Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478 to a respected judge. He received a good education at St. Anthony's School in London. When he was in his teens, he served as a in Archbishop Morton's home. Morton predicted that More would become a "marvelous man." (Ackroyd, 1998)
More attended college at Oxford University, where he wrote comedies and studied Greek literature. One of his very first projects was an English translation of a Latin biography of Pico della Mirandola, which was published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1510.
After college, More studied law in London and became a barrister in 1501. However, to the dismay of his father, he did not become a judge. Instead he pursued life as a monk, under the strict discipline of the Carthusians. He developed spiritual habits, including fasting, regular prayer and penance, which would be a part of his life forever.
However, More strayed from the monastery, after realizing that his thirst for politics was prevalent. More joined Parliament in 1504, and got married shortly after. When More joined Parliament, he strongly felt that justice needed to be fair and truly just. One of his first moves was to suggest a decrease in a proposed pay for King Henry VII.
As a result, the king took vengeance on More, throwing his father in prison and refusing to let him go until More paid a hefty fine and resigned from Parliament. More lay low until the king's death in 1510, and then became politically active again.
In 1510, More was appointed an undersheriff of London, which was considered a prestigious position. As undersheriff, he earned a reputation for being impartial, and a patron to the poor. Around this time, More's first wife died while giving birth. He remarried shortly after to Dame Alice.
More and King Henry VIII
King Henry VIII was drawn to More and his influence (Marius, 1984). In 1515, More traveled with a delegation to Flanders to help resolve trading disputes. Utopia refers to this delegation. More also played a key role in pacifying a 1517 London uprising against foreigners, which is enacted in the play Sir Thomas More. More also went with the king and the king's court to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1518 he was elected a member of the Privy Council, and was knighted in 1521.
Henry VIII in writing his Defence of the Seven Sacraments, a denial of Luther, and replied to Luther's response using a pseudonym. More had won the king's favor, and was made Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523 and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1525.
In private, More did not approve of Henry VIII and even told his oldest son-in-law that "if my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go.(Marius)" He would later be proved right.
More used his reputation and power to establish the parliamentary privilege of free speech. However, he refused to support King Henry VIII's plan to divorce
Katherine of Arag n. In 1529, More became Lord Chancellor, and was the first layman yet to hold this title.
The Fall of Sir Thomas More
More's work in the courts was renowned but he resigned in 1532, claiming that he was ill. However, historians believe that he opposed the king's beliefs regarding the church. When More neglected to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533, the king was furious.
The following year, More was accused of involvement with Elizabeth Barton, a nun who opposed Henry's break with Rome (Wegemer, 1995). However, he was not attainted because the Lords refused to pass the bill until More's name was taken off the list of accused people. While More never openly supported papal supremacy, he did show support for the Pope's primacy and the historical position of authority in the Holy See in Rome.
Shortly afterwards, More refused to swear to the Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy, and was committed to the Tower of London. He never gave a reason for this refusal. He remained in prison for 15 months while the king tried to figure out a legal way to try him.
Basically More was a well-respected scholar, lawyer, and…