Thomas Wiliems

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Thomas Wiliems (born in Ardda'r Mynaich in Arllechwedd, Wales possibly on 20 April 1545 or 1546; died in or before 13 August 1623) was a Welsh-language antiquarian. [1]

Arllechwedd cantref in Arfon, Gwynedd, Wales.

The ancient Welsh cantref of Arllechwedd in north-west Wales was part of the kingdom of Gwynedd for much of its history until it was included in the new county of Caernarfonshire, together with Arfon and Llŷn under the terms of the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284.

Wales Country in northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous, with its higher peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon, its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.



Wiliems's mother was Catherine, the illegitimate daughter of Meredydd ab Ifan of the Wynn family, and Wiliam ap Tomos ap Gronwy. Wiliems was brought up in the parish of Trefriw, Arllechwedd Isaf, Caernarfonshire, and is likely that Wiliems was educated in the Wynn family's own school (like William Morgan, who translated the Welsh Bible). The renaissance brought unprecedented interest in education to Wiliems's generation, and had a clear effect on his life. He attended Brasenose College, Oxford for a time, but clear records of his studies there are lacking because of confusion with other similarly named students, and it seems he did not take a degree. Rather he was ordained as an Anglican priest, serving as a curate for Trefriw from c. 1573. Accordingly, he was generally known to his contemporaries as Syr ('Sir') Thomas Wiliems, because this was the usual title for priests in Welsh at the time. However, Wiliems became a recusant, converting to Roman Catholicism, after which he worked as a physician (drawing on his extensive book-learning: qualifications as such were not required at the time). As a Catholic, Wiliems was denied access to printing, which perhaps helps to explain the focus of his scholarly activities on manuscript production.

Trefriw village and community in Conwy County Borough, Wales

Trefriw is a village and community in Conwy County Borough, Wales. It lies on the river Crafnant in North Wales, a few miles south of the site of the Roman fort of Canovium, sited at Caerhun. At the last 3 censuses the population of the community has been recorded as 842 in 1999, 915 in 2001, and 783 in 2011.

Caernarfonshire former administrative county of Wales

Caernarfonshire, historically spelled as Caernarvonshire or Carnarvonshire in English, is one of the thirteen historic counties, a vice-county and a former administrative county of Wales.

William Morgan (Bible translator) Bishop of Llandaff and of St Asaph, and translator of the Bible into Welsh

William Morgan was Bishop of Llandaff and of St Asaph, and the translator of the first version of the whole Bible into Welsh from Greek and Hebrew.

He died before August 13, 1623, at which time his uncle Sir John Wynn of the neighbouring Gwydir Castle, inscribed his name on the manuscript of Wiliem's dictionary's as its owner. Notes in Wiliems's manuscripts suggest he turned to Catholicism; he was certainly charged on that score at Bangor in 1607. [2]

Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet Welsh politician

Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet, was a Welsh baronet, Member of Parliament and antiquary.

Gwydir Castle Grade I listed building in Conwy County Borough.

Gwydir Castle is situated in the Conwy valley, Wales, a mile to the west of the ancient market town of Llanrwst and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the south of the large village of Trefriw. An example of a fortified manor house dating back to c1500, it is located on the edge of the floodplain of the river Conwy, and overlooked from the west by the now-forested slopes of Gwydir Forest.

Bangor, Gwynedd city in Gwynedd County, north west Wales

Bangor is a city and community in Gwynedd northwest Wales. It is the oldest city in Wales, and one of the smallest cities in the United Kingdom. Historically in Caernarfonshire, it is a university city with a population of 18,808 at the 2011 census, including around 10,500 students at Bangor University. It is one of only six places classed as a city in Wales, although it is only the 25th-largest urban area by population. At the 2001 census, 46.6% of the non-student resident population spoke Welsh.



Wiliems is best known for producing a Latin-Welsh dictionary in manuscript form (National Library of Wales, Peniarth 228), apparently between 4 May 1604 and 2 October 1607. He worked towards this by keeping a kind of commonplace book (Peniarth MS 188), which he systematised by essentially taking the Dictionarium Linguae Latinae et Anglicanae (1587) by Thomas Thomas, the first printer of Cambridge University, and adding Welsh to it. This was completed in 1607 and entitled Thesaurus Linguæ Latinæ et Cambrobritannicæ or Trysawr yr iaith Laidin ar Gymraec, ne'r Geiriadur coheddocaf a'r wiriathaf o wir aleitiaith Vrytanæc, sef heniaith a chyphredin iaith yn y Brydain, ar Latin yn cyfateb pob gair. Wedy dechreu i scriuenu 4. Maij 1604. [3] According to the prologue, Wiliems spent 30 years gathering material, and did so in order to promote the Welsh language, which was being spoken less and less by his contemporaries. [4]

National Library of Wales Grade II* listed building in Aberystwyth. Legal deposit library in Aberystwyth

The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, is the national legal deposit library of Wales and is one of the Welsh Government sponsored bodies. It is the biggest library in Wales, holding over 6.5 million books and periodicals, and the largest collections of archives, portraits, maps and photographic images in Wales. The Library is also home to the national collection of Welsh manuscripts, the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, and the most comprehensive collection of paintings and topographical prints in Wales. As the primary research library and archive in Wales and one of the largest research libraries in the United Kingdom, the National Library is a member of Research Libraries UK (RLUK) and the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL).

Commonplace book

Commonplace books are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they have learned. Each commonplace book is unique to its creator's particular interests. They became significant in Early Modern Europe.

The dictionary was not published during Wiliems's lifetime, despite the efforts of Wiliems's friend John Edwards (of Plas Newydd, Chirk), who got part way through making a neater manuscript copy (Brogyntyn MSS 9 and 10). Wiliems left the manuscript of the dictionary to Sir John Wynn, who passed it to John Davies of Mallwyd, asking that Davies publish it, giving recognition to the author and a dedication to Sir John himself. [5] John was already undertaking a Welsh-Latin dictionary and in the event published an abbreviation of Wiliems's Latin-Welsh dictionary in the second part of his own, which emerged as Antiquae Linguae Britannicae ... Dictionarum Duplex in 1632. [6]

Chirk town in Wales

Chirk is a small town and local government community in Wales. It is located in the traditional county of Denbighshire, although is currently administered as part of Wrexham County Borough. In the 2011 census, it had a population of 4,468. It is located 10 miles south of Wrexham.

John Davies (Mallwyd) Welsh Anglican priest and scholar

Dr John Davies, Mallwyd was one of Wales's leading scholars of the late Renaissance. He wrote a Welsh grammar and dictionary. He was also a translator and editor and an ordained minister of the Church of England.

Other works

According to Bishop Humphrey Humphreys, Wiliems compiled ‘a pretty large Herbal in Latin, Welsh and English’. It is now lost, unless parts survive, copied by Thomas Evans, in Cardiff MS 2.973; but Wiliems certain consulted Llanstephan MS 10 and BL, Add. MS 14913 (containing Meddygon Myddfai ). He seems to have translated the Trattato del sacramento della penitenza by Vincenzo Bruno SJ into Welsh, and compiled a collection of Welsh proverbs (surviving, in another's hand, in Mostyn MS 204). [7]

Humphrey Humphreys British bishop

Humphrey Humphreys was successively Bishop of Bangor (1689–1701) and Bishop of Hereford (1701–1712).

Manuscript copying

Wiliams's family connections meant that he knew the owners of some of Wales's most important medieval manuscripts, and he began transcribing manuscripts already by the age of twenty-one. His copying included: [8]

It is rumoured that Wiliems was involved in the Gunpowder plot and, in warning his relative John Wynn not to go to the State Opening of Parliament in 1605, was responsible to either a smaller or greater extent for the suspicions which ultimately caught Guy Fawkes. This story is the basis for a short historical novel written for children by Gweneth Lilly, entitled Treason at Trefriw (Gomer Press, 1993).


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  1. “Wiliems, Thomas (b. 1545/6?, d. in or before 1623?),” J. E. Caerwyn Williams in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, October 2005, (accessed August 28, 2017).
  2. “Wiliems, Thomas (b. 1545/6?, d. in or before 1623?),” J. E. Caerwyn Williams in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, October 2005, (accessed August 28, 2017).
  3. “Wiliems, Thomas (b. 1545/6?, d. in or before 1623?),” J. E. Caerwyn Williams in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, October 2005, (accessed August 28, 2017).
  4. Rhyddiaith Gymraeg: Y gyfrol gyntaf, Detholion o Lawysgrifau 1488–1609, ed. T. H. Parry Williams (1954).
  5. “Wiliems, Thomas (b. 1545/6?, d. in or before 1623?),” J. E. Caerwyn Williams in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, October 2005, (accessed August 28, 2017).
  6. Thomas Parry, Hanes Llenyddiaeth Gymraeg hyd 1900 (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1944).
  7. “Wiliems, Thomas (b. 1545/6?, d. in or before 1623?),” J. E. Caerwyn Williams in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, October 2005, (accessed August 28, 2017).
  8. “Wiliems, Thomas (b. 1545/6?, d. in or before 1623?),” J. E. Caerwyn Williams in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, October 2005, (accessed August 28, 2017).
  9. Jenny Rowland, Early Welsh Saga Poetry: A Study and Edition of the "Englynion" (Cambridge: Brewer, 1990), p. 393.