The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil

A.D. 1485-1537

Polydore Vergil (1470-1555) was an Italian priest who arrived in Britain in the year 1502 and was commissioned by King Henry VII to write a history of Britain. He began his History in the year 1506.

"Henry reigned twenty-three years and seven months. He lived for fifty-two years. By his wife Elizabeth he was the father of eight children, four boys and as many girls. He left three surviving children, an only son Henry prince of Wales, and two daughters, Margaret married to James king of Scotland, and Mary betrothed to Charles prince of Castile. His body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish ; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow. His spirit was distinguished, wise and prudent; his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him. He had a most pertinacious memory. Withal he was not devoid of scholarship. In government he was shrewd and prudent, so that no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile. He was gracious and kind and was as attentive to his visitors as he was easy of access. His hospitality was splendidly generous; he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours on them. But those of his subjects who were indebted to him and who did not pay him due honour or who were generous only with promises, he treated with harsh severity. He well knew how to maintain his royal majesty and all which appertains to kingship at every time and in every place. He was most fortunate in war, although he was constitutionally more inclined to peace than to war. He cherished justice above all things; as a result he vigorously punished violence, manslaughter and every other kind of wickedness whatsoever. Consequently he was greatly regretted on that account by all his subjects, who had been able to conduct their lives peaceably, far removed from the assaults and evil doing of scoundrels. He was the most ardent supporter of our faith, and daily participated with great piety in religious services. To those whom he considered to be worthy priests, he often secretly gave alms so that they should pray for his salvation. He was particularly fond of those Franciscan friars whom they call Observants, for whom he founded many convents, so that with his help their rule should continually flourish in his kingdom. But all these virtues were obscured latterly only by avarice, from which (as we showed above) he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments ; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice, since it is harmful to everyone, and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the state must be governed" (Anglica Historia, pp.143-147).

Polydore Vergil on John Cabot's Discovery of the New World

Vergil devoted just a few lines to the greatest Discovery in the history of the world!!

"There was talk at about this time that some sailors on a voyage had discovered lands lying in the British ocean, hitherto unknown. This was believed as true and given credence, since the Spanish monarchs in our century have discovered many islands hitherto unknown. As a result of the rumour about the unknown lands, King Henry at the request of one John Cabot, a Venetian by birth and a most skilful mariner, ordered to be prepared one ship, complete with crew and weapons; this he handed over to the same John to go and search for those unknown islands. John set out in this same year and sailed first to Ireland. Then he set sail towards the west. In the event he is believed to have found the new lands nowhere but on the very bottom of the ocean, to which he is thought to have descended together with his boat, the victim himself of that self-same ocean; since after that voyage he was never seen again anywhere" (Anglica Historia, p.117).

Polydore Vergil on the "Wild Irish"

"After this there remained nothing for the king to do but to stamp out in Ireland those seeds of the new faction which the year before had been sown among the barbarians there by Peter Warbeck. Therefore Henry at once sent to the island Henry Dean prior of Llantony and bishop of Bangor, whom he appointed chancellor of the island, and Sir Edward Poynings with four battalions of soldiers; they were to traverse those parts of the island in which Peter had stayed, and to pursue and punish those whom they found tainted with the crime of treason. They arrived promptly in the island, aided by a favourable wind, and called a meeting of the nobles. When these were gathered together, Henry and Edward first urged them to remain loyal, and then ordered them to take up arms and follow them against the rebels, who shortly before had (either mistakenly or maliciously) taken sides with the most base-born Peter Warbeck who lied about his birth. All undertook to provide assistance, which few afterwards performed, since they obey the English unwillingly. Then it was announced that Edward Poynings had come to hunt down all who supported Peter. Those who were aware of their guilt hid themselves in the forests, where they concerted plans (in the tradition of their land) as to the places from which they should make sallies against the English, and where, if necessity arose, they would be prepared to give battle. In all Ireland there are only two sorts of men, as we have described elsewhere in the life of Henry II, of which one is gentle and cultured. To these wealthier and more civilised inhabitants many of the merchants of neighbouring peoples come on business ; and the English in particular often journeying there, these Irish easily acquire their manner of life and the greater part understand the language as a result of this constant commerce. Such Irish all obey the English king. The other type of islander is savage, rude and uncouth. From their indifference to all refinement and their primitive habits they are known as 'wild men of the woods'; but for all that they are good Christians. They have various rulers to whom they are subjected and who constantly fight among themselves. It is for this reason that these Irishmen excel the others in ferocity, and—being more eager for revolutions—are found readier to support any type of upheaval. To these Irish 'wild men of the woods' Peter had in the main addressed himself and he had easily persuaded them to believe everything which he falsely said concerning himself" (Anglica Historia, pp. 79-80.)

Editor's Note

NOBODY was more avaricious than Pope Borgia who sent Vergil to England!!

What a change in Hibernia (Ireland) from the days of the Island of Saints and Scholars before the Pope's army invaded the country!!


Vergil, Polydore, The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, A.D. 1485-1537 (translated by Denys Hay), Office of the Royal Historical Society, Camden Series, London, 1950.