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Thomas More & Family - the painting by Rowland Lockey in Nostell Priory

Thomas More
Click here to read about the More Family Painting by Rowland Lockey

In 1733, Charles Waterton (Walton branch), grandfather of the Squire, married Mary Cresacre-More, she was seventh in descent from "Blessed Thomas, the martyred chancellor". (From The Catholic Encyclopaedia).
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More was a passionate defender of Catholic orthodoxy - writing pamphlet after pamphlet against heresy, banning and confiscating unorthodox books, and even taking personal responsibility, when Chancellor, for the interrogation, whipping and burning of English heretics. BBC History, Historic Figures 2004.

As chancellor it was his duty to enforce the laws against heretics and, by doing so, he provoked the attacks of Protestant writers both in his own time and since. The subject need not be discussed here, but More's attitude is patent. He agreed with the principle of the anti-heresy laws and had no hesitation in enforcing them. As he himself wrote in his "Apologia" (cap. 49) it was the vices of heretics that he hated, not their persons; and he never proceeded to extremities until he had made every effort to get those brought before him to recant.
How successful he was in this is clear from the fact that only four persons suffered the supreme penalty for heresy during his whole term of office. (Catholic Encyclopedia)
~~~~

The English Reformation - Church and Reformation
Henry VIII's need for an heir triggered the English Reformation, which brought about widespread change.

Despite the zeal of religious reformers in Europe, England was slow to question the established Church. During the reign of Henry VIII, however,the tide turned in favour of Protestantism, and by the 1600s the new Church held sway over the old.

There is no evidence of any great hostility towards the church and its institutions before the Reformation; on the contrary, both the English episcopate and parish clergy seem to have been, by the standards of other European lands, both well-trained and living without scandal. The English Reformation By Professor Andrew Pettegree, BBC Church and Reformation, 2004.

A Brief Life
Sir Thomas More
(1478 - 1535) was a scholar, author and statesman. He rose to prominence early in the 16th century as Under-sheriff of London and one of Henry VIII's most effective and trusted civil servants. He acted as the King's secretary, interpreter, speech-writer, chief diplomat, advisor and confidant. In 1521 he was made the Kingdom's Undertreasurer and knighted. He served the king well as a Privy Councillor prior to his election as speaker of the House of Commons in 1523.

In 1529, More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor, but three years later he resigned that office over the issue of King Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He refused to subscribe to the Act of Supremacy, making the King head of the Church of England, and for this he was found guilty of high treason and beheaded. He was beatified in 1886 and canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI on the four-hundredth anniversary of his death. His feast day is the 22nd June.

More built up a reputation as one of Europe's leading scholars. He was close to the radical catholic theologian Erasmus, but argued against Martin Luther and the protestant reformation. Around 1515 he wrote The History of Richard III which established that king's reputation as a tyrant. In 1516 published his most important work Utopia - a description of an imaginary communist republic ruled by reason and intended to contrast sharply with the strife-ridden reality of contemporary Europe politics.

"Pluck up thy spirits man, and be not afraid to do thy office; my neck is very short; take heed, therefore, that thou strike not awry, for saving of thy honesty." [Paying the man a gold coin, these were More's words to his seemingly hestitant executioner, from The Life and Death of Sir Thomas More, by Nicholas Harpsfield]

Opposing Views of Thomas More

One view - he was not a liberal or reformer
Although a leading free-thinker of his day (and, of course, a man of his day - not ours), More was no liberal-minded reformer or champion of the common folk. As Lord Chancellor he was opposed to the Scriptures being translated into English for the common people. More favoured the repression and extermination of heresy. but his days as a persecutor were cut short by Henry VIII's vengeance. Even Henry VIII, not concerned too much with the lives of the peasants, was enlightened enough to wish to assent to the publication of the Scriptures in our native tongue, and the publication of an English Bible in Miles Coverdale's translation was first achieved in 1536, a year after More's death.

He imposed censorship and forbade the import of books in English. Printing of religious books in England required the consent of a bishop. It was a case of one law for the rich and educated and another for the poor. (Sources include The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain and BBC Historic Figures, 2004)

Not for the common folk
Thomas More was the leading lay opponent of the commissioning of a Bible in the English language: "It is not necessary the said Scripture to be in the English tongue and in the hands of the common people, but that the distribution of the said Scripture, and the permitting or denying thereof, dependeth only upon the discretion of the superiors, as they shall think it convenient".
[1]

(Proclamation 22 June 1530, p.242,Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, ed. Kenneth O. Morgan, OUP, 1984)

An alternative view
However, the view St Thomas More expressed above is not universally shared and an alternative view is that as a Judge of the Common Pleas, he did not have the authority to impose censorship or forbid the import of books. Even as Chancellor of England, his role was fiscal and not cultural and to endow him with such views is extremely suspect. Perjury and fabrication brought this honourable man, who displayed an inordinate amount of integrity considering the mores of his era,to the scaffold. (David Alexander Richard Waterton-Anderson , 2004)

Joseph Addison wrote in the Spectator (No. 349) "that innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in his life, did not forsake him to the last . . .his death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced or affected. He did not look upon the severing of his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind".

Some Thomas More links:

St. Thomas More in the Catholic Encyclopedia (New Advent).

Sir Thomas More and the Princes in the Tower - The Hans Holbein Foundation, resource centre for research and development, Vol. V, No. 3., August 2004.

The conventional and unconventional symbols in the portrait of Sir Thomas More and his Family (Artist: Rowland Lockey after Holbein the Younger, Nostell Priory, Nr. Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England)

The Story of Thomas More, by John Farrow (Catholic Information Network)

Notes
1. Proclamation 22 June 1530, The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, p.242, ed. Kenneth O. Morgan, OUP, 1984)
Sir (Saint) Thomas More, Ancestor of the Squire
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