England manager Fabio Capello had endured a torrid week in the media over his handling of John Terry's reinstatement as captain and defeat in Cardiff would have seen the pressure increase considerably.
Yet that seemed unlikely from the moment Frank Lampard struck with a seventh-minute penalty and Darren Bent doubled the advantage with a typical close-range finish eight minutes later.
Wales, having been overpowered in the first half, restored pride with a competitive display after the break but Gary Speed could not be spared defeat in his first home international as manager.
The only major downside for England, who move to the top of Group G, was a booking for Wayne Rooney which will keep him out of the next qualifier against Switzerland in June.
England were rarely extended in the first period with the outstanding Ashley Young, playing alongside Rooney behind Bent, at the heart of all their good work.
Scott Parker, winning his first cap for four and a half years, was composed in front of the back four and Jack Wilshere, making his first competitive start, looked a natural fit in midfield.
Terry, although largely untested, did not put a foot wrong as he captained the team for the first time in 17 months.
Despite Wales' hopeless plight at the bottom of the group, the hosts had relished the build-up to the encounter with Speed assembling one of the country's strongest squads for some time.
His plans suffered a setback when the dangerous Gareth Bale was forced to withdraw earlier in the week but home passion was clearly in evidence in the opening stages.
Craig Bellamy was his usual fired-up self and stood his ground when confronted by Rooney after catching the England striker.
Aaron Ramsey, becoming Wales' youngest-ever captain on his return to the side from a broken leg, was also keen to get into the action and a strong early surge offered encouragement.
That optimism was immediately punctured, however, as England went ahead from the spot.
A slip by James Collins allowed Terry to slip in Young and the Wales defender clumsily brought down his Aston Villa team-mate as he tried to recover.
Lampard coolly sent Wayne Hennessey the wrong way and England went on to dominate the first half with ease.
Ashley Cole had a shot blocked by Ashley Williams before the visitors doubled their lead on 15 minutes after more good work by Young.
Glen Johnson sent Young racing clear down the right and his cross was clinically dispatched by Bent six yards out.
Hennessey then had to deal with a dangerous Young cross as England threatened again and Rooney picked out Bent with a superb 60-yard ball only for the striker to head wide.
Ramsey looked full of energy as he tried to haul Wales back into contention but was perhaps trying too hard to impress and was often left frustrated.
Wales did get the ball into the box when Bellamy lofted in a free-kick but Joe Hart punched clear under pressure from Steve Morison.
Rooney was caught in midfield by Andrew Crofts and moments later was booked for a bad challenge on Joe Ledley, an indiscretion that rules him out of the next game.
Young went close with a dipping effort after spotting Hennessey off his line but the ball dropped over the bar.
At the other end Bellamy almost played in Andy King but Cole made a timely interception. Morison also broke into the area after turning Michael Dawson but his cross was cleared.
Wales looked a different side after the break but were almost caught out when a poor clearance by Hennessey allowed Young to cross but Rooney was unable to make contact.
Bellamy sent King clear with a fine through ball but the Leicester midfielder blasted wide.
A chance opened up for English-born Morison but the Millwall striker's control let him down as he looked for his first international goal.
Ramsey then showed neat footwork on the edge of the area but was unable to keep his shot on target.
Lampard shot over for England but the visitors had clearly eased off.
The introduction of David Vaughan and Ched Evans for Wales failed to bring about a breakthrough and England played out time as the game became scrappy.
Stewart Downing, a late replacement for Wilshere, shot narrowly wide after a fine run in the 90th minute.