Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morgan, William (1540?-1604)

MORGAN, WILLIAM (1540?–1604), bishop of St. Asaph, son of John ap Morgan ap Llywelyn and Lowri, daughter of William ap John ap Madog, was born at Ty Mawr, Gwibernant, in the parish of Penmachno, Carnarvonshire, about 1540. His father, a copyhold tenant upon the great estate of Gwydir, was in no position to give his son a liberal education. But, according to a local tradition, William was carefully taught at home by a monk, who, on the dissolution of the monasteries, had found a secret asylum among his relatives at Ty Mawr.

The lad's proficiency soon attracted the attention of John (or Maurice?) Wynn of Gwydir, who took him under his patronage and had him taught at his own house, though no doubt on a menial footing. In 1565 he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, matriculating in the university as a sub-sizar on 26 Feb., and becoming a full sizar on 9 June. Cambridge, and in particular St. John's College, were at this time active protestant centres, and Morgan rapidly lost the Romanist sympathies which he probably brought with him from Wales. Hebrew was taught by Emanuel Tremellius [q. v.], and afterwards by Anthony Rodolph Chevallier [q. v.], and he thus laid the foundations of his proficiency in that language. He graduated B. A. in 1568, M.A. in 1571, B.D. in 1 578, and D.D. in 1583. On 8 Aug. 1575 he became vicar of Welshpool, and in 1578 he was appointed one of the university preachers. On 1 Oct. of that year he was promoted to the vicarage of Llanrhaiadr Mochnant, Denbighshire, to which appears to have been added in 1579 the rectory of Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire. The two parishes are not far apart, and Morgan probably found no difficulty in supervising Llanfyllin while residing at Llanrhaiadr. In a document styled ' A Discoverie of the present Estate of the Byshoppricke of St. Asaphe,' and dated 24 Feb. 1587, he is particularly mentioned as one of the three 'preachers ' in the diocese who kept 'ordinary residence and hospitality' upon their livings.

It was at Llanrhaiadr that Morgan carried out the great enterprise of his life, the translation of the Bible into Welsh. Parliament had in 1563 enacted that the bishops of Hereford, St. David's, Bangor, St. Asaph, and Llandaff should provide for the issue within three years of a Welsh version of the scriptures, but this had only resulted in the appearance of William Salesbury's translation of the New Testament in 1567. Morgan appears to have taken up spontaneously the idea of completing Salesbury's work; after some years' labour he resolved upon publishing the Pentateuch as an experiment. But influential neighbours who had private grudges against him interposed, and endeavoured to persuade the authorities that Morgan's character was not such as to fit him for his self-sought position as translator, and he was accordingly summoned before Archbishop Whitgift to justify his pretensions. It is probable that the aspersions upon him had reference to the position of his wife, whom he is said to have married secretly before he went up to Cambridge. Sir John Wynn of Gwydir afterwards took credit to himself for having cleared the good name of the two by the certificates he and his friends sent up to London. The effect of the attack undoubtedly was not only to vindicate Morgan's character, but also to convince Whitgift of his talents as a translator, and to interest the archbishop in the work. It was resolved that the whole of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha should appear, and that Morgan should also revise Salesbury's translation of the New Testament. Towards the end of 1587 the printing of the book began at London; it went on for a year, during which Morgan was enabled to exercise a close supervision over the work through the hospitality of Gabriel Goodman [q. v.], dean of Westminster. It appeared in 1588, after the defeat of the Armada (to which reference is made in the preface), and before 20 Nov., the date inscribed in the copy presented by Morgan to the Westminster Abbey Library. The Latin dedication to Queen Elizabeth tells something of the history of the translation, and powerfully states the case for it against those advisers of the crown who disapproved of any official countenance being given to the Welsh language. Among those who helped in the production of the book are mentioned Archbishop Whitgift, William Hughes [q. v.] (bishop of St. Asaph), Hugh Bellot [q. v.] (bishop of Bangor), Dean Goodman, Dr. David Powel (author of the 'Historie of Cambria'), Edmund Prys (author of the Welsh metrical version of the Psalms), and Dr. Richard Vaughan (afterwards successively bishop of Bangor, of Chester, and of London).

Shortly before the appearance of the translation Morgan seems to have resigned his position at Llanrhaiadr in favour of his son, Evan Morgan, who held the vicarage until 1612. He himself was provided for by means of the sinecure rectory of Pennant Melangell, Montgomeryshire, bestowed upon him on 10 July 1588. He still lived, it would seem, at Llanrhaiadr, which led Sir John Wynn, in a letter written in 1603, to refer to him as though he had been vicar of that place at the time of his being made bishop. In 1594 his income was further augmented by the sinecure rectory of Denbigh (cf. Letter from .Earl of Essex, 29 Jan. 1594-5, in Stype's Annals, edit. 1824, iv. 342).

Morgan was elected bishop of Llandaff on 30 June 1595, was consecrated on 20 July, and received the temporalities of the see on 7 Aug. Sir John Wynn of Gwydir at a later period took to himself the whole credit of this promotion, but there is no reason to doubt that Elizabeth and Whitgift felt a personal interest in the appointment, and made it for the good of Wales. The see was a poor one; hence it is not surprising that he retained the rectory of Llanfyllin, but he gave up that of Pennant, and in the next year that of Denbigh.

On the death of Bishop Hughes, Morgan was on 21 July 1601 elected to the somewhat wealthier see of St. Asaph. He now resigned Llanfyllin, but followed his predecessor in the see in retaining the archdeaconry in his own hands. Both at Llandaff and at St. Asaph he showed the energy to be expected of him. His successor in the former see, Francis Godwin [q. v.], speaks of his 'industria' there. At St. Asaph he took measures for establishing regular courses of sermons at the cathedral, repaired the chancel, and exercised a careful supervision over the property of the church in his diocese. His vigilance in the latter respect brought him into conflict with the great men of the district. Soon after his settlement at St. Asaph he had a dispute with David Holland of Teirdan, which was only composed by the intervention of Sir John Wynn of Gwydir; and in 1603, a few months before his death, he mortally offended Sir John himself by refusing to confirm a lease for three lives of the living of Llanrwst, by which Sir John hoped to profit. A correspondence on this matter is printed in Yorke's 'Royal Tribes of Wales' (edit. 1887, pp. 134-141), and shows the bishop firm and incorruptible, though possibly a little haughty, on the one hand, while Sir John is indignant at the ingratitude, under a feigned plea of conscience, of one for whom he holds he has done so much.

Morgan died, as 'Y Cwtta Cyfarwydd' tells us, 'upon Monday morning, being the xth day of September, 1604.' He was twice married, first to Ellen Salesbury, whom he married before going to Cambridge; and secondly to Catherine, daughter of George ap Richard ap John. He left one son, Evan, who became vicar of Llanrhaiadr Mochnant. The tercentenary of the translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1888 was marked by the erection of a memorial to Morgan and his helpers in the precincts of St. Asaph Cathedral.

[The fullest and most accurate biography of Morgan is that of Mr. Charles Ashton ('Bywyd ac Amserau yr Esgob Morgan,' Treherbert, 1891), which sifts almost all the material available for an account of his life. Two parts of 'The Life and Times of Bishop William Morgan,' by Mr. T. Evan Jacob (London, n.d.), have appeared; also a short biography by the Rev. W. Hughes, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. All three appeared in connection with the tercentenary of the translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588. See also letters in Yorke's Royal Tribes of Wales; Edwards's edition (1801) of Browne Willis's Survey of St. Asaph; Account of the Welsh Versions of the Bible, by Dr. Thomas Llewelyn, 1793.]

J. E. L.