Biography of Sir Thomas More (1477-1535)
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1477. His father, Sir John More, was a barrister (lawyer) and later became a judge. As a young child, More went to St. Anthony's school, and at the age of 13, Thomas More became a page for John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. This was certainly a fortuitous event in the young man's career. Morton was impressed with More's intelligence and he arranged for the young man to study at Oxford. More attended Oxford University from 1492-1494, studying Latin, Greek, French, history, and mathematics.
More returned to London in 1494 and studied law at New Inn, continuing his legal studies two years later at Lincoln's Inn. More was quickly gaining the attention of his instructors and he spent three years as an appointed lecturer. Thomas More was introduced to the great Humanist thinker, Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1497 and More continued giving lectures on legal and philosophical topics.
During early adulthood, More seriously considered entering the priesthood. For about four years, More actually resided in a monastery. He lived in the Carthusian monastery, located not far from the law school (Lincoln's Inn). Anecdotes from More's friends and acquaintances suggest that More regarded religious service with a great deal of respect (Indeed, the lives of the Utopians are largely modeled on the lives of monastic communities). Some sources suggest that Thomas More wore a "sharp shirt of hair next to his skin" and devoted his mind to "exercises of piety."
In the end, More did not become a priest and he returned to law. In 1501, More was elected to Parliament, serving in the House of Commons. More married Jane Colte of Newhall, Essex in 1505. According to legend, More was interested in marrying Mr. Colte's second daughter, but when More considered the sadness to Jane, the oldest daughter, he "framed his fancy towards" her. Jane died in 1511, but not before giving birth to four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecilia, and John. After Jane's death, Thomas More married Alice Middleton, a woman who was seven years older than he was.
By 1510, More was a famous lawyer and he became Under-Sheriff of London. In the next ten years, More enters the King's service and receives a pension of 100 pounds for life. More travels to Flanders and Calais, France to protect British commercial interests and serve in an ambassadorial role. In 1516, Utopia is published in Louvain and this is More's most successful work.
In 1520, More accompanied King Henry VIII to a meeting with Francis I of France, at the Field of Cloth of Gold (near Calais). More did such a good job of representing King Henry VIII that More is made sub-treasurer to the king and knighted in 1521. In 1523, More was elected Speaker of the House of Commons and in 1525, More was given two additional offices: High Steward of Cambridge University and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
In the years following Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses (1517), European intellectuals become drawn into the discussion of Lutheranism. More wrote a number of works defending Catholicism against Luther's criticism. In 1523, More wrote Responsio ad Lutherum, responding to Luther's attack on Henry VIII.
In October, 1529 More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor of England - a post that had never been occupied by a layman. More was not at all sympathetic towards the heretics he prosecuted as part of his duties. In the end, More suffered from religious persecution himself. In 1532, More resigned from his position because he disagreed with Henry VIII's elevation to a position as head of the church in England. More was imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London and accused of treason. More was executed in 1535.