18. Bishop William Morgan
Thinkers (775 votes)
1545 – 1604
Cleric and scholar who helped ensure the survival of the Welsh language.
If any individual can be credited with preventing Welsh from joining Middle English and Old Norse in the linguistic dinosaur park, it is perhaps Bishop William Morgan.
A gifted scholar, he was born at Penmachno in what is now Gwynedd and studied Hebrew, Greek at Latin at Cambridge University. He was priest of several northern parishes before becoming Bishop of Llandaff and later St Asaph.
The accession of the Tudors was good news for Wales on the
political front. The Acts of Union introduced by Henry VIII expunged once and for all the systematic discrimination they had suffered since the Plantagenets.
The Welsh were now full and equal subjects of the realm and, since the Tudors were of partly Welsh stock, they looked much less like a defeated race.
The Acts however also sought to make English the ‘official’ language of Wales, notoriously banning what was described as “sinister usage and custom”. That meant Welsh could no longer be used in the law courts or public administration.
The Welsh people proved reluctant to abandon their mother tongue. By 1663 it was felt necessary to order Welsh translations of sacred texts. The apparent logic behind this surprising turnabout was a belief that people would learn English from seeing it alongside the Welsh.
William Morgan’s translation appeared in 1588 – the same year the Spanish Armada sailed for Britain- and was the Tudor equivalent of a publishing sensation. The thousand copies originally printed were later supplemented with a second edition and a shorter ‘Little Bible’ began appearing in Welsh homes from 1630.
The William Morgan Bible was as significant in Wales as the King James Version – which it predates by 23 years- was in England. It was used to teach successive generations how to read and write and the power of its language continues to resonate through the centuries.