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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (312 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Peter Ackroyd Narrator: Frederick Davidson Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2006 ISBN: 9781455175055
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This book, as much a work of history as a biography, is a masterful reconstruction of the life and imagination of one of the most remarkable figures in history.

Thomas More (1478–1535) was a renowned statesman; the author of a political treatise, Utopia, that gave a political worldview; and, most famously, a Catholic martyr and saint. Born into the professional classes, Thomas More applied his formidable intellect and well-placed connections to become the most powerful man in England, second only to the king.

In reconstructing the life of Thomas More, Peter Ackroyd provides an unmatched portrait of the everyday, religious, and intellectual life of the early sixteenth century. More emerges in the fullness of his complex humanity, with unexpected characteristics—such as his preference for bawdy humor—and indisputable moral courage.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Vibrant…inspired…Ackroyd successfully delineates the vast complexity of More’s faith…[He] persuasively argues that [More was] less a man for all seasons, perhaps, than a tonic for ours.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “[A] masterly new biography. It must be a candidate for book of the year.”

    Observer (London)

  • “Full of brilliant insight…one stands in awe of Ackroyd’s learning, confident that this is the life of Thomas More for our times.”

    Independent on Sunday (London)

  • “Brilliantly conceived…Ackroyd’s vividly human More is...imperfect yet inspiring.”

    Time

  • “A sensitive, well-informed work that will be of value to anyone seeking a deeper knowledge of More’s personal history.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “As a biographer of More, Ackroyd is also an effective novelist. He evokes late-medieval London in sight and in smell.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Davidson’s donnish reading accentuates Ackroyd’s erudition and dry wit, but also serves to convey the underlying tension between intellectual ferment and abiding tradition that is the true drama in this story.”

    AudioFile

  • “A limpidly written and superbly wrought portrait of a complex hero who was truly, as his friend Erasmus stated, ‘omnium horarum homo,’ a ‘man for all seasons.’”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • Winner of the 1998 James Tait Black Memorial Prize
  • A 1998 New York Times Notable Book for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Breena | 2/13/2014

    " Not worth a second read to me right now. Made it most of the way through... "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Kevin | 2/13/2014

    " Will never get that time back "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Craig Earnshaw | 2/3/2014

    " From the pinnacle of power to the execution block. He was no saint, but he remained true to his principles. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John | 2/1/2014

    " Amazing life and courageous death. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cristina Montes | 1/28/2014

    " I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to get to know Thomas More, as well as the times he lived in. My favtorite part is the transcript of his trial, at the end of the book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lorenz | 1/28/2014

    " This book is not a slow read as some reviews have claimed. It is very engaging book for anyone interested in both the man and the world that he live in. I just wish that the author put more emphasis on More's legal career. Nevertheless, this book definitely made me want to read more about Tudor England and the English Reformation. An excellent biography of a brilliant man... "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Mike | 1/23/2014

    " I was looking for a biography of Thomas More and I found this one. Fifty pages in and I gave up. Peter Ackroyd's style is very difficult to read. Maybe it's the detail. Anyway, I will have to look for another biography. Maybe "A Man for all Seasons". I'll have to check that one out. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 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. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jonfaith | 1/15/2014

    " Aside from Ackroy claiming to a fidelity to the milieu of More by quoting him in the obscure spellings of the sixteenth century, there are vast praries of emotional space between the author and his subject. I am left a bit puzzled. Ackroyd goes to sufficient lengths to remove the aura of hagiography from More, but doesn't construct a viable counter-thesis either. There is simply the written record. Odd. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lissa Chandler | 1/15/2014

    " This was an interesting look at Thomas More that covered the good deeds he did without forgetting some of his more questionable acts. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jeanne | 12/23/2013

    " Peter Ackroyd is a favorite of mine because of this book. He's an intellectual who delves deep. I like how he quotes Latin throughout this book, without translation (mostly), assuming you read Latin fluently. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Emma | 12/5/2013

    " As Teigan said to me many years ago when I was reading this "hmm ... Thomas More: fun guy". Ackroyd brings the time and place absolutely alive. His detail about London life at that time makes you feel you're there at such an important juncture in English history. Very very good. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 James | 11/16/2013

    " Very interesting biography, especially in that the last paragraph is literally the end of his life and no 'grand summation' follows it. Fairly tough to get through but in the end a fascinating portrait of an equally so historic personage. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Vincent | 11/14/2013

    " Excellent, three dimensional profile of the Saint and explanation of the political, religious, and cultural elements of the time. The authors misconceptions that the Sacramental System was exclusively a Medieval viewpoint does not take away from the quality of the work. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ainsley | 11/1/2013

    " An excellent review of one of the foremost characters of the English Renaissance. I like. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Aaron Crofut | 10/7/2013

    " More's an intriguing figure. This biography was good, but could have used a few elaborations on the people More had to deal with (John Fisher and Henry VIII in particular) as well as a conclusion that didn't end with the end of More himself. Certainly worth reading, though. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Joseph | 4/20/2013

    " Full of lots of fairly irrelevant and dry descriptions. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Beth | 3/19/2013

    " OK, so I listened to this on cassette on a road trip to Colorado...but I have never been able to find it in print to read... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Andrea | 1/3/2013

    " Long and tedious in some ways but very interesting. Adult reading. I liked how he was so opposed to materialism that he gave his daughter a necklace of peas rather than pearls to teach her a lesson. Watch the movie "A Man for All Seasons." "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Candise | 3/17/2012

    " We have named our homeschool after this very holy Englishman. I have quite a collection of books related to him and greatly admire his fortitude and sense of humor. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Julie | 12/14/2011

    " This is one of the best biographies I have come across full of detail, it sheds a great deal of light on this man who was known best of all as Chancellor of England to Henry VIII. suitable for students and general readers alike. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Pat | 11/7/2011

    " Ackroyd brings early 16th century England to life. Thomas More is a central character in the split from Rome. Great book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Daniel | 5/24/2011

    " OK but you must have some interest in that age. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Joanna | 12/21/2010

    " I couldn't get past the first few chapters. Ackroyd's tone was so pompous I couldn't continue. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lissa | 10/4/2010

    " This was an interesting look at Thomas More that covered the good deeds he did without forgetting some of his more questionable acts. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John | 2/2/2010

    " Amazing life and courageous death. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cristina | 1/30/2010

    " I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to get to know Thomas More, as well as the times he lived in. My favtorite part is the transcript of his trial, at the end of the book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Pat | 6/19/2009

    " Ackroyd brings early 16th century England to life. Thomas More is a central character in the split from Rome. Great book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jeanne | 1/30/2009

    " Peter Ackroyd is a favorite of mine because of this book. He's an intellectual who delves deep. I like how he quotes Latin throughout this book, without translation (mostly), assuming you read Latin fluently. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 James | 10/12/2008

    " Very interesting biography, especially in that the last paragraph is literally the end of his life and no 'grand summation' follows it. Fairly tough to get through but in the end a fascinating portrait of an equally so historic personage. "

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About the Author
Author Peter AckroydPeter Ackroyd is the author of biographies of Dickens, Blake, and Thomas More, and of the bestselling London: The Biography. He has won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography, the Royal Society of Literature’s William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, The Guardian Fiction prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the South Bank Award for Literature. He lives in London.
About the Narrator

Frederick Davidson (1932–2005), also known as David Case, was one of the most prolific readers in the audiobook industry, recording more than eight hundred audiobooks in his lifetime, including over two hundred for Blackstone Audio. Born in London, he trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and performed for many years in radio plays for the British Broadcasting Company before coming to America in 1976. He received AudioFile’s Golden Voice Award and numerous Earphones Awards and was nominated for a Grammy for his readings.