Vergil, a native of Urbino, was an Italian cleric. He was sent to England in 1501 by Pope Alexander VI as a sub-collector of Peter’s Pence. He was commissioned by Henry VII to write an “official” history of England in 1505.
The first edition of his work was completed in 1534, the second in 1546 incorporating the dates of 1509 in his history. The third edition was published in 1555,the year that Vergil died and the history of his work was extended to 1538. Four other editions were later published, Basel in 1555, Ghent 1556-57, Basel 1570 and Leyden in 1651.
Sir Henry Ellis translated Vergil’s work in 1844 for the Camden Society. The translation is taken from the MSS version of the old Royal Library in the British Museum. Ellis cites that it was written in the latter part of Henry VIII’s reign but this is inaccurate.
Hall’s and the Continuation of the Hardyng Chronicles were taken from the first edition published in 1534 whereas Ellis’ translation is taken from the second edition.
The second translation is accurate accept for small and un-important exceptions. Quotations are done for the sake of convenience and reference is made back to the first edition.
The errors of Vergil’s account of the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III are numerous.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester is not mentioned as fighting at the Battle of Barnet.
· Henry VI was put to death in the Tower of London and cites that Richard, Duke of Gloucester killed him with his sword so his brother, Edward IV, would be free from further hostility.
· Richard, Duke of Gloucester is not accused of killing his brother, George, Duke of Clarence but states that Edward IV did out of fear of the prophecy that after his reign someone with the letter “G” would rule England.
· Richard is given no credit for his outstanding leadership of the Scottish-Border campaign.
Edward IV died at the age of fifty rather than at the age of forty.
Upon hearing of the news of Edward IV’s death, Richard III began his campaign to seize the throne from his nephew, Edward V. When Richard meets Buckingham at Northampton, Vergil states it was at this time that Richard revealed his plan to take the throne. Anthony Woodville and Thomas Vaughan are mentioned as being arrested. Hastings, who originally sided with Richard, now called a council meeting in St. Paul’s Church that included friends of Edward V. Some members of the council urged that Edward V should be rescued from Richard while others urged that they wait until Richard arrived in London to explain his actions. Richard supposedly declares that he realizes any harm to his nephews would mean that it could rebound to the country and him.
The princes were conveyed to the Tower to await the coronation of Edward V. The council meeting of June does not mention that Richard appeared in a pleasant mood, left and then returned in an agitated mood. Vergil cites that Richard entered the council and stated that he was in great danger, that he has not been able to sleep, eat or drink. He continues by showing his arm is withered and that Elizabeth Woodville, used witchcraft on him. Hastings, who had supported him, responded that the queen should be punished. Richard repeats the story and Hastings’ response is the same. Richard then accuses Hastings of seeking Richard’s destruction. Richard’s men enter and Hastings was taken out and beheaded.
Shaw’s sermon, according to Vergil, denies the report that Shaw referred to the princes as bastards and has Richard present at the sermon. After Richard’s coronation, Richard traveled to Gloucester and there planned to kill his nephews. Brackenbury refuses to kill the princes and it is left to Tyrell to carry out the King’s will and murders the princes. Hall, Grafton and Shakespeare would later copy Vergil’s account of the Queen’s lament upon hearing the news that her sons were dead. Vergil cites the discord between Buckingham and Richard because Richard would not give Buckingham the Hereford lands. Buckingham retires to Brecknock informing the Bishop of Ely his intent to overthrow Richard. Ely approves of Buckingham’s intent employing Reginald Bray to act as a go-between for Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort. Before the disenchantment between Richard and Buckingham, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort had begun to make plans to place Henry Tudor on the throne provided he marries Elizabeth of York.
Richard learned of the conspiracy and when he discovers Buckingham is the chief instigator summons him to court. Buckingham responds that he is ill. Richard leads his army towards Salisbury. Buckingham’s soldiers desert him and scatter to Brittany or Flanders. Buckingham was then beheaded.
· Vergil claims that Richard spread a rumor abroad that his wife, Anne Neville, was dying. Upon hearing of the news, she asked Richard why he was anticipating her death. It is presumed by Virgil that Richard reassures her with loving words and a few days later, she dies. Richard then focuses on his desire to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. However, because of the counsel and her dislike for Richard, he decides to wait.
He created the account of Richard having a withered arm that proved his villainy causing his defeat at Bosworth and cites that all his men deserted him while he fought fighting alone. His statements refer to King Richard III, as spiteful practice, subtlety, sleight, malice, fraud, graceless, wicked, mischievous, frantic and mad.
Vergil is referred to as the “Father of English History”. Vergil is accused of destroying documents that contradicted his point of view and his history is the first to accuse Richard of the murder of his nephews.
His work gave the Tudors what they wanted – an account depicting crimes, faults and unpopularity that were directed to defame King Richard III. Vergil’s work is the first to develop a saga against Richard III. With his so-called History of England, the stage is set against Richard III.