Steve | 1/21/2014
" Ackroyd has produced the definitive account of this great thinker and man of principle, born in 1478. The author reveals, amazingly that More and Beckett, both martyred and canonised, were born twenty yards from each other. Son of a lawyer serving the capital's guilds of merchants, it should be no surprise that More followed in his father's steps studying law, under the patronage of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor. Morton would be a great role-model for the young More, noted for his prudence in having served both Yorkist and Lancastrian monarchs, before bringing an end to the dynastic power struggles through his arrangement of the marriage between Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. More's future career would also be greatly influenced by his attitude towards the primacy of law. As such, he would decry the heresy of Luther in proclaiming the greater importance of 'free will' to that of the tenets of the law, regarding Luther's claim that the law resided in the 'hearts of men' as pure anathema. During his time at Oxford, More alligned himself with humanist thinkers such as John Colet, who introduced the young lawyer to Erasmus, visiting England in 1499, with whom he would maintain a close friendship, though they would disagree on aspects of church reform and tradition. Humanism covered both educational reform and reform of the church, and many who were labelled humanists as such had markedly different views. Erasmus would never share More's respect for monastic orders, with the latter drawn to their austerity. Indeed, More would control his own household along the lines of a monastic house with rounds of daily prayers and segregation of the sexes. However, More was a pioneer in terms of the education of women, as revealed by his educating of his eldest daughter, Margaret, in Greek and Latin, thereby allowing her not only to translate the works of Erasmus, but to author her own treatises. Ackroyd reveals that Erasmus wrote 'In Praise of Folly' while guest at More's household. With the accession of Henry VIII, More hoped there would be a dawning of a new age of piety, though the new monarch was more concerned with re-establishing the halcyon days of military conquest of his predecessor Henry V. More blinded himself to this truth, regarding his monarch's ventures on the European theatre as merely the obedience of this stately prince to his Pope. Ackroyd also unveils many of the apparent paradoxes implicit in More's most famous work. Having served mercantile interests at the 1510 Parliament, More was commissioned to negotiate commercial treaties on a mission to the Netherlands in 1515. It would be during a hiatus in the interminable rounds of discussions that he would work on his most famous work. This sartirical treatise was fashioned as a creditable piece of history, claiming to be based on the memoirs of Raphael Hythlodaeus, a Portuguese traveller who accompanied Amerigo Vespucci, detailing the society of the 'Utopians' amongst whom he lived for five years. The imaginary narrator extols the virtues of their common ownership, and thus, the lack of greed or disorder. Yet, this society embraces slavery, condones divorce, and encourages euthanasia. Though a peaceful people, the Utopians conduct savage wars, and despite their distaste for gold and silver, hoard such precious metals to pay their mercenaries. The fact that this work is a parody as opposed to representing its author's underlying political convictions is further revealed by the fact that the protagonist's name, Hythlodaeus, translates in Greek as 'one who is cunning in gossip and nonsense', while Vespucci's voyages were considered, rightfully as later proved, mere fabrications. Moreover, the title of the whole piece, proposed by Erasmus,'utopia', means 'no place'. This man of letters would introduce several words and expressions into the English language, such as 'paradox', 'taunt', 'anticipate', and 'not to see the wood for the trees'.The following year, More joined the King's Council, and though many historians have portrayed his public service as being a torment in choosing to serve King or Church, royal service was the traditional career path for a man of his legal talents. Moreover many of More's contemporaries were of the opinion that royal power was guided by divine policy, while More considered himself best suited to advise his monarch, and was heartened when Henry greeted him into his service, stating that he should feel free to serve God first and his king second. More's appointment was the result of Wolsey's backing, with More genuinely considering Wolsey to represent the best vehicle for promoting reformation of the church and state. Aside from supporting Wolsey in drafting treaties and resolving disputes between uneasy alliances, More would accompany Wolsey to Calais in 1519 for secret negotiations with Charles V for an invasion of France. From his appointment as Speaker in 1523 More sought to secure financing of the foreign policy pursued by the Chancellor,firmly believing in Wolsey's ability to furnish lasting peace. With regard to More's religious beliefs, he aided his king in 1523 to formulate and word the critique of Lutheranism which resulted in the Pope conferring upon Henry the title 'Fidei Defensor', ironically advising Henry not to be so enthusiastic in supporting papal primacy. Yet, in preparing a response to Luther's own attack on his monarch, More became convinced of the divine origin of papal authority, which would seal his fate. Much of his subsequent career would be decided by Henry's growing infatuation with Anne Boleyn which from 1526 onwards became bolstered by the king's ardent belief that in marrying his brother's widow he had countered the injunctions as laid out in Leviticus, and thus, his marriage to Catherine should be annulled. The author postulates that Catherine from the moment this expedient was launched, received guidance on matters of canon law, and it remains unclear whether such advice emanated from John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, or from More himself. More apparently misread just how convinced Henry had become that he had incurred divine mispleasure, and he certainly underestimated the danger posed by Boleyn's reformist attitude towards the church. Indeed, More appears to have miscalculated the extent to which English society had grown tired of clerical abuse and the intransigence and unanswerable nature of canon law. As such, he failed to register how much damage the Hunne case had dealt the authority of the clergy in 1514. When burying his five week-old child, Richard Hunne had refused to provide a mortuary gift of the child's christening robe to the attendant priest, so was brought to trial at an ecclesiatical court. In response Hunne issued a writ of 'praemunire', which was a 14th century legal claim that common law was above canon law, and declared that the church had no right to request his property, and that his trial at Lambeth Palace amounted to trial before an illegal and foreign bar. As a result he was charged with heresy, arrested, and imprisoned in Lollards Tower. His mysterious death while in custody led to accusations that he had been murdered by the Bishop of London's chancellor, and public discontent intensified when his body was rashly burned as that of a heretic. Though the murder was never proven, and the chancellor acquitted, the king did make his displeasure at clerical abuse known. Yet, More continued to wholeheartedly defend the church's position in the matter. Such was his growing remove from the mindset of the king's closest entourage, that it can be clearly demonstrated by his response to both the works of William Tyndale and a pamphlet from early 1529 produced by Simon Fish. The former's 'The Obedience of a Christian Man' stated that temporal princes should exercise ecclesiastical power. The latter's 'Supplication of the Beggars', which accused the clergy of filching royal authority and also that through their avarice the realm had been reduced to one of destitution, urged the king to requisition ecclesiastical property and assert his own authority over the church. Failing to acknowledge that Anne Boleyn had introduced such works to Henry, More responded to the former tract with 'A Dialogue Concerning Heresies', in which he tenaciously defended church traditions and hierarchy, and to the latter with his 'Supplication for Souls' in which he dramatised the suffering in purgatory of those who dealt with such heretical thoughts. Despite such obvious discrepancies between his monarch's and his own views on papal authority, it seems remarkable that both Henry should approach him to be Lord Chancellor in 1530, and that More should have accepted. It appears that Henry set great store by More's skills of diplomacy and discretion, while regarding More's tacit support for Catherine and therefore appointment, as means to quell discontent as his queen enjoyed popular support within the capital. More was motivated by his desire to protect both the interests of his queen and his church. However, the 1529 parliament had shown just how rife anticlerical sentiment had become, so one of More's first acts as Lord Chancellor after his appointment in January 1530 was to issue a proclamation against heretical works, issuing a list of banned works and demanding that the authorities seek out and prosecute heretics. In this mission, he allied himself to the Bishop of London, John Stokesley, who would acquire the name 'hammer of the heretics', forming a network of informers and conducting interrogations even in More's own Chelsea home. Among many to fall foul of this anti-heretical crusade and the spate of burnings, one prominent victim was John Petyt.This friend of the rising star of parliamentary fixing, Thomas Cromwell, despite a lack of incriminating evidence, was accused of smuggling heretical works into the country and died whilst imprisoned in the Tower. Though the burning of heretics was common practice for the day, More would attract severe criticism for the relish with which he sought to administer justice, and such merciless pursuit of heretics compares unfavourably to his handling of his own son-in-law, William Roper, whose sudden espousing of Lutheran beliefs was met by mere chastisement before Wolsey. What also is clear is that at the height of such persecution Robert Barnes, a leading Lutheran in exile in Antwerp, was given free passage to England and guaranteed safe conduct by Henry's own hand, as the king became more open to the beliefs of those who might furnish him with the means to obtain his divorce. More's conflict with royal authority commenced with his refusal to sign a petition to the Pope on behalf of the king's request for granting a divorce in June 1530, but the death knell sounded with the entry into royal service of Cromwell. The latter was commissioned to oversee the drafting of legal and constitutional support for Henry to overthrow ecclesiastical authority, and was aided in compiling such evidence by Christopher St Germain. Their machinations led the 1531 Parliament to declare Henry 'sole protector and supreme head of the Church', which so aggrieved More that he had serious plans to resign his post, until he was begged by his supporters to continue his efforts. More even received a letter of support from Charles V to continue aiding the cause of his aunt, and had to beg the imperial ambassador not to personally deliver it to him for fear of Henry's reaction. With the tide of anticlericalism appearing to lose momentum, Cromwell and St Germain unleashed an appeal in the 1532 Parliament against the repression which had been carried out under More's chancellorship. Yet, what really would lead to More's resignation in May 1532 was the 'Submission of the Clergy', which insisted that all clerical law required royal assent. Henry had secretly married Anne Boleyn before the 1533 Parliament officially declared his marriage to Catherine annulled, and what finally hardened his heart to More was the latter's refusal to attend the festivities in honour of his official announcement of his marriage in May 1533. The Holy Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, had been a servant girl in a local household when she succumbed to serious illness and began to speak in rhyming prophecies. As her reputation for visions gathered apace she was questioned by William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and during a personal visitation by Henry had the courage to denounce his plans to marry Anne Boleyn, warning him that his reign would end as a result. She received the support of the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, a stout supporter of Catherine, who declared that in listening to her visions he felt witness to the voice of God. The Maid met the papal envoy, while Fisher upon release from interrogation and imprisonment in the Tower appealed to Charles V to invade England. Despite More's being approached to lend his support to the Maid's cause, and his own efforts to distance himself, official mistrust surrounded his possible complicity. The Maid was arrested and sent to the Tower where she was forced to confess that her visions were fraudulent, and during the 1534 Parliament Cromwell had More and Fisher named as her accomplices even though More categorically denied such accusations and proved them groundless. Henry had no desire to punish More but merely to coerce him to declare in favour of the annulment, though More's continued silence on the subject raised the stakes. Thus, Henry issued an act of attainder against More so he would have to appear to defend himself before the Star Chamber. Having done so triumphantly, More found himself a couple of weeks later having to address the ramifications of the 'Act of Succession' which established the royal succession through the offspring of Anne Boleyn. The Act stipulated that lack of acknowledgement of this, or slander of the royal couple, would be considered as act of treason, punishable by visit to the scaffold. However, to avoid such charges every subject would have to swear acceptance of all aspects of the Act, which also stipulated that the Church lay under the jurisdiction of the King. More was in an unenviable position, and knew his time would come to swear his alleigance, which in all conscience he could never do. Thus, he set out his last will and testament. Thomas Cranmer, who had done so much to pave the way for the 'Reformation', even wrote to Cromwell suggesting that More and Fisher be allowed to only swear alleigance to the succession but Henry refused to countenance any such compromise. In the Tower, More began work on his final treatise, 'De Tristitia Christi' which drew parallels between the suffering of Christ and the sufferings of the Church. It would take a fabricated exchange between More and Richard Rich, the Solicitor General, distorting the views of this great man of conscience and claiming that he had stated that parliament had no authority to declare Henry head of the Church, which would determine More's execution. This was finally carried out in July 1534 but merely served to enhance More's reputation as a man who placed conscience above mortality and ensured his canonisation. "