Sir Thomas More, an outstanding public figure of the 16th century was a brilliant lawyer, a royal favourite and Chancellor of England.
He was a son of a lawyer. A the age of 12 he went to serve in the household of Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England; at 14 he went to Oxford University. At 16 he returned to London to study law and became immediate friends with the Dutch scholar Erasmus, the leader of the “New Learning”. He did well at his legal studies, but his mind turned more and more to religion. After 4 years at a monastery he began working as a lawyer and was brilliantly successful. In 1509 Henry VIII came to the throne. Well-educated, humorous and modes, Thomas became a royal favourite and was given important positions. He was knighted, made a member of the King’s Council and then Speaker of the House of Commons. He wrote an international best-seller “Utopia” which represented and ideal society.
At this time, Henry VIII was thinking about divorcing Catherine of Aragon who had not produced a son. Cardinal Wolsey failed to persuade Pope Clement that he should grant a legal royal divorce. In 1529 Henry VIII dismissed Wolsey as Chancellor and charged him with treason. Thomas More was appointed Chancellor and became the highest judge in the country; as a judge, he was absolutely fair in all his judgements.
Though an affectionate husband, father and son, Thomas More was merciless to heretics. Being very religious, he believed that heretics should be “trodden underfoot like ants” and made to confess by torture if necessary. During his time as Chancellor, 6 Protestants were burnts, with his full approval.
Trying to obtain his divorce, the King accused the English clergy of accepting the Pope’s authority instead of that of the King’s. Realizing that this threatened the unity of the Catholic Church, Thomas More gave up his Chancellorship in 1532. The King was legally divorced and married Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas More didn’t attend her coronation. He refused to swear a public oath to accept the parliamentary act which supported the King’s divorce. Opposing the divorce, he was still loyal to his king: he would not give reasons of his refusal, because that might weaken the King’s authority and lead to a rebellion or a Civil war. In April of 1534 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London without hope of release. The Parliament accepted a new act in which Henry’s title of the Supreme Head of the Church of England was stated. Though his family was suffering hardship, Thomas More didn’t say a word showing his agreement to Henry’s title. Thomas More was accused of treason and in July of 1535 faced his accusers.
On July 6 he was beheaded, and his head was fixed on a spike on the London Bridge as a dreadful warning.
In 1935, exactly 400 years after his death, the Pope officially declared Sir Thomas More a saint.