The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives, on Humanism, War, and Peace, 1496-1535

By Robert P. Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
THE GENIUS OF THE ISLAND: DESIGNS FOR
A NEW SOCIAL ORDER—ERASMUS' AGAINST WAR (1515)

Although between the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509 and the "permanent" peace with France, made in July of 1514, England was impelled into a needless storm of war, in contrast the years between this peace and the strange diplomatic event of June, 1520—the Field of the Cloth of Gold—appeared to the humanists to be at last the time for a great flowering of the "genius of the island," in Erasmus' happy phrase. Now, if ever, it seemed that designs for a new order might well have their most practical impact upon social change.

These are the years when the great promise of the English humanist group came to its most triumphant literary achievements as well. From Erasmus there came, first, the definitive edition of the Adages ( 1515), with the powerful attacks upon abuses of monarchic power that he had worked out in England. From Thomas More there came the great Utopia (printed in December, 1516), one of the works which most decisively marks in England the watershed between the medieval and modern worlds. Erasmus in 1516 brought out his Christian Prince, which now stands in such formidable and ironic contrast to Machiavelli's Prince (also written by 1516 but not published until after the downfall of the Medicean tyranny which it was designed to bolster). From Erasmus in 1517 came the Complaint of Peace Ejected from all Countries.

In 1510, with his foundation of St. Paul's School, Dean John Colet had for the first time in England established the education of youth along humanistic lines. Then in 1517 that leader of the peace party in Henry VIII's early councils, Bishop Richard Fox, set himself against further participation in, as he himself said, "the intolerable enormities" of war, and instead, with the founding of Corpus Christi in Oxford, began the permanent establishment of humanism in that university. In 1517 the philosopher, More, finally agreed to enter the everyday service

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