Who was Thomas More?

An introduction to our patron saint.

Thomas More

Thomas was born in London on the 7th February, 1478. He attended St Anthony’s School in London, one of the best schools of his day, and as a youth served as a Page, the first stage of training for knighthood, in the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England (and future Cardinal). Morton is said to have thought that Thomas would become a “marvellous man.”

Thomas went on to study at Oxford University, where he spent two years mastering Latin and formal logic, writing comedies, and studying Greek and Latin literature.

Around 1494, his father, a prominent lawyer, brought Thomas back to London to study common law. In February 1496, Thomas was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, one of England’s four legal societies, to prepare for admission to the Bar, and in 1501 he became a full member of the legal profession. Thomas managed to keep up with his literary and spiritual interests while practising law and he read devotedly from both Holy Scripture and the classics.

Thomas found himself torn between a life of civil service and a monastic calling, and he made the decision to work towards becoming a monk. In 1503 he moved to a monastery outside London and subjected himself to the discipline of the Carthusian order of monks, participating in monastic life as much as his legal career would allow. Praying, fasting and doing penance would stay with him for the rest of his life (as would the practice of wearing a hair shirt), but his sense of duty to serve his country overcame his desire for monasticism, and he entered Parliament in 1504.

Thomas married for the first time in 1505 to Jane Colte. They had three daughters, Margaret, Elizabeth and Cecilia, and a son, John.

After the death of Jane in 1511 Thomas went on to marry Alice Middleton.

In 1516, Thomas published the book for which he is most well-known, Utopia, a work of fiction about a pagan and communist island on which social and political customs are entirely governed by reason.

Utopia covered such far-reaching topics as theories of punishment, state-controlled education, multi-religious societies, divorce, euthanasia and women’s rights, and the resulting display of learning and skill established Thomas as a foremost humanist. Utopia also became the forerunner of a new literary genre: the utopian romance.

In 1517 Thomas entered the King’s service, becoming one of Henry VIII’s most effective and trusted civil servants and acting as his secretary, interpreter, speech-writer, chief diplomat, advisor and confidant. Henry heaped many honours on Thomas; in 1521 Thomas was knighted, in 1523, he was elected speaker of the House of Commons and, in 1529, he was made Chancellor of England.

Thomas’ luck began to turn when, in the summer of 1527, Henry wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled on the grounds of her having failed to produce a male heir, thus freeing him to marry Anne Boleyn. When Pope Clement VII, holding firm to Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, refused to annul their valid marriage, Henry broke all ties with Rome, declared himself Supreme Head of the Church in England, divorced Catherine, and married Anne.

In 1532 Thomas resigned the chancellorship. Seeking to avoid a public conflict with Henry he stayed away from Anne’s coronation. However, in March 1534, the Act of Succession was passed requiring an oath to be sworn acknowledging the children of Henry and Anne as legitimate heirs to the throne, and renouncing “any foreign authority, prince or potentate.” Thomas was a man of enormous personal integrity and refused the oath, essentially refusing to accept the King as head of the Church of England, which Thomas believed would belittle the power of the Pope.

Thomas was sent to the Tower of London on April 17, 1534, and pressured for the next year to give in. Thomas gave no answer beyond declaring himself a faithful subject. In July, 1535, he was tried by a kangaroo court, accused by false witnesses of treason, found guilty and beheaded on the 6th July. Just before his execution he declared himself “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Thomas was beatified in 1886 and canonised by the Catholic Church as a saint in 1935.

Thomas More has been adopted as the patron saint of many schools and organisations all over the country. He is an ideal patron and there are four main reasons for this.

  1. Thomas was a renowned scholar and his love of learning led to him writing his book Utopia which gives his personal vision of an ideal society.
  2. Thomas was a father of three daughters and a son and he was a strong advocate of education, particularly education for women, which was very unusual at the time.
  3. Thomas was a brave man with great integrity. He refused to sacrifice his principles even for the King hence his declaration that he was “the King’s good servant, but God’s first”.
  4. Thomas devoted his life to the service of others: he was an educator, a lawyer, a religious man and a parent, before he was called to serve his country and King, reaching the highest political office before his spectacular fall from grace.

One of the missions of our school is for us to serve others and Thomas More sets us the perfect example to follow.