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Thomas More

Thomas More Thomas More[2†]

Thomas More, born on February 7, 1478, in London, England, was an English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist[1†][2†]. He served Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 1532[1†][2†]. More is recognized for his significant contributions to literature, most notably for his work “Utopia,” published in 1516, which describes the political system of an imaginary island state[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478, in London, England[1†][2†]. He was the eldest son of Sir John More, a prominent barrister[1†]. More’s education began at one of London’s best schools, St. Anthony’s in Threadneedle Street[1†]. In his early teens, More became a page for John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England[1†]. Morton, recognizing More’s potential, predicted that he would prove to be a “marvellous man” and his interest sent the young More to the University of Oxford[1†].

At Oxford, More spent about two years, during which he mastered Latin and underwent a thorough drilling in formal logic[1†]. He also studied a wide variety of subjects, including music[1†][3†]. Around 1494, his father recalled him to London to study the common law[1†]. In February 1496, More was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four legal societies preparing for admission to the bar[1†]. By 1501, More had become an “utter barrister,” a full member of the profession[1†].

Despite his legal studies, More managed to keep up his literary pursuits. He read avidly from Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the classics, and tried his hand at all literary genres[1†]. To test his vocation to the priesthood, he resided for about four years in the Carthusian monastery adjoining Lincoln’s Inn and shared as much of the monks’ way of life as was practicable[1†]. Although attracted especially to the Franciscan order, More decided that he would best serve God and his fellow men as a lay Christian[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Thomas More’s career began in earnest when he became a member of the king’s council in 1517[1†]. That same year, he played a crucial role in quelling the Evil May Day riot, a violent uprising by London apprentices against foreign merchants[1†][4†]. His success in this endeavor, as well as his adept handling of negotiations with the French at Calais and Boulogne later that year, solidified his reputation as a capable statesman[1†].

In 1518, More resigned his City office and began to focus on furthering peace and reform[1†]. He was a strong advocate for Erasmus’s religious and cultural program, which emphasized Greek studies as the key to renewing theology through a return to the Bible and the Church Fathers[1†]. More’s Latin poems, published in 1518, covered a wide range of topics, including government, women, and death[1†].

More’s career continued to flourish in the following years. In 1520 and 1521, he participated in talks with Emperor Charles V and the Hansa merchants[1†]. In 1521, he was made undertreasurer and knighted[1†]. During this time, he also served as “Henry’s intellectual courtier,” secretary, and confidant[1†].

More’s steadfast commitment to his beliefs ultimately led to his downfall. He was beheaded in 1535 for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England[1†][4†]. Despite the tragic end to his career, More’s legacy as a statesman, scholar, and author endures[1†][4†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Thomas More’s literary contributions are significant, with several works that have had a profound impact on literature and society. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works offers a unique perspective on More’s thoughts and philosophy, and they have left a lasting impact on literature and society[5†][1†][6†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Thomas More’s works, particularly “Utopia,” have been subject to extensive analysis and evaluation. His use of dialogue in “Utopia” is considered masterly, with the text divided into two parts[7†]. The first part describes English society of the fifteenth century with such clarity that it gives the reader the freedom for interpretation[7†]. This flexibility illustrates More’s request for discussion and point of view from the reader[7†].

More’s depiction of the institutions in Utopia is so precise and well-formatted that it is difficult to see any flaws[7†]. However, it is also argued that More, like anyone, was a slave of the society he lived in, and his morals and values were still derived from the society he lived in[7†].

In the context of More’s personal life, he was committed to the Humanist ideal of individual conscience and wrestled with the problem of whether one can remain true to one’s principles and truth while in the employment of a ruler[7†][8†]. As Hythloday in “Utopia” attempts to demonstrate, reality would force a conscientious person to make many concessions to power and corruption[7†][8†]. However, More and Giles argue that the wise cannot leave leadership to the corrupt and must attempt to better society when possible[7†][8†].

More’s struggle with this issue is reflected in his own life. He eventually rose to the position of Lord Chancellor, the most powerful office in England next to the king himself, but he ultimately abandoned pragmatism for the ultimate ideal of martyrdom[7†][8†].

Personal Life

Thomas More was born to Sir John More and his wife Agnes Graunger[2†]. He was the eldest son of the family[2†][1†]. More spent his mid-twenties in close touch with London’s strict Carthusian monks and almost became one[2†][9†]. However, he decided that he could fulfill a Christian call to ministry while remaining a layman[2†][9†].

More first married Jane Colt, who bore three sons and a daughter before dying in 1511[2†][9†]. After Jane’s death, he married Alice Middleton[2†][9†]. Despite the demands of his professional life, More was known to be a devoted family man. He took an active role in the education of his children, ensuring they received a comprehensive education, which was unusual for girls at the time[2†][1†].

More’s personal life was deeply intertwined with his religious beliefs. His faith played a significant role in his decision to oppose Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church, a stand that ultimately cost him his life[2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Sir Thomas More’s legacy has long survived his execution for treason in 1535[10†]. He was among the leading statesmen of the Tudor period and was at the forefront of the English humanist movement[10†]. His courageous opposition to Henry VIII’s effort to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which eventually led to his self-declaration as the supreme head of the Church of England, is often praised[10†][11†].

More’s work, particularly his “golden little book” Utopia, has earned him greater fame than the crown of martyrdom or the million words of his English works[10†][12†]. His writings have had a profound influence on literature and political thought, and his life and moral stance continue to be celebrated[10†][12†].

In the words of the English Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton, More "may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English History"[10†][12†]. Monuments to More have been placed in Westminster Hall, the Tower of London, and the Chelsea Embankment, all in London[10†][12†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Thomas More: English humanist and statesman [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Thomas More [website] - link
  3. English History - Sir Thomas More: Biography, Facts and Information [website] - link
  4. Britannica - Thomas More - Humanist, Statesman, King's Servant [website] - link
  5. The Essential Works of Thomas More - Home [website] - link
  6. The Essential Works of Thomas More - Bibliographies [website] - link
  7. SchoolWorkHelper - Thomas More’s “Utopia”: Summary & Analysis [website] - link
  8. SparkNotes - Thomas More (1478–1535) Utopia Summary & Analysis [website] - link
  9. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Thomas More Biography [website] - link
  10. The National Archives Blog - The treason of Sir Thomas More [website] - link
  11. Salt + Light Media - St. Thomas More and the responsibility
    of Christian citizenship [website] - link
  12. Britannica - Thomas More - Utopia, Humanism, Statesman [website] - link
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