MAY, THOMAS (1595-1650), English poet and historian, son of Sir Thomas May of Mayfield, Sussex, was born in 1595. He entered Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge, in 1609, and took his B-A. degree three years later. His father having lost his fortune and sold the family estate, Thomas May, who was ham pered by an impediment in his speech, made literature his pro fession. In 1620 he produced The Heir, an ingeniously constructed comedy, and, probably about the same time, The Old Couple, which was not printed until 1658. His other dramatic works are classical tragedies on the subjects of Antigone, Cleopatra, and Agrippina. F. G. Fleay has suggested that the more famous anonymous tragedy of Nero (printed 1624, reprints in A. H. Bullen's Old English Plays and the Mermaid Series) should also be assigned to May. But his most important work in the depart ment of pure literature was his translation (1627) into heroic couplets of the Pharsalia of Lucan. Its success led May to write a continuation of Lucan's narrative down to the death of Caesar. Charles I. became his patron, and commanded him to write metri cal histories of Henry II. and Edward III., which were completed
In 1646 May is styled one of the "secretaries" of the Parlia ment, and in 1647 he published his best known work, The History of the Long Parliament, an official apology for the moderate or Presbyterian party. In 1650 he followed this with another work written with a more definite bias, a Breviary of the History of the Parliament of England, in Latin and English, in which he defended the position of the Independents. He stopped short of the catastrophe of the king's execution, and it seems likely that his subservience to Cromwell was not quite voluntary. In Feb. 165o he was brought to London from Weymouth under a strong guard for having spread false reports of the Parliament and of Cromwell. He died on Nov. 13 in the same year, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, but after the Restoration his remains were exhumed.
There is a long notice of May in the Biographia Britannica. See also W. J. Courthope, Hist. of Eng. Poetry (1895, etc.) vol. 3; and Guizot, Etudes biographiques sur la revolution d'Angleterre (pp. 403-426, ed. 1851)