Finally the archives have begun to open up properly and I’ve been able to do some research trips to continue my work on the Salesburys of Rhug and Bachymbyd, the gentry family who owned Rhug Estate in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It’s been fantastic to get back to using original documents and learning more about the Salesburys. My PhD research on the Salesburys looked at the family from around 1450 to around 1660. Since completing my PhD, I’ve been continuing my research up to 1719, when the Salesbury estates passed through marriage into different families. It hasn’t been easy with the lockdowns and the closure of archives, but I’ve been so grateful to the archivists and librarians who have continued to provide access to materials.
In June, I spent a week in London at The National Archives and the National Maritime Museum. I was mainly there to look at legal records, particularly a dispute between Roger Salesbury (d.1719), the last Salesbury man to own Rhug and his nieces, Elizabeth and Margaret. Roger owed money to Elizabeth and Margaret under the terms of his brother’s (and their father’s) will, Owen Salesbury. However, Roger claimed that he couldn’t afford to pay Elizabeth and Margaret as quickly as they wanted because he had too many other payments to make. The lawsuits went on for over twenty years, but in the end, Roger died before the case could be properly resolved and Elizabeth and Margaret inherited Rhug Estate anyway! They never did get the money owed to them though because Roger bequeathed it to his sister, Lumley.
I find legal records really useful sources because they’re full of incidental information about the family. For example, I discovered that Owen Salesbury had 600 books at Rhug when he died in 1694. In fact, I recently wrote another blog post for Many-Headed Monster, an early modern history blog, where I used a lawsuit in Star Chamber to explore the Salesburys’ relationship with their tenants and servants. As you’ll see in the post, the early modern Welsh gentry were committed to maintaining their honour and they’d happily resort to violence to protect their friends, before denying it in court.
In a very exciting development, I’ve signed a contract with University of Wales Press to publish my research as a book. It’s provisionally titled ‘Power and Identity in Early Modern Wales: The Salesbury Family, 1450–1720’. The Salesburys are a great example of a Welsh gentry family and the book will provide a case study of how the Welsh gentry obtained and maintained power in the early modern state. It will also cover all the major incidents in the Salesbury family’s history, including the roguish behaviour of Captain John Salesbury who fought in the 1601 Essex Revolt, the family rift caused by the dishonourable Owen Salesbury who married without his father’s consent, and the chaos in Jane Salesbury’s marriage negotiations when her mother declared that she distrusted all men.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the Salesbury family over the past few years and I remain very grateful to Lord Newborough and Rhug Estate for funding my PhD research. I can’t wait to see my research out in print and it will be fantastic to share it with the world.
Since October 2020, I’ve been a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, London. It’s been brilliant to have this time to develop my book and explore the history of the Salesburys in more depth. However, I’m delighted to add that I’ve been appointed to a career development fellowship at The Queen’s College, Oxford, which I’ll be starting in the autumn and I’m really looking forward to it.
For more updates on the Salesburys and early modern Wales, you can find me on Twitter @pastdeeds
Image taken whilst visiting Greenwich to use the archives at the National Maritime Museum