Anglica Historia

(Vergil)
   Although commissioned by HENRY VII, and therefore favorable to the house of TUDOR, Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia (English History) is an important, if controversial, source for the WARS OF THE ROSES, and especially for the reign of RICHARD III.
   Polydore Vergil (c.1470–1555) was an Italian humanist who came to England on a papal mission in 1502. He spent most of the rest of his life in England and became a naturalized English subject. Persuaded by Henry VII to write a history of England, Vergil spent twenty-six years on the project, which was published in 1534 and dedicated to Henry VIII. Running to twenty-six books in total, the Anglica Historia covers the Wars of the Roses in Books 23–25. Although he interpreted history in a manner flattering to his Tudor patrons, Vergil was not simply a royal apologist writing whatever he was told. He was a classically trained Renaissance historian who carefully based his work on a wide variety of available sources—both oral and written—and who was willing to present and evaluate conflicting viewpoints from those sources. Genuinely seeking to provide an accurate account of events, Vergil tried to strip away myth and to understand motives, causes, and effects. For the reign of EDWARD IV, the Anglica Historia is reasonably balanced, describing the king’s virtues as well as his faults. Vergil also provided incisive political analyses for important events of the reign, such as the king’s marriage to Elizabeth WOODVILLE in 1464 and his execution of his brother, George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, in 1478 (see Clarence, Execution of). The Anglica Historia also offers detailed accounts of the 1469–1471 phase of the civil war and of Edward’s reign thereafter.
   Although Vergil condemned Richard III as ambitious, devious, and wicked, his critical view likely derived from his sources, which probably included former opponents of Richard who were prominent at the Tudor COURT, and written sources unfriendly to Richard, such as various LONDON CHRONICLES and the Second Continuation of the CROYLAND CHRONICLE. Although conceding that Richard had courage,Vergil otherwise depicted the king as cruel and tyrannous, seeing even his most innocent actions as calculated attempts to conceal his desire to seize the Crown from his nephew, EDWARD V, for whose murder Vergil held Richard responsible. Vergil was also the first to claim that Richard personally murdered HENRY VI in the TOWER OF LONDON and that Richard poisoned his own queen, Anne NEVILLE. Because Vergil’s portrait contains the outlines of the monstrous Richard later depicted by William Shakespeare in his influential play RICHARD III, modern defenders of Richard have sometimes dismissed the Anglica Historia as mere Tudor PROPAGANDA.
   See also The History of King Richard III (More); Shakespeare and the Wars of the Roses
   Further Reading:
   - Ellis, Sir Henry, ed., Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History, Comprising the Reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III (London: Camden Society, 1844); Hay, Denys, Polydore Vergil: Renaissance Historian and Man of Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952); Vergil, Polydore, The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil (London: Royal Historical Society, 1950); the text of Books 23–25 covering the Wars of the Roses is available on the Richard III Society Web site at http://www.r3.org/bookcase/polydore.html.

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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