Padua and the Tudors: English Students in Italy 1485-1603

By Jonathan Woolfson

An examination of how the intellectual developments in Renaissance Padua influenced Tudor England, through the careers of English scholars who studied there.

ISBN: 9780227679425


The University of Padua was one of Europe’s great centres of learning in the pre-modern period. Founded in 1222, it became known over the following century as a universitas scholarium, that is, a self-governing, legal corporation of scholars, and attracted many important intellectual figures including a number of humanists, the pioneers of the Renaissance revival.

In the late 15th and 16th centuries the university enjoyed its golden age. In this period Paduan medicine dominated the field in Europe. Through the work of its celebrated scholars it developed an outstanding reputation in the fields of science, mathematics, philosophy, jurisprudence and humanism. Padua was out and out a university city – the university was ‘the heart and soul’ of Padua, wrote one of its governors in 1547, and without it the city ‘would be a dead body’.

From its earliest days the university had attracted scholars from all over Europe, and during the Tudor period these included dozens of Englishmen: statesmen, soldiers, and ambassadors such as Francis Walsingham, Robert Bertie, and Henry Wotton; churchmen such as Cuthbert Tunstall and Reginald Pole; humanists such as Richard Pace; and physicians such as Thomas Linacre, John Caius, and William Harvey. Its magnetism for Englishmen in this period largely resulted from its cultural, academic, and intellectual excellence.

Padua and the Tudors addresses not only the question of why English students went to Padua and what they did there, but the more complex issues of cultural transmission and reception and of how their experiences impacted on Tudor life and thought. A more comprehensive study of the careers of the English scholars than has previously been attempted, it contains a biographical register which confirms the breadth of the foreign community in Padua and reveals the Paduan studium as something of a microcosm of European life. The book thus addresses the historically urgent question of how European a culture England’s was and became in the early modern period, and challenges some entrenched Anglo-Saxon assumptions about the Italian Renaissance. It also shows that through developments in medicine, humanist studies, law, and political thought, Padua influenced Tudor England in profound, enduring, and sometimes surprising ways.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 320

Trade Information JGEN

About the Author

Jonathan Woolfson is the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Warburg Institute, University of London. His area of research is the intellectual history of sixteenth-century England and Italy, and he has published articles on English travellers to Italy, aspects of the collecting of antiquities in Renaissance Padua, and the place of classical texts of natural history and medicine in the intellectual environment of Tudor Oxford. His research has been supported by the British Academy, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Society for Renaissance Studies, and the Central Research Fund of the University of London.



1. The English Nation at Padua
2. Students of Law
3. Students of Medicine and Natural Philosophy
4. Humanists
5. Exiles, Tourists and Intelligencers

Appendix: Biographical Register of English Visitors to Padua
Select Bibliography

Endorsements and Reviews

This impressive book combines erudition on two of the most well-covered areas of European historical inquiry : Renaissance Italy and Tudor England. And the author shows no partiality, either in terms of allotment of space or familiarity with people, systems of behaviour, materials and debates. An abundance of scholarly information. The biographical register constitutes a very useful research tool. Woolfson has decisively shown that the studium at Padua and the intellectual and professional personnel of Tudor England can profitably be viewed alongside each other, and specialists of either will find unexpected connections.
Times Literary Supplement

A mine of useful information as well on the university of Padua in the sixteenth century as on its far-reaching impact on Tudor England throws considerable light on the complicated and often murky currents and cross-currents of Tudor history.
Moreana, Vol 36

Credit must be given to Dr Woolfson for his assiduous pursuit of sources across Europe and his painstaking contextualization of the Paduan influence upon English political, legal and medicinal knowledge in the Henrician era. The early section on ‘the English community’ as especially eclectic in its sources and the work on Starkey is fascinating. Dr Woolfson has provided a lambent proposal regarding the importance of Padua.
Tom Webster, in The Expository Times, Vol 3, No 2