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Reference: NLW MS 5390D

The Salusbury family was praised and mourned by many major poets of the sixteenth century. This manuscript serves as a window on the cultural life of a diverse and talented family based in Lleweni, Denbighshire.

Description of the manuscript

The manuscript dates from the first half of the 17th century and contains plays, poems, elegies and miscellaneous written in English, Welsh and Latin. There are 271 leaves with the pagination for pp. 409-542 written upside-down starting from the back. The manuscript has a contemporary leather binding with the remains of a brass clasp on one side.


A number of authors have contributed to this particular manuscript, notably John Donne (1573-1631) and William Salusbury, ‘Old Blue Stockings’ (1580?–1659/60), an ancestor of the Salesburys of Bachymbyd near Ruthin. The main body of the work, however, is that of the following three members of the Salusbury family of Lleweni:

  • Sir John Salusbury (1566/7–1612)
  • Sir Henry Salusbury (1589–1632)
  • Sir Thomas Salusbury (1612–1643)

The Salusbury family, Lleweni

The Salusbury family was one of the most renowned families in North Wales in the 16th  and 17th  centuries. The origin of the family is obscure, but it is believed that the family came originally form Herefordshire and settled in Lleweni c.1334. The estate descended through the male linage until John Salusbury (d. 1684), the 4th and last Baronet died. The estate was passed on to his sister, Hester Salusbury, who married Sir Robert Cotton.

John Salusbury

The English poet, Sir John Salusbury was the son of the famous Katheryn of Berain. He inherited the estate in 1586 at only twenty years old. He married Ursula, the daughter of Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby, in the same year. In 1595, he became an esquire of the body to Queen Elizabeth I, who in June 1601, knighted him in recognition of his part in quelling the revolt of Robert Devereux as part of the Essex Rebellion.

In 1601, Robert Chester’s Love’s Martyr was published. This volume of poetry was dedicated to Sir John Salusbury. It contains poems by Ben Jonson, George Chapman and John Marston, and also a poem by William Shakespeare, ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’.  It is said that Sir John and his wife Ursula are the central characters of this collection, especially in Shakespeare’s lyric poem where it is argued that John is depicted as the faithful turtle-dove and his wife is the colourful phoenix.

John Salusbury, like his predecessors, was an avid supporter of the Welsh poetic tradition. However, the poems by Sir John included in this manuscript are all written in English (pp. 13-30, 149, 151). Many of his supporters whom he entertained at Lleweni wrote about him both in the Welsh and English language. The majority of these poems are included in Christ Church, Oxford MSS 183 and 184. It is believed that even Shakespeare enjoyed a stay at Lleweni one Christmas in 1593/4 and wrote a poem expressing his gratitude to his hosts.

Henry Salusbury

After Sir John’s death in 1612, Lleweni was inherited by his son Henry Salusbury (1589–1632) who became first Baronet of Lleweni in 1619.  He has a number of Welsh and English poems (pp. 145, 177, 450) and epitaphs (pp. 157, 161, 169) in this manuscript – the most well-known is a short poem of 8 lines that praises the editors of Shakespeare’s First Folio edition of his complete works in 1623. The poem has the following dedication: ‘To my good freandes mr John Hemings & Henry Condall’ (p. 141). These good friends were both actors and are named in Shakespeare’s last will and testament.

Thomas Salusbury

Henry’s son, Thomas Salusbury, the 2nd Baronet (1612–1643) was an English poet, a dramatist and a politician. He is the author of the majority of works included in this manuscript. Thomas Pennant states in Tours in Wales (ed. 1883, Vol. ii, p. 141) that he was ‘a much distinguished by his pen as his sword.’ Even so, only one of his works was published in his lifetime: The History of Joseph (1636), a poem dedicated to Lady Middleton, his grandfather’s widow, as a tribute to her care for him.

The manuscript contains a number of Thomas Salusbury’s poems, accounts, and several plays and masques. They include three plays which are ‘closet dramas’, one complete five-act play, Love and Money (pp. 69-109), and two incomplete plays (pp. 50-55 and pp. 337-378). The occasional masques contained in this manuscript however were performed in an informal setting:

‘A Show or Antimasque of Gipseys as it was Invented, written, & prsented in the space of 6 howres at Chirk Castle aforesaid the day after the wedding being the 30th of Decembr. 1641;’

‘A Masque as it was prsented at ye right Honble ye Lord Strange his house at Knowsley on Twelfth night 1640 Christmas day yt year lighting on friday. Designed & written in six howres space by Sr Th: Salusbury.’

NLW MS 5390D is one of the best known of the Salusbury family records along with Christ Church MSS 183 and 184. Through the works of many gifted individuals, it throws light on the literary events and musical performances at Lleweni, one of the largest estates in North Wales in the late 16th century. This cultural milieu attracted some of the most illustrious figures in English literature of whom the most important is William Shakespeare.

Further reading

  • M B Bland, ‘“As far from all revolt”: Sir John Salusbury, Christ Church MS. 184 and Jonson’s First Ode’, English Manuscript Studies 8 (2000).
  • Carleton Brown, Poems by Sir John Salusbury and Robert Chester (London: Early English Text Society, by K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1914).
  • John Idris Jones. ‘William Shakespeare and John Salusbury: what was their relationship?’ Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society 59 (2011), 56-96.
  • David N Klausner, Wales: Records of Early Drama (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005).
  • E Roberts, ‘Siôn Salsbri, Lleweni’, Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society 19 (1970), 66–102. [In Welsh]
  • W J Smith, ed., Calendar of Salusbury Correspondence, 1553–c.1700 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1954).