prepared to count a place called Powys among the eternal verities. Many are skeptical as to whether places on maps can ever be "real" in the sense that Humphrey Lhuyd so wanted them to be, essential entities with immutable borders. But this seems to leave us with the alternative Lhuyd saw all too clearly and, I cannot help thinking, was right to reject: that the strongest will always make the rules, and draw the boundaries, and cross them when they are ready, to draw new ones further on. This is the alternative of Camden's King Athelstan: "And where as before his time, Severn was the bound between the English and the Welshmen, he appointed Wye to be the limit confining them both." We recoil from the idea that borders can be redrawn in an instant by such swift and brutal acts of what we have learned to call ethnic cleansing. Yet we can hardly accept the notion that nations retain an inalienable right to territories which changed hands 500 or 1000 years ago -- a notion which frequently provides the justification for ethnic cleansing. But what about lands taken 100 years ago, or fifty? Or in the last generation? Finding some reasonable middle ground between the idealistic irredentism of a Humphrey Lhuyd and the harsh pragmatism of a King Athelstan would require us to tackle the painful question of time. At what point in time is it just, decent, and right to redraw the maps? How long does it take for the real borders to change?

    [1] A version of this paper was presented at the conference "Paper Landscapes: Maps, Texts and the Construction of Space, 1500-1700," held at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, 18-19 July 1997. I am particularly grateful to Anna Brown and Clare Harraway for their comments and advice. [Back]

    [2] Holinshed's Chronicles, ed. Henry Ellis (London, 1807) 1.117. [Back]

    [3] David Quint, Origin and Originality in Renaissance Literature: Versions of the Source (New Haven: Yale UP, 1983) 23. [Back]

    [4] John Stow, The Chronicles of England (London, 1580) 10 (italics mine). [Back]

    [5] William Camden, Britain, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1610) 358. [Back]

    [6] See Penry Williams, "The Attack on the Council in the Marches, 1603-1642," Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion 1961 (Part 1) 1-22; and R. E. Ham, "The Four Shire Controversy," Welsh History Review 8 (1977) 381-400. [Back]

    [7] See F. J. North, Humphrey Lhuyd's Maps of England and of Wales (Cardiff: National Museum of Wales, 1937). [Back]

    [8] Humphrey Lhuyd, The Breviary of Britain, trans. Thomas Twyne (London, 1573) 49v-50r. [Back]

    [9] John Price and Humphrey Lhuyd, A Description of Cambria, Now Called Wales (London, 1584) 5. [Back]

    [10] John Sharrock, The Valiant Actes and Victorious Battles . . . (1585), translating the Latin verses of Christopher Ockland which appear in Holinshed's Chronicles, 4.879. [Back]

    [11] Sir John Stradling, "To the Sacred Maiestie of My Dread Soveraigne Lord the King" Divine Poems 1625; William Slatyer, The History of Great Britain [Palae-Albion] (London, 1621) 93. [Back]

    [12] Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion [Works, vol. 4], ed. J. W. Hebel (Oxford: Blackwell,1961) vii. [Back]

    [13] William Shakespeare, 1 Henry IV 3.1.103 in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: Norton, 1997). [Back]

    [14] See William Shakespeare, Cymbeline 3.5.7-17 in The Norton Shakespeare. [Back]

    [15] W. R. [William Rowley], A Shoo-maker, A Gentleman (London, 1638), F3r.[Back]

    [16] Lhuyd, Breviary 13v. [Back]

    [17] John Milton, Comus, line 549, in John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, 2nd edn., ed. John Carey (London: Longman, 1997); Robert quoted in J. Gwynfor Jones, Wales and the Tudor State (Cardiff: U of Wales P,1989) 160. [Back]

    [18] For an extended discussion, see Philip Schwyzer, "Purity and Danger on the West Bank of the Severn: The Cultural Geography of A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634" Representations 60 (1997) 22-48. [Back]

Works Cited

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© 1998-, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).