St Thomas More 1478-1535
There have been many men and women who have strode across our land and made a lasting impact on the nature of our society. St Thomas More is somewhat neglected perhaps because he was both an Englishman and Catholic. Nevertheless he has made a lasting mark on the intellectual, religious and legal life of our country.
The Life of St Thomas More
He was born on February 7th 1478, the son of a successful lawyer and profoundly influenced by his mother in early life. In 1492 he entered Oxford University, and after leaving there, he trained as a lawyer in London and began to practise in 1502.
In 1504 he stood for Parliament; by 1510 he represented London and it was here that he developed a reputation for being honest and effective. He became a Privy Councillor in 1514. In 1516 he published his most famous work Utopia which is still read today. By 1517, Henry VIII had taken an interest in Thomas, giving him posts of ever-increasing responsibility and appointed him Lord Chancellor in 1529.
Thomas was fiercely loyal to the King but in 1530, as Henry worked towards an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, Thomas More refused to sign a letter requesting the Pope to grant the annulment. In 1532, with tension between Henry and Thomas growing, he offered his resignation which was accepted.
|Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527|
A year later Thomas declined to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn which Henry viewed as an insult and a sign that he questioned his authority as Head of Church and State. Charges were laid against Thomas which were dismissed as there was no useful gain in proving his disloyalty to the King nor indeed was there evidence to disprove his moral probity.
On April 13th 1534, Thomas was ordered to take an oath of allegiance which acknowledged Henry’s position as Head of the Church, the divorce from Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn's position as Queen. While Thomas accepted Anne’s right to be declared Queen he refused to acknowledge the annulment and Henry as Head of the Church. This led to his arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London.
His trial took place on July 1st, but despite a brilliant defence, he was convicted in fifteen minutes. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. This was later commuted to decapitation.
On July 6th 1535, he knelt down on the scaffold to face the executioner. It was on this platform that he uttered the immortal words,
“I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
St Thomas More's feast day is June 22nd and he is the patron saint of adopted children, lawyers, civil servants, politicians and difficult marriages.
The Legacy of St Thomas More.
When 'alternative facts' are promoted and truth is widely discredited, we can look to our patron as a defender of truth, a speaker of truth and a promoter of truth.
He was resilient, determined and courageous. A man for our times, a beacon of Light, Truth and Hope. Truly, in the words of the playwright, Robert Bolt, “A Man For All Seasons.”