The Book Named the Governor, 1531

The Book Named the Governor, 1531

The Book Named the Governor, 1531

The Book Named the Governor, 1531


Sir Thomas Elyot's book named The Governor, first published in 1531, is a composite treatise dealing with political theory, education and moral philosophy; it seeks to set out a way of life for members of the English governing class.

The author was himself a 'governor'. Born about 1490, probably in Wiltshire, Thomas Elyot came from a long line of west-country gentlefolk. His father, Sir Richard, served for years as a justice in the Western Assizes and later in King's Bench. Sir Richard saw to it that his son was well educated, first at home, then in the Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court, and at Oxford, where Thomas probably took a B.A. in 1519 and a degree in Civil Law in 1524.

Of greater value to Elyot, however, was his association with Sir Thomas More's 'school', where he imbibed the New Learning, the classical humanistic studies which had as yet scarcely penetrated the universities. At More's home in Chelsea Elyot met Thomas Linacre, who taught him Greek and medicine, Hans Holbein the Younger, who made portrait drawings of Elyot and his wife Margaret, and possibly also such distinguished scholars as Erasmus, Colet, Vives and Lily.

As early as 1511 Sir Richard Elyot had contrived to have his son named Clerk to the Justices of Assize for the Western Circuit, a position which Thomas held for fifteen years. By 1523 he had come to the notice of Cardinal Wolsey, through whose influence he was made Chief Clerk of the King's Council. After Wolsey's fall in 1530 Elyot was ejected from the clerkship on the grounds that his predecessor had not legally relinquished the office. In fact Elyot was never paid for his work with the Council, but (as he wrote) 'rewarded only with the order of knighthood, honourable and onerous, having much less to live on than before'.

Free from governmental duties for the first time in his adult life, Elyot retired to his manor of Carlton, near Cambridge, to write the Governor.

The Book named The Governor falls, topically, into three sections. Its first three chapters enunciate a monarchical political theory; the remainder of the first book presents a programme of education for the minds and bodies of prospective governors; Books II and III describe virtues appropriate to rulers.

In many ways Elyot's political theory is the most significant . . .

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