Born c.1507 in Llansannan, Denbighshire, William Salesbury was educated at Oxford before studying law in London.
In 1532, he was appointed Deputy Attorney General for Wales.
The book traces Salesbury’s life, struggles and achievements. A humanist scholar and a prodigious linguist, in 1544 he persuaded Henry VIII to license the printing of Welsh books. In so doing he reversed the clause of the 1536 Act of Union, which stated that the Welsh language was to be “extirp’d” (destroyed).
Salesbury’s “A Dictionary in Englyshe and Welshe” appeared in 1547. More books followed during the reign of Edward VI, including two works of propaganda for Bishop Nicholas Ridley.
It was during Edward’s reign that Salesbury began his campaign for the translation of the Bible into Welsh. In 1551, at great personal risk, he published an unauthorised Welsh version of the Prayer Book.
During Mary’s reign he returned to the safety of north Wales. (Several of his colleagues in London perished in the flames.)
With Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, Salesbury resumed his campaigning and in 1563 Parliament passed an act for the translation of the Bible and Prayer Book into Welsh.
In 1567, Salesbury’s translations of the Prayer Book (including the Psalms) and the New Testament were printed. Despite his best efforts he was unable to complete the translation of the Old Testament, but four years after Salesbury’s death, William Morgan’s Welsh Bible (1588) was published.
Morgan’s achievement was made possible by Salesbury’s pioneering work in the fields of printing, scholarship, translation and legislation..
For much of the twentieth century Salesbury’s reputation was blighted, but he is now being rediscovered as one of the most significant figures in Welsh history.