St. Thomas More, Martyr (Patron of Lawyers) St. Thomas More was born at London in 1478. After a thorough grounding in religion and the classics, he entered Oxford to study law. Upon leaving the university he embarked on a legal career which took him to Parliament. In 1505, he married his beloved Jane Colt who bore him four children, andwhen she died at a young age, he married a widow, Alice Middleton, to be a mother for his young children. A wit and a reformer, this learned man numberedBishops and scholars among his friends, and by 1516 wrote his world-famous book “Utopia”. He attracted the attention of Henry VIII who appointed him to a succession of high posts and missions, and finally made him Lord Chancellor in 1529. However, he resigned in 1532, at the height of his career and reputation, when Henry persisted in holding his own opinions regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. The rest of his life was spent in writing mostly in defense of the Church. In 1534, with his close friend, St. John Fisher, he refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower. Fifteen months later, and nine days after St. John Fisher’s execution, he was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that “we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation.” And on the scaffold, he told the crowd of spectators that he was dying as “the King’s good servant-but God’s first.” He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. His feast day is June 22nd.
More about St. Thomas More from Wikipedia
Sir Thomas More (/ˈmɔːr/; 7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), venerated by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was also a councillor to Henry VIII, and Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532.
More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. He also wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an imaginary ideal island nation. More opposed the King’s separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to acknowledge Henry asSupreme Head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason and beheaded.
Pope Pius XI canonised More in 1935 as a martyr. Pope John Paul II in 2000 declared him the “heavenlyPatron of Statesmen and Politicians.” Since 1980, the Church of England has remembered More liturgically as a Reformation martyr. The Soviet Union honoured him for the Communistic attitude toward property rights expressed in Utopia.
Born in Milk Street in London, on February 7, 1478, Thomas More was the son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and later judge, and his wife Agnes (née Graunger). More was educated at St Anthony’s School, then considered one of London’s finest schools. From 1490 to 1492, More servedJohn Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England, as a household page.:xviMorton enthusiastically supported the “New Learning” (now called the Renaissance), and thought highly of the young More. Believing that More had great potential, Morton nominated him for a place at theUniversity of Oxford (either in St. Mary’s Hall or Canterbury College, both now gone).:38
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 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.:xvii In 1496, More became a student at Lincoln’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court, where he remained until 1502, when he was called to the Bar.:xvii
According to his friend, theologian Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, More once seriously contemplated abandoning his legal career to become a monk. Between 1503 and 1504 More lived near the Carthusian monastery outside the walls of London and joined in the monks’ spiritual exercises. Although he deeply admired their piety, More ultimately decided to remain a layman, standing for election to Parliament in 1504 and marrying the following year.:xxi
In spite of his choice to pursue a secular career, More continued ascetical practices for the rest of his life, such as wearing a hair shirt next to his skin and occasionally engaging in flagellation.:xxi A tradition of the Third Order of Saint Francis honours More as a member of that Order on their calendar of saints.
More married Jane Colt in 1505.:118 She was 5 years younger than her husband, quiet and good-natured.:119 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.:119 The couple had four children before Jane died in 1511: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely, and John.:132
Going “against friends’ advice and common custom,” within thirty days More had married one of the many eligible women among his wide circle of friends. He chose a rich widow, Alice Harpur Middleton. The speed of the marriage was so unusual that More had to get a dispensation of the banns, which, due to his good public reputation, he easily obtained. Alice More lacked Jane’s docility; More’s friend Andrew Ammonius derided Alice as a “hook-nosed harpy.”Erasmus, however, called their marriage happy.:144
More had no children from his second marriage, although he raised Alice’s daughter from her previous marriage as his own. More also became the guardian of two young girls: Anne Cresacre would eventually marry his son, John More;:146 and Margaret Giggs (later Clement) would be the only member of his family to witness his execution (she died on the 35th anniversary of that execution, and her daughter married More’s nephew William Rastell). An affectionate father, More wrote letters to his children whenever he was away on legal or government business, and encouraged them to write to him often.:150:xiv
More insisted upon giving his daughters the same classical education as his son, a highly unusual attitude at the time.:146–47 His eldest daughter, Margaret, attracted much admiration for her erudition, especially her fluency in Greek and Latin.:147 More told his daughter of his pride in her academic accomplishment in September 1522, after he showed the bishop a letter she had written:
When he saw from the signature that it was the letter of a lady, his surprise led him to read it more eagerly … he said he would never have believed it to be your work unless I had assured him of the fact, and he began to praise it in the highest terms … for its pure Latinity, its correctness, its erudition, and its expressions of tender affection. He took out at once from his pocket a portague [A Portuguese gold coin] … to send to you as a pledge and token of his good will towards you.:152
More’s decision to educate his daughters set an example for other noble families. Even Erasmus became much more favourable once he witnessed their accomplishments.:149
A portrait of More and his family was painted by Holbein, but it was lost in a fire in the 18th century. More’s grandson commissioned a copy, two versions of which survive.
Early political career
In 1504 More was elected to Parliament to represent Great Yarmouth, and in 1510 began representing London.
From 1510, More served as one of the two undersheriffs of theCity of London, a position of considerable responsibility in which he earned a reputation as an honest and effective public servant. More became Master of Requests in 1514, the same year in which he was appointed as a Privy Counsellor. After undertaking a diplomatic mission to the Holy Roman Emperor,Charles V, accompanying Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal Archbishop of York, to Calais and Bruges, More was knighted and made under-treasurer of the Exchequer in 1521.
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 (MP) for Middlesex and, on Wolsey’s 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.
After Wolsey fell, More succeeded to the office of Lord Chancellor in 1529. He dispatched cases with unprecedented rapidity.
Campaign against the Reformation
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.”
His early actions against the Reformation included aiding Wolsey in preventing Lutheran books from being imported into England, spying on and investigating suspected Protestants, especially publishers, and arresting anyone holding in his possession, transporting, or selling the books of the Protestant Reformation. More vigorously suppressed the travelling country ministers who used Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament. It contained controversial translations of certain words; for example, Tyndale used “senior” and “elder” rather than “priest” for the Greek “presbyteros”, and some of the marginal glosses challenged Catholic doctrine. It was during this time that most of his literary polemics appeared.
Rumours circulated during and after More’s lifetime regarding ill-treatment of heretics during his time as Lord Chancellor. The popular anti-Catholic polemicist John Foxe, who “placed Protestant sufferings against the background of… the Antichrist”, was instrumental in publicising accusations of torture in his famous Book of Martyrs, claiming that More had often personally used violence or torture while interrogating heretics. Later authors such as Brian Moynahan and Michael Farris cite Foxe when repeating these allegations. More himself denied these allegations:
Stories of a similar nature were current even in More’s lifetime and he denied them forcefully. He admitted that he did imprison heretics in his house – ‘theyr sure kepynge’ – he called it – but he utterly rejected claims of torture and whipping… ‘so helpe me God.’:298
However, More writes in his “Apology” (1533) that he only applied corporal punishment to two heretics: a child who was caned in front of his family for heresy regarding the Eucharist, and a “feeble-minded” man who was whipped for disrupting prayers.:404 During More’s chancellorship, six people were burned at the stake for heresy; they were Thomas Hitton, Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbery, Thomas Dusgate, and James Bainham.:299–306 Moynahan has argued that More was influential in the burning of Tyndale, as More’s agents had long pursued him, even though this took place over a year after his own death. Burning at the stake had long been a standard punishment for heresy; about thirty burnings had taken place in the century before More’s elevation to Chancellor, and burning continued to be used by both Catholics and Protestants during the religious upheaval of the following decades. His biographer Peter Ackroyd notes that More explicitly “approved of Burning”.:298
John Tewkesbury was a London leather seller found guilty by Bishop of London John Stokesley of harbouring banned books; he was sentenced to burning for refusing to recant. More declared: he “burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy.”
Modern commentators are divided over More’s religious actions as Chancellor. Some biographers, including Ackroyd, have taken a relatively tolerant view of More’s campaign against Protestantism by placing his actions within the turbulent religious climate of the time. Others have been more critical, such as Richard Marius, an American scholar of the Reformation, believing that persecutions were a betrayal of More’s earlier humanist convictions, including More’s zealous and well-documented advocacy of extermination for Protestants.:386–406
Some Protestants take a different view. In 1980, More was added to the Church of England’s calendar of Saints and Heroes of the Christian Church, despite being a fierce opponent of the English Reformationthat created the Church of England. He was added jointly with John Fisher, to be commemorated every 6 July (the date of More’s execution) as “Thomas More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs, 1535”. Pope John Paul II honoured him by making him patron saint of statesmen and politicians in October 2000, stating: “It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience… even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time”.
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 askingPope Clement VII to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and also quarrelled with Henry VIII over the heresy laws. In 1531, Henry had isolated More by purging most clergy who supported the papal stance from senior positions in the church. Parliament’s reinstatement of the charge of praemunire in 1529 had made it a crime to support in public or office the claim of any authority outside the realm (such as the Papacy) to have a legal jurisdiction superior to the King’s. In 1531, a royal decree required the clergy to take an oath acknowledging the King as “Supreme Head” of the Church in England. As a layperson, More did not need to take the oath and the clergy, after some initial resistance, took the oath with the addition of the clause “as far as the law of Christ allows.” However, More 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.
Trial and execution
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.
Shortly thereafter, More was charged with accepting bribes, but the charges had to be dismissed for lack of any evidence. In early 1534, More was accused of conspiring with the “Holy Maid of Kent,” Elizabeth Barton, a nun who had prophesied against the king’s annulment, but More was able to produce a letter in which he had instructed Barton not to interfere with state matters.
On 13 April 1534, More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession. More accepted Parliament’s right to declare Anne Boleyn the legitimate Queen of England, but, holding fast to the teaching of papal supremacy, he steadfastly refused to take the oath of supremacy of the Crown in the relationship between the kingdom and the church in England. More furthermore publicly refused to uphold Henry’s annulment from Catherine. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, refused the oath along with More. The oath reads:
…By reason whereof the Bishop of Rome and See Apostolic, contrary to the great and inviolable grants of jurisdictions given by God immediately to emperors, kings and princes in succession to their heirs, hath presumed in times past to invest who should please them to inherit in other men’s kingdoms and dominions, which thing we your most humble subjects, both spiritual and temporal, do most abhor and detest…
With his refusal to support the King’s annulment, More’s enemies had enough evidence to have the King arrest him on treason. Four days later, Henry had More imprisoned in the Tower of London. There More prepared a devotional Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. While More was imprisoned in the Tower,Thomas Cromwell made several visits, urging More to take the oath, which he continued to refuse.
On 1 July 1535, More was tried before a panel of judges that included the new Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley, as well as Anne Boleyn’s father, brother, and uncle. He was charged with high treason for denying the validity of the Act of Supremacy and was tried under the following section of theTreasons Act 1534:
If any person or persons, after the first day of February next coming, do maliciously wish, will or desire, by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king’s most royal person, the queen’s, or their heirs apparent, or to deprive them or any of them of their dignity, title, or name of their royal estates …
That then every such person and persons so offending … shall have and suffer such pains of death and other penalties, as is limited and accustomed in cases of high treason.
More, relying on legal precedent and the maxim “qui tacet consentire videtur” (literally, who (is) silent is seen to consent), understood that he could not be convicted as long as he did not explicitly deny that the King was Supreme Head of the Church, and he therefore refused to answer all questions regarding his opinions on the subject.
Thomas Cromwell, at the time the most powerful of the King’s advisors, brought forth the Solicitor General, Richard Rich, to testify that More had, in his presence, denied that the King was the legitimate head of the church. This testimony was characterised by More as being extremely dubious. WitnessesRichard Southwell and Mr. Palmer both denied having heard the details of the reported conversation, and as More himself pointed out:
Can it therefore seem likely to your Lordships, that I should in so weighty an Affair as this, act so unadvisedly, as to trust Mr. Rich, a Man I had always so mean an Opinion of, in reference to his Truth and Honesty, … that I should only impart to Mr. Rich the Secrets of my Conscience in respect to the King’s Supremacy, the particular Secrets, and only Point about which I have been so long pressed to explain my self? which I never did, nor never would reveal; when the Act was once made, either to the King himself, or any of his Privy Councillors, as is well known to your Honours, who have been sent upon no other account at several times by his Majesty to me in the Tower. I refer it to your Judgments, my Lords, whether this can seem credible to any of your Lordships.
The jury took only fifteen minutes, however, to find More guilty.
After the jury’s verdict was delivered and before his sentencing, More spoke freely of his belief that “no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality”. 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. When he came to mount the steps to the scaffold, he is widely quoted as saying (to the officials): “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself”; while on the scaffold he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Another comment he is believed to have made to the executioner is that his beard was completely innocent of any crime, and did not deserve the axe; he then positioned his beard so that it would not be harmed. More asked that his foster/adopted daughter Margaret Clement (née Giggs) be given his headless corpse to bury. She was the only member of his family to witness his execution. He was buried at the Tower of London, in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in an unmarked grave. His head was fixed upon a pike over London Bridge for a month, according to the normal custom for traitors. His daughter Margaret (Meg) Roper rescued it, possibly by bribery, before it could be thrown in the River Thames.
The skull is believed to rest in the Roper Vault of St Dunstan’s Church, Canterbury, though some researchers[who?] have claimed it might be within the tomb he erected for More in Chelsea Old Church (see below). The evidence,[clarification needed] however, seems to be in favour of its placement in St Dunstan’s, with the remains of his daughter, Margaret Roper, and her husband’s family, whose vault it was.
Among other surviving relics is his hair shirt, presented for safe keeping by Margaret Clement. This was long in the custody of the community of Augustinian canonesses who until 1983 lived at the convent at Abbotskerswell Priory, Devon. It is now preserved at Syon Abbey, near South Brent.
Scholarly and literary work
History of King Richard III
Between 1512 and 1519 More worked on a History of King Richard III, which he never finished but which was published after his death. The History is a Renaissance biography, remarkable more for its literary skill and adherence to classical precepts than for its historical accuracy. Some consider it an attack on royal tyranny, rather than on Richard III himself or the House of York. More uses a more dramatic writing style than had been typical in medieval chronicles; Richard is limned as an outstanding, archetypal tyrant.
The History of King Richard III was written and published in both English and Latin, each written separately, and with information deleted from the Latin edition to suit a European readership.It greatly influenced William Shakespeare’s play Richard III. Contemporary historians attribute the unflattering portraits of Richard III in both works to both authors’ allegiance to the reigning Tudor dynastythat wrested the throne from Richard III in the Wars of the Roses. More’s version barely mentions King Henry VII, the first Tudor king, perhaps because he had persecuted his father, Sir John More. Clements Markham suggests that the actual author of the work was Archbishop Morton and that More was simply copying or perhaps translating the work.
More’s best known and most controversial work, Utopia is a novel written in Latin. More completed and Erasmus published the book in Leuven in 1516, but it was only translated into English and published in his native land in 1551 (16 years after his execution), and the 1684 translation became the most commonly cited. More (also a character in the book) and the narrator/traveller, Raphael Hythlodaeus (whose name alludes both to the healer archangel Raphael, and ‘speaker of nonsense’, the surname’s Greek meaning), discuss modern ills in Antwerp, as well as describe the political arrangements of the imaginary island country of Utopia (Greek pun on ‘ou-topos’ [no place], ‘eu-topos’ [good place]) among themselves as well as to Pieter Gillis and Hieronymus van Busleyden. Utopia’s original edition included a symmetrical “Utopian alphabet” omitted by later editions, but which may have been an early attempt atcryptography or precursor of shorthand.
Utopia contrasts the contentious social life of European states with the perfectly orderly, reasonable social arrangements of Utopia and its environs (Tallstoria, Nolandia, and Aircastle). In Utopia, there are no lawyers because of the laws’ simplicity and because social gatherings are in public view (encouraging participants to behave well), communal ownership supplants private property, men and women are educated alike, and there is almost complete religious toleration (except for atheists, who are allowed but despised). More may have used monastic communalism (rather than the biblical communalism in the Acts of the Apostles) as his model, although other concepts such as legalizing euthanasia remain far outside Church doctrine. Hythlodaeus asserts that a man who refuses to believe in a god or an afterlife could never be trusted, because he would not acknowledge any authority or principle outside himself. Some take the novel’s principal message to be the social need for order and discipline rather than liberty. Ironically, Hythlodaeus, who believes philosophers should not get involved in politics, addresses More’s ultimate conflict between his humanistic beliefs and courtly duties as the King’s servant, pointing out that one day those morals will come into conflict with the political reality.
Utopia gave rise to a literary genre, Utopian and dystopian fiction, which features ideal societies or perfect cities, or their opposite. Early works influenced by Utopia included New Atlantis by Francis Bacon,Erewhon by Samuel Butler, and Candide by Voltaire. Although Utopianism combined classical concepts of perfect societies (Plato and Aristotle) with Roman rhetorical finesse (cf. Cicero, Quintilian, epideicticoratory), the Renaissance genre continued into the Age of Enlightenment and survives in modern science fiction.
In 1520 the reformer Martin Luther published three works in quick succession: An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (Aug.), Concerning the Babylonish Captivity of the Church (Oct.), and On the Liberty of a Christian Man (Nov.).:225 In these books, Luther set out his doctrine of salvation through grace alone, rejected certain Catholic practices, and attacked abuses and excesses within the Catholic Church.:225–6 In 1521, Henry VIII formally responded to Luther’s criticisms with the Assertio, written with More’s assistance. Pope Leo X rewarded the English king with the title ‘Fidei defensor’ (“Defender of the Faith”) for his work combating Luther’s heresies.:226–7
Martin Luther then attacked Henry VIII in print, calling him a “pig, dolt, and liar”.:227 At the king’s request, More composed a rebuttal: the Responsio ad Lutherum was published at the end of 1523. In theResponsio, More defended papal supremacy, the sacraments, and other Church traditions. More’s language, like Luther’s, was virulent: he branded Luther an “ape”, a “drunkard”, and a “lousy little friar” amongst other insults.:230 Writing as Rosseus, More offers to “throw back into your paternity’s shitty mouth, truly the shit-pool of all shit, all the muck and shit which your damnable rottenness has vomited up”.
Confronting Luther confirmed More’s theological conservatism. He thereafter avoided any hint of criticism of Church authority.:230 In 1528, More published another religious polemic, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, that asserted the Catholic Church was the one true church, established by Christ and the Apostles, and affirmed the validity of its authority, traditions and practices.:279–81 In 1529, the circulation of Simon Fish’s Supplication for the Beggars prompted More to respond with The Supplication of Souls.
In 1531, a year after More’s father died, William Tyndale published An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue in response to More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies. More responded with a half million words: the Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer. The Confutation is an imaginary dialogue between More and Tyndale, with More addressing each of Tyndale’s criticisms of Catholic rites and doctrines.:307–9 More, who valued structure, tradition and order in society as safeguards against tyranny and error, vehemently believed that Lutheranism and the Protestant Reformation in general were dangerous, not only to the Catholic faith but to the stability of society as a whole.:307–9
Most major humanists were prolific letter writers, and Thomas More was no exception. However, as in the case of his friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, only a small portion of his correspondence (about 280 letters) survived. These include everything from personal letters to official government correspondence (mostly in English), letters to fellow humanist scholars (in Latin), several epistolary tracts, verse epistles, prefatory letters (some fictional) to several of More’s own works, letters to More’s children and their tutors (in Latin), and the so-called “prison-letters” (in English) which he exchanged with his oldest daughter, Margaret Roper while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting execution. More also engaged in controversies, most notably with the French poet Germain de Brie, which culminated in the publication of de Brie’s Antimorus (1519). Erasmus intervened, however, and ended the dispute.
More also wrote about more spiritual matters. They include: A Treatise on the Passion (a/k/a Treatise on the Passion of Christ), A Treatise to Receive the Blessed Body (a/k/a Holy Body Treaty), and De Tristitia Christi (a/k/a The Agony of Christ). More handwrote the last which reads in the Tower of London while awaiting his execution. This last manuscript, saved from the confiscation decreed by Henry VIII, passed by the will of his daughter Margaret to Spanish hands through Fray Pedro de Soto, confessor of Emperor Charles V. More’s friend Luis Vives received it in Valencia, where it remains in the collection of Real Colegio Seminario del Corpus Christi Museum.
Pope Leo XIII beatified Thomas More, John Fisher and 52 other English Martyrs on 29 December 1886. Pope Pius XI canonised More and Fisher on 19 May 1935, and More’s feast day was established as 9 July. Since 1970 theGeneral Roman Calendar has celebrated More with St John Fisher on 22 June (the date of Fisher’s execution). In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared More “the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians”.
In 1980, despite their opposing the English Reformation, More and Fisher were jointly added as martyrs of the reformation to the Church of England’s calendar of “Saints and Heroes of the Christian Church”, to be commemorated every 6 July (the date of More’s execution) as “Thomas More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs, 1535”.
More is also listed in the calendars of saints of some of the other churches in the Anglican Communionincluding:
- The Anglican Church of Australia has “July 6: John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs (died 1535)”.
- The Anglican Church of Brazil has “July 6: Thomas More, Martyr, 1535”.
- The Anglican Church of Canada has “July 6: Thomas More died 1535 Commemoration” in its Book of Alternative Services Calendar, and has “July 6: The Octave Day of St Peter and St Paul, and Thomas More, Chancellor of England, Martyr 1535.” in the July section of its Book of Common Prayer Calendar.
- The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has “July 6: Thomas More, Martyr, 1535”.
Among those on which More is not listed are the calendars of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Hong Kong and Macau.
The steadfastness and courage with which More maintained his religious convictions, and his dignity during his imprisonment, trial, and execution, contributed much to More’s posthumous reputation, particularly among Roman Catholics. However, his zealous and brutal persecution of Protestants while Lord Chancellor contravenes modern notions of religious liberty as discussed below. Many historians[who?]consider More’s treason conviction unjust, or at least his execution heavy-handed. His friendErasmus defended More’s character as “more pure than any snow” and described his genius as “such as England never had and never again will have.” Upon learning of More’s execution, Emperor Charles Vsaid: “Had we been master of such a servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions than such a worthy councillor.” G. K. Chesterton, a Roman Catholic convert from the Church of England, predicted More “may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English history.” Hugh Trevor-Roper called More “the first great Englishman whom we feel that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our cool northern renaissance.”
Jonathan Swift, an Anglican, wrote that More was “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced”. Some consider Samuel Johnson that quote’s author, although neither his writings nor Boswell’s contain such. The metaphysical poet John Donne, also honoured as a saint by Anglicans, was More’s great-great-nephew.
While Roman Catholic scholars maintain that More used irony in Utopia, and that he remained an orthodox Christian, Marxist theoretician Karl Kautsky considered the book a shrewd critique of economic and social exploitation in pre-modern Europe; More thus influenced the early development of socialist ideas. Others thought Utopia mythologised Indian cultures in the New World at a time when the Catholic Church was still debating internally its view toward those decidedly non-Christian cultures.
Several authors have criticised More for his campaign against Protestantism. Brian Moynahan, in his bookGod’s Messenger: William Tyndale, Thomas More and the Writing of the English Bible, criticised More’s intolerance, as does Michael Farris in his book From Tyndale to Madison. Richard Marius also criticised More for Anti-Protestantism and intolerance. Jasper Ridley, who wrote biographies of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, goes much further in his dual biography of More and Cardinal Wolsey, The Statesman and the Fanatic, describing More as “a particularly nasty sado-masochistic pervert.”[page needed] Joanna Denny in her 2004 biography of Anne Boleyn also criticised More.
Communism, Socialism, and resistance to Communism
Having been praised “as a Communist hero by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Kautsky” because of the Communist attitude to property in his Utopia, under Soviet Communism the name of Thomas More was in ninth position from the top of Moscow’s Stele of Freedom (also known as the Obelisk of Revolutionary Thinkers), as one of the most influential thinkers “who promoted the liberation of humankind from oppression, arbitrariness, and exploitation.” This monument was erected in 1918 in Aleksandrovsky Garden near the Kremlin at Lenin’s suggestion. It was dismantled on 2 July 2013, during Vladimir Putin’s third term as President of post-Communist Russia.
Utopia also inspired Socialists such as William Morris.
Many see More’s communism or socialism as purely satirical. In 1888, while praising More’s communism, Karl Kautsky pointed out that “perplexed” historians and economists often saw the nameUtopia (which means “no place”) as “a subtle hint by More that he himself regarded his communism as an impracticable dream”.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Prize-winning anti-Communist author, and survivor andhistorian of the Soviet prison camps, argued that Soviet communism needed enslavement and forced labour to survive, and that this had been ” …foreseen as far back as Thomas More, the great-grandfather of socialism, in his Utopia“.
In 2008, More was portrayed on stage in Hong Kong as an allegorical symbol of the Pan-democracy camp resisting Chinese Communism in a translated and modified version of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons .
Literature and popular culture
William Roper’s biography of More was one of the first biographies in Modern English.
More was portrayed as a wise and honest statesman in the 1592 play Sir Thomas More, which was probably written in collaboration by Henry Chettle, Anthony Munday, William Shakespeare, and others, and which survives only in fragmentary form after being censored by Edmund Tylney, Master of the Revels in the government of Queen Elizabeth I (any direct reference to the Act of Supremacy was censored out).
The 20th-century agnostic playwright Robert Bolt portrayed Thomas More as the tragic hero of his 1960 play A Man for All Seasons. The title is drawn from what Robert Whittington in 1520 wrote of More:
- More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.
In 1966, the play was made into the film A Man for All Seasons directed by Fred Zinnemann, adapted for the screen by the playwright himself, and starring Paul Scofield, an actor known for many acclaimed performances in classical theatre, who later called Sir Thomas More “The most difficult part I played.”The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Scofield won the Best Actor Oscar. In 1988,Charlton Heston starred in and directed a made-for-television film that followed Bolt’s original play almost verbatim, restoring for example the commentaries of “the common man”.
Catholic science fiction writer R. A. Lafferty wrote his novel Past Master as a modern equivalent to More’sUtopia, which he saw as a satire. In this novel, Thomas More travels through time to the year 2535, where he is made king of the world “Astrobe”, only to be beheaded after ruling for a mere nine days. One character compares More favourably to almost every other major historical figure: “He had one completely honest moment right at the end. I cannot think of anyone else who ever had one.”
Karl Zuchardt’s novel, Stirb du Narr! (“Die you fool!”), about More’s struggle with King Henry, portrays More as an idealist bound to fail in the power struggle with a ruthless ruler and an unjust world.
The novelist Hilary Mantel’s portrays More as an unsympathetic persecutor of Protestants, and an ally of the Habsburg empire, in her 2009 novel Wolf Hall, told from the perspective of a sympathetically portrayed Thomas Cromwell. Literary critic James Wood calls More “cruel in punishment, evasive in argument, lusty for power, and repressive in politics”.
Aaron Zelman’s non-fiction book The State Versus the People includes a comparison of Utopia with Plato’s Republic. Zelman is undecided as to whether More was being ironic in his book or was genuinely advocating a police state. Zelman comments, “More is the only Christian saint to be honoured with a statue at the Kremlin.” By this Zelman implies that Utopia influenced Vladimir Lenin’sBolsheviks, despite their brutal repression of religion.
Other biographers, such as Peter Ackroyd, have offered a more sympathetic picture of More as both a sophisticated philosopher and man of letters, as well as a zealous Catholic who believed in the authority of the Holy See over Christendom.
The protagonist of Walker Percy’s novels, Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome, is “Dr Thomas More”, a reluctant Catholic and descendant of More.
More is the focus of the Al Stewart song “A Man For All Seasons” from the 1978 album Time Passages, and of the Far song “Sir”, featured on the limited editions and 2008 re-release of their 1994 album Quick. In addition, the song “So Says I” by indie rock outfit The Shins alludes to the socialist interpretation of More’s Utopia.
Jeremy Northam depicts More in the television series The Tudors as a peaceful man, as well as a devout Roman Catholic and loving family patriarch. He also shows More loathing Protestantism, burning both Martin Luther’s books and English Protestants who have been convicted of heresy. The portrayal has unhistorical aspects, such as that More neither personally caused nor attended Simon Fish’s execution (since Fish actually died of bubonic plague in 1531 before he could stand trial), although More’s The Supplycatyon of Soulys, published in October 1529, addressed Fish’s Supplication for the Beggars.Indeed, there is no evidence that More ever attended the execution of any heretic. The series also neglected to show More’s avowed insistence that Richard Rich’s testimony about More disputing the King’s title as Supreme Head of the Church of England was perjured.
In 2002, More was placed at number 37 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.
Institutions named after More
A plaque in the middle of the floor of London’s Westminster Hall commemorates More’s trial for treason and condemnation to execution in that original part of the Palace of Westminster. The building, which houses Parliament, would have been well known to More, who served several terms as a member and became Speaker of the House of Commons before his appointment as England’s Lord Chancellor.
The Crown confiscated More’s home and estate along the Thames in Chelsea after his execution. Crosby Hall, which was part of More’s London residence, was eventually relocated and reconstructed in Chelsea by conservation architect Walter Godfrey in 1910. Rebuilt in the 1990s, the white stone building stands amid modern brick structures that attempt to recapture the style of More’s former manor on the site. Crosby Hall is privately owned and closed to the public. The modern structures face the Thames and include an entry way that displays More’s arms, heraldic beasts, and a Latin maxim. Apartment buildings and a park cover the former gardens and orchard; Roper’s Garden is the park atop one of More’s gardens, sunken as his was believed to be. No other remnants exist of the More estate.
Chelsea Old Church
Across a small park and Old Church Street from Crosby Hall isChelsea Old Church, an Anglican church whose southern chapel More commissioned and in which he sang with the parish choir. Except for his chapel, the church was largely destroyed in the Second World War and rebuilt in 1958. The capitals on the medieval arch connecting the chapel to the main sanctuary display symbols associated with More and his office. On the southern wall of the sanctuary is the tomb and epitaph he erected for himself and his wives, detailing his ancestry and accomplishments in Latin, including his role as peacemaker between the Christian nations of Europe as well as a curiously altered portion about his curbing heresy. When More served Mass, he would leave by the door just to the left of it. He is not, however, buried here, nor is it entirely certain which of his family may be. It is open to the public at specific times. Outside the church, facing the River Thames, is a statue by L. Cubitt Bevis erected in 1969, commemorating More as “saint”, “scholar”, and “statesman”; the back displays his coat-of-arms. Nearby, on Upper Cheyne Row, the Roman Catholic Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer & St. Thomas More honours the martyr.
A plaque and small garden commemorate the famed execution site on Tower Hill, London, just outside the Tower of London, as well as all those executed there, many as religious martyrs or as prisoners of conscience. More’s corpse, minus his head, was unceremoniously buried in an unmarked mass grave beneath the Royal Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula, within the walls of the Tower of London, as was the custom for traitors executed at Tower Hill. The chapel is accessible to Tower visitors.
St Katharine Docks
Thomas More is commemorated by a stone plaque near St Katharine Docks, just east of the Tower where he was executed. The street in which it is situated was formerly called Nightingale Lane, a corruption of “Knighten Guild”, derived from the original owners of the land. It is now renamed Thomas More Street in his honour.
St Dunstan’s Church and Roper House, Canterbury
St Dunstan’s Church, an Anglican parish church in Canterbury, possesses More’s head, rescued by his daughter Margaret Roper, whose family lived in Canterbury down and across the street from their parish church. A stone immediately to the left of the altar marks the sealed Roper family vault beneath the Nicholas Chapel, itself to the right of the church’s sanctuary or main altar. St Dunstan’s Church has carefully investigated, preserved and sealed this burial vault. The last archaeological investigation revealed that the suspected head of More rests in a niche separate from the other bodies, possibly from later interference. Displays in the chapel record the archaeological findings in pictures and narratives. Catholics donated stained glass to commemorate the events in More’s life. A small plaque marks the former home of William and Margaret Roper; another house nearby and entitled Roper House is now a home for the deaf.