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Thomas Elyot

Thomas Elyot (ca. 1490 – 1546) was an English humanist and diplomat.

Born into a noble family in Derbyshire, Elyot received a humanistic education and may have studied at Mary’s Hall, Oxford. According to Alistair Fox (1994) someone named Thomas Eliett did in fact graduate from Oxford in 1519 (BA) and again in 1524 (Bachelor of Civil Law). However, Elyot himself claimed that he did not receive a formal education beyond the age of twelve. Elyot was appointed senior clerk of the king’s council in 1523, and later became Henry VIII’s ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. During his two-year stay in continental Europe (1531 – 1532), Elyot visited Nuremberg, Worms, and Speyer.

His writings were instrumental in disseminating classical and humanist medical, political, and philological learning in Britain. His three major works include The Boke Named the Governour (1531), a political treatise dedicated to Henry VIII, a Latin-English dictionary based on classical sources (1538), and a medical treatise entitled Castel of Helth (ca.1539).

The Defence of Good Women (1540) presents one of Elyot’s later works, and has been interpreted as a veiled eulogy of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon (d. 1533), or as an attempt to curry favour with the King’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves.

He is also claimed to have been the first person to translate classical texts directly from Greek into English, as well as the first to write scholarly texts in English rather than in Latin.

Elyot died in 1546 in Cambridgeshire.



Fox, Alistair. “Thomas Elyot (1490?-26 March 1546).” Sixteenth-Century British Nondramatic Writers: Second Series. Ed. David A. Richardson. Vol. 136. Detroit: Gale, 1994. 94-106. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 136. Dictionary of Literary Biography Main Series. Web. 30 Aug. 2016. URL

Lehmberg, Stanford. “Elyot, Sir Thomas (c.1490–1546).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, January 2008. (accessed April 22, 2016).



[1] [That Elyot may have studied at Mary’s Hall is perhaps still too strong: someone named Thomas Eliett did graduate from Oxford in 1519 (BA) and again in 1524 (Bachelor of Civil Law), but our Thomas Elyot claims that he did not have any teachers after age 12 (Fox, 95)]