Thomas Wilson (rhetorician)

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Thomas Wilson, Esquire AmbassadorThomasWilson.jpg
Thomas Wilson, Esquire

Thomas Wilson (1524–1581), Esquire, LL.D., [1] [2] was an English diplomat and judge who served as a privy councillor and Secretary of State (1577–81) to Queen Elizabeth I. He is remembered especially for his Logique (1551) [3] and The Arte of Rhetorique (1553), [4] which have been called "the first complete works on logic and rhetoric in English". [5]

Secretary of State (England) appointed position within the government of England

In the Kingdom of England, the title of Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary.

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 24 March 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Logic The systematic study of the form of arguments

Logic is the systematic study of the form of valid inference, and the most general laws of truth. A valid inference is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the inference and its conclusion. In ordinary discourse, inferences may be signified by words such as therefore, thus, hence, ergo, and so on.


He also wrote A Discourse upon Usury by way of Dialogue and Orations (1572), and he was the first to publish a translation of Demosthenes into English. [6]

Demosthenes ancient Athenian statesman and orator

Demosthenes was a Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by studying the speeches of previous great orators. He delivered his first judicial speeches at the age of 20, in which he argued effectively to gain from his guardians what was left of his inheritance. For a time, Demosthenes made his living as a professional speech-writer (logographer) and a lawyer, writing speeches for use in private legal suits.


He was the son of Thomas Wilson, a farmer, of Strubby, Lincolnshire. [7] He was educated at Eton College under Nicholas Udall, [8] and at King's College, Cambridge, [9] where he joined the school of Hellenists to which John Cheke, Thomas Smith, Walter Haddon and others belonged. He graduated B.A. in 1546, and M.A. in 1549. [10]

Strubby human settlement in United Kingdom

Strubby is a village in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated just north of the A157 road, 8 miles (13 km) south-east from Louth and 4 miles (6.4 km) north from Alford. The village forms part of Strubby and Woodthorpe civil parish, with the nearby hamlet of Woodthorpe.

Eton College school in Windsor and Maidenhead, UK

Eton College is a 13–18 independent boarding school and sixth form for boys in the parish of Eton, near Windsor in Berkshire, England. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as Kynge's College of Our Ladye of Eton besyde Windesore , as a sister institution to King's College, Cambridge, making it the 18th-oldest Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference school. Eton's history and influence have made Eton one of the most prestigious schools in the world

Nicholas Udall was an English playwright, cleric, and schoolmaster, the author of Ralph Roister Doister, generally regarded as the first comedy written in the English language.

Wilson was an intellectual companion to the sons of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, especially with John, Ambrose, and Robert Dudley. [6] When the Dudley family fell from power in 1553, he fled to the Continent. He was with Sir John Cheke in Padua in 1555–1557, and afterwards at Rome, whither in 1558 Queen Mary wrote, ordering him to return to England to stand his trial as a heretic. He refused to come home, but was arrested by the Roman Inquisition and tortured. He escaped, and fled to Ferrara, but in 1560 he was once more in London.

John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland English general, admiral, and politician

John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland was an English general, admiral, and politician, who led the government of the young King Edward VI from 1550 until 1553, and unsuccessfully tried to install Lady Jane Grey on the English throne after the King's death. The son of Edmund Dudley, a minister of Henry VII executed by Henry VIII, John Dudley became the ward of Sir Edward Guildford at the age of seven. Dudley grew up in Guildford's household together with his future wife, Guildford's daughter Jane, with whom he was to have 13 children. Dudley served as Vice-Admiral and Lord Admiral from 1537 until 1547, during which time he set novel standards of navy organisation and was an innovative commander at sea. He also developed a strong interest in overseas exploration. Dudley took part in the 1544 campaigns in Scotland and France and was one of Henry VIII's intimates in the last years of the reign. He was also a leader of the religious reform party at court.

John Dudley, 2nd Earl of Warwick, KB was an English nobleman and the heir of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, leading minister and regent under King Edward VI from 1550–1553. As his father's career progressed, John Dudley respectively assumed his father's former titles, Viscount Lisle and Earl of Warwick. Interested in the arts and sciences, he was the dedicatee of several books by eminent scholars, both during his lifetime and posthumously. His marriage to the former Protector Somerset's eldest daughter, in the presence of the King and a magnificent setting, was a gesture of reconciliation between the young couple's fathers. However, their struggle for power flared up again and ended with the Duke of Somerset's execution. In July 1553, after King Edward's death, Dudley was one of the signatories of the letters patent that attempted to set Lady Jane Grey on the throne of England, and took arms against Mary Tudor, alongside his father. The short campaign did not see any military engagements and ended as the Duke of Northumberland and his son were taken prisoners at Cambridge. John Dudley the younger was condemned to death yet reprieved. He died shortly after his release from the Tower of London.

Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick English nobleman and general

Ambrose Dudley, 3rd Earl of Warwick, KG was an English nobleman and general, and an elder brother of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Their father was John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who led the English government from 1550–1553 under Edward VI and unsuccessfully tried to establish Lady Jane Grey on the English throne after the King's death in July 1553. For his participation in this venture Ambrose Dudley was imprisoned in the Tower of London and condemned to death. Reprieved, his rehabilitation came after he fought for Philip II of Spain in the Battle of St. Quentin.

Wilson became Master of Requests and Master of St Katherine's Hospital in the Tower in 1561 and entered parliament in January 1563 as MP for Mitchell, Cornwall. [11] In 1571 and 1572 he was elected MP for London.

Tower of London A historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London

The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under kings Richard I, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

Mitchell, or St Michael was a rotten borough consisting of the town of Mitchell, Cornwall. From the first Parliament of Edward VI, in 1547, it elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons.

From 1574 to 1577, Wilson, who had now become a prominent person in the diplomatic world, was principally engaged on embassies to the Low Countries, and on his return to England he was made a privy councillor and sworn secretary of state; Francis Walsingham was his colleague. [6] In 1580, despite his being not in holy orders, Queen Elizabeth appointed Wilson Dean of Durham. He died at St Katherine's Hospital on 16 June 1581, and was buried next day, "without charge or pomp", at his express wish.

Low Countries Historical coastal landscape in north western Europe

The Low Countries, the Low Lands, or historically also the Netherlands, is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.

Francis Walsingham English spy, diplomat and politician

Sir Francis Walsingham was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 20 December 1573 until his death and is popularly remembered as her "spymaster".

Dean of Durham

The Dean of Durham is the "head" and chair of the Chapter, the ruling body of Durham Cathedral. The dean and chapter are based at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham in Durham. The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Durham and seat of the Bishop of Durham.


In 1551 Wilson produced, with Walter Haddon, a Latin life of Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk and his brother Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk. His earliest work of importance was The Rule of Reason, conteinynge the Arte of Logique set forth in Englishe (1551), which was frequently reprinted. It has been considered a derivative work, in English, of the Dialectica of John Seton which was circulated as a Latin manuscript before its publication. [12] [13]

It has been maintained that the book on which Wilson's fame mainly rests, The Arte of Rhetorique, was printed about the same time, but this is probably an error: the first edition extant is dated January 1553. It is the earliest systematic work of rhetoric and literary criticism existing in the English language. [6]

The Arte of Rhetorique gives Wilson a place among the earliest exponents of English style. He was opposed to pedantry of phrase, and above all to a revival of uncouth medieval forms of speech, and encouraged a simpler manner of prose writing than was generally appreciated in the middle of the 16th century. He was also opposed to "inkhorn terms" – borrowings and coinages from Greek and Latin – which he found affected. [14]

In 1570 Wilson published a translation, the first attempted in English, of the Olynthiacs and Philippics of Demosthenes, on which he had been engaged since 1556. [15] His Discourse upon Usury, which he dedicated to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, his patron and former pupil, appeared in 1572. [6]


In his will proved in 1582, Thomas Wilson refers to his brother Godfrey Wilson of Durham, and calls Sir William Wynter his brother-in-law. He also had brothers Humphrey and William in Lincolnshire. He was first married to Agnes Wynter (sister of William Wynter), widow of William Broke of Ham in Essex: Broke died in 1562. [16] [17] Agnes died in 1574. Wilson names one son and two daughters who were born of this marriage:

Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir William Wynter and Mathewe Smyth Esquire were appointed overseers to Wilson's will.

According to the Visitations of Essex, Wilson made a late marriage to Jane, widow of John Pynchon of Writtle, Essex, which is shown in the parish registers of Terling (Essex) at 15 July 1576. [23] [24] The Visitations identify her as a daughter of Sir Richard Empson. [25] [26] P.W. Hasler states that Jane died in 1577, [27] which would account for her not being mentioned in Thomas Wilson's will of 1582. However the register copy of Jane Wilson's will suggests it was written in 1587 and proved in 1588. Both John Pynchon's and Jane Wilson's wills [28] [29] indicate a near relationship to Peter Osborne: possibly Jane was first the widow of Osborne's brother John, of Latchingdon, Essex, who had died in 1553. [30]


  1. In his own Will, Wilson styles himself "Esquire", not "Knight". Will of Thomas Wilson, Principal Secretary to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and a member of the Privy Council, Doctor (P.C.C. 1582, Tirwhite quire).
  2. Montague-Smith, P.W. (ed.), Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage (Kelly's Directories Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames 1968), p.865, makes him a knight, but this is not followed by Oxford Dictionary of National Biography or other reputable sources
  3. The Rule of Reason, conteinyng the Arte of Logique, set forth in Englishe, by Thomas VVilson (Imprinted at London: By Richard Grafton, printer to the Kynges Maiestie, An. M.D.LI). Full text at Umich/eebo (open).
  4. For a text, see G.H. Mair (ed.), Wilson's Art of Rhetorique, 1560, Tudor and Stuart Library (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1909), at Internet Archive. Revised edition, 1562, at Internet Archive (Original page views).
  5. J. Franklin, The Science of Conjecture (2001), p. 128.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Frederick Chamberlin: Elizabeth and Leycester Dodd, Mead & Co. 1939 p. 56
  7. "Wilson, Thomas (1523/4–1581)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29688.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  8. N. Rhodes, 'Literary Translation', in N. Rhodes, G. Kendal & L. Wilson, English Renaissance Translation Theory, MHRA Tudor and Stuart Translations Vol. 9 (Modern Humanities Research Association, London 2013) at p. 320 ff.
  9. "Wilson, Thomas (WL541T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  10. J. and J.A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, Part I vol. iv (Cambridge University Press, 1927), p. 432 (Internet Archive).
  11. "WILSON, Thomas (1523–81), of Washingborough, Lincs. and Edmonton, Mdx". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  12. Marco Sgarbi (11 October 2012). The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism: Logic and Epistemology in the British Isles (1570–1689). Springer. p. 21. ISBN   978-94-007-4951-1.
  13. Lee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Seton, John (1498?-1567)"  . Dictionary of National Biography . 51. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  14. The Arte of Rhetorique, 1560: "Among all other lessons this should first be learned, that wee neuer affect any straunge ynkehorne termes, but to speake as is commonly receiued:" (modernized spelling: "Among all other lessons this should first be learned, that we never affect any strange inkhorn terms, but to speak as is commonly received:"), Original texts from the inkhorn debate
  15. T. Wilson, The Three Orations of Demosthenes Chiefe Orator among the Grecians (Imprinted at London: By Henrie Denham, [1570]). Full text at Umich/eebo (open). Some original page images (including title and colophon) at Skinner Auctions (Boston), Auction 3117B (20 July 2018), Lot 51.
  16. J. MacLean and W.C. Heane (eds), The Visitation of the County of Gloucester taken in the year 1623, Harleian Society Vol. XXI (1885), pp. 274-82, at p. 278 (Internet Archive).
  17. Will of William Broke of Ham, Essex (P.C.C. 1562, Streate quire).
  18. Pollard, 'Wilson, Thomas', Old D.N.B., citing pedigree in College of Arms MS C. 23.
  19. J.E.M., 'Burdett, Robert (c.1558-1603), of Bramcote, Warws.', in P.W. Hasler (ed.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603 (from Boydell and Brewer, 1981), History Of Parliament Online.
  20. Pollard, 'Wilson, Thomas', Old D.N.B.
  21. J.E.M., 'Belgrave, George (1563-1630), of Belgrave, Leics.', in P.W. Hasler (ed.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603 (from Boydell and Brewer, 1981), History of Parliament Online
  22. Pollard, 'Wilson, Thomas', Old D.N.B.
  23. 'Genealogical Gleanings in England', New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 48 (1894), at p. 261 (Google).
  24. The marriages to Agnes and Jane are reversed in order by A.F. Pollard, 'Wilson, Thomas (?1525-1581)', Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900).
  25. 'Pinchon', in W.C. Metcalfe (ed.), The Visitations of Essex in 1552, 1558, 1570, 1612 and 1634, Harleian Society Vols XIII-XIV (1878-1879), Part I, 1612, p. 266; 1634, p. 470 (Internet Archive).
  26. G. Baker, The History and Antiquities of the County of Northampton, Vol. II (J.B. Nichols & Son, London 1836-1841), p. 141 (Google).
  27. P.W. Hasler/A.J. Schmidt, 'Wilson, Thomas (1523-81), of Washingborough, Lincs. and Edmonton, Mdx.', in P.W. Hasler (ed.), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603 (from Boydell and Brewer, 1981), History of Parliament Online.
  28. Will of John Pynchon, Gentleman of Writtle (P.C.C. 1573, Peter quire).
  29. Will of Jane Wilson, widow of Writtle (P.C.C. 1588, Rutland quire).
  30. Will of John Osborne, Gentleman of London (P.C.C. 1553, Tashe quire).

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wilson, Thomas (statesman)". Encyclopædia Britannica . 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Francis Walsingham
Secretary of State
With: Sir Francis Walsingham
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Walsingham

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