More Thomas

Sir Thomas More , venerated by Roman Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. Born in Milk Street in London, on 7 February 1478, Thomas More was the son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and later judge, and his wife Agnes. He was the second of six children. More was educated at St Anthony’s School, then considered one of London’s finest schools. More began his studies at Oxford in 1492, and received a classical education. Studying under Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn, he became proficient in both Latin and Greek.

More then left Oxford after only two years—at his father’s insistence—to begin legal training in London at New Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery. More married Jane Colt in 1505. She was five years younger than her husband, quiet and good-natured. Erasmus reported that More wanted to give his young wife a better education than she had previously received at home, and tutored her in music and literature. The couple had four children before Jane died in 1511: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely, and John. In 1504 More was elected to Parliament to represent Great Yarmouth, and in 1510 began representing London.

As secretary and personal adviser to King Henry VIII, More became increasingly influential: welcoming foreign diplomats, drafting official documents, and serving as a liaison between the King and Lord Chancellor Wolsey. More later served as High Steward for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In 1523 More was elected as knight of the shire for Middlesex and, on recommendation, the House of Commons elected More its Speaker. In 1525 More became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with executive and judicial responsibilities over much of northern England. More supported the Catholic Church and saw the Protestant Reformation as heresy, a threat to the unity of both church and society.

More believed in the theology, polemics, and ecclesiastical laws of the church, and “heard Luther’s call to destroy the Catholic Church as a call to war.” As the conflict over supremacy between the Papacy and the King reached its apogee, More continued to remain steadfast in supporting the supremacy of the Pope as Successor of Peter over that of the King of England. In 1530, More refused to sign a letter by the leading English churchmen and aristocrats asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and also quarrelled with Henry VIII over the heresy laws.  More, however, saw he could not render the support Henry expected from his Lord Chancellor for the policy the King was developing to support the annulment of his marriage with Catherine.

In 1532 he petitioned the King to relieve him of his office, alleging failing health. Henry granted his request. In 1533, More refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as the Queen of England. Technically, this was not an act of treason, as More had written to Henry acknowledging Anne’s queenship and expressing his desire for the King’s happiness and the new Queen’s health. Despite this, his refusal to attend was widely interpreted as a snub against Anne, and Henry took action against him.  He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered (the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility), but the King commuted this to execution by decapitation. The execution took place on 6 July 1535.

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