Biography of Sir Thomas More

 

Thomas More was born on 7 February 1478. His father, Sir John More, was a judge of the King’s Bench Division. More went to school at St Anthony’s School. When working as a page for the Archbishop of Canterbury (and aged only 13) the Archbishop declared that he would be a “marvellous man”.

 

More went to the University of Oxford and then on returning to London he studied law. He was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1496 and practised as a successful barrister and impressed the King with his advocacy in a Star Chamber case. He was, however, torn between his career as a barrister and a desire to become a monk. More decided in favour of his legal career and had four children from his first wife. Upon her death, he remarried and raised his second wife’s daughter, from a previous marriage, as his own and provided his daughters with a classical education, which was at that time the preserve of men.

 

More became a Member of Parliament in 1504 and successfully resisted Henry VII’s demand for more money on his marriage to Princess Margaret Tudor. He earned his reputation as an honest and effective public servant from 1510-1518 whilst serving as one of two undersheriffs for the City of London. In 1514 he became Master of Requests (which included the responsibility of receiving petitions from subjects and submitting them to the Privy Council). In 1517 he became a counsellor and “personal servant” to the King. More was made a Privy Councillor in 1518 and knighted in 1521. More was elected the speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. He became Lord Chancellor in 1529.

 

One of More’s best known works is the book “Utopia” (1516) about an ideal and imaginary island. He also assisted Henry VIII to write “Defence of the Seven Sacraments” which was a polemic in response to Martin Luther’s “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church”. More’s strong support for the Catholic Church ultimately led to his swift downfall and subsequent execution.

 

In 1530 Thomas More refused to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. In 1531 he attempted to resign as the Chancellor after being forced to take an oath recognising Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the English Church. In 1533 refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn. In 1535 More was charged with High Treason for refusing to swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession because of an anti-papal preface to the Act. More was executed on 6 July 1535.

 

Sir Thomas More was canonised in 1935 by Pope Pius XI and was declared the patron saint of politicians and statesmen b by Pope John Paul II in 2000. More was commemorated with a sculpture in the late 19th Century at More House on Carey Street, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice. This was the building which Thomas More Chambers occupied until 2005.