Milford Haven is a town in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Although there is evidence that Romans used the waterway as a base for their patrol ships around Cardiff, it was the Vikings who made the area what it is. From the 9th-11th century, they would raid up and down the coast while using Milford Haven as a place to shelter and dock their ships. Later, it became a place involved in conflicts between various. French mercenaries arrived in the Haven to assist Welsh rebel Owain Glyndŵr against Henry IV in 1405, and later in 1649, Oliver Cromwell began his invasion of Ireland from Milford. The area may have also been important to Prince Henry and the royal family because it was where Henry Tudor landed on his way to fight Richard III. It wasn’t until 1790 that the town of modern-day Milford was established by William Hamilton. Its American connection is owed to the fact that it was shortly after populated with Quaker whalers from Nantucket, Massachusetts. While Cymbeline does portray Milford Haven as located in a remote area, it would have been already populated and known as a place of strategic importance and insecurity in Shakespeare’s time.
In Cymbeline, Imogen travels to Milford Haven after Posthumus sends her a letter saying he is there. Little does she know, he isn’t there (or not yet anyway), but she does meet three “rustic mountainers”, aka Belarius and her two long-lost brothers. While Wales would have looked very different during the setting of the play, examining Shakespeare’s understanding of it can shed light on Britain’s ancestral identity. James I was interested in rooting his idea of Britain to its ancient past; the term “British” and “Britons” had Welsh connotations. James’ wishes explain Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Welshmen, which is consistent with historians’ oscillating characterization of them as “barbarous” yet “civilized”. For example, Polydor/Guiderius’ brutal beheading of Cloten is shortly followed by the formality of Imogen and Cloten’s funeral. Their help in defending Britain against the Roman invaders symbolizes a restorative act, returning it to its ancient glory.
Imperialism and indigenous assimilation can also be found in the Wales scenes. When Imogen first sees the cave at Milford, she remarks “‘Tis some savage hold”, and when she is proven wrong about her preconceptions, she says “Gods, what lies I have heard! / Our courtiers say all’s savage but at court; / Experience, O, thou disprov’st report!” The dynamic between England and Wales in Early Modern England is also comparable to that of Britain and Rome in Cymbeline: by that point, Pembrokeshire (aka “Little England beyond Wales”) had reached a similar level of assimilation as Cymbeline’s Britain had with Rome. The Welsh upper class was particularly interested in assimilation as a means of advancement in English society, learning Latin to work in English courts, for example.