Table of Contents
 A BOOK which Luther wrote on the "Babylonian Captivity
of the Church" was answered in England by King Henry
the Eighth. So stout was the orthodoxy of the king
against the heresy of the reformer, that the pope
conferred upon him the title, still borne by sovereigns
of England, of Defender of the Faith. In this answer
the king maintained that the pope was the greatest man
in the world, and was to be obeyed, not only by all
priests, but by all princes. He showed what he had
written to Sir Thomas More, and More advised him not to
"You and the pope," he said, "may some time fall out,
and disagree. Then you may find that you have put a
sword in the pope's hand against yourself." To
 this excellent advice the king paid no attention.
Sir Thomas More was the most eminent man of his time in
England. He was known all over Europe for his
scholarship and his statesmanship. But the most
interesting thing about him for us is the fact that he
represented, better than anybody else, the mind of many
wise and good men who were in sympathy with the new
ideas which were at that time beginning to change the
world, and yet in sympathy also with the old ways. He
was the intimate friends of Erasmus, who was the leader
of such men in Europe.
More and Erasmus saw clearly that the Church of their
day ought to be reformed. They felt, for example, very
much as Luther felt about indulgences. They knew that
religion, among many people, had come to be a matter of
magic, a belief that saints and relics could save them
from the punishment of their sins, and from the
 diseases of their bodies, and could bring them good
luck both in this world and in the next. And they knew
that religion among many priests, had come to be a
matter of money; all that they cared for was to be
rich. They desired to have these evils stopped. Thus
they were in sympathy with the reforms which had been
started by Luther. But, at the same time, they cared
greatly for the Church. They saw that along with all
that was wrong, there was much more that was right. And
this they wished to keep. They feared that the
Reformation would go too far. When they found that
Luther, having attacked the indulgences, had proceeded
to attack the pope who permitted them, and having
defied the pope, had denied the necessity of the
sacraments from which the pope had excommunicated him,
they felt that he was like a man, who, finding a wasps'
nest under the eaves of his house, burns out the nest
with so great
 a fire that he burns the whole house with it.
Thus in a time when all the world was taking sides,
some Protestant and others Catholic, some for the new
and others for the old, More and Erasmus and such
moderate men found themselves in a difficult position.
They were on both sides, and on neither.
One time, while Henry the Seventh was the king, More,
though he was but twenty-four years of age, was a
member of Parliament; and the king demanded of the
House of Commons a great sum of money, much more than
he had any right to ask; and when the House was silent,
being unwilling to vote the money, and yet unwilling to
offend the king. More made a speech the effect of which
was to give the king very much less than he had
required. Some of the king's people told him that he
had been defeated by a beardless boy. Coming thus under
 of the king, he retired into private life. And there
the debate between what was called the old learning and
the new occupied his thoughts. At first, he studied
Greek and science, like a man of the new time. Then he
gave himself to devotion and prayer in a monastery, and
planned to be a priest, like a man of the old time. The
matter was happily decided for the moment by a visit
which he made to Mr. Colt's house, in Essex, where he
met his daughter Jane and married her. But it
illustrates the contention in his mind between the new
and the old.
Then the seventh Henry died, and the eighth Henry came
to the throne, and More came out of his retirement into
great favor. He was mad ea member of the Privy Council,
and Treasurer of the Exchequer, and was chosen Speaker
of Parliament. The new king so delighted in his
conversation that More could hardly get leave to go
home from the court to
 his own family as much as once a month. The king would
send for him to come to his private room, and there
would talk with him sometimes about this world,
sometimes about the next, and then would take him to
the palace roof on clear nights, "there to consider
with him the diversities, courses, motions, and
operations of the stars and planets." And when More,
tiring of this and desiring to go home, would stay away
from court, the king would visit him in his own house,
coming to dinner without being invited, and afterwards
walking with More in the garden by the hour together
with his arm about his neck.
William Roper, More's son-in-law, who wrote his life,
congratulated him on this royal friendship. But More
said, "Son Roper, I may tell thee I have no cause to be
proud thereof; for if my head would win him a castle in
France, it should not fail to go."
 By-and-by, he was made Lord Chancellor; his father, in
the meantime, being only a judge of the Court of the
King's Bench. It is remembered that as Sir Thomas
passed through Westminster Hall, he would often go into
his father's court, and reverently kneel down and ask
his father's blessing; and that when he and his father
met in any place, "notwithstanding his high office, he
would offer the pre-eminence to his father."
More became Lord Chancellor by reason of the fall of
Cardinal Wolsey; and the fall of Cardinal Wolsey was
occasioned by the difficulties connected with the
Henry the Eighth had married Catherine, his brother's
widow, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.
They had lived happily together, but their marriage had
been saddened by the death of their children. Child
after child died in
 infancy; only a daughter, Mary, lived. There was no son
to follow Henry on the throne. Moreover, as one child
after another died, Henry began to fear that he was
being punished for a marriage which many good men
believed to be against the will of God. These people
thought it was wrong for a man to marry his deceased
brother's wife. Then Henry fell in love with a young
lady of the court, named Anne Boleyn.
Thus the rights and wrongs of the matter were very
complicated. It was clearly right for Henry to regret
leaving the succession to the throne in such doubt that
there would probably be a war between different
claimants. It was clearly wrong for Henry to fall in
love with Anne Boleyn. As for the divorce which he
desired from Catherine, some said one thing, and some
another. Anyhow, it became Wolsey's business to secure
the divorce by getting the permission of the
 pope. And in this he failed. In the changes of power in
Europe, Italy and the pope came under the rule of
Spain, and the pope would not venture to do a thing so
offensive to Spain as to allow the divorce of the
daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. Thus Wolsey fell
into disgrace, and his chancellorship was given to Sir
Then Henry decided to proceed with the divorce in spite
of the pope. He followed Luther's example. The pope
said to Luther, "You are excommunicated; you are from
henceforth forbidden to partake of the sacraments of
the Church." Luther answered, "That will make no
difference to me. I shall suffer no loss by your
refusal of the sacraments: they do not depend on Church
approval." The pope said to Henry, "You may not be
divorced. I refuse to give you my permission." Henry
answered, "That will make no difference to me. You
 to be a ruler in my kingdom, and to enforce your laws,
not only in the Church but in the state. I deny the
claim. You are dismissed. From this day forward you are
no ruler here. I do not care for your permission. I
shall do precisely as I please."
Meanwhile, the Lord Chancellor had been attending, with
all diligence, to the duties of his office. Every
morning he sat from eight until eleven to hear cases,
and every afternoon he was to be found in his house to
hear petitions. Whoever had a grievance might bring it
to his notice, and the poorer the suppliant the better.
In a day when the taking of bribes was a common sin of
judges, More declined all gifts. One time, his enemies,
— for a great man in that age always had enemies, —
declared that he had received a "fair great gilt cup"
from a man in whose favor he had decided a case. And
More confessed that the
 man's wife brought him the golden cup as a New Year's
gift, and that he took it.
"There, gentlemen," cried the chief accuser, "did I not
tell you that you should find this matter true?"
Thereupon More answered that having received the cup at
the lady's hands, he caused his butler to fill it with
wine, and drank to her good health, and gave it back.
"Thus was this great mountain turned scarce unto a
One time, the Duke of Norfolk, coming to dine with the
Lord Chancellor, found him at the parish church in the
midst of the service, with a surplice on his back,
singing in the choir. After the service, as they went
home arm in arm, the Duke said, "Well, well! my Lord, a
parish clerk! a parish clerk! You dishonor the king and
To which the Chancellor replied, smiling, "Your Grace
may not think that the
 king, your master and mine, will be offended with me
for serving God, his Master."
At a little distance from his mansion house, More built
a place which contained a chapel and a library; and to
this building he was accustomed to go that he might be
alone to read and pray; and especially on Fridays, he
spent the whole day there, in his devotions, saying the
seven penitential psalms and the litany and other
prayers. This he found time to do, even in the midst of
the great business of his high office, feeling that the
essential thing, above all else, is that a man be the
master of himself. And to this end, he wore under his
fine clothing a shirt of hair, and sometimes flogged
himself with a knotted cord, that he might exercise
himself in the endurance of discomfort and pain. The
devil, he said, is like an ape, who will do mischief
when no one is looking, but if he is observed will leap
 Thus he kept on the watch against temptations.
In the midst, however, of all this strictness of living
and this devotion to the old ways of the Church, he
wrote a book called "Utopia," which was filled with the
spirit of the new age. This book is in the form of an
account of a strange and distant land, given to More by
one who had traveled with Americus Vespucius, and in
his travels had visited a people whose customs were
very different from the customs of England. In this
way, More was able to set forth his ideas of the right
manner of living. Among other things, he said that, in
Utopia, religion was free. No man there was punished
for his belief, but every man might be of what religion
he pleased, and might endeavor to draw others to it by
the force of argument, and by amicable and honest ways,
but without bitterness against those of other opinions.
This seemed to be in accord
 with the new liberty which Luther was bringing into the
Meanwhile, the matter of the king's divorce was coming
forward. More was against it. He believed that the pope
was right in refusing to allow it. When he perceived
that the matter was decided, he resigned his office.
Out he went from his high place, a poor man as he had
entered it. He called his children and his
grandchildren together, who were all living with him in
his great house, and said that he must now reduce his
"I have been brought up," he said, "at Oxford, at an
Inn of Chancery, at Lincoln's Inn, and in the King's
Court. Thus I have gone from the lowest degree to the
highest. Now we must go back. We will begin with
Lincoln's Inn diet, and live like the prosperous
lawyers; and the next year, if we are not able to
maintain this, we will go one step down to the Town Inn
fare, and live like the less prosperous
 lawyers. If that exceed our ability too, then will we
the next year after descend to Oxford fare, and live
like scholars. Which, if our ability stretch not to
maintain neither, then may we yet, with bags and
wallets, go a-begging together, and so still keep
company merrily." Thus did his change of fortune with
While he was Lord Chancellor, one of his gentlemen,
when the church service was over, was accustomed to go
to his wife's pew, and say, "Madam, my Lord is gone,"
and thus escort her from the church. The day after he
resigned his office, Sir Thomas himself came down after
the service and standing by the pew made a low bow,
saying, "Madam, my Lord is gone."
The king, however, was not contented with More's
resignation. Chancellor or not, More was the greatest
man in England, and his silence meant that he did
 not approve of the king's conduct. He refused to attend
the coronation of Anne Boleyn. It was plain that he was
opposed to the king's marriage. Thus he made an enemy
of Anne and of the king. One time, he asked his
daughter how Queen Anne did, and how things went at
court. She answered, "Never better; there is nothing
else but dancing and sporting." "Alas, Meg," said More,
"it pitieth me to remember to what misery, poor soul,
she will shortly come." Some say that he added, "These
dances of hers will prove such dances that she will
spurn off our heads like footballs."
Then the Act of Supremacy was passed, declaring the
king head of the Church in England, in the pope's
place. And first the clergy, and then the great men of
the realm, were called upon to accept it.
"Mr. More," said the Duke of Norfolk, his good friend,
"it is perilous striving with princes, and therefore I
 you to incline somewhat to the king's pleasure."
"Is that all, my Lord?" said More. "Is there, in good
faith, no more difference between your Grace and me,
but that I shall die to-day and you to-morrow?"
Thus he went to appear before the Lords at Lambeth.
That morning, as his custom was when he entered into
any matter of importance, he went first to church and
said his prayers. It was also his custom, whenever he
went away from home, to have his wife and children come
with him to his boat, and there to kiss them all and
bid them farewell; but that morning he would not let
them come, but shut the gate behind him.
Presently, in the boat, he said to William Roper, "Son
Roper, I thank the Lord, the field is won."
Roper answered, "Sir, I am thereof very glad."
But as he considered what more meant,
 it became plain that he had thanked the Lord that He
had enabled him to go forward in obedience to what his
conscience called him to do, in spite of his great love
of his family. When he shut the gate, he knew that for
conscience' sake he was shutting himself out from his
pleasant home, from all the joys of his delightful
life, and from the sight of the loved faces of his wife
Thus More refused to take the oath of supremacy as
against his conscience, and they put him in prison in
the Tower. There he remained for more than a year, in
the hardship of close confinement, deprived of even
books and paper.
One time, when his wife came to see him, being a simple
person, and not understanding these great matters, she
remonstrated with him. "What the good year, Mr. More,"
said she, "I marvel that you, that have been always
hereunto taken for so wise a man, will now so play the
 to lie here in this close, filthy prison, and be
content to be shut up among mice and rats, when you
might be abroad at your liberty, and with the favor and
good-will both of the king and his Council, if you
would but do as all the bishops and best learned of
this Realm have done. And seeing you have at Chelsea a
right, fair house, your library, your books, your
gallery, your orchards, where you might, in the company
of me your wife, your children, and household, be
merry, I muse what in God's name you mean here still
fondly to tarry."
To whom Sir Thomas, having listened quietly with a
cheerful countenance said, "I pray thee, tell me, tell
me one thing."
"What is that" said she.
"Is not this house as nigh heaven as mine own?"
To whom she, after her accustomed fashion, not liking
much talk, answered, "Tilly vally, tilly vally!"
 But his daughter Margaret understood him better. With
her he said the psalms and the litany, as he had been
wont to do at family prayers at home. "I find no cause,
I thank God, Meg," he said, "to reckon myself in worse
case here, than in mine own house." And Margaret's
husband, William Roper, writing the story of his life,
adds the comment, "Thus by his gracious demeanor in
tribulations appeared it, that al the troubles that
ever chanced unto him, by his patient sufferance
thereof were to him no painful punishments, but of his
patience profitable exercises."
At last, being brought to trial, the solicitor-general,
Rich, recounted a conversation which he claimed to have
had with More.
"Admit that there were, sir, an Act of Parliament, that
all the Realm should take me for the king, would not
you, Mr. More, take me for the king?"
 "Yes, sir," said More, "that would I."
"I put the case further, that there were an Act of
Parliament that all the Realm should take me for the
pope, would then not you, Mr. More, take me for the
"For answer," said Sir Thomas, "to your first case, the
Parliament may well, Mr. Rich, meddle with the state of
temporal princes; but to make answer to your second
case, I will put you this case: Suppose the Parliament
would make a law, that God should not be God, would you
then, Mr. Rich, say God were not God?"
"No, sir," said he, "that would I not, since no
parliament may make any such law."
"No more," said Sir Thomas, according to Rich's report,
"could the Parliament make the king the supreme head of
 This was the sole evidence against him, and this More
denied. But his death had been determined. The king was
not willing that there should live, even in silence, a
man whose disapproval was a constant criticism upon
Thus he was condemned to die. And as he came, after his
condemnation, from Westminster to the Tower, his
daughter Margaret was waiting by the way to see him.
And she, "pressing in amongst the midst of the throng
and the company of the guard, that with halberds and
bills were round about him, hastily ran to him, and
there, openly in the sight of them all, embraced and
took him about the neck and kissed him, who, well
liking her most daughterly love and affection towards
him, gave her his fatherly blessing, and many godly
words of comfort besides; from whom after she was
departed, she not satisfied with the former sight of
her dear father, giving respect neither to
her-  self, nor to the press of the people and multitudes
that were about him, suddenly turned back again, and
ran to him as before, took him about the neck, and
divers times together most lovingly kissed him, and at
last with a full heavy heart was fain to depart from
him; the beholding whereof was, to many of them that
were present thereat, so lamentable, that it made them
for very sorrow to mourn and weep."
Sir Thomas More was beheaded on the seventh day of
July, 1535. the scaffold was poorly built, and as he
and the lieutenant of the Tower climbed the steps
together, he said, "I pray you, I pray you, Mr.
Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down, let
me shift for myself." Thus he died, composed and with a
cheerful face, kneeling down and commending his soul to
God in whom he put his trust, and whose obedience he
valued above all the pleasures of his life.
When the Emperor Charles heard of
 this tragedy, he called the English ambassador, and
said, "My Lord Ambassador, we understand that the king,
your master, hath put his faithful servant and grave
wise councilor, Sir Thomas More, to death." The
ambassador answered that the circumstances were unknown
to him. "Well," said the emperor, "it is very true, and
this we will say, that if we had been master of such a
servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our
dominions, than such a worthy councilor."