Feast Day : June 22
Patronage: adopted children; civil servants; court workers; lawyers
Thomas More was born in London in 1478. His father, John More, was a lawyer and a judge, and Thomas followed in his footsteps. After working as a page for John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury, he entered Oxford University and studied law in Lincoln’s Inn. He was admitted to the bar in 1501 and joined Parliament in 1504. In 1505 he married Jane Colt; they had three daughters and a son. Jane died in 1511, and Thomas married a widow, Alice Middleton, to care for his children. In 1510, he was elected undersheriff, the first of various posts that led him to the top of royal government. In 1520 he accompanied King Henry VIII on a trip to the Continent. Henry was taken by his keen intellect and wit, and in 1521 had him knighted. Thomas became speaker of the House of Commons in 1523, high steward for the University of Cambridge in 1525 and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster the same year. After Cardinal Thomas Wolsey failed to get Henry a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, Wolsey was removed as chancellor of England in 1529 and Thomas succeeded him. But More could not reconcile himself with Henry’s insistence on divorce, and on May 16, 1532, he resigned his post. He retired in exile to his estate in Chelsea and wrote in defense of the Church. Henry split from the Church and set himself up as head of the Church of England. In 1534, Thomas and a close friend, John Fisher, refused to take the Oath of Succession acknowledging Henry as the head of both church and state. Thomas was arrested and sent to the Tower of London on April 17, 1534. He languished there for over a year. In July 1535 he was tried for treason and was convicted on the perjury of Richard Rich, who succeeded him as chancellor. Thomas was beheaded on July 6, 1535 (John Fisher was beheaded the same year). Prior to his execution, the king had ordered him to keep his final words short. He asked the crowd to pray for him and the Church, and said he was dying as “the King’s good servant—but God’s first.” His head was spiked on Tower Bridge and then buried in the Roper Vault at St. Dunstan’s Church in Canterbury. His body was buried at St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. An account of his life was written by his son-in-law, William Roper. Thomas’s best-known work is Utopia, written in 1515–16, a criticism of English society that may have been inspired by his lectures on St. Augustine’s City of God. Other notable works are The Four Last Things, published in 1520, Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (1553) and Dialogue concerning Heresies and Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, which refuted the Protestant writings of Matthew Tyndale. In art Thomas is portrayed in his chancellor’s robes, carrying a book and an ax.