Sir Francis Bacon wrote in his Advancement of Learning of the importance of biography as a branch of historical writing, pointing out that it is individuals who direct the actions that are recounted in historical chronicles and suggesting that these events can be best examined in the light of the characters of the men who make them. It is this principle that underlies Bacon’s HISTORY OF THE REIGN OF KING HENRY VII, which is one of the first analytical biographies in the English language.
Bacon wrote his history of Henry VII in a few months during the year following his impeachment in 1621. He was exiled from London, and therefore from many of the sources that would have enabled him to produce new information about Henry’s reign. He depended heavily upon the sixteenth century chronicles, especially the history of the early years of the century written by Polydore Vergil. What is original and noteworthy in Bacon’s volume is his study of the personality of his subject and its effect upon the course of the English nation during his reign. Bacon is original, too, in his strong emphasis upon the laws of Henry’s day; as a distinguished lawyer and Lord Chancellor of England at the height of his career, he was thoroughly familiar with the statute books and the development of the common law, and he felt the significance of innovations in the reign he chronicled. He praised Henry’s laws as “deep, and not vulgar; not made upon the spur...
(The entire section is 1439 words.)
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