The Principality of Wales
The Principality of Wales was formed by the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 between Henry III of England and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd the prince of Gwynedd. Most of the petty lordships and cantrefi of North, West and central Wales paid homage to the Prince of Wales (the title formally given to Llywelyn in 1267) who would then make homage himself to the King of England as his vassal. After the conquest of Wales by England in 1282 the term came to apply to the part of Wales under the direct rule of the King of England prior to the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542. Elsewhere in Wales were the domains of the Marcher Lords and monasteries and not part of the Principality.
The term is sometimes used in a modern sense to denote all of Wales.
Old Kingdoms of Wales
Historic counties of Wales
Wales has thirteen historic counties. They serve many cultural and geographic roles and were also the basis of modern elected local government in Wales from 1889 until 1974.
Since then, local government has moved away from using historic counties as the basis of administrative areas. The Local Government Act 1972 created eight non-metropolitan counties for administrative purposes in 1974. At the same time the historic counties were abandoned by the Royal Mail as postal counties and were no longer shown on maps. These eight new administrative and ceremonial counties were themselves replaced in 1996 by the current principal areas of Wales, but were retained for Lieutenancy as preserved counties.
It is unclear whether the area of Monmouthshire was legally part of Wales before 1974: the county is to the west of Offa's Dyke and the Wye - the traditional borders - and was usually paired with the rest of Wales for most purposes, but allocated to English counties for others, such as the administration of courts. However, the Local Government Act 1972 settled the matter, by confirming Monmouthshire's place within Wales.
There is a minor dispute as to which of two sets of borders of the historic counties of Wales is true and valid: see historic counties of England for more detail. The dispute derives from an 1844 Act of Parliament that purported to abolish several enclaves. One of these, Welsh Bicknor was an exclave of Monmouthshire between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. The exclave of Flintshire, called Maelor Saesneg (English Maelor) was left untouched however.
The historic counties are used as the basis of vice counties, used for biological recording to this day. This makes it easier to make comparisons in the biodiversity of different parts of Great Britain over time.
The Preserved counties of Wales
The Preserved counties of Wales are the current areas used in Wales for ceremonial purposes such as Lieutenancy. They are based on the counties created by the Local Government Act 1972 and used for local government and other purposes between 1974–1996.
The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 abolished the eight ceremonial counties created by the Local Government Act 1972. However, it created the concept of preserved counties based on their areas, to be used for purposes such as Lieutenancy. In addition to this ceremonial function, the Boundary Commission must avoid crossing preserved county borders when drawing up Parliamentary constituencies, where practicable.
The preserved counties were originally almost identical to the 1974–1996 counties, but with a few minor changes intended to ensure preserved counties were composed of whole principal areas. Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochant, Llansilin and Llangedwyn were transferred from Clwyd to Powys, and Wick, St Brides Major, Ewenny and Pentyrch were transferred from Mid Glamorgan to South Glamorgan. However, these changes still left two county boroughs, Conwy and Caerphilly split between preserved counties.
In order to rectify this, the Preserved Counties (Amendment to Boundaries) (Wales) Order 2003 made two changes of substance to the boundaries. These changes came into effect on April 2, 2003. The part of the local government area of Conwy which had been in Gwynedd was transferred to Clwyd, and the part of the local government area of Caerphilly which had been in Mid Glamorgan was transferred to Gwent. The boundary between Mid Glamorgan and South Glamorgan was also re-aligned to reflect small changes in local government boundaries. Each Preserved county now encompasses between one and five whole local government areas.
Clwyd - Now Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Wrexham
Dyfed - Now Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire
Gwent - Now Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Torfaen, Monmouthshire, Newport
Gwynedd - Now Anglesey, Gwynedd
Mid Glamorgan - Now Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff
Powys - Now Powys
South Glamorgan - Now Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan
West Glamorgan - Now Neath Port Talbot, Swansea