Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)

Our image of Renaissance humanist Thomas More owes much to his depiction by actor Paul Scofield in the adaptation of Robert Bolt's play A Man For All Seasons. That More is pious yet forward thinking, slavishly loyal to his faith and ideals, a steadfast adherent to oaths and laws. Much of this is no doubt true, but our image of More as a fully modern man is battered by his enthusiastic participation in rooting out the Protestant Reformation in England. While More was Lord Chancellor, six Protestant heretics were burned at the stake, and of one he declared he "burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy."

As we know from A Man For All Seasons, More, loyal to the authority of the Pope, refused to swear an oath declaring King Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the English Church. He was convicted of false charges of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, but Henry commuted this to decapitation. He declared "I die the king's good servant, and God's first" and was decapitated by axe on July 6, 1535. His body was buried in an unmarked grave in the Tower of London. His head was stuck on a pike on London Bridge for a month until rescued (likely through bribery) by his daughter Meg Roper. More was canonized as a Catholic saint in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

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