Treachery of the Blue Books

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Blue Books pt 2, no. 9, p. 66, on the Welsh Language: "The Welsh language is a vast drawback to Wales, and a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people. It is not easy to over-estimate its evil effects."

The Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, commonly referred to in Wales as the "Treason of the Blue Books" or "Treachery of the Blue Books" (Welsh: Brad y Llyfrau Gleision) or just the "Blue Books" are a three-part publication by the British Government in 1847, which caused uproar in Wales for disparaging the Welsh; being particularly scathing in its view of the nonconformity, the Welsh language[1]: 2  and the morality of the Welsh people in general. The Welsh sobriquet Brad y Llyfrau Gleision was from the name of a play satirising the reports, and those who gave evidence to the inquiry, which was published seven years after the reports. The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales says that the name "took hold of the public imagination to such an extent that ever since the report has been known by that name".[2]: 881–2 

According to the author and business academic,[3][4] Simon Brooks, the Blue Books are regarded today as "colonial diktat", and are "the most important ideological intervention by the British state in Wales in the 19th century."[1]: 76  However the inquiry did not lead to any governmental action and the hostile reaction was mainly aimed at the comments about Welsh morality.[5]: 96  One of the many positive legacies of the reports that prominent Welsh nationalist activist Saunders Lewis opined in The Fate of the Language in 1962 was that Wales embraced bilingualism, through the requirement to learn English as a second language.[6][1]: 79 


During the second quarter of the 19th century there was much public unrest in Wales and this persuaded the British Government that the root causes of this needed to be understood.[7] There had been riots in Tredegar[8][9][10] and Merthyr and other places, trouble related to land enclosures in Ceredigion, the Rebecca Riots and the Chartist march on Newport.[7] As was the case throughout England and Wales at the time, there seemed to be a compelling need to provide quality education to all levels of society.[7] The government establishment assumed, even before the inquiry took place, that this would be mainly in the English language, and thus would require trained teachers to be provided.[7]

At the time of the report education was not compulsory and schools were largely provided and run by religious institutions, charities and private ventures.[5]: 96  In 1833 the government had started to contribute towards the cost of erecting both National Society and British Schools; at the same time, the Church of England wanted to control education. In 1843, after strong protests against it, Robert Peel's Conservative government abandoned a bill that would have established schools for the poor, and ensured that they were run by Anglicans. The reaction by Nonconformists was fierce, indeed, for many, state interference into education was dangerous and a form of oppression.[11]: 388, 389 

The majority of people in Wales at that time spoke only Welsh; Cardiff, the industrial Valleys and the coalfields of the North-east were bilingual.[1]: 15  The three commissioners sent to Wales were English monoglots, who 'knew nothing about the Welsh language, nonconformity or elementary education'.[2]: 881–2  The report exaggerated the weaknesses of the Welsh education system, according to historian John Davies in A History of Wales (Penguin 1994), 'because of the ignorance and the prejudice of the Commissioners. Wales was alien to them, and they had no experience of teaching working-class children'.[11]: 391 

According to academic and author Brooks, who is a member of Plaid Cymru,[3] "the Welsh-language community was so bereft of rights that it was used by politicians in central Europe as an example of linguistic subjugation."[1]: 14–15 


The public inquiry was commissioned as a result of pressure from William Williams, Radical MP for Coventry, who was himself a Welshman by birth and Welsh-speaking, and was concerned about the state of education in Wales.[12]: 99  The secretary of the government's Committee of the Privy Council on Education at the time was James Kay-Shuttleworth, a man who held the view that the solution to the poor conditions suffered by labouring classes lay in improved education.[13] Kay-Shuttleworth's guidelines on selecting the commissioners to conduct the inquiry was that they were to "examine the whole question with impartiality", be "laymen of the Church of England", "accustomed to statistical inquiries", and "capable of analysing the opinions on social, political and religious questions which may be presented to them, and of diffusing juster views among all classes".[13] The commissioners appointed by the Privy Council's committee on education, were three young English law graduates; Ralph Lingen, Jelinger C. Symons, and Henry R. Vaughan Johnson [cy].[14]: 58  The commissioners visited every part of Wales during 1846, collecting evidence and statistics.[2]: 881  They spoke no Welsh, but it was generally the army of Welsh-speaking assistant commissioners, who were also appointed, who visited the schools, villages, and towns.[citation needed][7][14] Schools attended by children from the higher and middle classes were out of scope of the inquiry, so were not included in the survey.[15] The evidence collected from Anglican witnesses was treated seriously whilst that from Nonconformists may have been ignored.[12]: 100  This was a time when Wales was a stronghold of Nonconformism.


The work was completed in 1847 and printed in November of that year in three large blue-covered volumes ("blue books" being a widely used term for all kinds of parliamentary reports). The full title was:

Reports of the commissioners of inquiry into the state of education in Wales: apppointed by the Committee of council on education, in pursuance of proceedings in the House of commons, on the motion of Mr. Williams, of March 10, 1846, for an address to the Queen, praying Her Majesty to direct an inquiry to be made into the state of education in the principality of Wales, and especially into the means afforded to the labouring classes of acquiring a knowledge of the English language.

Sunday Schools The report acknowledged that the only schools in most of Wales were the Sunday Schools; in R W Lingen's region, for example, 30,000 pupils attended day school, whilst 80,000 attended Sunday school.[11]: 391 


The report found that "Welsh parents [had already] endorsed an English-language future";[16]: 455  that English was already being taught in schools;[16]: 436, 446  and that the primary function of the existing Welsh schools was the teaching of English.[16]: 437  The report was detailed and its authors criticised several sectors of society, including the gentry, clergy, and capitalists for their lack of interest in providing schools.[2]: 881  They concluded that schools in Wales were extremely inadequate, often with teachers speaking only English and using only English textbooks in areas where the children spoke only Welsh, and that Welsh-speakers had to rely on the Nonconformist Sunday Schools to acquire literacy.[citation needed] They also said that amongst the causes of this were the use of the Welsh language and nonconformity.[citation needed]


It is rarely observed that the commissioners complimented the Welsh on their hunger for education, and noted the sacrifices many were prepared to make to acquire it, the intelligence they brought to bear on theological matters, bred in Sunday schools, and their quickness in mathematics.

— A History of Education in Wales.[14]: 62 

The report was damning of the Welsh people, and "mildly pornographic in parts" (Brooks),[1]: 76 characterising them as dirty, ignorant, lazy, and immoral.[2]: 881 

The commissioners often simply reported verbatim the prejudiced opinions of landowners and local Anglican clergy, jealous of the successes of the chapels.[11]: 391  The more bilious editorial attacks on Welsh culture mostly emanated from Commissioner Lingen and others who worked with him.[citation needed] They often asked complicated questions, according to the historian John Davies, and relied on bad translations, and misinterpreted the pupils' answers.[11]: 391 


These do not include Sunday schools or schools for the higher and middle classes.

The report provided a breakdown of the 1,657 schools it surveyed by the language used for teaching.[17]: 93, 245, 380, 427 

Schools for the labouring classes by language of instruction
Language North Wales Central Wales South Wales Monmouth Total
Welsh Only 1 1 0 0 2
English Only 530 206 465 120 1,321
Welsh and English 46 33 239 7 325
Unknown 1 0 8 0 9
Total 578 240 712 127 1,657


  • North Wales: Anglesey, Caernarfon, Denbigh, Flint, Merioneth and Montgomery.
  • Central Wales: Brecon, Cardigan and Radnor.
  • South Wales: Glamorgan, Carmarthen and Pembroke.

With the exception of Monmouth the report provides a breakdown of the different types of schools in Wales.[17]: 103, 228, 425 

Schools for the labouring classes by type (Excluding Monmouth)[17]: 103, 228, 425 
Type Of School For Profit Schools Scholars
Private Schools (including Dame Schools) Yes 708 18,726
Church of England Schools (Parochial or National Society) No 567 34,710
British Schools No 64 7,654
Other Non Sectarian Schools No 29 1,726
Nonconformist Schools (Baptist, Wesleyan, Methodist etc) No 91 4,104
Workmen's Schools (including one Factory school) No 25 3,037
Workhouse Schools No 19 851
Mrs Bevan's Circulating Schools No 14 890
Other Denomination Schools (inc Roman Catholic) No 13 504
Total 1,530 72,202

The government did not contribute anything to the running of costs of schools in Wales (and England) until the decision in late 1846[18]: 279  to start funding apprentice teachers and reward school masters who trained them.[19]: 4  Until that time schools had to rely solely on school fees and charitable donations.

Funding of schools for the labouring classes[17]: 99, 228, 377, 502 
Source Amount %
School Fees £21,103 53%
Subscriptions and Donations £12,750 32%
Endowments £5,224 13%
Collections £675 2%
Total £39,752 100%
Inspection of Schools for the labouring classes[17]: 93, 245, 380, 468 
Inspected by North Wales Central Wales South Wales Monmouth Total
Committee 53 18 47 15 132
Minister 266 89 166 31 552
Ordinary 1 0 1 0 2
Patron 72 23 94 6 195
Inspector 0 5 68 0 73
None 232 0 418 75 725
Number of Schools 578 240 712 127 1,657


  • Some schools were inspected by more than one group of inspectors so the number of inspections can exceed the number of schools.
  • Committee: Committee, Trustees, Governors or Guardians
  • Patron: Patron or Promotor
  • Inspector: Government inspectors & inspectors employed by Mrs Bevan Schools


The report's publication resulted in a furious reaction in Wales which lasted for years.[12]: 100  The clerics of the Established Church were considered as internal enemies.[11]: 391  Staunch Anglicans refuted the report,[11]: 391  next came the satirical attacks and statistically-based analytical challenge of the facts from Evan Jones (Ieuan Gwynedd), a Nonconformist journalist.[12]: 100 

'Eloquent speeches' by Nonconformists such as Henry Richard and the essays of Ieuan Gwynedd[11]: 391  as well as angry nationalistic responses came from editors of the Welsh journals, particularly the 'incisive articles' by Lewis Edwards in Y Traethodydd and David Rees in Y Diwygiwr.[12]: 100  Generally speaking, the historian John Davies suggested that the chapel people were the only true Welsh, and that Welshness was synonymous with Nonconformity.[11]: 392 

As time passed, Wales saw campaign after campaign against wantonness, drunkenness etc, and accepted that reform was needed.[11]: 392 [12]: 100  In an apparent attempt to turn the attacks to the advantage of the Nonconformists, Jones (Ieuan Gwynedd) suggested that the Welsh nation had been unjustly condemned on religious rather than nationalistic grounds.[12]: 100  Radical leaders led mass meetings to protest against the defamations in the reports.[12]: 102 

The play[edit]

Seven years after the report was published, the poet Robert Jones Derfel published a play, Brad y Llyfrau Gleision ("Treason of the Blue Books").[7] The play satirised the government commissioners and their Welsh witnesses.[20] According to Phil Carradice, in his book Snapshots of Welsh History, "the play opens in Hell where the Devil decides that the Welsh people are too good and too godly and are becoming more godly by the hour thanks to the influence of non-conformity. He promptly hatches a plan to bring down this pure and godly people".[7] A summary of the play on the website of the National Library of Wales describes how the "Treason" in the play is that committed by the Welsh church goers and clergymen and it says that Derfel, and others, "thought that their evidence enhanced and even fed The Blue Books' anti-Welsh judgements".[21] The play so gripped the imagination of the Welsh public, that the reports have been known in Wales by that sobriquet since then.[2]: 881 [7] The play was published by Isaac Clarke in Ruthin.

The play's title referenced the reports' blue covers and evoked a much earlier Welsh myth, Welsh: Brad y Cyllyll Hirion (The Treason of the Long Knives), a story of the Anglo-Saxons settling in Britain by trickery,[20] when, according to Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Saxons began their campaign of conquest against the native Britons.[22] The first word Brad ("treason") can also be translated as "treachery", especially in law, or as "betrayal" or "deceit". The stem of the word is Old Celtic; the Old Irish is mrath and Old Breton is Brat etc.[23]


The Books remain an invaluable, although slanted, source of information on mid-19th century Welsh society.

Saunders Lewis, in his The Fate of the Language (Tynged yr Iaith) BBC address, maintained that the Blue Books were for Welsh history "the most important nineteenth-century historical documents we possess" as their effect was to turn Wales into a more bilingual country, through the requirement to learn English as a second language.[6][1]: 79  Such a judgement also reflects the fact that the publication of the reports, and the controversy that followed, was the catalyst for a much greater level of nonconformist involvement in the politics of Wales than hitherto. Critics such as Evan Jones (Ieuan Gwynedd), William Rees (Gwilym Hiraethog), Henry Richard, Thomas Price and Sir Thomas Phillips[24] gained wide publicity for their trenchant criticisms of the reports. Over time these criticisms evolved into an organised political action, which culminated at the general election of 1868.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Brooks, Simon (2017). Why Wales Never Was: The Failure of Welsh Nationalism. University of Wales Press. ISBN 978-1-7868-3012-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Davies, John; Baines, Menna; Jenkins, Nigel; Lynch, Peredur I., eds. (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 9780708319536.
  3. ^ a b Jones, Moya (14 September 2018). "Review of Why Wales Never Was: the Failure of Welsh Nationalism by Simon Brooks". Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique. 23 (2). doi:10.4000/rfcb.2247. S2CID 166085679. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  4. ^ Williams, Huw (17 July 2015). "Pam Na Fu Cymru – Why Wales Never Was". iwa. Retrieved 8 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ a b Johnes, Martin (2019). Wales: England's Colony?: The Conquest, Assimilation and Re-creation of Wales. Parthian. ISBN 978-1912681419.
  6. ^ a b Jones, Alun R., Thomas, Gwyn, Presenting Saunders Lewis, UoW Press, 2nd ed 1983, ISBN 0-7083-0852-X, p 130
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Carradice, Phil (2011). "c.51 - The Treason of the Blue Books". Snapshots of Welsh History: Without the Boring Bits. Headline. ISBN 978-1908192448.
  8. ^ "Tredegar Riots". Sir Howy Valley History. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Tredegar, Past and Present". Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  10. ^ BBC News, 19 August 2011: History debate over anti-Semitism in 1911 Tredegar riot
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Davies, John (1994). A History of Wales. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-014581-8.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Brockliss, Laurence W. B.; Eastwood, David, eds. (1997). A Union of Multiple Identities: The British Isles, c.1750-c.1850. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719050464.
  13. ^ a b Vellenga Berman, Carolyn (2009). "Awful Unknown Quantities: Addressing the Readers in Hard Times". Victorian Literature and Culture. 37 (2): 561–582. doi:10.1017/S1060150309090342. S2CID 162776583.
  14. ^ a b c Jones, Gareth Elwyn; Roderick, Gordon Wynne (2003). A history of Education in Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 070831807X.
  15. ^ "Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales". The London University College Magazine. 1: 68–73. 1849.
  16. ^ a b c Jones, Gareth Elwyn (2000). "15 The Welsh Language and the Blue Books of 1847". In Jenkins, Geraint H. (ed.). The Welsh Language and Its Social Domains. University of Wales Press. pp. 431–457. ISBN 978-0708316047.
  17. ^ a b c d e Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of Education in Wales. London. 1847.
  18. ^ Reports on Elementary Schools 1852-1882.
  19. ^ Minutes and Reports of the Committee of Council on Education 1839-1899 (PDF).
  20. ^ a b Morgan, Prys (2008). The Tempus History of Wales. History Press. ISBN 978-0752496313.
  21. ^ "Brad y Llyfrau Gleision". The National Library of Wales. Retrieved 3 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ Thomas, Rebecca (2020). "Geoffrey of Monmouth and the English Past". A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth. BRILL. pp. 105–128. doi:10.1163/9789004410398_005. ISBN 9789004410398. S2CID 241896919.
  23. ^ See: The Dictionary of the Welsh Language'; Uni. of Wales.
  24. ^ Olding, Frank (7 January 2016). "Llanellen's almost forgotten hero of the Welsh language". Abergavenny Chronicle. Retrieved 12 August 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • John Davies, Hanes Cymru (1993) (also in English translation as A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8)

External links[edit]