10. Saunders Lewis
Leaders (1601 votes)
1893 – 1985
Controversial writer and nationalist hero who advocated direct action in defence of Welsh- speaking communities.
To his devotees, Saunders Lewis’ legacy is immense. Alongside his literary output - he wrote plays, poems and novels - he had a profound influence on 20th century Welsh politics. A founder of Plaid Cymru, he was a hero to nationalists while remaining equally unloved by those who did not share his views.
Lewis was born in Cheshire in 1893 and brought up amongst the Welsh community on Merseyside. But it was his experience of the First World War, especially fighting alongside Irishmen, that seems to have had the most significant effect on him. It helped to shape his convictions about the importance of Welsh national identity although - unlike hard line Irish republicans - he stopped short of advocating violence against representatives of the British state.
In 1936 Lewis, together with two other activists, set fire to the new RAF base at Penyberth in Gwynedd. They gave themselves up to the police, claiming justification on nationalist and pacifist grounds.
In the aftermath of the Penyberth arson, Lewis lost his university lecturing post and in controversial circumstances went on trial at the Old Bailey in London. He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
In a radio lecture of 1962 he said "Restoring the Welsh language in Wales is nothing less than a revolution. It is only through revolutionary means that we can succeed." The broadcast led to the creation of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) and inspired its campaigns of direct action over the following decades.
Cymdeithas protests undoubtedly played a part in the establishment of S4C, the Welsh language television channel, in 1982 and the Welsh Language Act of 1993.
Twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Lewis was a deeply religious man and a convert to Catholicism. Not even his sternest critics would deny his lasting impact on the intellectual debate over the future of Welsh society