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Who is Thomas More?

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  • Written By: Cathy Rogers
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Saint Thomas More, also known as Sir Thomas More, was born in London, England, in 1478 to a barrister, Sir John More, and his wife Agnes. During his lifetime, Thomas More was an author, knight, lawyer and Chancellor of England, a position never before held by a layman. More was executed on 6 July 1535 at Tower Hill in London. His body is buried in the Church of St. Peter.

As a youngster, More attended St. Anthony’s School. At the age of thirteen, More joined the household of the Archbishop Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop sent More to Oxford, where he studied Greek, French, Latin, history, music and math.

Following his studies at Oxford, Thomas More returned to London around 1494 to study law at Lincoln’s Inn. He became a well-known lecturer on law topics, but also wrote poetry and delivered a series of lectures, between 1499 and 1503, on the writings of St. Augustine. According to some sources, More chose the life of a monk for a period. However, in the early 1500s, he chose a political career and entered Parliament.

Thomas More wrote Utopia, a novel, in 1515. His book describes an imaginary locale where order and discipline is predominant over freedom. In this utopian political system, no private property or violence exists and religious tolerance is crucial. His novel is considered an important piece of literature and is often used as inspiration for various social movements.

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Although More’s father had been imprisoned by King Henry VII, Thomas More gained favor with King Henry VIII. The younger More helped Henry VIII write the Defence of the Seven Sacraments. During the 1520s, More served as Speaker of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Although More disagreed with the King’s plan to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, he was still named Lord Chancellor in 1529 to replace Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, who was forced to resign.

More resigned the chancellor position in 1532 stating reasons of poor health. However, many believe the underlying reason was more likely that More did not approve of the King’s stance toward the Roman Catholic Church, which increasingly denied the Pope’s authority. In 1534, More was arrested for refusing to swear to the Act of Succession. After being found guilty of treason, he was beheaded. Considered a martyr, More’s last words were, “The King’s good servant, but God’s First.”

More was beatified in 1886. Pope Pius XI canonized More as a saint by the Catholic Church in 1935. Pope John Paul II later declared Thomas More the patron saint to politicians and statesmen. More’s Feast day is 22 June.

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