Wilson, Thomas

Wilson, Thomas
(ca. 1525-1581)
   English humanist and royal official. Born in rural Lincolnshire, he studied as a King's Scholar at Eton College (1537-1542), where he was a pupil of Nicholas Udall, and then moved to King's College, Cambridge (B.A. 1547, M.A. 1549). At Cambridge he was associated with the group of humanists known as "Athenians" for their support of the Erasmian method of pronouncing Greek, an issue that gave rise to sharp controversy with the traditionalist chancellor of the university, Bishop Stephen Gar-diner. While teaching at Cambridge after completion of his degrees, Wilson was tutor to two sons of the Duchess of Suffolk, who was a patron of the regius professor of divinity, the noted German Protes-tant theologian Martin Bucer. With the death of King Edward VI and the accession of Queen Mary I, who was determined to restore Catholicism in England, Wilson decided to leave the country, not only for fear of persecution but also because several of his patrons had been executed for attempting to prevent Mary's succession to the throne. He went to Padua, where he joined his fellow exile John Cheke in perfecting his Greek and also began the study of civil law; he took a doctorate in law at Ferrara in 1560. While working as a le-gal advocate in Rome, he was arrested by the Roman Inquisition on charges that his books on logic and rhetoric contained heretical doc-trine. He survived only because in 1559 a Roman mob stormed the inquisitorial prison and set all prisoners free.
   Since the Protestant Elizabeth I was now ruling England, Wilson returned home in 1560. Having found the career of humanist scholar insecure and financially unrewarding, he now pursued a career at court. He began with a number of administrative and judicial ap-pointments and because of his legal training and his residence abroad was also sent on embassies to Portugal and the Netherlands. Begin-ning in 1563, he was elected to every Parliament that sat during the rest of his life. About 1577 he shared with Sir Francis Walsingham appointment as principal secretary of the Privy Council. Despite his explicit renunciation of a scholarly career after his return from Italy, he continued to write and study the classics. During his time at Cam-bridge, his closest associates had become convinced of the need for learned books in the English language, and most of Wilson's pub-lished books contributed to that cause. His Rule of Reason (1552) is an early example of a logic textbook written in English. His best known and most influential work, The Art of Rhetoric (1553), shows little originality but presents a useful introduction to rhetoric based on ancient authors such as Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. His later publications include a Discourse upon Usury (1572), which con-demned charging of interest as a form of extortion and repeated sen-timents he had expressed as a member of Parliament. Wilson also continued his interest in Greek literature and published the first En-glish translation of Demosthenes' Olynthiacs and Philippics (1570).

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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