18 Dec /13


Thomas Elyot was a diplomat. One of his most important missions was to persuade Charles V that Henry VIII’s divorce to Catherine of Aragon was a good idea. Although not particularly successful in this respect, he was well known enough to have himself and his wife painted by Holbein.

Thomas Elyot was a writer. Topics he wrote about included the education of women, a popular guide to medicine, a Latin dictionary and philosophy for the ruling classes. In this book The Boke named Governor (1531), he describes aristocracy as the “rule of men of best disposition”. For the origin of aristocrat he gives the Greek origin – aristos (best) and cratia (rule), taking up a word that had already been used in France for some time.

Originally the “best” related to those with the highest education and standing in society as compared to the monarchy. Gradually the meaning of aristocrat changed to relate to the ruling class and by end of the eighteenth century the opposite was democracy. In fact the aristocrat as a word premiered in the year of the French Revolution, where it is used to describe ruling with arrogance and haughtiness.

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