Thomas North
Born28 May 1535
Died1604 (aged 68–69)
Alma materPeterhouse, Cambridge
Occupation(s)Justice 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)

Sir Thomas North (28 May 1535 – c. 1604) was an English translator, military officer, lawyer, and justice of the peace. His translation into English of Plutarch's Parallel Lives is notable for being the main source text used by William Shakespeare for his Roman plays.


Thomas North was born between 9 and 10 o'clock at night on Friday, 28 May 1535, in the parish of St Alban, Wood Street, in the City of London. He was the second son of the Edward North, 1st Baron North.[1]

He is supposed to have been a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge,[2][3] and was entered at Lincoln's Inn in 1557. In 1555, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, he travelled in an embassy to Rome with Thomas Thirlby, Bishop of Ely (c. 1506-1570); Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague (1552-1592); and Sir Edward Carne (c. 1500-1561). Their mission was to reconcile England with the Pope, and North kept a journal of his travels.[4] In 1574 he accompanied his brother, Roger, 2nd Lord North, on a diplomatic mission to the French court in Lyon. He served as captain of a band of footmen in Ireland in 1580, fought with the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries in 1587, was appointed to defend the Isle of Ely in the year of the Armada, and was knighted in France in October of 1591 by the Earl of Essex, just before the Siege of Rouen. He returned again to help quell Tyrone's Rebellion in Ireland in 1596.[5]

His name is on the roll of justices of the peace for Cambridge in 1592 and again in 1597. He was presented with a reward of £25 for his part in putting down Essex's Rebellion in 1601,[6] and received a small pension (£40 a year) from Queen Elizabeth that same year.[2]



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.[2]

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.[2]

Eastern fables

His next work was The Morall Philosophie of Doni (1570), a translation of an Italian language version of originally Indian fables,[2] popularly known as The Fables of Bidpai which had come to Europe primarily through Arabic translations.

Plutarch's Lives

North published his translation of Plutarch in 1580, basing it on the French version by Jacques Amyot. 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.[2]

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".[2]

Shakespeare and North

The Lives translation formed the source from which Shakespeare drew the materials for his Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, 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.[2] New-found documents, manuscripts, and marginal notes written by Thomas North and other North-family members also indicate that North wrote plays for the Earl of Leicester's Men and that Shakespeare adapted some of North's plays for the public theater. [1][2][3][4][5]

Tudor Translations

North's Plutarch was reprinted for the Tudor Translations (1895), with an introduction by George Wyndham.[2]


  1. ^ Allen, P. S. (1922). "The Birth of Thomas North". English Historical Review. 37 (148): 565–566. doi:10.1093/ehr/xxxvii.cxlviii.565. ISSN 0013-8266.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Chisholm 1911, p. 759.
  3. ^ "North, Thomas (NRT555T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ McCarthy, Dennis; Schlueter, June (2021). Thomas North's 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare (1st ed.). Vancouver: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 11–22. ISBN 978-1683933052.
  5. ^ Davis, Harold H. (May 1949). "The Military Career of Thomas North". Huntington Library Quarterly. 12 (3): 315–321. doi:10.2307/3816099. ISSN 0018-7895. JSTOR 3816099.
  6. ^ Acts of the Privy Council, 1600-1601. p. 238.


Further reading