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Thomas More

Sir Thomas More (February 7, 1478 - July 6, 1535) was Lord Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII and had a European reputation as a humanist author. His most famous work was Utopia in which he created an imaginary island-kingdom in which some modern scholars have seen an idealized opposite of More's contemporary Europe and in which other modern scholars have seen a wicked satire of the same Europe. Desiderius Erasmus dedicated his In Praise of Folly[?] to More -- the word "folly" is moria in Greek.

More was born in London, England. More was attached to Henry's court by 1520 and knighted in 1521.

Table of contents

Henry VIII's Divorce

Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, failed to bring about the divorce and annulment Henry had sought and was forced to resign in 1529. More was appointed chancellor in his place, Henry evidently not realizing More's resistance to the matter. Being well-educated in canon law as well as deeply religious, More knew that the annulment of sacramental marriage was a matter within the jurisdiction of the Papacy, and the position of Pope Clement VII[?] was clearly against the divorce.

Henry's reaction was to put himself in charge of the church in England. Only the clergy were required to take the intial Oath of Supremacy[?] declaring the sovereign to be the head of the church. More, as a layman, would not have been subject to this oath, but, he resigned his chancellorship on May 16, 1532 rather than serve the new regime.

More escaped an initial attempt to connect him with a treasonous matter, but in 1534 Parliament passed the Act of Succession, which included an oath (1) acknowledging the legitimacy of any children born to Henry and Anne Boleyn, and (2) repudiating "any foreign authority, prince, or potentate." Like the Oath of Supremacy, this was not required of all people, but only those specifically summoned to take it, in other words, those in public office and those under suspicion of not supporting Henry. More was called to take this oath in April of 1535 and, on his refusal, imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced and then executed on Tower Hill[?] on July 6th. His head was displayed on London Bridge for a month, then retrieved (after the payment of a bribe) by his daughter, Margaret Roper.

More is a saint of the Catholic Church, canonized in 1935.

Much has been made by Ricardians (those concerned with the rehabilitation of Richard III of England) of More's manuscripts of the History of Richard III, from which much anti-Richard propaganda derives, including Shakespeare's play. The work exists in several versions, in both English and Latin, and all incomplete; it was not published during More's lifetime, but was found among his papers after his execution, some quarter of a century after it was written. Extensive study of the content by modern historians has demonstrated it to be John Morton's account of events that happened between when More was 3 and 6 years old, apparently written up by More for educational purposes in developing his language skills, probably in rhetoric and translation. He no more believed the "facts" in it to be true than Morton did, and the style of the writing suggests that it was either a parody, as Alison Hanham thought, or "a literary exercise in the dramatic representation of villainy," as Jeremy Potter described it. Some historians have argued it was Morton's work that More merely copied as an exercise in penmanship, but others discern in it the same kind of irony and sarcasm that appear in More's other writings, a style that Morton never achieved.

Biographies Robert Bolt's play "A Man for All Seasons" is about Sir Thomas's losing battle against King Henry's determination to have an English national church that he could control. Two films have been made of that play: the 1966 Oscar winner starring Paul Scofield and a 1988 version starring Charlton Heston.

Quotes

"...if honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable." [1] (http://www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20030610-094634-6214r.htm)

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