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William Salesbury

1520?-1584?. Welsh NT translator. He sprang from a family that had gained money and social prestige since the fourteenth century. He was born at Llansannan, but spent most of his life at Plas Isa in Denbighshire. No more detail is available about his university career except that he was educated at Oxford. After a period at the Inns of Court he became a lawyer in the service (possibly) of the lord chancellor. But he seems to have retired early to Wales to devote himself to his scholarly pursuits.

He dedicated himself to the task of providing the Welsh people with the Scriptures in their own language. After trying his hand as an author by publishing seven books, he began the great work of his life by publishing Kynniver llith a ban (“all the lessons and articles”) in 1551, a Welsh translation of the lessons for Holy Communion according to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Salesbury was a typical man of the Renaissance in his scholarship and linguistic expertise, and it is apparent that in translating into Welsh he made use of Erasmus's Greek Testament, Luther's German, the Vulgate, Tyndale's NT, and the Great Bible. But he was always selective in his choice of translation. With the accession of Elizabeth I,* it became imperative to complete the work of translation. The Act of 1563 commanded the Welsh bishops together with the bishop of Hereford to have a Welsh translation of the Bible and of the Book of Common Prayer available by 1 March 1567. Salesbury was invited by Bishop Richard Davies to cooperate in the work of translation.

In May 1567 the Welsh Book of Common Prayer was published, followed by the NT in October. It is now agreed that the Common Prayer was very largely the work of Salesbury. While Bishop Davies translated 1 Timothy, Hebrew, James, 1 and 2 Peter, and Thomas Huet, dean of St. David's, translated Revelation, the remainder was Salesbury's work. By now the Geneva Bible had been published as well as Theodore Beza's great work on the NT (1565). They influenced Salesbury to be more meticulous about the details of the Greek text and to adopt a literal translation very frequently rather than an idiomatic one-the common emphasis among Calvinistic translators. All in all, Salesbury's work was a very fine achievement, and although his NT is marred by the adoption of idiosyncratic ideas about Welsh orthography, it is nevertheless the basis of all subsequent translations. It was Salesbury who fused the spiritual energy of the Protestant Reformation and the enthusiasm of the Renaissance into the context of Welsh national life.

See I. Thomas, William Salesbury and his Testament (1967); G. Williams, “The achievement of William Salesbury,” Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society.

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