Sir Thomas ELYOT

Born: ABT 1490

Died: 26 Mar 1546, Carlton, Cambridgeshire, England

Father: Richard ELYOT (Sir)

Mother: Alice DELAMERE

Married: Margaret A'BARROW (dau. of John Aborough of Downton / Sir Maurice Barrow of North Barrow) (m.2 Sir James Dyer)

Sir Thomas Elyot

Chalk, pen and brush on paper, 28,6 x 20,6 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

English diplomatist and scholar. Born ABT 1489-1490, first son of Sir Richard Elyot (d. 1522), and his first wife Alice Delamere, dau. of Sir Thomas Delamere of Aldermaston, and Elizabeth Findern; widow of Sir Thomas Daubridgecourt and she already had several children. Sir Richard Elyot, who held considerable estates in Wiltshire, was made (1503) serjeant-at-law and attorney-general to Elizabeth of York, and soon afterwards was commissioned to act as justice of assize on the western circuit, becoming in 1513 judge of common pleas.

His nephew (his sister Margery's son), George Puttenham (b. 1529 - d. 1591), was an English courtier, generally acknowledged as the author of the anonymous "The Arte of English Poesie" (1589). His other sister Eleanor likely became a nun, and little is known of her, possibly she died young.

By his own account Thomas Elyot was 'continually trained in some daily affairs of the public weal ... almost from childhood'. He says himself 'that he was educated in his father's house and not instructed by another teacher from his twelfth year, but led by himself into liberal studies and both sorts of philosophy', a sufficient refutation of the claim made by both Cambridge and Oxford universities to have taught him. He also made some study of medicine, being instructed in the works of Galen and Hippocrates by 'a worshipful physician and one of the most renowned', apparently Thomas Linacre. This prodigious programme of self-education was to bear fruit in his writings, where his early reading is marshalled in a vast array of quotation and allusion.

Lady Elyot

by Hans Holbein

Chalk, pen and brush on paper, 28 x 20,9 cm


(The Royal Collection)

Sir Thomas Elyot

In around 1510 he married Margaret A'Barrow daughter of Sir Maurice Barrow of North Barrow, Somerset (although other sources identify her father as John Aborough of North Charford, Hampshire and/or Downton, Wiltshire). She is described (Stapleton, Vita Thomac Mori, p. 59, ed. 1558) as a student in the school of Sir Thomas More. In 1511 he accompanied his father on the western circuit as clerk to the assize, and he held this position until 1528. In 1528 he purchased the wardship of his cousin, Erasmus Pym, ancestor of the great Parliamentarian.

Sir Richard Elyot died in 1522, leaving Thomas as heir and executor of a complicated estate, which included a library of French and Latin books and some fine manuscript primers. In addition to his father lands in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire he inherited in 1523 the Cambridge estates of his cousin, Thomas Fynderne of Carlton whose death made Elyot heir to both Long Combe and the Carlton estates, although at the cost of four suits in Chancery which lasted for more than a year and cost him 100. He was to make his residence at Long Combe from 1522 until 1530, when he moved to Carlton. His title was disputed, but Cardinal Wolsey decided in his favor, and also made him clerk of the privy council. Elyot, in a letter addressed to Thomas Cromwell, says that he never received the emoluments of this office, while the barren honor of knighthood conferred on him when he was displaced in 1530 merely put him to further expense. In that year he sat on the commission appointed to inquire into the Cambridgeshire estates of his former patron, Cardinal Wolsey.

It appears that he spent much of his life trying unsuccessfully to avoid higher and higher offices and honours, each which paid him less and yet involved higher expenses. Sir Thomas Elyot received little reward for his services to the state, but his scholarship and his books were held in high esteem by his contemporaries. In 1531 he produced the Boke named the Governour, dedicated to King Henry VIII. It is a treatise on moral philosophy, intended to direct the education of those destined to fill high positions, and to inculcate those moral principles which alone could fit them for the performance of their duties. The subject was a favorite one in the 16th century, and the book, which contained many citations from classical authors, was very popular. The Boke named the Governour was printed by Thomas Berthelet (1531, 1534, 1536, 1544, &c.). Elyot expressly acknowledges his obligations to Erasmuss Institutio Principis Christiani; but he makes no reference to the Dc regno et regis institutione of Francesco Patrizzi, Bishop of Gaeta (d. 1494), on which his work was undoubtedly modelled.

As a prose writer, Elyot enriched the English language with many new words. Elyot coined the word Encyclopaedia, which was first defined in his Latin Dictionary of 1538 as "that lernynge whiche comprehendeth all lyberall science and studies". Although it wasn't used as a title of a book until Johann Heinrich Alsted's Encyclodedia in 1608. Elyot's Castel of Helthe (1533) contains one of the first references to a sackbutt (the original name for a Trombone). However here the sackbutt was not used as a musical instrument, but as a medical device which could relieve one's bowel problems by blowing into it. "The entrayles which undernethe the myddreffe, be exercysed by blowynge, eyther by constraynte, or playenge on the Shaulmes, or Sackbottes, or other lyke instrumentes whyche doo requyre moche wynde"

The work advanced him in the King favor, and in the close of the year he received instructions to proceed to the court of the Emperor Carlos V to induce him to take a more favorable view of Henry projected divorce from Catalina of Aragon. With this was combined another commission, on which one of the King agents, Stephen Vaughan, was already engaged. He was, if possible, to apprehend William Tyndale. It is probable that Elyot was suspected, as Vaughan certainly was, of lukewarmness in carrying out the King wishes, but this has not prevented his being much abused by Protestant writers. As Ambassador Elyot had been involved in ruinous expense, and on his return he wrote to Thomas Cromwell, begging to be excused from serving as sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, on the score of his poverty. The request was not granted.

He was one of the commissioners in the inquiry instituted by Cromwell prior to the suppression of the monasteries, but he did not obtain any share of the spoils. There is little doubt that his known friendship for Thomas More militated against his chances of success, for in a letter addressed to Cromwell he admitted his friendship for More, but protested that he rated higher his duty to the King. William Roper, in his Life of More, says that Elyot was od a second embassy to Carlos V, in the winter of 1535/6, when he received at Naples the news of More execution. He had been kept in the dark by his own government, but heard the news from the Emperor. The story of an earlier embassy to Rome (1532), mentioned by Burnet, rests on a late endorsement of instructions dated from that year, which cannot be regarded as authoritative. In 1542 he represeiited the borough of Cambridge in parliament.

In 1534 he published The Castell of Helth, a popular treatise on medicine, intended to place a scientific knowledge of the art within the reach of those unacquainted with Greek. This work, though scoffed at by the faculty, was appreciated by the general public, and speedily went through many editions. His Latin Dictionary, the earliest comprehensive dictionary of the language, was completed in 1538. The copy of the first edition in the British Museum contains an autograph letter from Elyot to Thomas Cromwell, to whom it originally belonged. It was edited and enlarged in 1548 by Thomas Cooper, Bishop of Winchester, who called it Bibliotheca Eliotac, and it formed the basis in 1565 of Coopers Thesaurus linguae Romance et e.

He died at Carlton 26 Mar 1546, and was buried in a tomb in the Church in Carlton. After his death his widow wed Sir James Dyer (b. 1512 - d. 1582). She was buried 26 Aug 1560 at Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire, near her second husband, by whom she had no issue.

Major Works by Elyot

The Boke Named The Governour (1531). The first educational treatise in English. On Line.

Of the Knowledge Whiche Maketh a Wise Man (1533).

The Education of Children, Translated Out of Plutarch (1535).

Dictionary (T. Berthelet, London, 1538; 1545). The first Latin-English dictionary.

The Castel of Helth (1539; 1541). A popular medical book.

The Defence of Good Women (1540).

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