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Thomas More: His Life and Accomplishments

More's life is covered from birth to his beheading.

Thomas More was born in Milk Street, London, on February 7 of either 1477 or 1478. His parents were John and Agnes More. His father was a lawyer who desired for Thomas to follow in his footsteps. According to Peter Ackroyd, ?Thomas More?s birth was noted by his father upon a blank page at the back of Geoffrey of Monmouth?s Historia Regum Britanniae; for a lawyer John More was remarkably inexact in his references to that natal year, and the date has been moved from 1477 to 1478 and back again? (6).
Thomas was sent to school at St. Anthony?s. Ackroyd tells that, at this school on Threadneedle Street, lessons began so early in the morning that Thomas needed to take a candle with him during the winter (17). Classes began at 6:00 am, and he was probably seven when he
began attending classes. St. Anthony?s had a reputation for being one of the best schools available and had the added plus of being free. Parents did not have to pay fees for their children to attend. The primary purpose of St. Anthony?s was to teach young boys Latin grammar. According to Ackroyd, Thomas attended St. Anthony?s for about five years (24).
When Thomas More was twelve years old, his father made him a page in the household of John Morton. Morton was the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England at the time. Ackroyd states, ?The prime duty of the page was to serve, and stand, and wait, ready to pass a pewter plate or a silver goblet; he was ready, also, to take a whispered message from one guest to another or to run an errand within the palace? (31). While serving John Morton, Thomas?s education was furthered by a chaplain or clerk in Morton?s household. An article entitled ?Sir Thomas More? asserts, ?His [Morton?s] household was an invigorating blend of political and religious life. It was undoubtedly here that More first learned how to reconcile a
deeply spiritual character with a devotion to secular affairs? (2). The article also says, ?Morton . . . was also an inveterate gossip, and his twisted tale of Richard III's brief reign inspired More's awful Life of the last Plantagenet king? (?Sir Thomas More? 2). Morton seems to have had a very strong influence on Thomas?s life and was so impressed with him that he later paid for Thomas to go to Oxford.
In 1492, Thomas went to Oxford University. He was about fourteen years old. John Morton paid his way, and his father gave him a small allowance. Hudleston states, ?His father made him an allowance barely sufficient to supply the necessaries of life and, in consequence, he
had no opportunity to indulge in 'vain or hurtful amusements' to the detriment of his studies? (1). ?More found himself constantly short of money, a ploy his father used to keep the young man's mind upon his studies and not other, less academic pursuits? (?Sir Thomas More? 2). While at Oxford, Thomas learned under some of the best scholars. Two of the men he studied under were Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn. Linacre was his first Greek teacher. He studied the classics, French, history, mathematics, and other subjects during his time there. Thomas learned to play the flute and viol. He left the university without getting a degree.
After spending two years at Oxford, Thomas returned home and began his studies of law, studies that he would continue for the next six or seven years. He began his studies at New Inn when only sixteen years old. Many biographers assert that he did not want to study law but that his father threatened to disown him if he did not. In this case the biographers seem to agree mainly because Erasmus, one of Thomas's close friends, recorded it. Ackroyd states, ?All the circumstances of More's life and temperament suggest that this was never the case. He had an abiding respect for the practice, and a deep admiration for the principles, of law. He knew that human justice was only the faintest reflection of divine law, but it became for him the principle and model of conduct upon the earth? (54). Lawyers were very important people, but were not
always held in high esteem. They had the possibilities of high pay and, obviously, the temptation to take bribes. After spending two years at New Inn, he entered Lincoln's Inn to begin his advanced training. His father was a senior member at Lincoln's Inn, and so it was only reasonable that Thomas would continue his education here. Thomas More was so successful in his law studies that others soon noticed him. He was made a lecturer on law at Furnival's Inn, a position he held for three years.
Despite his rigorous studies, Thomas still found time for writing. He found the time to write poetry and keep up correspondence with the intellectuals of the time. Most of the people he corresponded with had been introduced to him at Oxford by Thomas Linacre.
Thomas More was not completely satisfied with his studies and began to consider full time service to the Lord in a monastery. He started paying more attention to religious matters, eventually moving to the London Charterhouse where he spent a considerable amount of time
with the monks. Some believe that his introduction to Desiderius Erasmus in 1497 might have encouraged his close spiritual examination. Daily prayer and wearing a hair shirt are two of the practices More began at this time and would continue until he died. According to one source,
?More . . . never discarded the habits of early rising, prolonged prayer, fasting, and wearing the hair shirt? (?More, Sir Thomas? 314). More wavered between joining the Carthusians or the Franciscans. He seriously considered the Franciscan order but was not able to join them in good
conscience because he did not feel that that was what he wanted for life. In the end, Thomas opted not to become a priest. Once he made the decision to remain in the world, he went back to his law studies with renewed energy. Some say that he decided not to become a priest because he
wanted to get married and raise a family.
It did not take long, after returning to his studies, for More to be elected to Parliament in 1501. While serving, he was able to help his many merchant friends. In fact, he was such a persuasive speaker that Parliament made quite a few decisions in his favor against the king, Henry VII. King Henry was so enraged after one such incident that he threw Thomas's father into prison
and demanded the large sum of 100 pounds from Thomas before allowing John More to go free.
In January of 1505, Thomas More, who was now twenty-six year old, married Jane Colt. Jane was only sixteen when they married, making Thomas ten years older than she. The two had a happy marriage, and More loved home life with his family. They had four children, three girls and one boy. Their names were Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecilia, and John. Their happiness did not last for long, however. In 1511, only six years after marrying, Jane died. She may have died in childbirth (?More, Sir Thomas? 314), but it is impossible to be certain. With four young children left in his care, More decided that the best thing for them was for him to remarry. Within a few weeks he married Alice Middleton. Even though she was seven years older than him, she devoted herself to More and his children.
In the following years, More continued to rise in position. In 1510, he was made Under-Sheriff of London. Then he was chosen to be one of an embassy to Flanders, four years later. The trip was intended to protect the English merchants' interests. While on this trip, in
1515, More wrote his most famous work, Utopia. After nine years as the Under-Sheriff, he resigned only to be part of the ?Field of the Cloth of Gold? in 1520. The next year Henry VIII knighted him and made him the sub-treasure. He was elected Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523, and in 1525 he became the High Steward of Cambridge University.
In October of 1529, Thomas More followed Wolsey as Chancellor of England. He was the first layman to serve in this position. He resigned his post as Lord Chancellor in 1532 after opposing the king's desire to divorce and have papal supremacy. He held the position for less than three years. More lived basically in seclusion for the next eighteen months, desiring to avoid stirring up any more trouble. He could not remain out of sight and mind forever; and when the Bill of Attainder was introduced, More's name was on it. He was brought before four members of the counsel for questioning. Because of his popularity, Henry quickly dropped More's name from the list. In 1534, when the Act of Succession was passed, More was required to take an oath saying that Anne and Henry's marriage was legitimate and acknowledging Henry as head of the church. Thomas was ready to accept Anne and Henry's marriage, but he could not acknowledge Henry as head. More was summoned to Lambeth to take the oath on April 14. When he refused,
he was taken into custody by the Abbot of Westminster, only to be sent to the Tower four days later. While in prison, his possessions were taken away, reducing him to poverty. His joyful spirit remained, though; and he enjoyed the visits of his family and friends. He continued writing even
though he was in prison. Probably his most popular work that was written while he was in the Tower is a ?Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation.? After a trial in which the
solicitor-general, Rich, lied about what More had said to him during an interview, the jury pronounced More guilty. He defended himself as best he could; but in the end, he was given the death sentence. The sentence required a rather gruesome death; basically he was to be ripped apart. Later, though, Henry changed the sentence to a simple beheading. On July 6, 1535, Thomas More was beheaded.
The Catholic Church would later canonize Thomas More. In 1935, Pope Pius XI declared More a saint, and he became known as St. Thomas More or, more commonly, Sir Thomas More.
More's most important work is Utopia. It was written in Latin and would not be translated into English until 1551, several years after his death. According to an article entitled ?Thomas More & His Utopia (ca 1478-1535),? ?More's Utopia [sic] tests the reader's quickness
and insight. His narrator . . . extols the virtues of the Utopian society, but we are to take his comments with a grain of salt--after all, the Greek roots of his name [the narrator?s] show him to be a peddler of nonsense? (3). More tells about the Utopian society through the voice of an
imaginary character he calls Raphael Hythloday, the name meaning ?peddler of nonsense.? More did not mean for the book to be taken as his view of how society should be. The title Utopia means ?no place;? because, such a place never did or ever will exist.
One principle of the Utopian society that many people would never be able to accept is the abolishment of private property. O'Hara states, ?The objection is made that a nation cannot be prosperous where all property is common because there would be no incentive to labor, men
would become slothful, and violence and bloodshed would result. Hythloday answers this objection by giving an account of the institutions and customs of the Utopians? (1).
O'Hara goes on to give an excellent summary of the Utopian society:
In the Island of Utopia lying south of the
equator there are fifty-four cities of
which no two are nearer together than twenty- four miles. The government is representative
in form. From each city three wise and
experienced men are sent each year to the
capital to deliberate on public affairs. The
rural population live in farm-houses scattered
throughout the island, each of which contains
at least forty persons besides two slaves. For
every thirty farm-houses there is a leader
called a philarch. (1)
He goes on to explain even more about the society and how it works. The basic arrangements of the Utopian society included all the citizens? working for a six hour period each day, no one owning property, a love of wisdom and knowledge, worshiping a single god, indifference to wealth, family mentality, a belief in the immortality of the soul, and others.
More is an excelent example of one who stands firm in his beliefs, refusing to budge even when threatened with death. His life is a rebuke, and his writing continues to influence people even today.

Works Cited/Bibliography
Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. New York, NY:
Nan A. Talese, 1998.
Hudleston, G. Roger. "St. Thomas More." Catholic
Encyclopedia. Home page. 1999. 10 Sep.
2002 .
Kreis, Steven. "Sir Thomas More, 1478-1535." The History
Guide. Home page. 25 July 2002. 10 Sep. 2002
"More, Sir Thomas." The New Encyclopaedia Britannica.
1998 ed.
O'Hara, Frank. "Utopia." Catholic Encyclopedia. Home
page. 1999. 14 Sep. 2002
"Sir Thomas More." English History - Tudor Citizens. Home
page. 14 Sep. 2002
"Thomas More & His Utopia (ca 1478-1535)." more. Home
page. 9 Sep. 2002
Wegemer, Gerard. "Thomas More's Life." About Thomas
More. Home page. 12 Dec. 1992. 14 Sep. 2002

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