Civil War Petitions in Denbighshire

I note that the website for Civil War Petitions: Conflict, Welfare and Memory during and after the English Civil Wars, 1642 – 1710 is up, with the first batch of petitions (I think) due later this year. And there are still a few days of Women’s History Month to run, so I thought it might be opportune to post a 1665 petition from a soldier’s widow from my old Denbighshire Quarter Sessions files.

The petition of Geelien Cowley ‘a poore widdow and mother of three smale fatherlesse children’:

that your petitioners late husband by name E[dward] Birien of Ruthin a souldier that served in his majestys service in Ireland neare upon three yeares & afterward he retorned to England he served in his majestys service there sixe or seaven yeares where in all these tymes he suffered many ympriso[nments] wounds & brueses wch made him unable to earn his liveliehoode & more especiallie this two yeares last past then he was allowed one of the majestys pensioners to receave a share of his majestys allo[wance] for maymed souldiers provided. Nowe may it please [your] worships to be advertised that the said Edward Birien your petitioners late husband, had a longe sicknesse, beeinge vearie poore & nowe called to gods mercie caused your petitioner to goe upon the credit with her neighbours to suplie her said husbands wants in confidence to receave his share & alloweance of pension as afore is set forth, but it was gods will to take hime to his mercie afore this generall sessions.

Most humbly prayeinge your worships to allowe your petitioner the pencion allotted her late husband for to paye to her creditors what she is engaged for & your worships further help & succours in such sort as your worships thinke meete without your worships comisseracion hearein your petitioner shall not be able to goe amonge good & charitable people for releefe to her & her smale children for feare of arrest or lawsuite. this I humblie bege for gods sacke…

The treasurer of the maimed soldiers’ fund was ordered to pay her the whole quarterly allowance due to her husband.

[NLW Chirk Castle Quarter Sessions files October 1665 B21/d7]

The will of Elen ferch Lewes (d. 1619)

Today’s offering, courtesy of the National Library of Wales’s rather amazing Welsh Wills Online project, is the 1619 will of Elen ferch Lewes of Meline, Pembrokeshire. Elen was not very wealthy (the total value of her probate inventory, included with the digitised will, was £31 17s 6d), but her will is interesting for its detailed bequests to other women, largely of clothing, cloth and domestic items. (In contrast, she leaves most of her sheep to her brothers.) The will may say something about friendships and alliances, but it also makes very clear statements about hierarchy and status.

… Item I geeve and bequeath to Elizabeth Lewes my sister one grey mare, my biggest panne, and my best coffer or chest conditionally that she shall geeve her old coffer unto my executor heereafter to be named, one black gowne, two redd petticoates, my best smock, one holland apron, one kerchieff of linnen xvj d per yard, my best ruffe band, ffoure cardegan pounds of woll whereof parte is now collored in blew.

Item I geeve and bequeath to Owen Lewes my brother the one half of my sheepe remayneinge in the custody & heardinge of Edward John, and to be delivered at May next after my decesse soe that they be before hand shorne, & one old chest or coffer.

Item I doe geeve and bequeath unto Nel Gruffith my cozen five shillinges in money being parte of a dept of x s due upon my Aunte Elizabeth Thomas widow, and payable at Kiricks[?] tyde next.

Item I geeve and bequeath unto the said Nel xxiiij s being a dept due unto me at Mecgans[?] tyde next upon my cozen George William Griffith for a little grey nagge, one apron of green saye chieffe of Scottish cloth. And one peece of white cloth wch I have made ffor blanketts.

Item I doe geve unto Katherin Thomas daughter unto Thomas George v s in money beinge the resdue of the x s due upon the said Elizabeth Thomas widow one ffemale lambe of the best that my sheepe shall rame at Maie next one kerchieffe, one fallinge band of holland & two hennes

Item I doe geeve and bequeath unto Myles the sonne of Thomas George, one parre of new woolle stockins.

Item I doe geeve & bequeath unto Elizabeth Thomas my aunte one old trammid[?] coverlette.

Item I doe geeve and bequeath to Katherin the reputed daughter of Thomas George one blacke petticoate, one wollen smock, & one redd wastcoate

Item I doe geeve and bequeath unto Maud the wieffe of George William Griffith, one peece of redd graynd cloth conteigneing 5 yeards together wth the bodies made for the same.

Item I doe geeve all my old ragges as well for daies wearing as bedd clothes unto Maud William for her paines takeing in attendeinge me in my sicknes

The rest of all my goodes cattells & chattells as well moveable or unmoveable not before bequeathed I doe geeve & bequeath unto Myles Lewes Thomas my brother…

Welsh Wills Online

Elen’s will, among others, is mentioned in Gerald Morgan, Women’s Wills in West Wales 1600-1750, Transactions of the Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1992)

Magdalen Lloyd (late 17th century): on money, family, and gift horses

For Women’s History Month 2017: Who was Magdalen Lloyd? A good question. All I know of her is from 26 letters she wrote during the 1670s and 1680s, from various addresses in Denbighshire and London, to her “cousin” Thomas Edwards, an agent of the Chirk family at Chirk Castle. Magdalen worked as a maidservant in London for several years in the 1670s before returning home to Denbighshire. Her letters are filled with everyday gossip and anxieties and aspirations, rare survivals which I’ve loved since I first came across them during my PhD research.

The three letters here cover her pre-occupations with money and getting a better job (the wage she mentions seems fairly average [see p.188 here]), her cares for her family (especially her mother) in Wales, and also the idiosyncrasies of her spelling and punctuation. I haven’t modernized the transcriptions: deciphering them is half the, errrm, fun.

Magdalen Lloyd to Thomas Edwards, Wrexham, 13 November 1675 [NLW CC E3348]

Good cosen
My humbul servis presented unto you I desire ye favor of you yt you will be plest to lend mee 10 s shillings with the berare that I may give my goone to be be made my mother send mee 10 shilling after yu wear att Palley celyn she could not help mee of any more att present ther will goe for trimings to make it 9 s or 10 shilling and for the makeing of it ther will goe 8s at lest and for ye rest I will by a pare of shous for I want them very much pray good cosen help mee this time and I hope I shall not trobull you for any mony to gett me close as long as I shall contynue in Wrexham for in deed I was very bare of klose when I cam hear I men of klos fit for me to goe to sirvis but I am very well furnis now I pray God reward you for mee I hope in God my mother can have som way to bay all yt you are plest to lend me with my prayers with you as long as I live forom
your obleged cosen
and thankfull Magdalen Lloyd

Magdalen Lloyd to Thomas Edwards, London 12 June 1676 [NLW CC E6210]

Ever honord cos:
I have recived your kind letter wch I render you many thanks for your care about mee I hope in my God I shall be able to recompens soon of your kindness yt you wear plest to shwee unto mee in time of need wch I shall ever acknowleg as long as I live dear cos I hope Mr Thomas hath aquaint you yt I went to a place indeed dear cos I doe not like it very well it is not for any work yt I doe mislike it but I will not part with it til I hear of a better all ye profit I shall have I shall be fitter for a better my wages is but 3 pound ten shillings indeed Mr Thomas taks great care about mee hee came to bring me to ye place if I had bin his sister he could not doe more for me conserning a place indeed he is very faithfull to you ther was not wan night as long as I have bin ther but he tokes of you and drink to your health and wis you to bee with him hee gave me 2 pound ten shillings to by cols I was very loth to take soe much after you went in soe much charity about me I hope yt you shall not lous a peny of all yt you gave me pray good cos satisfie Mr Thomas for his mony I make soe bould as to give cos Ed is letter in yours this time for I sent to letters for her to Dembis but I understand by ye letter yt I had lost in cek[?] is of ye humble servis of her yt is your ever thankfull cos to pray with you
M Ll

Magdalen Lloyd to Thomas Edwards, [London] May Day 1680 [NLW CC E3731]

Honrd cos:
I give you many thanks for your kindness in sending mee a hors: mrs and her husband was gon: about 10 mile to live from London soe that I had not your letter in a week for ye hors was att ye inn 8 days a fore I hard of [i]t: I have put him in a stable in ye littill town whear my ould mrs lived in hee is weell looked to for I doe not lett him want for heae and oats I am a frayd ye have wronged him in coming for his eys runs: and hee yt looks to him tells mee: yt hee will bee blind hee canot see with wan eye ye perswayd mee that hee can never cary mee down but I hope hee will mend now hee is soe carefull looked to: I have bought mee a sadle: I am afrayd I canot gett company till ye later yend of ye term but as soon as I can have company I will sett out for ye contry I shall writ to you afore then: I am att London and shall bee till I goe to ye contry as for parting with my place Mr Thomas can satisfy you for I beelive I shall truble them if I can understand thay my caus is good the wod not a parted with mee by all mean but ye know ye reson: I am sory I have bin soe true to them in my mrs life time: as for a place I doe not fear in ye least I pray God send mee my health: pray good cos send this letter to cos Ed as soon as you recd it that cos Ed may writ to mee the very next post for I am to by some things haveing noe more: but my dayly prayers: for your care of me and I hope God will bless you what you have don for mee
M Ll
Pray lett mee know if my mother is well

The letters are held in the Chirk Castle archives at the National Library of Wales. The Chirk Castle archives are massive and wide-ranging, but have not been digitised as far as I know, though the correspondence is catalogued. (If you’re interested in seeing more of the letters, I have transcriptions…). This recent article in Wales Online gives a broader overview of Magdalen’s experiences from her letters.

‘I fear ye man is lost’

A sad traveller’s tale from early 18th-century Denbigh, occasioned by this tweet:

In September 1726 the Denbigh coroner Thomas Lloyd, held an inquest and examined witnesses concerning the death of John Davies of Oswestry, gentleman. The jury brought in a verdict of misadventure.

John Myddelton of Denbigh, feltmaker:

saith that whilst he stood att the tyth barn near Astrad Bridge within the sd burrough on the afsd day, he saw the sd decedt John Davies on horse back comeing up to the sd bridge and immediatly observd the sd horse as the sd examinant apprehended to make a stand as if he started att something that appeard before him & upon the sd John Davies giveing him a stroke with his whip to go forwards the sd horse made over the battlements of ye sd bridge whereupon the sd examinant called to one William Hughes who stood near him to go to the sd bridge saying I fear ye man is lost and as soon as  the sd examinant and ye sd William Hughes came to ye place they found the sd John Davies and his horse lyeing dead on ye ground under the sd bridge wch was occasion by the fall afsd

William Hughes of Denbigh, labourer:

saith upon oath that being called upon by the former examinant to go immediatly to the assistance of the decedt John Davies as he was seen to fall off the battlements of Astrad Bridge afsd this examinant ran with the other examinant to the sd bridge and found the sd John Davies and his horse lyeing dead on the ground under the sd bridge the water being att that time very low.

Source: National Library of Wales, GS 4/43/10.

‘she was soe stuborn that she would give me noe answer’

The many headed monster is running an online symposium on the Voices of the People (and see #voxpop2015 on Twitter) which is well worth your attention, and Anna Jenkin posted a number of responses on Twitter, musing on how the themes related to her research on early modern female killers. Between them, I found myself dusting off one of the more extraordinary cases from my PhD research (which I have mentioned here on the blog at least once before).

In March 1686, two women stood trial for murder by poison at the Denbighshire Great Sessions (NLW GS 4/33/3). Jane Foulke was accused of killing her husband; Lettice Lloyd of killing her son-in-law. The two trials were separate but the cases were closely connected, since Lettice had supplied Jane with the arsenic, and the poisonings happened less than two weeks apart.

Jane had considerably more to say for herself than most defendants accused of murder in the Denbighshire files. Not only was she examined twice (once by the coroner [excerpt 1] and once by local JPs [2]), but there is also a letter from her to the coroner (something I don’t recall seeing in any other 17th- or 18th-century Denbighshire homicide case) [3]. She admitted freely to having adminstered the poison to her husband; her words are mostly employed in exonerating herself (successfully: she was acquitted) and blaming Lettice for her predicament: “being brought into it by ye alurments of a wicked woman”.

Lettice, on the other hand, refused to say much at all. The coroner was so annoyed by her obstinacy that he made a specific note of it (again, extremely unusual): she “would give noe answer but that shee was mutch wrongd and was soe stuborn that she would give me noe other answer” [4].

We do however have some reports of her words from other witnesses, not least from Jane. “Lettice Lloyd tould [Jane] shee heard yt [Jane’s] husband was an angry cross man & that this [arsenic] would make him a little sick & make him vomitt & in a short tyme after make him better in condicion or better humor’d”. But perhaps the most startling was that of Lettice’s own daughter, Barbara, widow of her victim, creating an image of a monstrous mother-in-law: “[Lettice] said what doe you cry for, you shall have your choise of a husband if he dyes but you shall have noe mother but me, & thou shalt be a widow before a yeare comes about” [5]. Lettice was convicted and hanged.

There is really too much that could be said about this case. But if we’re thinking about ‘voices’ and ‘silences’ in the historical records: Do we really know more about Jane, who so willingly gave her version of events, than we do about Lettice, who ‘stubbornly’ refused to do anything of the sort? Jane portrayed herself as a dutiful wife who had been duped by a ‘wicked woman’ into unwittingly killing her husband; but she had obvious reasons to construct this narrative (and the extremely unusual interventions of the coroner as encouragement). Why did Lettice believe she had been so wronged; and what to make of her mental state of mind? More than a decade after I first encountered it, I still find the case equally fascinating and disconcerting.

(Interested? You can download my transcriptions here. Key excerpts below.)

Excerpts

[1] Examination of Jane Foulkes before John Mathews (coroner), 20 January 1686

[Jane Foulkes of Wrexham Abbot, widow] sayth that shee knoweth Lettice Lloyd by sight but sayth that shee never had any familiarity with her and that shee did not shee her this twelve month agoe shee saith that shee bought two penworth of poyson at widow Cheeveleys shop in Wrexham and that it is about a month agoe since shee bought one penworth of it and the other penworth shee bought this day fortnight (shee telling me that shee had it in her howse there upon I sent her with one of the constables forth, but shee could not finde it) but sayth that a woeman in the markett this day seven night did imploy her to buy the sayd two penorths of poyson but shee doth not know the woeman neither did the woeman any time after call for the poyson though shee had left two pence for that use with her and shee sayth that shee never bought noe poyson in her life time before shee sayth that the twelveth even her husband came whome from Mr Jones of Havod y Bwlch and comlayned to this examinant that he was not well and that he thougt he had an ague and shee absolutely denyeth to be noe time in company with Lettice Lloyd for a twelvemonth last past, shee sayth that her husband in the time of his sicknes complaint of his head and his syde and about his stomacke and hart…

[2] Examination of Jane Foulkes before three JPs, 28 January 1686

[Jane Foulks] saith yt on Tuesday night the fift day of January anno domini 1685 [1686] her husband Richard Foulks fell sick & so continued untill the Thursday night next following about eight a clock, at which tyme the said Richard dyed & being asked what shee gave him dureing his sicknes, shee confessd yt upon Wednesday morning, shee gave him about halfe three farthings worth of ratts bane (which shee had grinded small betwixt two stones) in a cupp of small beere, which causd him to vomitt, & on Thursday morning shee gave him three halfe peny worth of medridate & yt made him purge; & that night about eight a clock he dyed. Shee further confesseth, yt shee bought ye said three farthings worth of ratt’s bane of widow Cleaveley on Monday ye fourth of January instant & yt shee gave the aforesaaid ratt’s bane to her husband by ye advice of one Lettice Lloyd of Morton Anglicorum, & ye said Lettice Lloyd tould her shee heard yt her husband was an angry cross man & that this would make him a little sick & make him vomitt & in a short tyme after make him better in condicion or better humor’d & on ye said Thursday on which her said husband dyed, the sayd Lettice Lloyd came to her & shee tould ye said Lettice shee had given her husband ye poyson & yt he was very sick & was afrayd yt he would dye & had a minde to buy some sallett oyle for him, but the sayd Lettice Lloyd disswaded her from it; & tould her there was noe danger for it would onely make him purge & vomitt & ye said Jane Foulkes further confesseth yt ye said Lettice Lloyd on ye said seaventh of January did desire her to buy one peny worth of ratts bane for her; being ye day on which her husband dyed, and shee bought a peny worth of ratts bane & gave it to ye said Lettice Lloyd but ye said Lettice did not declare to her what shee intended to doe with it…

[3] Jane Foulkes to John Mathews, 26 February 1686 [note: Jane signed both her examinations with a mark, so she probably did not write the letter herself]

The bearer heerof telles yt you desir to know what the discourse was beetween Lettis lloyd & mee it was after this maner I mete with hir one Munday in ye chourtch yard & after renewing of our ould aquantanc shee asked mee how my husband did & shee said yt shee was glad yt hee was comen whom [home] if it wear for good for shee hard yt hee was very wicked & rude & I said yt hee was not soe but yt hee was as ceevell as most men but onely when hee had dranke too mutch strong drink & then shee asked mee what colling did hee follow when hee was in london & if hee had brought monies with him whom and I said hee brought noe monie with him but only what had borne his charges home then shee asked mee if hee were in good healath & if hee had noe distemper with in him self & I said hee had none but only hee did comeplain yt hee had mutch paine in his head & in his bones & limbes & could take littel rest in ye night by reason of these paines which hee had got by beeing a feeld keeper & lying out in ye could most nightes but I tould her yt hee was harty & could eat his meat well & shee said yt was nothing & yt hee would grow wors & wors in his distempers unless hee were purdged & vomitted & I said hee would take noe fizike then shee said yt shee had a freind yt had directed hir to a way with out mutch cost & yt it would doe him mutch good & make him more temprat and fare better in health & conditiones & I asked hir what it was shee said it was but a small matter & yt I might buy for one penie as mutch as hee had need of then shee named it & I said I shall not remember yt name & shee bad mee aske for a whit thing which was wont to bee put in yt which thay doe yus to give to rats & I said how can I aske for yt & yt I had noe ocation for any such thing & shee said I might aske it as for some freing in ye countree & I said I ame afraid it will doe my huband harme & shee said yt it would not but would doe him mutch good & yt shee had made triall of it one hir former husband & yt it had done him mutch good as long as hee lived after upon these hir eavell speetches to mee not any way thinking it would doe my husband any harm I thought to have had but half a peniworth of it but thay would not make a haperth of it soe I had three farthinges worth of it I did not yus it all I gave but part of it in some small drink god doth know I did not think it would doe him any harme but good according to hir speetches to mee I gave it to him one ye Wednesday morning & one ye Thirsday morning following hee was very sick wher upon I was mutch afraid I mete with hir yt Thursday in Wrexham & I wept to hir mutch & I said to hir yt I was affraid yt shee had caused mee to give yt to my husband which would doe him mutch harm & shee said was I soe simple to think yt hee must not bee sicke beefore it could worke & cleer his body & shee said hir life for hime it would doe him noe harm but good this is ye justest account yt I can give desiring your help & asistance in this my great trouble & affliction being brought into it by ye alurments of a wicked woman I rest a poor afflicted prisoner Jane Foulkes

[4] Examination of Lettice Lloyd before John Mathews, 19 January 1686

Lettice Lloyd being extamined to the perticulars that was sworn against her would give noe answer but that shee was mutch wrongd and was soe stuborn that she would give me noe other answer

[3] Examination of Barbara Morris, widow of Hugh Morris, before a JP, 2 March 1686

[Barbara Morris] sayth yt shee being with her mother Lettice Lloyd alias Lewis in the house at Gevellie about ye eleventh day of November last past, her said mother did discourse her about poyson & did then aske ye said Barbara what kinde of a thing poyson was, & would it swell being taken, ye said Barbara reply’d, shee did not know & asked her said mother why shee putt such questions unto her, ye mother reply’d agayn yt shee thought when poyson was taken by any one yt person would not possibly live, the said Barbara stayd with her mother at yt tyme till her husband came to her who stayed then there with his wife two nights, & on ye third day he went thence with his wife to Llangollen faire which was about ye said eleventh day of November aforesaid & yt morning being up before day his mother in law (called Lettice Lloyd alias Lewis as aforesaid) made him a possett of which hee did eate, leaveing some remaynder, but in ye way as he & his wife were rideing to ye said faire, he complayned to his wife yt he was not well & ye said Barbara sayes yt shee things shee did eate about two spoonfulls of ye remaynder of ye said possett & that shee was very ill after it and ye said Barbara further saith yt to ye best of her rembrance about ye beginning of Christmas last past shee being in her said mothers house, her mother asked her if anybody had tould her, her fortune ye said Barbara replyd (why) ye mother said there was a man yt tould me thy fortune, ye said Barbara answered how could yt be I being absent, ye mother so I tould thy age, & thereby thy fortune was tould me & further her mother asked her doest thou love[?] to be a widow upon yt ye daughter cryed then her mother said what doe you cry for, you shall have your choise of a husband if he dyes but you shall have noe mother but me, & thou shalt be a widow before a yeare comes about & upon ye eighteenth day of January last past the husband of ye said Barbara dyed

Repost: Learning Welsh in the sixteenth century

Originally posted here (June 2004).

I got round to reading some of William Salesbury’s A briefe and a playne introduction, teaching how to pronounce the letters in the British tong… today. Rather different to Welsh pronunciation guides (this one has audio files with examples) for all us suffering Welsh learners today. I’m not at all sure that ‘playne’ is the right word.

The introductory note ‘to the reader’ was a fascinating read. Here the author, William Salesbury, sets out the reasons he wrote the book. (I’ve changed ‘u’ to ‘v’ where appropriate and silently expanded some contractions, but otherwise the spelling is unchanged, barring any typos I might have missed.) After he had compiled ‘a little Dictionarye [1547] for the use and behove of my contry men’, he says,

there came came certayne persons unto me, whereof some where Englysh marchers bordering upon Wales: and some not skilled in the Walshe tonge, nevertheles havyng good and honeste occasions, eyther for their promotions and lyvynges, eyther els for trade of marchaudice and other their affayres to be conversante in the sayd contrye of Wales…

And some other were such Walshmen that had been brought up from their yoth and tender age, oute of the precincte of their native contrye, who thoughte it reproch to be utterly ignoraunt in their mother tong, having a mind also to come to some knowledge therin, wherby they myght ye rather (semyng lesse straung) renewe frendshyp and familiaritie with their contrye folke and frendes…

Nowe the other some, were such Englishe men as had not so urgente a cause, nor so earnest an occasion to travell in thys behalfe, but yet were they so fervent… as they (whom I spake of before) whom the Grekes with one propre terme cal Philoglottous, whose gentle herted disposition is alwaies addicte, bente, & geven to be sene in al languages, but speciallye of their owne felow subiectes and contrey menne, thoughe they purchase thereby but small gaynes, lucre, or wynnyng, which thynges be the honied swete baytes of the avaricious beastly misers, and contrarywyse the defiaunce of all liberal and noble stomakes. …

They asked Salesbury ‘whether the pronounciation of the letters in Walshe, dyd dyffer from the Englyshe soundynge of them? And I sayde verye muche.’ (I’ll say.) And so they asked if he would write a short guide setting out ‘a fewe englishe rules’ for Welsh pronunciation. To which he agreed, for ‘the encrease of mutuall amitie and brotherly love, and continuall frendshyppe, and some commoditie at the leaste wise, to suche as be desierous to be occupied thereaboutes.’

In practical terms, particularly relevant in considering the first group, it’s worth commenting that this follows shortly after the ‘Acts of Union’ (1536-43). That legislation (among other things) uniformly replaced most of the final vestiges of Welsh native law with English law, established the Courts of Great Sessions and boosted the influence and business of the Council in the Marches of Wales, based at Ludlow – which between them would have meant many new opportunities for clerks, administrators and lawyers, who might well want some way of communicating with the largely Welsh-speaking population without always having to rely on interpreters. Businessmen, too, might have seen new opportunities across the Welsh border if the legislation was successful in one of its primary aims, reducing Welsh lawlessness and disorder.

But there’s clearly more to it for Salesbury, a true Renaissance man, than that. I’m intrigued about those Welsh exiles, for a start. Were they perhaps the children of Welsh emigrants to London and other English cities (and it’s interesting that they remained attached to their ‘roots’)? The ‘London Welsh’ certainly already existed. Or could they even have been from Protestant families who went into exile to avoid persecution under Henry VIII, now returning following the succession of the far more enthusiastically Protestant Edward VI?

And then there’s Salesbury’s final group: Englishmen (any women, one wonders?) who were eager to learn for the love of learning and to increase ‘mutuall amitie and brotherly love’ with their Welsh neighbours; clearly, a truly noble enterprise. Salesbury was far from being the only highly educated and intelligent, polyglot Welshman in mid-Tudor England (another well known case is John Dee). The Cecils remained interested in their Welsh origins; even the Tudors did on occasion (usually when it suited them politically, it has to be said). Did men like Salesbury help to stimulate English interest in Welsh literary culture and the language? Shakespeare was certainly interested in the ancient ‘British’ (ie, Welsh) past. It would be fascinating to know whether any of Salesbury’s would-be Welsh learners were successful in their quest… and whether anyone ever used his little

book effectively (it does seem to depend on knowing several classical languages before you even begin, which might further suggest that it was his third, already deeply learned, group for whom it was primarily intended. His translation of the New Testament was also aimed at a scholarly audience).

William Salesbury is primarily celebrated in Wales for his part in the Tudor ‘Welsh Renaissance’ and his contribution to Welsh language and literary culture: for his dictionary, for his pioneering Welsh translation of the New Testament (1567) and Prayer Book (1567). Quite right, too. All of these are indeed major achievements. But I’m beginning to wonder if he should also be celebrated as a pioneer in Welsh language teaching for adults, who did not merely champion his language amongst his own people, but also strove to give it wider currency (not least by harnessing the power of print) and to aid those who wished (even for ‘lucre’!) to learn it.

Repost: Wallography

Originally posted here, January 2005.

In 1682, a satirical little book about the Welsh was published: Wallography, or the Britton described, by “WR”, an English clergyman named William Richards.* It purported to describe, first, a journey from London to the Welsh borders and then the “State and Condition, the Nature, Humours, Manners, customs, and mighty Actions” of Wales and its inhabitants. It’s not an altogether popular book in Wales; laughing at Wallography is a slightly guilty pleasure… though some might say that that’s the best kind. (Although it doesn’t just take aim at the Welsh and ‘Taphydome’. Much of the book, in fact, is an equally gleeful send-up of English country-dwelling caricatures.)

As for the Inhabitants [of Wales], they are a pretty Sort of Creatures, which, when we saw, we were so far from stroaking them with the Palms of Love, that we were almost ready to buffet them with the Fist of Indignation. They are a rude People, and want much Instruction…

We were much surprized at the Thoughts of their Rank, and did not suspect so much Gentility among such a Peopl; when we saw so many Coats without Arms, we could not imaging they had any with them, but fancy’d they had more Need of a Taylor than of Clarentius, and of a Prick-louse to stitch up and compose their Breeches, rather than an Herald to blazen their Families.

Ahem. (That mockery of the combined poverty and ‘pretensions’ to gentility of the early modern Welsh is a common theme amongst the English, who did not quite comprehend that for the Welsh status had long been rather more about lineage than wealth and display.)

Richards also had great fun with another stereotype of the Welsh, that of their hot temper and inclination towards both quarrelling and litigation. (Combined with comments on the behaviour of ‘pettifogging’ lawyers that was by no means exclusive to the Welsh. Or, of course, the early modern period.)

They do not always observe the Rules of Justice in their Punishments; oftentimes chastising one Body for another, and so misplace their rigour on the undeserving; as will be very evident from this following Instance: A certain Taylor ferrying over a River in their Country with a diminutive Nag; the Steed never using to travel by Water, and wondering that he stood still and mov’d, was possess’d with Fear, and made some Disturbance on the Boat, to the great endangering of the Passengers; The Welshman, being in Jeopardy, was fir’d with Anger, and without any Wings he flew on the Taylor, and revenged the Injury of the Palfry on poor Prick-Louse. The Stitcher swaddled the Scrupling Horse, and Taphy beat the Stitcher, to the great Diversion and Grief of the Spectators. …

Most of their Indictments are generally the tragical Effects of some dismal Counterscuffle, where a bloody Nose and a broken Shin is ample Matter for the Commencement of a Suit; for, they being of a fiery Temper, sometimes Choler is kindled by an Antiperistasis with a Pot of Ale; and then they fall to biting and scratching as hard as they can drive, and the Wounds of this Caterwauling and Bickering afford Stuff for an Action the next Day; which, being once got into the Pounces of a Welsh Attorney, is dandled into a Business of no small Aggravation. Oh! how these Pettifoggers will hug a Buffeting, and improve a Squobble! They are the very Bellows of Contention, and will soon blow a Spark into a great Combustion. They are a Kind of Tinkers in the Law, who usually make Holes on Purpose that they may mend them; nay, sometimes they will play at Loggerhead themselves to set others together by the Ears, and so (as if Fighting was contagious) will infect the Taphies into Quarrels and Blows. …

Yet it is tremendously funny, sometimes perceptive and frequently “deliciously ambiguous”.** You can easily find nastier and cruder examples of this sort of Welsh-baiting from the late 17th and early 18th centuries; indeed the book draws on a well-established tradition of abuse of the Welsh by the English (this is long before Wales became a Romantic holiday destination). And it’s regularly quoted by early modern Welsh historians. Who could deny the truth of this?

The Country is mountainous, and yields pretty handsome Clambering for Goats, and hath Variety of Precipice to break one’s Neck; which a Man may sooner do than fill his Belly, the Soil being barren, and an excellent Place to breed a Famine in.

The most regularly quoted passage from the book is about the fate of the Welsh language (that it was “being English’d out of Wales”). But the quote is usually wrenched out of its fuller context, which is much more subtle and ironic in tone. (English learners of Welsh everywhere will appreciate the problems you experience when you get some of those Welsh polysyllables stuck in your throat.) And what are we supposed to make of the author’s attitude to the language? On the one hand, to be much admired as a language of ‘sincerity’ and ‘purity’, with English a ‘barbarous’ intruder; on the other, ‘native gibberish’; yet again, those in the towns who ‘despise it’ are ‘puffed up’ snobs. Does the author approve of the ‘glimmering hopes’ that it may become extinct, or is that to be taken as the view of those puffed up townsfolk and gentry who are turning their backs on it? (This is probably exaggerating for effect the extent to which Welsh was being ejected from gentry households at that time, but it is true that English was the language of high status, politics, law, learning, necessary in order to ‘get on’.)

That, which we admir’d most of all amongst them, was the Virginity of their Language, not deflower’d by the Mixture of any other Dialect: The Purity of Latin was debauch’d by the Vandals, and was Hun’d into Corruption by that barbarous People; but the Sincerity of the British remains inviolable. ‘Tis a Tongue (it seems) not made for every Mouth; as appears by an Instance of one in our Company, who, having got a Welsh Polysyllable into his Throat, was almost choak’d with Consonants, had we not, by clapping him on the Back, made him dis-gorge a Guttural or two, and so sav’d him. They usually liquefy the most rugged Mutes, and soften ’em by Pronunciation… Whether the Welsh tongue be a Splinter of that universal one that was shatter’d at Babel, we have some reason to doubt, in regard ‘tis unlike the Dialects that were crumbled there; however, whether it be kin or no to other country Speeches, it matters not; but this we are assured of, it is near and dear to the Folk that utter it, who are so passionately fond of it, that they will scarce admit another into the Embraces of their Lips, which sputter forth a Kind of loathing of our English Language; wherein, if a Question be ask’d them, they will, with somewhat of Disdain and Choler, make Answer, Dim Aiffonick, i.e. no English. Their native Gibberish is usually prattled throughout the whole Taphydome, except in their Market-Towns, whose Inhabitants being a little rais’d and (as it were) puffed up into Bubbles above the ordinary Scum, do begin to despise it. Some of these being elevated above the common Level, and perhaps refin’d into the Quality of having two Suits, are apt to fancy themselves above their Tongue, and when in their t’other Cloaths, are quite asham’d on’t. ‘Tis usually cashier’d out of Gentlemen’s Houses, there being scarcely to be heard even one single Welsh Tone in many Families; their Children are instructed in the Anglican Idiom, and their Schools are paedagogu’d with Professors of the same; so that (if the Stars prove lucky) there may be some glimmering Hopes that the British Lingua may be quite extinct, and may be English’d out of Wales, as Latin was barbarously Goth’d out of Italy.

…………….

* If you’re looking it up in a library’s rare books collection (there’s no modern edition), it was republished in subsequent decades under a variety of titles, often in compiled collections, eg John Torbuck, A collection of Welsh travels, and memoirs of Wales (1738 and later editions); Dean Swift’s ghost (1753). For those with access, it’s available at EEBO.

** I’m borrowing that phrase, and some the arguments, from Michael Roberts, ‘ “A Witty Book, but mostly Feigned”: William Richards’ Wallography and perceptions of Wales in later seventeenth-century England’, in Archipelagic identities (eds. Philip Schwyzer and Simon Mealor). Declaration of interest: Michael was my PhD supervisor.