Bangor University and Rhug Estate started work on a collaborative project in September 2017 to explore the influence and significance of Rhug and Bachymbyd estates during the 16th and 17th centuries. Funded by Lord Newborough, the three-year PhD project forms a central part of the early development of the Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates (ISWE). The research is being carried out by Sadie Jarrett, a history graduate from Cambridge and Oxford Brooks universities who originates from Port Talbot. Here is Sadie’s latest instalment into her research:

For my PhD, I’m researching the Salesburys of Rhug, a Welsh gentry family who owned the Rhug estate between 1490 and 1719. I’ve been researching the Salesburys for over a year now and they were certainly a characterful family. Like many Welsh gentry families, the Salesburys were fiercely possessive of their land and always desirous to acquire more. They were quarrelsome and litigious, often involved in extended, expensive court cases with their neighbours and rival gentry, fighting over land or inheritance. Sometimes, rivalries escalated into violence, resulting in clashes between armed bands of followers. This was typical behaviour for Welsh gentry at the time and the Salesburys were a typical Welsh gentry family. This is an important aspect of my project because I’m exploring what it meant to identify as Welsh gentry and how the family expressed its position in society. The Salesburys make a particularly interesting case study because they originally arrived as English settlers not long after Edward I’s conquest of Wales in 1282/3.

Today, the most famous member of the family is Colonel William Salesbury (1580-1660), who defended Denbigh Castle for King Charles I in the English Civil War. William refused to surrender the castle until expressly commanded by the king and even William’s enemies acknowledged his strength and bravery. William also built the lovely Rhug Chapel, which is now run by Cadw and open to visitors. He remains an important figure in local history with a reputation as a learned old soldier who worked as a pirate in his youth. Sadly, I’ve found no evidence (yet!) that William was ever a pirate, although he did sail to the West Indies in his early twenties. I recently gave a talk to Ruthin Local History Society about William’s life before the Civil War and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking about a famous local character to such a knowledgeable audience.

William made decisions about the Salesbury family which had major repercussions for their estates. Originally, the Salesburys owned the Bachymbyd estate, near Llanynys, Denbighshire, as well as Rhug. Bachymbyd was their first estate, bought by John Salesbury in the 1470s and slowly developed over time. The Salesburys acquired the Rhug estate when John’s son, Piers, married Margaret Wen, Rhug’s heiress, in 1490. Although Rhug was usually their main residence, the Salesburys valued Bachymbyd as their original ancestral estate. In the 1640s, however, William divided the Salesbury estates, granting Rhug to his elder son, Owen, and Bachymbyd to his younger son, Charles. The Rhug estate stayed in the Salesbury family until the death of Roger Salesbury in 1719, while Bachymbyd passed to the Bagots of Blithfield Hall when Charles’ heiress, Jane, married Walter Bagot in 1670. Last summer, with the kind welcome of the Bagot Jewitt family, I visited Blithfield Hall where they still retain portraits and other records of their Salesbury ancestors. Their collection includes a magnificent portrait of William Salesbury, painted in 1632.

For my project, I mainly use the records produced by the two estates at Rhug and Bachymbyd, such as deeds, inventories and correspondence. Fortunately, it seems the Salesburys never threw anything away. Interestingly, the family’s collection of estate papers divided at the same time as their estates. Today, Gwynedd Archives, Caernarfon, has the Rhug papers and the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, has the Bachymbyd papers. The Bachymbyd papers include the oldest document in the Salesbury collection (dated 1243), but I mostly look at records from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries when the Salesbury family were most active. In addition to visiting Caernarfon and Aberystwyth, I’ve also travelled to Denbighshire Archives, Ruthin, where I particularly enjoyed seeing the Painted Book of Erbistock. This is a beautiful, seventeenth-century collection of heraldry and genealogy connected to the gentry families of north Wales. Last year, I also went to the National Archives in London, where I had a wonderful time researching the Salesburys’ involvement in various legal disputes, usually arguments over land.

Currently, I’m researching the Salesbury women. When I first started my project, it became clear quite quickly that most of the existing work on the Salesbury family involved the history of men. Men inherited the estates, fought with rival families, and held public offices. However, I’m rapidly finding that, although women may be largely absent from the established history of the Salesburys, they were equally aware of their status and willing to defend their right to land and money. For example, William Salesbury had a fractious relationship with his late brother’s widow, Elinor, who fiercely maintained her financial interest in the Salesbury estates for over fifty years. I’m looking forward to discovering more about the Salesbury women over the next few months.

For more updates about the project, I’m on Twitter as @pastdeeds

The picture is of William Salesbury, 1632, by an unknown artist. By kind permission of the Bagot Jewitt family at Blithfield Hall, Staffs.