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The great Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466/9 - 1536) was born in Holland. He was ordained a priest in 1492 and studied theology in Paris. He received his doctoral degree in Turin (1506) and spent much of his time travelling around Europe. In England he was friends with the humanist scholars Sir Thomas More and John Colet, dean of St Paul's.

Erasmus was one of the first men of letters to establish a European reputation for his writings, both scholarly and satirical, and for his letters to the secular and religious leaders of his time. He criticised the corruption of the Catholic Church in his satire 'In Praise of Folly' (1511) but ultimately opposed the Lutheran Reformation, advocating moderation and conciliation.

He was painted by Holbein in Basel in 1523; Durer and Massys also portrayed him.