Thomas More - Biography
Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478 in London and died there on July 6, 1535. He was an English social philosopher, writer, and statesman.
The eldest son of an influential judge, Thomas More was sent to the prestigious St. Anthony´s school in London. Between the years 1490 and 1492 he served as a page to the Archbishop John Morton, who then secured him a place at Oxford. At Oxford Thomas More studied Greek, Latin and French literature, as well as logic and mathematics. After two years of study, his father recalled Thomas More to pursue legal studies and he eventually became a barrister by 1501.
In his early years, Thomas More was a prolific writer of poetry and a Latin translation of four Greek dialogues by Lucian was published in 1506. He also composed an English translation of the works of the Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola, which were eventually published in 1510. In 1499, Thomas More began a close, lifelong friendship and correspondence with Desiderius Erasmus.
Despite the fact that Thomas More had seriously contemplated becoming a Carthusian monk, against his father’s will, he was elected Member of Parliament in 1504. In 1510, he was appointed as one of two under sheriffs of London. Seven years later, Thomas More entered into Henry VIII’s service and became his counsellor as well as his advisor and chief diplomat. He was knighted in 1521, and a few years later appointed high steward at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
Though taken up with much political and administrative duties, Thomas More was still dedicated to scholarly work. Between the years 1512 or13 and 1518 he worked on the History of King Richard III, thought it wasn’t published during his lifetime, and while it remained incomplete, it had a great impact on William Shakespeare´s Richard III (approximately, 1591).
In 1516 Thomas More published his most influential and famous work, Utopia. It too was not published in England during his lifetime. Referring to the Greek “ou-topos” (no place), the title is at the same time seen as an allusion to “eu-topos”(good place). In it, Thomas More pictures an imaginary, ideal and, sometimes labelled communist, Island republic that greatly contrasted with sixteenth century European politics and, henceforth, his work as public servant. In Utopia there is not a class system nor private property; everybody is forced to work. Yet, within this egalitarian society there are also slaves, either criminals or “visitors” from other countries. Also, women are not granted the same rights as men. And while people may choose their religion, atheism is forbidden.
Thomas More also wrote polemics against the protestant reformers. In 1521, the year he was knighted, he helped Henry VIII with the Assertio, a critical response to Martin Luther. He was also requested to write the very harsh Responsio ad Lutherum (1523), accusing Luther of heresy. In the same year, Thomas More became the speaker of the House of Commons and advocated for Thomas More freedom of speech in the Parliament.
In 1528 Thomas More wrote yet another polemic, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, defending the Catholic Church as the only valid church and denouncing the Protestant Reformation in general. Many attacks followed, among them William Tyndale’s An Answer unto Sir Thomas Thomas More’s Dialogue (1531). As a response, Thomas More wrote his most extensive book, Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, accusing Tyndale of being a heretic himself. In a defense of the clergy, Thomas More produced another notable work entitled, Apology (1533), in which he argues that the clergy do not need to be supervised by the laymen.
Speaking of laymen, in 1529, Thomas More became the first “layman” to hold the post of Lord Chancellor. During this time he willingly enforced “heresy laws” by regularly imprisoning Lutherans and ordering the burning of six “heretics.” Though, only three years later, Thomas More resigned as he, of course, highly disapproved of Henry the VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church in order to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. FurtherThomas More, Thomas More refused to swear to the Oath of Supremacy, a statute that recognized Henry VIII as head of the Church of England in 1534. As a result, he was arrested and tried for treason. On July 6, 1535 Thomas More was executed. He was later, in 1935, canonized by Pope Pius XI.