Thomas More is executed


Thomas More is executed

Tower Bridge, London The 6th of July 1535 AD

Thomas More , ‘A man for all seasons’ in Boult’s play, was an outstanding polymath in an age of great scholars: author of Utopia, friend of Erasmus, a leading lawyer who rose to be Lord Chancellor, and for a time advisor and confidante of Henry VIII .
More is remembered as a saintly figure, but as a leading defender of Catholic orthodoxy in England he oversaw the interrogation, trial and burning of many Protestants, some guilty of nothing but distributing ,a href="">Tyndale ’s translation of the bible.

In his scholarship, religion and politics More advocated and sought harmony and wanted the set hierarchies to be followed, hating the disruption of the Reformation for the dissention and chaos it provoked. He was torn then when Henry VIII disrupted the natural order of things by divorcing Catherine of Aragon , a friend of More, to remarry Anne Boleyn .

More withdrew from the world of power by feigning illness, but he could not escape the wrath of King and new Queen for not attending Anne’s coronation. Initially he was accused of accepting bribes, a charge nobody believed; then of conspiring against the King with a nun who had prophesied an evil end for Henry, but he was able to provide irrefutable proof to the contrary. When pushed to swear acceptance of the new Act of Succession, however, he acknowledged Anne as rightful Queen, but could not accept the oath in full because it placed Parliamentary authority over that of the Pope.

Tried by judges including Anne’s father, uncle and brother More stood no chance, and was condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered, though the king in his mercy commuted this to beheading. In his cell as he was prepared for execution he was warned the king wished him to be sparing of his words on the scaffold, and once on the scaffold was prevented from saying more than a few sentences restating his faithful service to god and crown.

Legend has it that the scaffold was rickety, and that More said to one official: “Pray Sir see me safe up; and as to my coming down let me shift for myself.” He was beheaded with one blow of the axe. More’s head as was customary was spiked on London Bridge until his daughter paid for it to prevent it being thrown in the Thames . His skull is said to be kept in St Dunstan’s in Canterbury .

In 1535 the Pope canonised Thomas More, making his Saint’s day June 22. Traditional English Catholics, however, observe it as the day of his execution, July 6.

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