Thomas More

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Thomas More as Lord Chancellor
( Hans Holbein the Younger , 1527)
Signature Thomas More.PNG

Sir Thomas More ( English Thomas More ; * probably February 7, 1478 in London ; † July 6, 1535 ibid) was an English statesman ( Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII ) and a humanist author of the Renaissance. He is a saint and martyr of the Anglican Church (Remembrance Day on July 6th) and the Roman Catholic Church (Remembrance Day June 22nd ), where he was proclaimed the patron saint of rulers and politicians.


Origin and early education

Thomas More was the son of the lawyer and judge John More (around 1450–1530) and his wife Agnes (around 1455–1499), the daughter of a councilor and merchant from Calais , the Alderman and Merchant of the Staple of Calais Thomas Graunger. Thomas More attended a Latin school and, at the age of twelve, served as a page service at the court of Lord Chancellor Archbishop John Morton of Canterbury . He sent him on a two-year scholarship to Oxford , where More studied logic, Latin and Greek - a subject that was still controversial at the time and which his father did not like to see - and from 1496 received legal training at Lincoln's Inn law school . In 1501 he completed his law exam and began teaching himself. Meanwhile, More was in doubt whether he would find his destiny in the church rather than in jurisprudence.

First stations and starting a family (1504–1505)

Thomas More soon became a successful lawyer and negotiator. In 1504 he became a member of parliament . His opposition to King Henry VII's tax increases caused a sensation. For a time he lived as a postulant with the Carthusian monks in London .

In 1505 he married Joan Colt (1488-1511). This marriage resulted in three daughters ( Margaret , Elisabeth, Cecily) and one son (John). When Joan Colt died after six years of marriage, Thomas More soon went into a second marriage with the widow Alice Middleton, which remained childless. Alice Middleton brought a daughter from her first marriage with her.

Diplomat in the service of Henry VIII and Speaker of Parliament (1510–1523)

From 1510 on he was one of two so-called under sheriffs of London for eight years and taught law at Lincoln's Inn. King Henry VIII became aware of More and sent him on diplomatic missions. In 1516, More wrote the first book of Utopia and edited the entire work, which appeared in December.

More, depicted with his family (after Hans Holbein the Younger)

In 1517, at the age of 39, he entered the service of the King of England, who soon made him a member of the Privy Council . In addition, he mediated the May riots in London that year. On May 28, 1523, the King had him knighted in Ireland as a Knight Bachelor ("Sir") and in the same year he became Speaker of Parliament .

He was a staunch opponent of Luther and helped Henry VIII to write a paper on him that earned the English king the papal honorary title of Defender of the Faith . More's own work on Luther was read across Europe.

In his private life, More was very committed to the upbringing of his daughters, to whom he gave the same education as his son. His eldest daughter Margaret Roper was considered one of the most learned women of her time.

He was also very generous, feeding hundreds out of his own pocket during a famine, and refusing to fire farm workers when there was a shortage of work.

Resignation as Lord Chancellor (1532) and Henry VIII's claim to supremacy.

In 1529 Cardinal Thomas Wolsey , Archbishop of York , had to resign from his position as Lord Chancellor because he could not get the Pope to annul Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon . Thereupon More was appointed Lord Chancellor, who had supported the domestic politics of his king in the dispute with Protestantism . Divorce was impossible under current church law and More accepted that only the Pope could decide whether to annul the king's marriage. Henry VIII was disappointed in More as Lord Chancellor.

Pope Clement VII might have consented to the annulment of Heinrich's marriage with Catherine if it had not been for Katharina's nephew, Emperor Charles V , to have him in hand after the Sacco di Roma . When the Pope refused, Henry declared himself head of the Church of England. The clergy had to swear the Supreme Oath and thereby recognize the king as secular and spiritual ruler as head of the now Anglican Church . As a layman, More did not need to take this oath, but out of loyalty to the Roman Church he resigned from the office of Lord Chancellor on May 16, 1532 in order not to have to serve a king who disobeyed the Roman See. Health problems may also have been behind his resignation.

With his resignation, More was initially able to evade suspicion of high treason . But when Parliament passed the Act of Succession in 1534 , which established the legitimacy of all children who would be born to Henry VIII and his wife Anne Boleyn , as well as any foreign authority (including the Pope) over spiritual matters, including power over churches , Rejected monasteries and abbeys, holders of public offices and persons suspected of not supporting Heinrich were required to take an oath on this law.

Trial and Execution (1535)

More was supposed to take this oath in April 1534. Because he refused, he - together with Bishop John Fisher of Rochester - was imprisoned in the Tower of London . Both were brought to trial and sentenced to death in the name of Henry VIII. Before that, More had already written his epitaph and withdrew from public life. Parliament imposed eight on him and confiscated his fortune in favor of the crown. While still in prison, Thomas More wrote spiritual treatises and consolation pamphlets.

On July 6, 1535, Thomas More was executed on the scaffold on Tower Hill at the age of 57 . The judgment stipulated the usual manner of death for high treasoners: hanging, disembowelling and quartering . The king changed the sentence to beheading without prior torture. More's head was exhibited on London Bridge for a month, then brought down by his daughter Margaret Roper on payment of a bribe and buried in the Roper family vault in St Dunstan 's Canterbury.

He kept his humor, for which Thomas More was known, to the last: According to an anecdote, he asked the executioner during his execution to watch out for his beard when slamming with the hatchet, as he had not committed high treason.


Thomas More was an unusually educated man, at the same time an expert lawyer and a skilled negotiator. His impartiality as an undersheriff and in other positions was praised. He was considered a hard-working civil servant who processed all pending court cases.

As a Catholic, he consistently stood up for the authority of the Holy See . Thus, as Lord Chancellor, despite his humanistic attitude, he had supporters of the Reformation persecuted and burned. This punishment was meted out to "repeat offenders" who had revisited Protestant writings after revocation.

While More was serving as an undersheriff , he found the time to tell a story of King Richard III. to compose. This is considered - also because of her masterly command of English prose  - as the jewel of English historiography .

First page of “Utopia”, printed in 1518

His best-known work is De optimo statu rei publicae deque nova insula Utopia ("Of the best constitution of the state and of the new island of Utopia"), in which he described an invented island kingdom with a completely different social structure in 1516, probably based on Plato's dialogue Timaeus when it ruled England in his day. In the social sciences, the work is seen as a criticism of the conditions at the time and as an alternative to contemporary England; others see it as a malicious satire of the same England. In the city-state of this island there is a kind of communism : the interests of the individual are subordinate to those of the community. As in an (ideal) monastery, everyone is obliged to work and educate collectively and enjoys religious tolerance. Land is common property. After first appearing in Leuven ( Brabant ), it was soon translated into several languages ​​and is a forerunner of the utopian novel .


Thomas More's first marriage to Jane Colt had four children:

  1. Margaret (1505–1544), married to William Roper
  2. Elizabeth (born 1506), married to William Dauncey
  3. Cecily (born 1507), married to Giles Heron
  4. John (1509–1547), married to Anne Cresacre

The second marriage, in 1511, to Alice Middleton, a widow and née Harpur (1474–1546 or 1551) - remained childless. The family also included Alice Middleton's daughter Alice (1501–1563), a foster daughter named Margaret Giggs and, from the 1520s, a ward named Anne Cresacre. Her first husband was John Middleton, a merchant with whom she had a son and two daughters. John Middleton died in 1509.

Lady Alice More (1474–1551), Thomas More's second wife. Hans Holbein around 1530.


Contemporary assessment

Erasmus of Rotterdam , who visited his friend Thomas several times, dedicated his famous praise to folly to him . The Latin title Moriae encomium was a play on words based on the consonance of the Latinized name Morus with the Latin word morus ("fool"). After More's death Erasmus found the praiseworthy words: “Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, whose soul was purer than the purest snow, whose genius was as great as England never had, and will never have again, although England has a mother of great ones Ghosts. "


The University and State Library in Düsseldorf has an extensive collection of works by and about Thomas More, the so-called Morianum. At the University of Düsseldorf there was also a German scientific Thomas More Society with its own yearbooks, which has since disbanded.

Church worship

In 1886 the Catholic Church beatified Thomas More . The canonization took place in 1935, at a time when the conflicts between the Nazi regime and the Catholic Church were becoming more and more obvious due to the Nazis' disregard for the Concordat agreements and human rights violations. The canonization was interpreted by some as a sign of religious resistance to totalitarian claims to rule, for which Thomas More had suffered martyrdom . For example, in a review of W. Chambers' book Thomas More, Outhbert Wright wrote shortly after his canonization in the New York Times on August 18, 1935:

We have seen the totalitarian State raise its formidable head once more from the ruins of yet another Europe, this time wrought by the World War. We have seen it in Russia, in Italy, in Germany. We are even told that it exists, in germ and embryo, within the United States. And the question inevitably occurs, as Professor Chambers states it at the end of his narrative: "Is the State supreme, or is there a moral law above the laws which the State makes?"

Since 1980, Thomas More has also been thought of as a martyr of the Reformation in the Church of England . On October 31, 2000, Pope John Paul II appointed him patron of government and politicians. In Germany he is also the patron of the KjG (Catholic young community) and numerous Catholic student communities , especially in the area of ​​the new federal states . His feast day in the Catholic Church is June 22nd (with John Fisher) and July 6th in the Anglican Church.

Churches are consecrated to him in many places , see Thomas More Church . In Belgium there are the Knights of Saint Thomas More (Knights of St. Thomas More ).


Various institutions are named after Thomas More, including the Thomas-More-Academy Bensberg (an institution for Catholic adult education in the Archdiocese of Cologne), the Thomas-More-Gymnasium in Oelde , the Thomas-More-Realschule in Östringen and the Thomas-More -School in Osnabrück and the Catholic student dormitory Thomas-Morus-Burse in Würzburg . In 2016, an asteroid was also named after Thomas More: (37630) Thomasmore .

Hermann Boventer founded the Thomas-More-Gesellschaft in Bensberg in 1981 in order to be able to continue the scientific and journalistic work on Thomas More after the big fire in the Thomas-More-Akademie Bensberg. The society soon had 90 members. At irregular intervals she awarded a Thomas More Medal to “personalities who have distinguished themselves through courage and steadfastness of conscience”. There is also a Thomas More Society in Hanover (as of 2009). Since 2001 the city of Lennestadt has been awarding the "Thomas More Prize of the City of Lennestadt" in honor of its patron saint .

Fiction and film

The handwritten Elizabethan play Sir Thomas More by Anthony Munday and other authors (including probably William Shakespeare ) depicts scenes from his life.

Robert Bolt's play Thomas More ( A Man For All Seasons ) is about Sir Thomas' lost battle against King Henry's decision to give England a national church. Two films were made based on this piece. A man for every season from 1966 with Paul Scofield won six Academy Awards (Best Picture; Director: Fred Zinnemann; Leading Actor: Paul Scofield; Script (Adaptation): Robert Bolt; Cinematography (Color): Ted Moore; Costumes (Color): Elizabeth Haffenden , Joan Bridge). A second adaptation was made in 1988 with Charlton Heston .

The first and second seasons of the television series The Tudors include Thomas More's rise to Lord Chancellor, his relationship with his daughter Margaret Roper, and his fall.

In the historical novel Stirb, du Narr , published in 1960, Karl Zuchardt deals with the dispute between Thomas More and King Heinrich from 1533, which finally culminates in the execution of Thomas More in 1535. The title is an allusion to the fact that Morus means fool in Latin. The novel provides a glimpse not only of life at court, but also of the common people and the lives of Thomas More and his daughter Margaret Roper . He describes the conflict of the protagonist who is attached to life and yet cannot be unfaithful to his ideals.

Anatoli Warschawski wrote the children's book A Lord Chancellor Resigns .

Hilary Mantel paints a rather negative image of More in her historical novel Wölfe . It shows More as a consistent persecutor of Protestants, who denied them precisely the freedom of conscience that he claimed for himself in his own trial. His opponent Cromwell , who is portrayed as a pragmatist in the novel, accuses More of hypocrisy.

Editions and translations

  • George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams, Clarence H. Miller (Eds.): Thomas More: Utopia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1995, ISBN 0-521-40318-9 (critical edition of the Latin text and English translation)
  • Jacques Langer (translator): Thomas More - Utopia , translated from Latin and with an afterword by Jacques Langer, Manesse Verlag, Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-7175-2054-7 .


Web links

Commons : Thomas More  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Thomas More  - Sources and full texts (Latin)
Wikisource: Thomas More  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas More - Patron of the rulers and politicians Scientific services of the German Bundestag (PDF; 60 kB)
  2. Joan Colt, often incorrectly called Jane Colt. Born in Roydon , Essex, England, died in 1511 in Chelsea , Greater London, England
  3. ^ Peter Ackroyd: The Life of Thomas More. Anchor Books, New York 1999, p. 118.
  4. ^ William Arthur Shaw: The Knights of England. Volume 2, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906, p. 90.
  5. ^ HO Albin: Opening of the Roper Vault in St. Dunstan's Canterbury and Thoughts on the Burial of William and Margaret Roper. In: Moreana . tape 63 , 1979, pp. 29–35 (English, [accessed January 9, 2018]).
  6. ^ Ackroyd P .: The Life of Thomas More , Vintage Books, London 1998, p. 298; Marius R .: Thomas More. A Biography , Collins, Fount Paperbacks, London 1986, p. 407 (Marius is far more critical of More than Ackroyd)
  7. John Paul II: On the proclamation of St. Thomas More as patron of the rulers and politicians . Issue apostolic letter as “ motu proprio ”. October 31, 2000 ( full text ).
  8. Klaus Witt City: church and state in the 20th century. In: Ulrich Wagner (Hrsg.): History of the city of Würzburg. 4 volumes, Volume I-III / 2, Theiss, Stuttgart 2001-2007; III / 1–2: From the transition to Bavaria to the 21st century. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-1478-9 , pp. 453–478 and 1304 f., Here: pp. 463–469: Under the sign of reconstruction - Julius Döpfner's time as Bishop of Würzburg (1948–1957). P. 466.
  9. The new Thomas-More-Society is very popular Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, January 23, 1981 (on the archive pages of the Bergisches Geschichtsverein )
  10. Information on the Thomas-More-Medal (the data are not up-to-date, Hermann Boventer named as contact person died in 2001)
  11. ^ Thomas-More-Gesellschaft Hannover e. V. (as of 2009)
  12. ^ Thomas More - patron saint of Lennestadt
predecessor Office successor
Thomas Wolsey Lord Chancellor of England
Thomas Audley