Polydore Vergil  

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Polydore Vergil or Virgil (c. 1470 – 18 April 1555) was an Italian historian, otherwise known as PV Castellensis. He is a primary source for the early Tudor period, though his historical accuracy is often questioned.

Contents

Life

Polydore Vergil was a kinsman of Cardinal Hadrian Castellensis, a native of Castro in Etruria. His father's name is said to have been George Virgil; his great-grandfather, Anthony Virgil, "a man well skilled in medicine and astrology," had practiced philosophy at the University of Paris, as did Polydore's own brother and protege John Matthew Virgil, at Pavia, in 1517. His third brother was a merchant in London.

Polydore was born at Urbino, is said to have been educated at Bologna, and was probably in the service of Guido Ubaldo, Duke of Urbino, before 1498, as in the dedication of his first work, Liber Proverbiorum (April 1498), he styles himself this prince's client. Polydore's second book, De Inventoribus Rerum, is dedicated to Guido's tutor, Ludovicus Odaxius, from Urbino, in August 1499. After a period as chamberlain to Pope Alexander VI he came to England in 1501 as deputy collector of Peter's pence for the cardinal. As Hadrian's proxy, he was enthroned Bishop of Bath and Wells in October 1504. It was at the instigation of King Henry VII of England that he commenced his Historia Anglica--a work which, though apparently begun as early as 1505, was not completed till August 1533, the date of its dedication to Henry VIII, and was not published till 1534.

In May 1514 Polydore and his patron, the cardinal, were found supporting Wolsey's claims to the cardinalship, but he had lost Wolsey's favor before the year was out. A rash letter, reflecting severely on Henry VIII and Wolsey, was intercepted early in 1515, after which Polydore was cast into prison and supplanted in his collectorship (March and April). He had some powerful supporters; Pope Leo X wrote to the king on his behalf. From prison he sent an abject and almost blasphemous letter to the offended minister, begging that the fast approaching Christmas—a time which witnessed the restitution of a world—might see his pardon also. He was freed before Christmas 1515, though he never regained his collectorship. In 1525 he published the first edition of Gildas, dedicating the work to Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London.

Next year his Liber de Prodigiis appeared, dedicated to Francesco Maria, Duke of Urbino. Around 1538 Polydore left England and returned to Italy for some time. He claimed that ill-health prevented him on his return from making his daily notes on contemporary events. About the end of 1551 he went home to Urbino, where he appeared to have died in 1555. He had been naturalized an Englishman on 22 October 1510, and had held several clerical appointments in England. In 1508 he was appointed archdeacon of Wells, and in 1513 prebendary of Oxgate in St Paul's Cathedral, both of which offices he held after his return to Urbino.

The first edition of the Historia Anglica (twenty-six books) was printed at Basel in 1534; the twenty-seventh book, dealing with the reign of Henry VIII down to the birth of Edward VI, was added to the third edition of 1555. Polydore claims to have been very careful in collecting materials for this work, and to have used foreign as well as English historians. For this reason, he remarks, the English, Scots and French will find things reported in his pages far differently from the way they are used to hearing them within their own countries. In his search for information he applied to James IV of Scotland for a list of the Scottish kings and their annals; but not even his friendship with Gavin Douglas could make him accept the historical theories of the latter, who traced the pedigree of the Scots down from the banished son of an Athenian king and Scotta the daughter of the Egyptian tyrant of the Israelites.

A similar scepticism made him doubt the veracity of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and thus called forth John Leland's Defensso Gallofridi and Assertio Incomparabilis Arturii. This doubting instinct led to his being accused of many offences against learning, such as that of burning cartloads of manuscripts lest his errors should be discovered, of stealing books from libraries and shipping them off to Rome. It is mainly from the time of Henry VI, where contemporary records begin to fail, that Polydore's work is useful. He must have been personally acquainted with many men whose memories went back to the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. John Sherren Brewer was one of the first to shed doubt on his reliability as an authority for the reign of Henry VIII, and indeed his spite against Wolsey is evident; but it is impossible to read his social and geographical accounts of England and Scotland without gratitude for a writer who has preserved so many interesting details.

Polydore's Adagia (Venice, April 1498) was the first collection of Latin proverbs ever printed; it preceded Erasmus's by two years, and the slight misunderstanding that arose for the moment out of rival claims gave place to a sincere friendship. A second series of Biblical proverbs (553 in number) was dedicated to Wolsey's follower, Richard Pace, and is preceded by an interesting letter sent in June 1519, which gives the names of many of Polydore's English friends, from More and Archbishop Warham to Linacre and Tunstall. The De Inventoribus, treating of the origin of all things whether ecclesiastical or lay (Paris, 1499), originally consisted of only seven books, but was increased to eight in 1521. It was exceedingly popular, and was quickly translated into French (1521), German (1537), English (1546) and Spanish (1551). All editions, however, except those following the text sanctioned by Gregory XIII in 1576, are on the Index Expurgatorius.

The De Prodigiis also achieved great popularity, and was translated into Italian (1543), English (1546) and Spanish (1550). This treatise takes the form of a Latin dialogue between Polydore and his Cambridge friend Robert Ridley. It takes place in the open air, at Polydore's country house near London. Polydore's duty is to state the problems and supply the historical illustrations; his friend's to explain, rationalize and depreciate as best he can. Here, as in the Historia Anglica, it is plain that the writer prides himself on the excellence of his Latin, which in Sir Henry Ellis's opinion is purer than that of any of his contemporaries.

Works

  • Liber Proverbiorum
  • De inventoribus rerum (On Discovery), Latin Text and English translation, 2002 ISBN 0-674-00789-1
  • Liber de Prodigiis
  • Historia Anglica

Vergil published his first work in 1496. It was an edition of Perotti’s commentary on Martial, the Cornucopiae. Two years later Vergil published his Prouerbium Libellus, or Adagia, and in 1499 the Inuentoribus Rerum appeared. After he had withdrawn from politics Vergil worked on his literary works and produced an expanded version of the Inuentoribus Rerum in 1521. At the same time a revision and expansion of the Prouerbium Libellus was produced. He completed an entirely new project in 1525: Vergil’s edition of Gildas was published. In 1526 the Adagia was revised. At Erasmus’ request, Vergil worked on a translation of Dio Chrysostom's De Perfecto Monacho, which Vergil published in 1530, followed by the Dialogi de Prodigiis. In 1534, then, the first edition of the Anglica Historia was printed in Basle. In 1545, Vergil published a collection of dialogues: De Patienta, de Vita Perfecta, de Veritate et Mendacio. In 1546 a second version of the Anglica Historia appeared and a third edition was published in 1555, expanded with the account of events from 1509-1537.

All above mentioned works contain historical matter, but only three are historical in nature. They are the De Inuentoribus Rerum, his edition of Gildas and the Anglica Historia.

De Inuentoribus Rerum

The De Inuentoribus Rerum was written in only three months in 1499. It described in three books the 'first begetters' of all human activities. In book I, the origin of the gods and the word 'god' was investigated. Furthermore, it discussed matters such as the creation, marriage and religion. The second book covered, amongst other topics, law and military science, but also money and precious metals. The third book went on about business for farmers, architects and commercial activities. Since the book was immensely popular, Vergil added five more books devoted to the initia institorum rei Christianae. Vergil thought that this addition would probably be a popular one, but it served another, perhaps more important purpose: it was a concession towards the Christian community who had labelled the De Inuentoribus Rerum a work of heretics and depravity. The most interesting thing about Vergil’s work is not the criticism of indulgences or the scholasticism; it is the immense industry that went into the compilation and Vergil's way of anticipating modern developments, such as the scientific approach to religion; this shows that Vergil was ahead of other writers in his time. Vergil himself regarded the Inuentoribus Rerum and the Adagia as his masterpieces. It is these two works, rather than the Anglica Historia, that made Vergil a celebrity in both England and the continent. His later fame is also based on these two works.

Gildas …de calamitate, excidio et conquestu Britanniae

His edition of Gildas, the sixth-century churchman, is the first critical edition Template:Citation needed of a British historical text. By publishing this edition, Vergil reflected a growing interest in post-classical texts among German and Italian scholars. This interest sprang mainly from self-conscious nationalism which makes it curious at least that a foreigner chose a text about Britain. Vergil did, however, have a motive; this project provided a background for his anti-Arthurian position. The text was edited by Bishop Tunstall and Robert Ridley who altered the text to make the sense plainer and emended some anti-clerical passages leaving the text somewhat disfigured. The text was finally published in 1525.

Anglica Historia

The Anglica Historia was written in 1512-13. Eventually, four distinct versions in total were published:

  1. Manuscript written in 1512-13: covering events up to 1513 (MS)
  2. First edition, Basle, 1534, fol.: covering events up to 1509 (A)
  3. Second edition, Basle, 1546, fol.: covering events up to 1509 (B)
  4. Third edition, Basle, 1555, fol.: covering events up to 1537 (C)

The manuscript is now in the Vatican Library. The two volumes it is contained in were presented to the ducal library at Urbino in 1613 by Vergil’s grand-nephew. Although he stated in the preface that it was of the hand of Polydore Vergil, there has been some debate about the authorship of the work. In the past the Anglica Historia has sometimes been attributed to Federico Veterani. This misunderstanding was brought into the world by the terms of a colophon in the second manuscript volume, which was in a completely different handwriting. It states: 'I, Federico Veterani, wrote the whole work'. The hand in which the rest of the manuscript is written, however, is obviously that of Vergil; the flowing cursive Italic hand is identical to that of Vergil’s other works. A possible explanation for Veterani's note is that Vergil left it in Veterani's care, who inscribed the colophon to associate it with Veterani's other treasures. This way, it would not be lost or damaged during the Papal invasion in Urbino in 1516. Small, isolated notes in Veterani's hand are also found throughout the manuscript, but these are nearly all directions to a binder or printer. It is therefore probable that Vergil asked Veterani to prepare the work for a printer or to make a fair copy. The latter is the more probable possibility: Vergil would probably have wanted to present a fine manuscript to Henry VIII instead of a printed book and since Veterani was the most famous copyist of the time it would make sense that Vergil asked him to do it. Whether or not this actually happened cannot be said with certainty, because such a copy by Veterani was never found. The manuscript of the Anglica Historia is divided into a number of books. Book I-VI describe the early history up to the Norman conquest. Book VII accounts for William I and William II. The following books describe one reign per book, ending with the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign in book XXV up to 1513.

In 1534 the first printed version of the work appeared, a folio with decorations from John Bebel’s press in Basle. While this edition was similar to the manuscript, the changes were too rigorous to be described as rewriting; rather Vergil made a fresh start with the manuscript as a guideline. The main draft of this rewritten version has most likely taken place between 1521 and 1524; a phrase such as 'to this day, which is 1524' is an indication. Another is that he refers to having been archdeacon of Wells for fourteen years, suggesting 1521, since he was collated in 1507. The contents and style of the work was adjusted and, moreover, book VII in the manuscript was split into two parts: VII and a new VIII. The following books were numbered anew. The new book VIII was devoted entirely to Harold; similarly, the first two Norman kings were given their own book: IX. The first print now had two more books and ended with Henry VII in book XXVI in up to 1509.

In the Anglica Historia Vergil wrote that<ref>Professor Philip Payton - Cornwall 1996</ref>:

"the whole Countrie of Britain...is divided into iv partes; wherof the one is inhabited of Englishmen, the other of Scottes, the third of Wallshemen, and the fowerth of Cornishe people, which all differ emonge them selves, either in tongue, ...in manners, or ells in lawes and ordinaunces."

A new edition appeared in 1545. This version also ended in 1509, but it was considerably revised. These revisions were party the improvement of statements that had become politically undesirable, partly the notices of English institutions for English readers, but mostly to improve the Latin for European readers.

The third edition was published in 1555, the year of Vergil’s death. The alterations were less drastic, only stylistic and far less in number than the earlier two revisions. The importance of this edition is that it includes an account of Henry VIII’s reign up to 1537. The reason why he chose 1537 as the end of his account is as follows. Vergil claims that most of his work on the last book was done contemporaneously and that the work was interrupted by a visit to Italy. This must refer to his visit to Italy in 1533 and correspondingly, the period from 1530-1537 is treated cursorily. Denys Hay finds it reasonable to suppose that at first Vergil planned this book to describe events up to 1530, but that he postponed the publication of it due to the political uncertainties in England, enabling Vergil to extend the date of the ending.

References

  • Catherine Atkinson, Inventing inventors in Renaissance Europe. Polydore Vergil's De inventoribus rerum (Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2007).
  • Denys Hay, Polydore Vergil: Renaissance Historian and Man of Letters (Clarendon Press, 1952)




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Polydore Vergil" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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