Renaissance and Reformation Polydore Vergil
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0496


As can be seen in Reference Works, at least one Overview and numerous biographical Lives and Times, the family of Polidoro Vergili had already produced a number of scholars when he was born near Urbino c. 1470. He studied at Padua (and possibly Bologna), and had been ordained by 1496, when he began to publish. His early works included Proverbiorum libellus (Venice, 1498; later retitled Adagiorum liber) and De inventoribus rerum (Venice, 1499; expanded 1521), the latter generating both edited texts (De inventoribus rerum: Texts) and scholarly analysis (De inventoribus rerum: Analysis). In 1502 Urbino was attacked by Cesare Borgia, Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro fled, and Virgili entered papal employment, being sent to England as sub-collector of Peter’s Pence, substituting for Cardinal Adriano Castellesi. Favored by Henry VII (r. 1485–1509), he was a natural associate of the humanists whose names are linked to that of Erasmus. During Henry’s reign Vergil—as he became known in England—was involved in Anglo-papal diplomacy, including the issue of a papal dispensation for the king’s heir, Prince Henry, to marry his brother’s widow. Among Vergil’s English benefices, the most significant was the archdeaconry of Wells, which he held from 1508. It was also before the death of Henry VII that he began work on his pioneering history of England, the Anglica historia, a work inspired by the tenets of humanist historiography and noted for its use of a wide range of sources, from the Roman world to those of the author’s own day. The history appeared in three editions during Vergil’s lifetime: Basel 1534, 1546, and 1555. For present purposes, published editions are cited under Anglica historia: Texts and the numerous commentaries are divided between Analysis, Twentieth Century and Analysis, Twenty-First Century. Meanwhile, the sub-collectorship was disputed between Vergil and Pope Julius II’s appointee Pietro Griffo, and a separate dispute over the collectorship resulted in Vergil’s imprisonment in the Tower of London in 1515, an episode in which he lost the sub-collectorship and which left him with an animus against Henry VIII’s minister Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. His later works were a Latin translation of John Chrysostom’s Comparatio regis et monachi (Basel, 1530), a Dialogus de prodigiis (Basel, 1531) and Latin Dialogi (Basel, 1545). Further observations on his published works can be found in Journals and a Collection of Papers. He paid visits to Italy in 1514, 1516–1517, and 1533–1534, and, after resigning his archdeaconry in 1546, made his final departure from England in 1553. He died in Urbino in 1555.

Reference Works

There are entries on Vergil in numerous reference works, some with an Italian emphasis, others a British one, and yet others with a focus on literature and scholarship. For present purposes, this wide range has been whittled down to Gransden 1982, a pioneering survey of historical writing in England that concludes with Vergil, and three websites that are, in reality, more likely to be consulted than any print volume. Of these, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) is designed to be the most authoritative resource and can easily lead the student into researching Vergil’s notable contemporaries. The insular emphasis of the ODNB is in evidence in the bibliography and can be balanced by comparing it with its Italian counterpart, the Dizionario biografico degli italiani, which contains a shorter biography but a more up-to-date bibliography. The way to update any British history bibliography is to consult the Bibliography of British and Irish History, the fourth resource cited here.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History . Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.

    This was formerly a print publication, but is now maintained exclusively online, being updated three times a year. It is an important resource for any aspect and period of British and Irish history. Access is via the website of Brepols, the publisher. Searches can be done bibliographically or by subject, including places and persons. Alternatively, the subject tree allows users to focus on specific areas using progressively more detailed categories.

  • Dizionario biografico degli italiani (DBI). 100 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–2020.

    All significant figures in Italian history are profiled in this major reference work. Unlike the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), the entire print version of which was published at once, the DBI appeared volume by volume, in alphabetical order. That means the ODNB had covered “Vergil, Polydore” before the DBI reached “Virgili, Polidoro.” The entry by Michele Lodone is in Vol. 99 and available online; its bibliography accounts for works up to 2013.

  • Gransden, Antonia. Historical Writing in England II, c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

    Following on from a survey for the period c. 1550 to c. 1307 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), this volume examines the work of numerous chroniclers from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as well as some specific authors: Ranulf Higden, Thomas Walsingham, John Rous, William Worcester, Thomas Elmham, Thomas Burton, and John Whethamsted. Gransden’s concluding chapter is devoted to the humanist historians Thomas More and Polydore Vergil.

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The ODNB is the standard biographical reference work for all significant figures in English, Scottish, Welsh, and, as appropriate, Irish history, but it also includes entries on non-British figures who made notable contributions to British history. The entry on “Vergil, Polydore [Polidoro Virgili]” by William J. Connell is available online and is designed to be of use to students of English, rather than Italian, history. The bibliography goes up to 2000.

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