- (also Polidoro Virgilio, ca. 1470-1555)Italian humanist and historian. A native of Urbino and a priest, he entered papal service and accompanied Cardinal Adriano Castellesi to En-gland when the cardinal became collector of Peter's Pence in that country. By 1502 he had become the cardinal's deputy, and in 1508 he became archdeacon of Wells. Vergil spent almost all the rest of his life in England, returning to Urbino only in 1553. His early writings in-cluded a collection of proverbs, Proverbiorum libellus (1498), which was a precursor of the more famous Adagia of Erasmus. The follow-ing year, he published De inventoribus rerum / On the Inventors of Things, a collection of essays on the persons he believed to have been the originators of human actions and inventions, ranging from religion and matrimony to more identifiable innovations like the art of print-ing. For Europe as a whole, this was his most famous publication.Vergil's scholarly reputation made him a welcome figure at the court of King Henry VII and his successor Henry VIII, and with royal encouragement he wrote a history of England, Anglica historia, which originally extended to the death of Henry VII in 1509 and was first published in 1534. As an Italian who had come as a papal functionary but who also held a valuable English benefice, Vergil quietly conformed to the religious changes associated with the early English Reformation, though he avoided any historical publication covering the reign of Henry VIII until he had returned to Italy in his old age; then he published an extension carrying the story down to 1538. Be-cause Vergil had resided at the English court so long and had such close connections with prominent persons there, his history is an im-portant source for the early Tudor period. His denial of the legendary history of King Arthur offended many later English writers even though in 1525 he published an edition of the history of Gildas, one of the few literary sources for the history of Britain in the centuries fol-lowing the end of Roman rule. The later chroniclers Raphael Holin-shed and Edward Hall used his Anglica historia as a major source.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.
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