It’s Christmas Eve! I’m hoping you are relaxing from all the festivities while reading this :). Todays post is one I found particularly touching – you’ll see why soon! I thank Carla for her submission!
Sir Thomas More
I have always been fascinated by Sir Thomas More. From my first inklings at loving history but especially the Plantagenet/Tudor era I had always been drawn to him and his story.
My biggest regret in life is that I didn’t listen to myself when I heard that I wasn’t smart enough to go to school to study History. I kept saying I was and people would say I wasn’t. So much so until I believed it and gave up on that dream. But before I convinced myself I was stupid I read a lot of books, research pamphlets, and articles about the Tudors. Of course Sir Thomas More was often at the forefront of those readings.
Thomas More was born a son of John More who was a lawyer and his wife Agnes. His birthday is recorded as 7 February 1478. He had one older sibling and would have 5 younger siblings. His schooling would take place at St. Anthony’s School. He would go on to serve as a page for John Morton during in the early 1490’s.
He attended school at Oxford beginning in 1492. There he would study under Thomas Linacre whose pupils would include Erasmus, Prince Arthur and Queen Mary I of England. Eventually, under persuasion from his father, Thomas left Oxford and began to study law. He was called to the bar in 1502.
I discovered that More was deeply religious and had, at one point, considered becoming a Monk. He lived very close to a Monastary and often joined in their religious studies. He would ultimately decide to remain a lawyer but wore a hair shirt and often practiced self flagellation.
Thomas was married twice his second marriage was only 30 days after his young wife died. I am guessing he felt that his children needed a mother. He also at some point became guardian to two young children.
He also stood apart from other fathers of the time in obtaining a good education for his daughters. In a time where women were seen as chattel, and were treated as such, being married off to obtain good relations with well to do families or to secure a dynasty, to care about a woman’s education was likely seen as ‘odd’ or ‘strange’. Though the more affluent familes would have had their daughter’s educated as well.
When Cardinal Wolsey fell, after being unable to secure a divorce for Henry, Thomas became Lord High Chancellor. Which would ultimately be his undoing. He was ruthless in the carriage of what he deemed justice against those who he deemd as Protestants. Especially those who practiced the offshoot that would be known as Lutheranism. There are reports that he was extremely brutal in his punishments, the TV show The Tudors shows him burning a Lutheran supporter. However, in his own words he denies being brutal and claims he had a child caned and a man who was whipped for disturbing a prayer session.
In truth, 6 people were burned under More’s direction for hearsy. I also discovered that he may have been directly responsible for the burning of Tyndale but the report may be false.
The beginning of his downfall and ultimate beheading would start with his refusal to acknowledge that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Catholic Church. Along with that refusal he also would not sign a letter agreeing that Henry and Catharine of Aragon’s marriage had been anulled. More would resign his position as Chancellor but still remained in Henry’s favour. I can’t imagine what may have been going through his mind having seen the speed of the fall of Wolsey and what happened to anyone who angered the King.
More was invited to but refused to attend the Coronation of Anne Boleyn as he saw the true Queen to still be Catharine of Aragon. Although he had already sent a letter warmly congratulating the new Queen, Henry saw his refusal as a snub against his Queen and began treason proceedings agaisnt him.
In April of 1534 More was invited and accepted an invitaton to court where he happily acknowledged Anne was Queen and the children from this union would take precedence in the Succession of the Throne.
But he refused to acknowledge the annulment of Henry’s previous marriage nor his Supremacy in the Catholic Church. The justaposition of this confused me. But, I suppose, being faced with death or life you’d say one thing and think another.
Thomas believed that so long as he didn’t expressly deny that the King was the Supreme Head of the Church he couldn’t be charged with Treason. However, Thomas Cromwell tesified that Richard Rich the Solicitor General at the time had a conversation with More, in the Tower, in which Thomas did indeed refute the King’s claim that he was the Supreme Head of the Church.
Upon hearing that testimony, and I wonder what Richard Rich was thinking as this was happening, the jury took just 15 minutes to convict More of the charge of Treason. His original sentence was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. But the King, perhaps in a moment of clemency because despite what he was rapidly becoming, I believe he still loved his friend, decided to commute the sentence to beheading.
Thomas More climbed the scaffold on the 6th of July. He tripped going up the stairs and said to one standing near those steps that he should be allowed to shift for himself coming down. He then told the crowd to pray for himself and the King and to ‘pray tell that he died the King’s good servant and God’s first’. He then recited a prayer and gave the executioner his pardon and was then beheaded.
His head was then placed on a pike. More’s daughter would later remove his head where it is said to rest in the Roper Vault.
I have seen many variations on Thomas’ character in books, and movies. But my favourite, by far, is Jeremy Northam’s Thomas on the Tudors. I have watched the episode where Thomas is beheaded numerous times and I still cry when Jeremy says ‘Tell him, I died his good servant, but, God’s first’.
I have often wondered WHY I feel such a draw to Thomas More. Perhaps it’s his steadfast faith, I am NOT a religious person at all, so maybe it was the fact that he refused to give up his faith even if it meant dying. Perhaps it was that he wished for his daughter’s what many men wouldn’t care about. A good education, happy marriages, and long lives.
I wondered if it was simply a fascination because he was a Tudor era person and I love the time period so much.
And then, one day, as I was researching something else I had an aha moment when another website led me to people who had been canonized. I knew that he had been canonized. I also knew he had been beatified. He had also been martyred. His feast day is a few days after my birthday which I also found intriguing. But the aha moment came as I found his name and there was my answer. He is the Patron Saint of Adopted People. I am adopted.
I continue to be amazed by the pull history has on me. Especially this particular period in time. Perhaps in my search to locate my roots, Thomas More and his watch over adopted people, kindled my love for all things Tudor.