The boke named the Gouernour

Chrzanowski 1553eThomas Elyot was well educated at home and then possibly attended Oxford or Cambridge. Importantly, he became associated with Thomas More and his circle of distinguished scholars and engaged in classical humanistic studies. There he met Thomas Linacre, who taught him Greek and medicine. Elyot would later write a popular work on hygene, The Castell of Health, as well as a Latin to English dictionary that remains a valuable resource for studying 16th-century usage. All part of the More circle, Hans Holbein the Younger portrayed Elyot and his wife Margaret in drawings, and his portrait of Sir Thomas More is famous.

In 1511 his father, a Justice of Assizes for the Western Circuit, arranged for Elyot to be named Clerk to the Justices. In 1523 he came into possession of considerable property after the death of his father. By that time, Elyot had attracted the attention of Cardinal Wolsey who made him Chief Clerk of the King’s Council. After Wolsey’s fall in 1530, Elyot retired to the countryside, where he wrote The Boke Named the Governour.

Dedicated to Henry VIII, The Governour was his earliest and most lasting major work. In Elyot’s view, monarchy is the only natural and proper form of government. Royal power is unlimited, but a king should rule for the welfare of his subjects. A king needs the help of magistrates, or governors, and the book is essentially a training manual for governors. Elyot was well read in the classics and drew on them to write The Governour, in which he prescribes reading lists to educate noble youths. Several years later, Elyot would offer that one of his aims in writing The Governour was “to augment our English tongue, whereby men should as well express most abundantly the thing that they conceive in their hearts (wherefore language was ordained), having words apt for the purpose.” Elyot’s contributions to the development of English prose were significant.

Likely on account of the success of The Governour, Elyot’s reputation in the court grew and he would be sent twice by Henry VIII as ambassador to Emperor Charles V. The missions were not successful, and he never again held a government position of significance. The Governour, however, remained a work of great influence for more than a century. By 1580 it had been published eight times. The future James I studied it in his youth, and Shakespeare used it in passages on political theory in Henry V and Troilus and Cressida. Very early editions of the book are scarce, and the present copy, in a contemporary dark calf binding, is a fifth edition printing (1553).

Chrzanowski 1553e *

STC 7639

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675