Thomas More: Biography of this English politician and intellectual

Thomas More was an English humanist thinker who witnessed the founding of the Church of England, an institution which by simply opposing it would mean the beginning of its end.

Considered a martyr and a saint by the Catholic Church, the figure of this theologian greatly influenced 16th century humanism, sinking deep into the Catholic world. His criticism of tyranny and his defense of the Catholic faith even led the Vatican to grant him a vacation in his honor.

Then, we will deepen the life and work of this intellectual through a biography of Thomas MoreIn which we will see, among other things, how he thought, what was his relationship with King Henry VIII of England, and with what great figures of his time he alternated.

    Brief biography of Thomas More

    Thomas More, in Spanish Thomas More and in Latin Thomas Morus, revered by Catholics like San Tomás Moro, he was an English thinker, theologian, politician, humanist and writer. Besides having published works in which he touched on religious and legal aspects, he is also credited with having written several poems, since he was a man of artistic concern. He came to serve as Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII and also taught law and worked as a judge in civil cases.

    Among his most remarkable works is “Utopia”, a text so important that it has been considered the precursor of the utopian genre in the modern novel. It is a text which describes to us what a perfect country would look like, an ideal society. In addition to this text are also famous several books in which he harshly criticized the new ideas on Christianity promoted by Martin Luther and William Tyndale.

    Although at first he was a close friend of Henry VIII, his position contrary to the nullity of the royal marriage and to the aversion to Anglican reform would ultimately lead him to trial, accused of treason against the king. and for not taking the anti-papist oath when the Church of England emerged.

    He wanted the marriage with Catherine of Aragon to continue and did not sign the act of supremacy in which full religious powers were given to the king. This would be what would lead Thomas More to the grave, becoming a Catholic martyr.

    first years

    Thomas More was born in the heart of London, England on February 7, 1478. He was the eldest son of Sir John More, butler of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four bar associations of the City of London, a lawyer and later appointed knight and judge of the royal curia. Her mother was Agnes More, unmarried Graunger.

    In 1486, after having attended five years of primary school at the old and eminent Saint Anthony School, he was taken to Lambeth Palace, following the custom of good London families. There he served as a page for Cardinal John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord Chancellor of England, a supporter of Renaissance humanist ideas.

    John Morton ended up having a lot of love for the young Moor, hoping to develop his intellectual potential.. and for this reason he decided in 1492 to suggest the admission of Thomas More to Canterbury College, Oxford University, the young man being barely fourteen. Here he will spend two years studying scholastic doctrine and honing his rhetoric, being a student of English humanists such as Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn.

    early adulthood

    Despite the above, Thomas More eventually left without a degree and, at his father’s insistence, devoted himself to studying law in 1494 at the New Inn in London. He would later do it at Lincoln’s Inn, where his father had worked. Shortly thereafter, he would begin practicing law in court and that would be when he would learn French., As it was necessary to work in English courts and exercise diplomacy.

    In 1497 he began to write poems, which were done with intense irony, which earned him some fame and recognition. In fact, thanks to this, he would have his first encounters with the precursors of the Renaissance, meeting Erasmus of Rotterdam himself and John Skleton. Thomas More and Erasmus would end up forming a very strong friendship.

    Arrived in 1501, Moro joined the Third Order of Saint Francis, living as a layman in a Carthusian convent until 1504, but taking advantage of these years to devote himself to religious study. At that time he would translate several Greek epigrams to the brass and commented “De civitate Dei” of San Agustín de Hipona.

    Thanks to various English humanists, he was able to come into contact with the ideas and arts of the Italian Renaissance., Knowing the figure of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola whose biography he translated in 1510. If he would end up leaving his ascetic way of life, it must be said that from this moment he will keep some acts of penance, wearing a lifelong haircut in the leg and occasional flogging.

    When leaving the convent of Cartoons in 1505 contracted marriage with Jane Colt, being born that same year his daughter Margaret. In 1506 his second daughter, Elizabeth, was born, in 1507 his third, Cicely, was born and in 1509 his son John was born. By leaving the Carthusian order, he was able to practice law successfully, thanks to his concern for justice and equity and his in-depth knowledge of the law. He would later become a civil judge and a professor of law.

    In 1506, he translated Lucian de Samosata into Latin with the help of Erasmus. By this time he was a retired and butler at Lincoln’s Inn, where he lectured between 1511 and 1516. He also took part in arrangements between large companies in London and Antwerp, Flanders and would learn first-hand many of the widely held opinions on the continent about the nature of man and how he should be a ruler respectful of the people.

    In 1510 Thomas More was appointed Deputy and Deputy Sheriff of London, although this joy was eclipsed by the death of his wife Jane a year later. Despite this, he gained strength to marry Alice Middleton, A widow seven years older than him and with a daughter, little Alice.

    Political life

    Member of Parliament from 1504, Thomas More was elected judge and deputy prefect of the city of London and began to express his opposition to certain measures imposed by Henry VII. With the arrival of Enrique VIII, son of the previous king, seen as a “protector of humanism and science”, Thomas More joined the first Parliament convened by the king in 1510.

    Moro traveled across Europe and received influences from different universities. In reality, it would be during his travels across the continent that he would write his poems for the newly crowned king, Poetry that would arrive at the hands of the new monarch who summoned him. Thus would be born a strong friendship between the two, but not indestructible.

    Between 1513 and 1518 he wrote his “History of King Richard III” in Latin and English, although he could not complete the version in his native language and ended up being printed in English imperfectly in the “Chronicle”. By Richard Grafton (1543). This text will be used by other chroniclers of the time, such as John Stow, Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed, thus conveying material that will later be used by the famous William Shakespeare in his play “Richard III”.

    In 1515 Thomas More was sent with a commercial embassy to Flanders, being the same year he would write “Utopia”, The full version was first published in Leuven. In 1517 he went to work for King Henry VIII and was appointed “master of requests”, becoming a member of the Royal Council. The king used his diplomacy and tact, drawing on the figure of Thomas More for some of the most important diplomatic missions for all kinds of European countries.

    In 1520 he helped Henry VIII write “Assertio Septem Sacramentorum” (“Defense of the Seven Sacraments”). This was followed by his appointment to different positions and his decoration with different honorary titles. In 1521 he was honored with the title of knight and appointed vice-chancellor of the Treasury. That same year, his eldest daughter, Margaret, married William Roper who would be the first biographer of Thomas More.

    In 1524 he was appointed “High Steward”, censor and administrator of the University of Oxford, an institution of which he had been a pupil. In 1925 he would also receive such an honor from the University of Cambridge and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. in 1526 he becomes a judge of the Star Chamber and moves his residence to Chelsea, Where he would write a letter to Iohannis Bugenhagen in which he explicitly defended papal supremacy.

    In 1528, the Bishop of London allowed him to read heretical books with the intention of refuting them, in order to prevent new and dangerous Lutheran ideas from diminishing the power of the Holy See in Anglican lands. Finally, in 1529, he was appointed Lord Chancellor, being the first lay chancellor after several centuries.

    Nevertheless, despite being a layman and faithful to the king, it was more to the Pope and to the Catholic faith, starting the controversy in 1530. In that year a letter of names and prelates was published in which he was asked to pope cancellation. of the royal marriage between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, a letter that Moro refused to sign. This naturally caused the relationship between the king and the thinker to change and to win the hostility of Henry VIII.

    In 1532 he resigned his post of chancellor and, two years later, refused to sign the Act of Supremacy, in which he declared himself king at most at the head of the new Church of England. This law established the sentence for those who did not accept it, and on April 17 of the same year, Moro ended up in jail..

      Campaign Against the Reform

      Thomas More saw the Protestant Reformation as a full-fledged heresy that threatened the unity of Church and society. His first actions against the Reformation were to help Cardinal Wolsey get rid of the Lutheran books that had been smuggled into England. He also pledged to spy on and investigate so-called Protestants, especially publishers, and to detain anyone in possession, transporting or selling books that advocated the Protestant Reformation.

      Given his actions, it is not surprising that rumors circulated, both in his life and after his death, of all manner of mistreatment of heretics when he was Minister of Justice. Criticism came from many anti-Catholics, including John Foxe, Alleging that Moro frequently used torture and violence when interrogating suspected heretics.

      During his tenure as Chancellor, six people were burned at the stake for heresy: Thomas Hitton, Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbery, Thomas Dusgate and James Bainham. Burning heretics at the stake was almost a tradition at the time. In fact, some 30 bonfires had burned in the century before Moro became chancellor, and continued to be used by Catholics and Protestants during the turbulent times of Europe undergoing religious reform.

      However, historians agree on the religious deeds Moro performed as chancellor. Some biographers, like Peter Ackroy, attribute to him a moderate and even tolerant position in the struggle against Protestantism. Others, like Richard Marius, are more critical, arguing that the Moor himself went so far as to promote the extermination of Protestants, ideas clearly contrary to his supposed humanist convictions.

      Another case is that of Peter Berglar. Berglar indicated that during the twelve years of influence of Thomas More as Vice-Chancellor of the Treasury (1521), Spokesman of the House of Commons (1523), Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1525), Judge of the House of Commons the Star (1526), ​​adviser to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey on many issues until his appointment as Lord Chancellor on October 26, 1529, not a single death sentence was pronounced for heresy in the Diocese of London.

      However, It was when Thomas More fell from disgrace shortly before his resignation as Lord Chancellor that the heretical executions began., Attributed to the influence of John Stokesley, new bishop of London and head of the new Church of England.

      Conviction and death

      As we mentioned, King Henry VIII became hostile to Thomas Moor due to differences over the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Thomas, like the chancellor, supported the union to move forward and was not in favor of the nullity. Henry VIII had asked the Pope not to consider his marriage to Catherine, and this refusal marked the beginning of England’s break with the Church of Rome., Proclaiming himself king at the head of the Church of England.

      The reason behind it all was Henry VIII’s desire to have a son, which old Catherine of Aragon could not conceive of. The annulment of the marriage would have erased Enrique’s infidelity with Ana Bolena, and would have legitimized the children he could have had with her. If the royal wedding had been called off, the affair would have been just an anecdote, perhaps with a diplomatic disagreement between England and Spain, but nothing else.

      However, between the papacy not granting the nullity and Thomas More opposed to the acceptance of some of the king’s wishes, they ended up warming their spirits. Henry VIII became strongly hostile to Thomas More and, after breaking away from Rome and seeing that Moro refused to take the oath recognizing Henry as the supreme head of the Church of England, the monarch ordered the theologian to be imprisoned.

      finally the king, very angry, ordered Moro to be tried who ended up being accused of high treason and sentenced to death. Other European leaders, admirers of the great thinker who was a Moor, including Pope and Emperor Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire, demanded that his life be forgiven, but had no luck. Thomas More would be executed by beheading at Tower Hill a week after being sentenced on July 6, 1535, at the age of 57.

      Despite its unjust and sad end, it must be said that the death of Thomas More is certainly curious. Although he knew he was going to lose his mind, it didn’t make him lose his particular sense of humor., Especially by fully trusting a compassionate God who would receive him by crossing the threshold of death. As he climbed onto the scaffold, he approached the executioner and said:

      “I beg you, please, Lieutenant, to help me, for I will already know how to do it myself. Then, kneeling down, he said, “Notice my beard grew in prison; that is, it did not disobey the king, so there is no need to cut it. Leave it. me to separate myself. ” Finally, he put aside his irony and addressed those present: “I die being the good servant of the king, but of God first”.

      remarkable works

      Thomas More’s flagship work is undoubtedly “Utopia” (1516), a book that many have considered the forerunner of the utopian novel genre, taking its name from. In this work addresses the social problems of humanity and exposes them in a perfect and idealized world, a nation located on an island called Utopia. Thanks to this text he earned Moro the recognition of all the scholars of Europe, having written it during one of his missions assigned by the king to Antwerp. Among his great inspirers was his close friend Erasmus from Rotterdam.

      The other works are diverse, but always deal with common themes such as idealism and the condemnation of tyranny. Among them we have his “Life of Bec della Mirandola”, which, as we have mentioned, is a translation of the biography of this Italian humanist, who claimed the primacy of Plato over Aristotle. The figure of della Mirandola may not be very popular outside of Italy, but thanks to Moro’s translation, it may have had repercussions in the rest of Europe.

      There is also his “History of Richard III”, in which he ruthlessly criticized the tyrannical king., Who murdered his older brother and the youngest children of Edward IV to assume maximum power. This work was written in English and Latin, although the Latin version is much more extensive than English and has been wrongly attributed to Cardinal John Morton. Moro represents the character as a sad anti-hero, representative of political degeneration and the tyranny.

      He also composed some poems in English, Emphasizing the tributes to the death of English queens and various epigrams from their youth, poems that emanate from anti-absolutist thought. For Moro, the root of tyranny lay in greed, greed for wealth and power, which nourish and excite each other. The dialogues and treatises in defense of the traditional faith cannot be omitted either, attacking reformists harshly. One can find “Responsio ad Lutherum”, “A Dialogue on Heresies”, “The Confusion of Tyndale’s Response” and “The Response to a Poisoned Book”

      In other books he delves into various spiritual aspects, having “Treatise on the Passion”, “Treatise on the Blessed Body” and “De Tristitia Christi”, the latter being written with his own hand in the Tower of London when it was first published. imprisoned. here until his beheading. He was later saved from the confiscation decreed by Henry VIII, a text which passed through the will of his daughter Margaret to the Spanish authorities and through Fray Pere de Soto, confessor of Emperor Charles V, eventually reached Valencia in the hands of Lluís Vives, a close friend of Moro.


      For his struggle for the Catholic faith, Thomas More was beatified along with 52 other martyrs, including John Fisher, by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and was finally proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church on May 19, 1935. by Pius XI, establishing originally his birthday on July 9. However, after a series of reforms in the mid-20th century, its celebration was changed in 1970 to be celebrated on June 22. On October 31, 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed him patron saint of politicians and rulers.

      Surprising as it may seem, he is also considered a saint and hero within the Christian Church of England, although it was the founder of this institution, Henry VIII, who ordered his execution to be fair criticism title this new vision of Christianity. He is with John Fisher in the Reformation Martyrs Group and is commemorated in Moro on July 6.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Ackroyd, Peter (2003). Tomás Moro. Barcelona: Edhasa. ISBN 84-350-2634-5.
      • Berglar, Peter (2005). The time of Thomas More. Only in the face of power (5th edition). Madrid: Ediciones Paraula. ISBN 84-8239-838-5.
      • Roper William (2009). The life of Sir Thomas More. University of Navarre. ISBN 978-84-313-1810-9.
      • Vázquez de Prada, Andrés (1999). Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England. Madrid: Rialp Publishing. ISBN 9788432132476.

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