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Thomas More Becomes Lord Chancellor

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Thomas More—who lived from the 7th of February, 1478 to the 6th of  July, 1535—became Lord Chancellor of Britain after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey. He held that position between 1529 to 1532.

Who was More, and how did he rise to such a high position?

The son of a judge, More studied at St. Anthony’s school in London. At Oxford, he studied languages (Greek, Latin and French) plus mathematics and logic. Then his father decided his son should also study law. More became a barrister (trial lawyer) around 1501.

A writer of poetry, during his youth, More also translated Greek dialogues into Latin. By 1499, he began a friendship with Desiderius Erasmus (the famous humanist).

By 1504, More was a Member of Parliament and, in 1510, he was one of two under-sheriffs for the city of London. In 1517, he entered into the King’s service, becoming a counselor and advisor to Henry VIII.

He became a knight in 1521 and, within a few years after that, he was appointed as the high steward for Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Despite all of his administrative work, for the Tudor court and king, More remained a scholar.

Some of his scholarly pursuits included work on a history of King Richard III which, though it was never published during More’s lifetime, became an important source of information for Shakespeare as he worked on his own version of Richard’s story.

In 1516, More published his book Utopia. Everyone must work, in this imaginary place, where there is an absence of class and property ownership (contrasted to More’s own real-life world).

Despite its egalitarian veneer, Utopia (in More’s view) is a place where women do not have the same rights as men (and slaves exist). Utopians have freedom to choose their religion, but atheism is not an option.  

Among his other writing pursuits, More was strongly against the Protestant Reformation and thinkers like Martin Luther. It was More who, in 1521, helped Henry VIII write the Assertio, a criticism of Luther which caused the Pope to declare the King a “Defender of the Faith.”

Two years later, in 1523, More accuses Luther of heresy in his Responsio ad Lutherum.

In 1528, as Henry VIII becomes convinced he should divorce Catherine of Aragon in favor of marrying Anne Boleyn, More writes a Dialogue Concerning Heresies. This work, which is strongly against the Protestant Reformation, states that the Catholic Church is the only valid church.

Whether he realizes it, More is putting himself closer and closer to a clash with his King. And Anne Boleyn, who has a copy of William Tyndale’s English-Bible translation—which is a forbidden book to other people in the land—will also become More's enemy.

Tyndale, a scholar in his own right who understands eight languages, does not take More’s criticism lying down. In 1531, he sets forth his disagreements with More in An Answer unto Sir Thomas Thomas More’s Dialogue.

More counters with his Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, in which (among other things) he accuses Tyndale of being a heretic.  Committed to the Catholic hierarchy, More’s Apology—published in 1533, the year Henry VIII gets his divorce and marries Anne Boleyn)—asserts that the clery need no supervision by lay people.

As the first non-cleric to hold the position of England’s Lord Chancellor, More enforces the country’s heresy laws. Doing his job means he imprisons English Lutherans and orders the burning of six alleged heretics.

Hans Holbein the Younger (1498–1543) painted this portrait of Sir Thomas More in 1527. The oil-on-oak panel, which measures 29.5 x 23.7 inches (74.9 x 60.3 cm), is part of the Frick Collection which is housed in New York City.

Click on the image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 11, 2015

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016


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Image, described above, online via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

 

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