THOMAS, William

(c. 1507-1554)
An English humanist, author, and Protestant martyr, William Thomas was a clerk to King Edward VI's privy council and published the first English history of Italy and the first English-Italian grammar. Little is known of Thomas's early life, but it is probable that he was of Welsh origin, was educated at Oxford, and prospered under Henry VIII's* new Protestant regime. In 1545 he fled England as a fugitive, having embezzled money from his patron. His stay of approxi­mately four years in Italy formed the basis for his most important works: The Historie of Italie (1549), The Principal Rules of the Italian Grammar (1550), and The Pilgrim, a defense of Henry VIII's break with Roman Catholicism that circulated in manuscript in his native country and was published in Italian in 1552 as Il pellegrino inglese.
Soon after his return from Italy, Thomas was appointed clerk to Edward VI's privy council. Through this position, he came into contact with some of En­gland's most influential courtiers and administrators, and also with a number of foreign diplomats. During this period he also composed for the young king a collection of "Commonplaces of State," political discourses in the manner of Niccolo Machiavelli,* whose works were scarcely known in England at this time.
Thomas left the privy council before the death of the king in June 1553 and soon after became actively involved in Thomas Wyatt's rebellion, a failed pop­ular uprising whose object was to dethrone Queen Mary I.* In May 1554 Tho­mas was executed for high treason. John Foxe* records his death as a Protestant martyr, claiming that he "made a right godly end, and wrote many fruitful exhortations, letters and sonnets, in the prison before his death." None of these, however, has survived. Thomas wrote or translated devotional, political, and scientific works, but his influence in sixteenth-century England was most sig­nificant because of his work on Italian history and language.
Bibliography
E. R. Adair, "William Thomas: A Forgotten Clerk of the Privy Council," in Tudor Studies, 1924.
G. B. Parks, "Introduction," in The History of Italy, by William Thomas, 1963.
S. Rossi, "Un 'Italianista' nel Cinquecento Inglese: William Thomas," Aevum 40 (1966): 281-314.
Thomas G. Olsen

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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