Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 58.djvu/260

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Vergil
Vergil
252

lent him one manuscript, which he collated with one in his own possession.

On 6 June 1533 Polydore Vergil had license to go beyond the sea on business, with six horses and six servants. He probably went a little later, as we know from the dedication to his history that he was in London in August 1533. This work, upon which he had been engaged for twenty-eight years, was now ready for publication. It was dedicated to Henry VIII, and printed at Basel by Bebelius, 1534, fol. The title of the first edition runs ‘Polydori Vergilii Urbinatis Anglicæ Historiæ Libri xxvi.’ A second edition was published at Basel in 1546. In both these the history is brought down to 1509. The third edition, Basel, 1555, fol., comprised twenty-seven books, and brought the history down to 1538. Later editions were: Basel, 1557, fol.; Ghent, 1556–7, 2 vols. sm. 8vo; Basel, 1570, fol.; Leyden, 1651, 8vo. Thysius, who edited the last, overlooked the reign of Henry VIII while the book was passing through the press, and ultimately inserted it at the beginning. Sir Henry Ellis edited for the Camden Society in 1844 the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III, and in 1846 the first eight books, comprising the period prior to the Norman conquest, from a manuscript translation of the Tudor period, Royal MS. 18, C. viii. and ix. in the British Museum.

Vergil was an Italian, a Roman catholic, a despiser of Brute, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and of Arthur, a contemner of Wyclif and the lollards. Many passages wounded national or religious prejudices. The most notable of his antagonists were Leland, whose ‘Codrus sive Laus et Defensio Gallofridi Arturii Monumetensis contra Polydorum Vergilium’ is contained in the fifth volume of his ‘Collectanea;’ and Sir John Price [q. v.], whose posthumous ‘Historiæ Brytannicæ Defensio’ was directed against Vergil. More serious are the charges, somewhat inconsistent, of burning the records that he had used, or of shipping them off to Rome. Burton needlessly, but ably, defended him against the former charge (Nichols, Leicestershire, III. i. 538). According to Gale, a shipload of documents sailed from Rochester Bridge (see upon the whole question Sir Henry Ellis, History, pp. xx, &c.).

Vergil's historical method was far in advance of anything that England had then known. Unlike preceding chroniclers, he wrote a history on modern lines, attempted to weigh authorities, and told a connected story. As an authority he is invaluable for the reign of Henry VII, with whose aims and character he thoroughly sympathised, and he realised fully the changes which marked the passing away of the middle ages (cf. Busch, England under the Tudors, transl., p. 397; Gairdner, Early Chroniclers, p. 306; Ellis, passim; for another view, Markham in Engl. Hist. Rev. vi. 254). When he comes to the time of Henry VIII he is not so trustworthy, owing to his bias against Wolsey. The substance of his history became, through the medium of Hall and later writers, common property. It is curious to note that, having served as a source for Hall's chronicle, Polydore used Hall himself in his last part.

Polydore Vergil seems to have caught the contemporary spirit of religious indifferentism. There is no record of his having, as archdeacon of Wells, taken the supremacy oath, but he signed the articles of 1536; in this year he acted as proctor for Cardinal Campeggio, and as proctor in convocation for the cathedral chapter. He is supposed to have visited Italy between 1536 and 1547 (Ferguson), but he cannot have stayed there long. His health now, it would appear, began to fail (Historia, ed. 1557, p. 619). On 29 Sept. 1539 he was four and a half years in arrears with the rent of his house (4l. 13s. 4d. per annum), but on 9 July 1540 he was one of those present at the process as to Anne of Cleves and signed the judgment of convocation. He was in London in 1543.

In 1547 he signed the declaration in favour of communion in both kinds. He was now very old and ill, and probably anxious about the rate at which religious matters were moving (‘turbata Anglia in patriam rediit’), and so he decided to return to Urbino. On 2 June 1550 he obtained a warrant enabling him to depart, and at the same time to continue to hold Nonnington and his archdeaconry. The warrant spoke of him in very honourable terms, referring to his ‘long, painful, and acceptable service.’ On 13 Oct. 1551 he received a hundred marks, and on 1 Nov. three hundred crowns of the royal bounty, apparently for his travelling expenses. It seems that he sold the archdeacon's house at Wells, and it remained in private hands until a few years ago, when it was bought for the theological college.

From Urbino he wrote a letter to Queen Mary on her accession, dated 5 Aug. 1553. The date of his death at Urbino is doubtful. Ugolini (Storia dei Conti e Duchi d'Urbino, ii. 343) says that he died in 1555. His successor in the archdeaconry was collated in 1554 during his lifetime. Oxgate was given to John Brabant on 19 Dec. 1555, owing, it is stated, to the death of Polydore Vergil.