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Monmouthshire


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Was the most border of all counties, straddling England and Wales throughout its 400 years' history.

In pre‐Roman times, the area was part of the territory of the Silures. It was rapidly brought under Roman control, the remains at Caerleon and Caerwent being among the most impressive in the country. It stayed British after the Romans left, for some time formed an independent kingdom of Gwent, and at others was part of the kingdom of Deheubarth.

The Normans began systematic colonization after 1066, constructing castles at Chepstow, Raglan, Usk, Monmouth, White Castle, Skenfrith, Grosmont, and Abergavenny, as well as protected boroughs like Newport. The remote region was known mainly for the excellence of its archers and for the woollen Monmouth caps which were popular. Henry V was born in Monmouth, where his statue adorns the town hall. The advent of the Tudors, a Welsh dynasty, changed the status of the area. By the Act of Union of 1536, the territory was incorporated into England, joining with land to the west of the Usk to form the new county of Monmouthshire. Its peculiar position was reflected by the fact that, like English counties, it was given two knights of the shire, but Monmouth had only one member and shared the representation with six contributory boroughs on the Welsh pattern.

The western parts of the county were little developed, though Camden noted in 1586 that they were ‘not unserviceable to the industrious husbandman’. The large‐scale exploitation of the coal and iron resources of Monmouthshire began in the early 19th cent., transforming the economic and political balance. Monmouth, the largest town in 1801 with 3,300 inhabitants, was by 1871 outstripped by Abergavenny, Pontypool, Blaenavon, Tredegar, and Newport. Politically the county became first a Liberal, then a Labour stronghold. By the mid‐20th cent. the Welsh language had retreated and the opening of the Severn bridge in 1966 suggested that Monmouth was being pulled back into the English economic orbit. The Local Government Act of 1972 moved the county back into Wales, restoring the name of Gwent, and Monmouth lost its position to Cwmbran, a new town just north of Newport. Even this was not the last throw, for in 1996 a further reorganization of local government divided Gwent into four unitary authorities, one of which was to be called Monmouthshire.

Subjects: British History.


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