Sir Thomas More or Saint Thomas More was a statesman
, and advisor to Henry VIII
who lived from 1477
. He was beheaded by Henry VIII for not accepting him as the head of the Church of England
More was the eldest son of John More who was a lawyer and born on February 7, 1477 in London, England. Due to his father's prosperity he had the honor to attend one of the best schools in the city, St. Anthony's in Threadneedle Street. He was also tutored by John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor of England. Morton helped send the young More to Oxford and he spent two years there studying Latin and formal logic. Around 1494 he returned to London at his father's request to study the common law and in February, 1496 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn, a legal society which helped its members prepare for admission the bar. While keeping up with law, More also avidly studied scripture and other religious works. Despite his father's wishes that he become a lawyer, More turned to religion.
In order to test himself for the priesthood, More spent four years in the Carthusian monastery adjoining Lincoln's Inn and tried to live as much as a monk as possible and practical. Despite being attracted to the Franciscan order he decided to serve his God as a lay Christian, but many of the habits he picked up in the monastery stayed with him throughout his life.
Either near the end of 1504 or early in 1505, More was married to Joan Colt and the couple lived in London. Joan died probably while giving birth to a child in the summer of 1511 and left More with four children. Within a few weeks, More married a widow named Alice Middleton who had a daughter of her own, but they had no children together.
Between 1513 and 1518, More wrote his History of King Richard III and although he never finished it, future historians and writers such as William Shakespeare found it very valuable. While he was in the Low Countries, he began work on his most famous piece, Utopia. It was published in 1516 and is a Greek word that More coined from you-topos, "no place". The book describes a pagan, communist city-state which contrasted greatly with Europe of the time and started the Utopian romance literary genre.
More was a strong supporter of Erasmus' religious and cultural program between 1515 and 1520. Erasmus believed in studying Greek for theology and a return to the Bible and the Church Fathers. On May 1, 1517 a riot took place and More's actions in regards to that were immortalized in a scene attributed to Shakespeare and earned him a position in the king's council and was called the master of requests. In 1518 he resigned from his city office and used his power to promote peace and various reforms that the Christian Humanists supported.
Due to his recognized successes in talks during 1520 and 1521 with Charles V and Hansa merchants, he was made undertreasuer and knighted. Henry VIII used him as both a secretary and a confident and permitted him to welcome foreign delegations, draft treaties, and other matters of importance. The House of Commons elected More as their speaker in April, 1523 and Oxford in 1524 and Cambridge in 1525 made him their high steward. During these years he moved to Chelsea and build a large house which included a chapel and a library. Most of northern England came under his control in 1525 when he was promoted to chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.
After paying a diplomatic visit to France in 1527, Henry VIII "laid the Bible open before him" to prove to him that his marriage with Catherine of Aragon was void and incestuous. More couldn't bring himself to agree with the king even though he tried and he was commissioned in March, 1528 by Bishop Tunstall of London to read everything that was considered heretical in the English language in order to refute them and between 1529 and 1533 he published seven books on the subject. With Tunstall he managed to keep England included in the Treaty of Cambrai and when Wolsey failed to get the annulment of Henry and Catherine's marriage that Henry wanted, More became chancellor of England on October 26, 1529.
Not long after becoming chancellor, More sealed his fate. On November 3, 1529, More indicted Wolsey in his opening speech to the Parliament and although he later said that the universities favored the king's divorce, he did not sign the letter which the country's nobles sent to the pope in 1530 asking him to void the king's first marriage. When the clergy recognized Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England and their supreme head, More tried to resign. He spent the next two years writing The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer in which he discussed "what the church is" and he once again begged Henry to free him from office on May 16, 1523, the day that the church formally acknowledged Henry as their head. More continued to adhere to his old faith and dug himself deeper into poverty.
When More refused to attend Anne Boleyn's coronation in 1533, he was marked out and his trials began. He continued to refuse to acknowledge Henry as head of the church instead of the pope and on April 17, 1534 he was imprisoned in the Tower. Although he didn't mind the life he was forced to live in prison as he has always lived sparsely, but was upset that it left him unable to attend to his family. While in the Tower, More wrote A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation which is said to be full of Christian wisdom and a literary masterpiece.
More was brought to trial on July 1, 1535 and the jury unanimously pronounced him guilty. Before he was sentenced, More spoke about his beliefs for which he was being condemned and was then convicted as a traitor who would be drawn, hanged, and quartered. The king changed this sentence to beheading and during the five days before his death on July 6, 1535, More prepared for death by writing a prayer and a few farewell letters. At his execution, he told onlookers to see that he was dying, "in the faith and for the faith of the Catholic Church, the king's good servant and God's first," and then blindfolded himself before being beheaded.
More's death shocked the continent and even in Protestant countries, More was not recognized as a traitor. He was canonized by Pius XI in May, 1935.