Sir Thomas More
Thomas More studied at Canterbury Hall,Oxford, and read law at the Inns of Court, being called to the bar in 1501. Thomas was happiest in the bosom of his family--three generations living under one roof in Chelsea, and the congenial group of poets, scientists, and humanists that often gathered in his home, rather than at court.
Henry VIII was a man of rare personal magnetism; even Sir Thomas yielded to his charm. Thomas's daughter Margaret married Roper, who writes of More's friendship with Henry VIII: when the king had finished his devotions on holy days, he would talk to More about diverse matters, often far into the night. Thomas would try to get two days
per month to spend with his family, but he would be recalled to court. So Thomas tried to change his disposition before the king to be less likable, until the king started to come toChelsea with Thomas and to be merry there. He recognized early that Henry's whims might prove dangerous to Thomas's health and life.
More had considered the priesthood in his youth, and of joining the Franciscans, but his confessor advised against it. In 1505, he married Jane Colt, though it is said he preferred her younger sister. She bore him four children: Margaret (married Roper); Elizabeth, Cecily, and John. In
the evening, Jane would study for an hour or two because Thomas wished her to be a scholar, or she would sing or play the clavichord. Jane died in 1510.
Soon after Jane's death, he married Alice Middleton, an older woman. Margaret, the eldest child, was five.Alice was unlearned, but had a great sense of humor. Thomas scolded her for her vanity and she reproached him for his lack of ambition.More cared strongly for his children and their education, especially for Margaret. His home was a menagerie of birds, monkeys, foxes, ferrets, weasels, etc. More rose rapidly in public life despite his lack of ambition. He was a renowned lawyer and elected to Parliament in 1504 (at age 22). In 1510, he was appointed Undersheriff of London; 1518, Secretary to Henry VIII; 1521, he was knighted; 1523, chosen Speaker of Parliament; 1529, Lord Chancellor in succession to Cardinal Wolsey. Nevertheless, he continued to read, study, and write, and is known more as a scholar than as a jurist. Yet he was realistic and wrote in Utopia (1516), "philosophy had no place among kings....it is not possible for all things to be well, unless all men were good, which I think will not be this good many years."
He had a horror of luxury and worldly pomp. He found the lies and flatteries of court nauseating. It wearied him to be constantly at the King's command. He felt the scholars' life was conducive to a virtuous life of piety toward God and service of his neighbor.
Virtue and religion were the supreme concerns of his life. He considered pride the chief danger of education. Education should inculcate a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly possessions, along with a spirit of gentleness.
During Henry's reign, 12,000 people were put to death for theft. Thomas as Chancellor was hesitant to apply the death penalty to heretics.
More was a leader of the humanists, champion of the study of Greek and Latin classics, sympathetic to the Renaissance, and an advocate of needed Church reform; yet he was grounded in the Catholic tradition of the Middle Ages. He was also a friend of Erasmus. In 1527, Erasmus wrote in a letter, "I wrote the Praise of Folly in times of peace; I should never have written it if I had foreseen this tempest" of the Reformation.
Again, Erasmus in a letter to a monk about to leave his monastery, "...I see no one becoming better, every one becoming worse, so that I am deeply grieved that in my writings I once preached the liberty of the spirit....What I desired then was that the abatement of external ceremonies might much redound to the increase of true piety. But as it is, the ceremonies have been so destroyed that in place of them we have not the liberty of the spirit but the unbridled license of the flesh....What liberty is that which forbids us to say our prayers, and forbids us the sacrifice of the Mass?"
Thomas More did not think his Utopia, which is written in Latin, could be safely read by the multitude.
Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower; because he would not help Henry VIII put away Catherine of Aragon and supplant the Pope as the head of the Church of England. Thomas More did not wish to die. "I am not so holy that I dare rush upon death," he declared; "were I so presumptuous, God might suffer me to fall." But he could not accept that Henry VIII was supreme head of the church. He resigned rather than be seen to support the king's divorce.
Thomas More and John Fisher, two of the noblest men England ever produced, were both sent to the Tower in 1534 for refusing to take the Oath of Succession, which would obligate them to recognize Anne Boleyn's children as heirs to the Crown. Both said they would swear allegiance to any heir the king and Parliament would agree upon, but this was not satisfactory to Boleyn.
Next Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which made it high treason to refuse to accept the king as the only
head on earth of the Church of England. More was brought to trial on the perjured testimony of Richard Rich and defended himself against the inferred act of treason. He was convicted of high treason, and martyred for his steadfast defense of the indissolubility of marriage and the supremacy of the pope. After the sentence was issued, he broke his silence. On the scaffold, he said simply, "I have been ever the king's good and loyal servant, but God's first" (Benedictines, Bentley, and S.