Sir Thomas More or Saint Thomas More is one of the great figures in both political and religious history. To Henry The VIII he was a good friend and confidant as well as an enemy and a betrayer of England. To Catholics he is a saint and was martyred for his Catholic faith. For Protestants he was no hero to the faith as he stood against the reformation. Thomas More was a complex man living in a complex time.
Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478 and died on July 6, 1535. During his lifetime he was a lawyer an author a statesman and Lord High Chancellor of England as well as a renascences humanist. He is even highly regarded in Russia as an early communist do to his view on property in his Book Utopia.
There is much to write about More. He didn’t start out to be a Lawyer but a monk, he soon came to realize that the life of a Monk was not for him. He was a pious man that firmly believed in the tenets of The Catholic Church and The Popes rule of the Church. He was in conflict with Martin Luther and William Tyndale when the reformation began.
Henry the VIII was married to Catherin of Aragon for a number of years and she had not produced a male heir for him, though she did have two daughters Mary and Elizabeth. This was the 14th century and so science had not yet discovered that men were the ones that decided the sex of a child. Henry wanted a male heir to his throne and appealed to the Pope to allow him to divorce in order for him to marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope refused to allow this. After several attempts to persuade the Pope to allow the divorce, Henry made the decision that England would break with the Catholic Church.
It is here that we must pause a moment. The reformation of the church was brought about by Martin Luther. Luther recognized that the clergy and the church itself had become corrupt. The selling of indulgences to get you or a loved one out of purgatory was a common practice, As well as the worshipping of relics.
An indulgence was given for a certain act performed or a certain amount of money paid. You could make a pilgrimage to The Holy Land or Rome and receive one thousand or more years out of purgatory, the greater the offering or act the more years taken off.
A relic is a piece of something owned by a saint or Jesus himself. At the time many were selling pieces of the “true” cross, in fact so many people were selling these that the cross of Jesus must have been made out of an entire forest of wood. Actually pieces of the true cross are still available on E-Bay today. They range from $285.00 to $3200.00. There were also major discrepancies between the Bible and the practices of the Catholic Church. These became more and more apparent as Luther read more and more of The New Testament.
Henry did not, at first, want a break from the Catholic Church. He was considered a defender of The Church, but he also knew what he wanted, and in the end made the church of England separate from the church of Rome, and made himself Ruler of the Church of England thereby allowing himself the divorce he desired.
Thomas More could not openly disagree with Henry and so he stayed silent on the matter. Whenever he was asked about Henry being the head of the church More’s reply would be that “he was a faithful subject to the king.” Henry however wanted More’s approval and so he made the noblemen of England take an Oath of Supremacy. This Thomas More would not do. First Henry had More locked in the tower of London. More still would not take the oath. So on July 6, 1535 Henry had More beheaded. His head was then placed on traitors gate, a part of London Bridge, where it is said his daughter Margaret took it.
What happened to More’s head is uncertain. We do know two things. More’s daughter’s married name was Roper. In 1824 a lead box was found in The Roper Family Vault at St. Dustan’s in Canterbury. In that box was a head which is presumed to be Thomas More’s the head was put on display in St. Dustan’s for a time and then returned to the family vault In 1978 the vault was opened again and the head still is there in its lead box. DNA testing was unavailable in 1978 so it would take another opening for final proof. Since his daughter is also in the crypt a DNA test is possible. More’s body is reportedly buried in The Tower Of London, but there are other claims to that sight as well.
More’s writing, those pieces which still endure, are still considered relevant today.