Bangor University and Rhug Estate started work on a collaborative project in 2017 to explore the influence and significance of Rhug and Bachymbyd estates during the 16th and 17th centuries. The research is being carried out by Sadie Jarrett, a history graduate from Cambridge and Oxford Brookes universities who originates from Port Talbot. Here is Sadie's latest instalment into her research:
I’m now about halfway through my project researching the Salesbury family, the early modern owners of Rhug estate. I’ve spent the last few months looking at the Salesbury women. They are vitally important to the family’s history.
Piers Salesbury, the first Salesbury to own Rhug estate, only acquired it through his marriage to Margaret Wen, who inherited Rhug from her father. Nevertheless, the Salesbury women, despite comprising half the family, are often absent in the surviving records. Usually, they exist only as names in marriage settlements and disputes over inheritance, emphasising the crucial role they played in the circulation of land amongst gentry families.
For my project, I’m working with Rhug’s old estate archive, as well as the archive of the Salesburys’ other estate at Bachymbyd in Denbighshire. As a result, it’s been quite challenging to research the lives of the Salesbury women. The estates were generally run by the men which makes it difficult to find information about the women in the family. There are some exceptions, however, particularly when women became widows and took control of their jointure, their lifetime share of the estate.
Although women might not always be visible in the estate archives, I’ve found that they were important and valued partners of their husbands. For example, in 1645, Charles Salesbury, the youngest son of William Salesbury (1580-1660), married Elizabeth Thelwall, the daughter of William’s closest friend. Unusually for the Salesbury women, the surviving records let us see Elizabeth as a bride, a wife, a mother, a widow and a grandmother. The records present Elizabeth as a formidable gentlewoman who fiercely defended her family’s interests and kept careful control over her finances. Upon Charles and Elizabeth’s marriage, William Salesbury granted his son the Bachymbyd estate in Denbighshire and Charles began building an impressive brick house for his young family. The house still exists today as a private residence, the only Salesbury house to survive at Rhug or Bachymbyd. Above the door, there is a carving of the combined Salesbury and Thelwall coat of arms with the initials CES for Charles and Elizabeth Salesbury. This is an important visual representation of the marriage as a partnership and the joining together of two families (see image below). Charles and Elizabeth completed the house in 1666, the year of Charles’ death. When Charles died, he appointed Elizabeth the executrix of his will; Charles trusted her knowledge and skills to administer his estate.
Elizabeth was now a widow and her unmarried daughter, Jane, was a wealthy heiress. Elizabeth and Charles had four children, three daughters and a son, but only Jane survived to adulthood. In 1669, Elizabeth began to arrange her daughter’s marriage to Walter Bagot, the son of Sir Edward Bagot of Blithfield Hall, Staffordshire. Elizabeth had complete control over the match and the negotiations. Just before Christmas 1669, Elizabeth’s brother wrote to Sir Edward that it ‘was not civil or reasonable to expect her absolute condescention or declaration at the first proposal’ [NLW Bachymbyd Letters 70]. Elizabeth would not be rushed into a decision and she was scrupulous in ensuring the marriage did not endanger her daughter’s fortune: her brother warned Sir Edward that Elizabeth was ‘pregnant with fears and distrusts’ [NLW Bachymbyd Letters 67]. The Bagots and Elizabeth’s brother eventually persuaded her on the quality of the match and Jane and Walter married in the summer of 1670.
Elizabeth died in 1693, widowed for longer than she had been married. Jane and Walter had ten children and, notably, Elizabeth left most of her money to her granddaughters. In general, there are very few images of the Salesbury family, but fortunately there is a 1675-6 portrait of Elizabeth (wearing a very impressive hat) with two of her grandchildren, which is now kept at the Tate (image above).
Elizabeth is just one example of the many interesting Salesbury women I’ve encountered over the past few months, but they were all invariably skilled administrators with the knowledge and confidence to defend their own interests.
Over the summer, I’ll be researching at the British Library and The National Archives in London and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing manuscripts written by the Salesbury family and to read the poetry they composed. It will be a wonderful insight into their literary culture and it will give an interesting new dimension to my study of the family.
For more updates about the project, I’m on Twitter as @pastdeeds