Thomas North

Sir Thomas North (1535–1604) was an English justice of the peace, military officer and translator. His translation into English of Plutarch's Parallel Lives is notable for being a source text used by William Shakespeare for several of his plays.


Thomas North
Died1604 (aged 6869)
Alma materPeterhouse, Cambridge
OccupationJustice of the Peace, author and translator
Known forTranslating Plutarch's Lives into English
Parent(s)Edward North, 1st Baron North, Alice Brockenden
RelativesRoger North, 2nd Baron North (brother); Christina North, Mary North (sisters)


Thomas North was born in 1535 and was the second son of the Edward North, 1st Baron North.[1]

He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge,[1][2] and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Lord North, on a visit to the French court. He served as captain in the year of the Armada, and was knighted about three years later. His name is on the roll of justices of the peace for Cambridge in 1592 and again in 1597, and he received a small pension (£40 a year) from Queen Elizabeth in 1601.[1]



He translated, in 1557, Guevara's Reloj de Principes (commonly known as Libro áureo), a compendium of moral counsels chiefly compiled from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, under the title of Diall of Princes. The English of this work is one of the earliest specimens of the ornate, copious and pointed style for which educated young Englishmen had acquired a taste in their Continental travels and studies.[1]

North translated from a French copy of Guevara, but seems to have been well acquainted with the Spanish version. The book had already been translated by Lord Berners, but without reproducing the rhetorical artifices of the original. North's version, with its mannerisms and its constant use of antithesis, set the fashion which was to culminate in John Lyly's Euphues.[1]

Eastern fables

His next work was The Morall Philosophie of Doni (1570), a translation of an Italian collection of eastern fables,[1] popularly known as The Fables of Bidpai.

Plutarch's Lives

The first edition of his translation of Plutarch, from the French of Jacques Amyot, appeared in 1579. The first edition was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, and was followed by another edition in 1595, containing fresh Lives. A third edition of his Plutarch was published, in 1603, with more translated Parallel Lives, and a supplement of other translated biographies.[1]

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, "[i]t is almost impossible to overestimate the influence of North's vigorous English on contemporary writers, and some critics have called him the first master of English prose".[1]


The Lives translation formed the source from which Shakespeare drew the materials for his Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra. It is in the last-named play that he follows the Lives most closely, whole speeches being taken directly from North.[1]

Tudor Translations

North's Plutarch was reprinted for the Tudor Translations (1895), with an introduction by George Wyndham.[1]


  1. Chisholm 1911, p. 759.
  2. "North, Thomas (NRT555T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.


Further reading

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