William Salesbury


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 William Salesbury


William Salesbury was a person, which could be stated to have been born at the right time, to a family of influence and pedigree, to complete the task that he instigated, of having the right connections for his work that could eventually have a rippling effect throughout Wales. It also could be further said that some of these might well continue today. So we have to ask ourselves who was William Salesbury and how did he embody the principles of European renaissance and did it effect Wales.

William Salesbury was born into a family of influence; a family which had established itself within the vale of Clwyd two centuries previously at Llewenni. He was born circa 1520 in the parish of Cae Du, Llansannan, Denbighshire. His parent Annes ap Gruffudd ap Robin of Cochwillan, and Ffowc ap Roberts ap Thomas Salesbury. His family claimed Norman decent from his father side. My present understanding at the time of writing is that he too could claim a Welsh decent through his mother under welsh law. The time of his birth saw his father within a position as a yeoman to Lord Denbigh.

There is not a great deal mentioned of his early life, apart from R Brinley Jones mention that his father died in 1520. He also refers to the vale of Clwyd where William Salesbury was born. It was considered to be traditional haven of literary in NE Wales, where Tudur Alud had composed ballads in honour of his grandparents. Tudur Alud also appears to be mentor of Gruffudd Hiraethog who plays a later role within the contributions made by Salesbury, as he often referred to the poets, as being the architects of the Welsh Language.

Similar to most people of his class William went to be educated at Oxford most references agree that he resided in Boardgates now Pembroke Hall, but as professor Evan Jones pointed out in his address at St Asaph in 1967. There are no records in the university register and his academic achievement cannot be verified. Yet Issac Jones within, William Salesbury and his Testament cites a contemporary Sir Thomas Williems, who speaks of Salesbury mastery of six languages. While at Oxford its been further implied the Works of Eramus and Martin Luther were circulating as banned reading material, this demonstrates the possible effect of the renaissance and reformation having an effect on the foundations of Oxford, as the medieval values began to be challenged. After Oxford, most references agree he was within Thravis, Inns of Court, where he studied law. It is not conclusive however they do generally agree that William Salesbury reverted to a Protestant during this period of education.

He returned to North Wales in 1546 to challenge the inheritance of the family holdings and eventually inherited Plas Isa at Llanwrst. Here he spent the remainder of his life, although he did travel to London often. So how could there be this embodiment of the renaissance that later effected Wales when he never travelled into Europe?

William Salesbury return to find that the monasteries had been dissolved in 1536 along with the First Act of Union, he too found that the Shrines and centres of Pilgrimage had been abolished in 1538. The final act of conformity had been passed in 1545 bringing the population of Wales into a union with England. With his new faith it probably cause him concern when he returned to see the effects of these changes that had been placed on Wales.

Although Henry VIII had died in 1547 and Edward VI came to the throne as Henry's policies continued. Salesbury must of had influential connections, as Issac Jones cites that Henry had granted a licence to him and John Waley, a printer in London, to print, publish and translate various books, but primarily to enable his Welsh subjects to learn the mere English tongue. A limit of seven years had been set before this licence expired. He must have been a trusted servant to the state administration, as the potential effect of the printed word, its results can be seen in its effect on Germany with Martin Luther publications.

The primary objective of the licence was to produce A Dictionary in English and Welsh that appeared in 1547, with a dedication to Henry VIII. It was followed by a book in welsh its English translation of "Summa of Welshman's wisdom." Although written by Gruffudd Hiraethog, and later reprinted in 1567 with additions that included the "Triads of the Island of Britain," way before IoIo Magannwg time. The original book contained an interesting preface from Salesbury. He states through a translation given by Prof. Evan Jones: -


"Make a pilgrimage barefoot to his grace the King and his Council, to seek permission to get the Holy Scriptures in your language for the sake of those who cannot, and not likely to learn English."

This is quite a radical statement from Salesbury, considering that any form of pilgrimages had been banned. His publications that appeared were not the first within the medium of Welsh, Sir John Price of Brecon had published a year before him with a collection which included the Lords prayer, the ten commandments and seven virtues and more, a year previously in 1546. This in itself could well suggest as having an influence on Salesbury, with wanting to see the Bible translated into Welsh, rather than his fellow countrymen listening to the vulgate version in Latin. A foreign language similar to English that only the educated gentry and could understand.

Salesbury went on to publish in 1550, "How to pronounce the letters in the English Tongue." He too translated from Latin that had a Greek origin by Diadochus Proclus and published "The description of the sphere or frame of the world" a scientific paper in the same year. He even got into politics by publishing a pamphlet trying to prove that priest had lawfully married wives under the welsh laws of Hywel Dda. As stated by the Rev J Morrice in 1909, and verified later by R. Brinley Roberts in 1994. A manuscript he wrote on botany and the herbal use of plants never got published.

William Salesbury also delved into the arena of Church affairs when he published in 1551 Kynniver Llith a Ban. Isaac Thomas translates the first page;

"All the lessons and articles of Holy Scripture, which are read to the church at Communion, on Sundays and Holy days throughout the year: Translated into Welsh."

Within this publication was a latter in Latin, it called on the Bishops within Wales where he offers his work to be examined, it suggest that he still has an interest in seeing the scriptures translated.

Everything took a backward step in 1553 when Edward VI died, Mary I, took the throne. As England and Wales became turned around and moved back to an allegiance with the Pope and Roman Catholic mass was heard again to sound from the churches.

Protestants like Salesbury went underground and others similar to Richard Davis fled to Frankfurt and other European cities. Only to resurface after 1558 when Elizabeth I came to the throne. Richard Davis returned and Salesbury came out of hiding. Davis became the Bishop of St Asaph influenced by Salesbury work he sent out instructions in 1561, that after the completion of the Gospel being read in English, it had to be repeated in Welsh.

Salesbury had used the new printing press to his advantage and for full effect, within his translation of the common prayer book he had dedicated it not only to Richard Davis, Humphry Lhuyd and probably also Sir John Wyn of Gwdir.

R Bringley Jones suggests this could have had an influence within the House of Commons, as an important factor in the passing of the Act 1563. This called for both Old and the New Testament to be translated into Welsh before 1566. A copy had to be placed in every church throughout Wales by March 1567. Thus making it available to everyone along side an English version. Thus giving a those who used the church a choice. This is far removed from the primary purpose which Salesbury had started out to do seeing that his royal licence was to enable the Crowns Welsh subjects to learn the English tongue.

The writings and translation from Salesbuy fell silent after the publication of the bible with Bishop Davies, although he received his later critics concerning the dictionary and the translation of the Bible both were to be improved on later. From the evidence given William Salesbury appears to have contribute by empowering the embodiment of the renaissance through his various writings.


Primary Sources

Trevor Herbert & Gareth Elwyn Jones (Eds), Tudor Wales, Cardif Uni Press 1988
Address by Professor Evan. J. Jones, William Salesbury, May 5th 1967

Secondary Sources

Rev J. Morrice, A Manual of Welsh Literature, Jarvis & Foster Bangor 1909
Sinclair Atkins, England and Wales under the Tudor, Edward Arnold 1980
Isaac Thomas, William Salesbury and his Testament, Cardiff University Press 1967
R Brinley Jones, William Salesbury, Cardiff University Press 1994
Dewi Jones, The Botanists Guide to Snowdon, Gower press 1996

Astrocelt 2002