Sir John Rhys Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 982 JR
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English, Welsh, French, Italian, Manx.
  • Physical Description
      0.015 cubic metres

Scope and Content

The archive contains correspondence received and collected by Sir John Rhys, manuscript notes both written and collected by Rhys, and printed material.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir John Rhys was born on June 21st 1840 at Aberceiro, near Cwmrheidol, Cardiganshire. He received his early education at the British Schools of nearby Ponterwyd and Pen-llwyn. He later attended the Normal College, Bangor. On qualifying as a teacher, he took up the post of master at the British School, Rhos-y-bol, Anglesey.

Rhys held a strong interest in languages and antiquities. Through connections made whilst teaching on Anglesey, he was introduced to Charles Williams, then Principle of Jesus College, Oxford. The meeting led to him being offered a scholarship to the College, which he took up in 1865. He graduated with a degree in Classics, and was made a Fellow of Merton College. Whilst at Oxford, Rhys spent his summers abroad, in France and Germany. Here he studied under Curtius, amongst others, and his interest in philology grew.

In 1871, Rhys returned to Wales. He was offered a position as Inspector of Schools in Flint and Denbigh. The post allowed him to travel across Wales, providing an opportunity to study ancient Welsh memorial inscriptions. It was during this period that he married Elspeth Hughes-Davies of Llanberis, and together they would have two daughters, Myfanwy and Olwen.

Rhys' main interest lay in Celtic, especially Welsh philology. Through his works, he made a significant contribution to the early history of the Celts in Britain. He delivered a series of lectures on Welsh philology at Aberystwyth in 1874, which were published three years later. He published a series of articles in Revue Celtique outlining the philological principles still known as Rhys's Law. In 1865 he produced an essay, 'The Passive Verbs of the Latin and Keltic Languages', and he also worked to trace early Celtic mythology through Irish and Welsh folk tales.

The chair of Celtic at Jesus College was established in 1877, and Rhys was a natural choice for the post. He was simultaneously made an honorary fellow of the college, later to become an offical fellow and bursar. In 1885 he was elected College Principle, a position he was to hold until his death.

Rhys received several honours during his lifetime. In 1902 he attained his DLitt from the University of Wales. The following year he was made a Fellow of The British Academy, and their 'Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture' was established on his death. In 1907 he was knighted, and made a member of the Privy Council in 1911. 1912 saw him awarded the Cymmrodorion Medal. Rhys was also a member of various Royal Commissions on issues relating to Wales, and beyond, and was President of the Dafydd ap Gwilym Society, Oxford.

Access Information

The papers may be consulted through application by e-mail to: or by post to: Aberystwyth University, Archives, Information Services, Llandinam Building, Penglais, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB. Tel: 01970 628593.


Description compiled by Rhian Phillips, Archives Hub project archivist, with reference to John Edward Lloyd, R T Jenkins and William Llewelyn Davies (eds), The Dictionary of Welsh Biography Down to 1940, (London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1953), p 844-45.

Other Finding Aids

Basic finding aid available on request from Archives staff.

Related Material

Further correspondence and papers of Sir John Rhys are held by the Department of Manuscripts and Records, National Library of Wales.