The relationship has developed historically from the groups' different origins, as respectively earlier inhabitants (Welsh) and Anglo-Saxon invaders (English) of Britain; the military, political, economic and cultural power exercised by the much more populous English over the Welsh for many centuries; the marked differences between the English and Welsh languages, both spoken and written; and the high degree of cultural importance given by many in Wales to signifiers of national identity such as the language, literature, history, traditions, and the national sport of rugby union.
The Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain led to the formation of Wales between the 5th and 7th centuries. The Anglo-Norman kings of England had conquered Wales militarily by the 13th century, and under Henry VIII the country was legally (but not physically) incorporated to the kingdom of England by the Acts of Union in the 16th century. Many elements of the Welsh economy and society since then have been shaped by demands from England, and Wales has been described as "England's first colony. However, Welsh identity remained strong and recently there has been an increasing awareness and acknowledgement of Wales' cultural and historical separateness from England, which has latterly been reflected politically.
The Welsh language has different rules of grammar and syntax from English, and a widely different vocabulary; consequently many English speakers find it difficult to learn and speak. Letters such as w and y are vowels in Welsh, but often used as consonants in English. Welsh also makes extensive use of digraphs such as ll and dd, and consonant mutations which are rare in English.
In 2000, a cross party group of Members of the National Assembly of Wales, representing all four political parties in the Assembly, called for an end to what they termed "persistent anti-Welsh racism" in the UK media..
English television personality Anne Robinson appeared on the comedy show Room 101 in 2001 and made derisive comments about Welsh people, such as "what are they for?" and "I never did like them". The show is designed to draw extreme views from interview subjects in order to generate controversy and humour. The people she was thinking about were supposedly those who spoke Welsh around the market stall operated by her mother in Liverpool during her childhood. Her comments upset some who accused her of racism. North Wales Police spent 96 hours investigating the issue, and concluded that no crime had been committed. She was cleared of racism by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, who stated that her comments "came close to the boundaries of acceptability" The North Wales Police have also investigated allegations of anti-Welsh racism made against Tony Blair and columnist Cristina Odone Again, no charges were brought.
Writer Neal Ascherson commented that: "Southern views of the Scots over the last hundred years have been faintly sceptical – "chippy, lacking in humour, slow to unbend" – but on the whole affectionate. (Contrast English attitudes to Welshness, which, for reasons I am not sure of, are often genuinely hostile)."
BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson is well-known for his xenophobic comments which sometimes take an anti-Welsh direction, e.g. "It’s entirely unfair that some people are born fat or ugly or dyslexic or disabled or ginger or small or Welsh. Life, I’m afraid, is tragic." Another example, in the context of Wales's 2008 Grand Slam victory: "You can never rely on the French. All they had to do was go to Cardiff last weekend with a bit of fire in their bellies and they’d have denied Wales the Six Nations Grand Slam. But no. They turned up instead with cheese in their bellies and mooched about for 80 minutes, seemingly not at all bothered that we’ve got to spend the next 12 months listening to the sheepsters droning on about their natural superiority and brilliance. Or worse. Give them a Grand Slam and the next thing you know, all our holiday cottages are on fire. There are, of course, other reasons I hoped the French would win. I’d rather live in France than Wales; I’d rather eat a snail than a daffodil; I’d certainly rather drink French fizzy wine; and I’d much rather sleep with Carole Bouquet than Charlotte Church."
On his BBC2 show he placed a plastic map of Wales in a microwave and burned it to audience applause..
Welsh comedian Rob Brydon has recently explored Welsh identity and sought to discover what makes his patriotic countrymen so defensive.
Around 730, the English historian Bede described the (Welsh) Britons as "for the most part, through innate hatred, ...adverse to the English nation." By that time, the Saxons had full control of Wessex and Mercia. Mercia, in particular, came into conflict with Powys, and Offa's Dyke was built around 790 to define the boundary between England and Wales and create an effective barrier against Welsh incursions. By the 11th century, if not earlier, Wales - with its own distinct legal system, though only intermittently unified as a political entity - had developed a national identity as Cymru, or "Land of the compatriots" (Cymry), in contrast to the Saeson or Saxons. In England, the Anglo-Saxon language had long supplanted the old Brythonic languages, and the English words "Wales" and "Welsh", meaning "foreigners", came to be used to describe the unconquered land to the west.
"Nowhere was the spirit of conquest and of racial superiority so vigourously and selfishly kept alive as in the English boroughs. It was little wonder that they were the most consistent target of Welsh resentment throughout the fourteenth century".
They imposed an English legal system, and the Welsh were not allowed to hold office in the government or church. Owain Glyndŵr's rebellion in the early 15th century was the last armed rebellion of the Welsh against the English. Anti-Welsh riots were reported in Oxford and London, and Parliament imposed more repressive measures on Wales.
Gradually, use of the Welsh language - which had remained the language of the overwhelming majority of the Welsh - began to revive. There were translations of the full Bible into Welsh by 1600, and over the next two centuries there was a steady growth of education in the Welsh language, and the revival of traditions such as the eisteddfod. The attitude towards the Welsh language in England was generally hostile, however. A flood of anti-Welsh pamphlets were printed in the 17th century, such as Wallography (1682), which wishes the speedy demise of the Welsh language:
The native gibberish is usually prattled throughout the whole of Taphydom except in their market towns, whose inhabitants being a little raised do begin to despise it. 'Tis usually cashiered out of gentlemen's houses ... so that (if the stars prove lucky) there may be some glimmering hopes that the British language may be quite extinct and may be Englished out of Wales.
Distinct democratic and religious movements also began to develop in Wales. However, legislation in 1746 introduced the legislative notion that, in all future laws, references to "England" would by default include Wales.
Although 18th and 19th century English writers increasingly recognised the beauty and grandeur of the Welsh landscape, many contrasted this with a negative view of the Welsh people themselves. For example, The Times newspaper wrote in 1866: "Wales...is a small country, unfavourably situated for commercial purposes, with an indifferent soil, and inhabited by an unenterprising people. It is true it possesses valuable minerals but these have chiefly been developed by English energy and for the supply of English wants." At the same time, rural areas close to England became more depopulated and anglicised, as many people moved to the growing English cities in the north west and Midlands. Welsh culture was important in these areas; for example, the National Eisteddfod of Wales was held in either Liverpool or Birkenhead six times between 1884 and 1929.
Changes to the electoral system meant that, by the end of the 19th century, a Welsh presence began to be felt in British politics. In 1881, the Sunday Closing Act was the first piece of parliamentary legislation that granted Wales the status of a distinct national unit. Around the turn of the 20th century there was considerable anti-Welsh feeling in the English establishment. British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith said in 1905 "I would sooner go to hell than to Wales." One of Evelyn Waugh's characters in the novel Decline and Fall (1928) was made to say: "From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with human-kind except their own blood relations..... I often think that we can trace almost all the disasters of English history to the influence of Wales"
Wales' powerlessness in her own affairs, in the face of the English numerical superiority in the London Parliament, was highlighted in the mid 1900s. Liverpool City Council had decided to expand the industry of Liverpool and The Wirral. Believing that they would need access to an increased water supply, they chose the Afon Tryweryn Valley, near Bala, even though the development would include flooding the village of Capel Celyn. In 1956, a private bill sponsored by Liverpool City Council was brought before Parliament to to create Llyn Celyn reservoir , thus circumventing planning consent from the relevant Welsh Local Authorities, by obtaining authority via a Parliamentary Act.
Despite thirty five, of the thirty six Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs) voting against the bill, with the other abstaining, the London Parliament still passed the bill. Years of democratic, nonviolent, Welsh protest were in vain, Capel Celyn was drowned, and a new wave of Welsh nationalism, including the Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Welsh Defence Movement) and the Free Wales Army, were born. The situation persists to this day. There are currently 646 MPs. Of these, 40 MPs represent Welsh constituencies.