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LIFE OF SIR THOMAS MORE. - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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LIFE OF SIR THOMAS MORE.
Aristotle and Bacon, the greatest philosophers of the ancient and the modern world, agree in representing poetry as being of a more excellent nature than history. Agreeably to the predominance of mere understanding in Aristotle’s mind, he alleges as his cause of preference that poetry regards general truth, or conformity to universal nature; while history is conversant only with a confined and accidental truth, dependent on time, place, and circumstance. The ground assigned by Bacon is such as naturally issued from that fusion of imagination with reason, which constitutes his philosophical genius. Poetry is ranked more highly by him, because the poet presents us with a pure excellence and an unmingled grandeur, not to be found in the coarse realities of life or of history, but which the mind of man, although not destined to reach, is framed to contemplate with delight.
The general difference between biography and history is obvious. There have been many men in every age whose lives are full of interest and instruction; but who, having never taken a part in public affairs, are altogether excluded from the province of the historian: there have been also, probably, equal numbers who have influenced the fortune of nations in peace or in war, of the peculiarities of whose character we have no information; and who, for the purposes of the biographer, may be said to have had no private life. These are extreme cases: but there are other men, whose manners and acts are equally well known, whose individual lives are deeply interesting, whose characteristic qualities are peculiarly striking, who have taken an important share in events connected with the most extraordinary revolutions of human affairs, and whose biography becomes more difficult from that combination and intermixture of private with public occurrences, which render it instructive and interesting. The variety and splendour of the lives of such men render it often difficult to distinguish the portion of them which ought to be admitted into history, from that which should be reserved for biography. Generally speaking, these two parts are so distinct and unlike, that they cannot be confounded without much injury to both;—as when the biographer hides the portrait of the individual by a crowded and confined picture of events, or when the historian allows unconnected narratives of the lives of men to break the thread of history. The historian contemplates only the surface of human nature, adorned and disguised (as when actors perform brilliant parts before a great audience), in the midst of so many dazzling circumstances, that it is hard to estimate the intrinsic worth of individuals,—and impossible, in an historical relation, to exhibit the secret springs of their conduct.
The biographer endeavours to follow the hero and the statesman, from the field, the council, or the senate, to his private dwelling, where, in the midst of domestic ease, or of social pleasure, he throws aside the robe and the mask, becomes again a man instead of an actor, and, in spite of himself, often betrays those frailties and singularities which are visible in the countenance and voice, the gesture and manner, of every one when he is not playing a part. It is particularly difficult to observe the distinction in the case of Sir Thomas More, because he was so perfectly natural a man that he carried his amiable peculiarities into the gravest deliberations of state, and the most solemn acts of law. Perhaps nothing more can be universally laid down, than that the biographer never ought to introduce public events, except in as far as they are absolutely necessary to the illustration of character, and that the historian should rarely digress into biographical particulars, except in as far as they contribute to the clearness of his narrative of political occurrences.
Sir Thomas More was born in Milk Street, in the city of London, in the year 1480, three years before the death of Edward IV. His family was respectable,—no mean advantage at that time. His father, Sir John More, who was born about 1440, was entitled by his descent to use an armorial bearing,—a privilege guarded strictly and jealously as the badge of those who then began to be called gentry, and who, though separated from the lords of parliament by political rights, yet formed with them in the order of society one body, corresponding to those called noble in the other countries of Europe. Though the political power of the barons was on the wane, the social position of the united body of nobility and gentry retained its dignity.* Sir John More was one of the justices of the court of King’s Bench to the end of his long life; and, according to his son’s account, well performed the peaceable duties of civil life, being gentle in his deportment, blameless, meek and merciful, an equitable judge, and an upright man.†
Sir Thomas More received the first rudiments of his education at St. Anthony’s school, in Thread-needle Street, under Nicholas Hart: for the daybreak of letters was now so bright, that the reputation of schools was carefully noted, and schoolmasters began to be held in some part of the estimation which they merit. Here, however, his studies were confined to Latin; the cultivation of Greek, which contains the sources and models of Roman literature, being yet far from having descended to the level of the best among the schools. It was the custom of that age that young gentlemen should pass part of their boyhood in the house and service of their superiors, where they might profit by listening to the conversation of men of experience, and gradually acquire the manners of the world. It was not deemed derogatory from youths of rank,—it was rather thought a beneficial expedient for inuring them to stern discipline and implicit obedience, that they should be trained, during this noviciate, in humble and even menial offices. A young gentleman thought himself no more lowered by serving as a page in the family of a great peer or prelate, than a Courtenay or a Howard considered it as a degradation to be the huntsman or the cupbearer of a Tudor.
More was fortunate in the character of his master: when his school studies were thought to be finished, about his fifteenth year, he was placed in the house of Cardinal Morton, archbishop of Canterbury. This prelate, who was born in 1410, was originally an eminent civilian, canonist, and a practiser of note in the ecclesiastical courts. He had been a Lancastrian, and the fidelity with which he adhered to Henry VI, till that unfortunate prince’s death, recommended him to the confidence and patronage of Edward IV. He negotiated the marriage with the princess Elizabeth, which reconciled (with whatever confusion of titles) the conflicting pretensions of York and Lancaster, and raised Henry Tudor to the throne. By these services, and by his long experience in affairs, he continued to be prime minister till his death, which happened in 1500, at the advanced age of ninety.* Even at the time of More’s entry into his household, the old cardinal, though then fourscore and five years, was pleased with the extraordinary promise of the sharp and lively boy; as aged persons sometimes, as it were, catch a glimpse of the pleasure of youth, by entering for a moment into its feelings. More broke into the rude dramas performed at the cardinal’s Christmas festivities, to which he was too young to be invited, and often invented at the moment speeches for himself, “which made the lookers-on more sport than all the players beside.” The cardinal, much delighting in his wit and towardness, would often say of him unto the nobles that dined with him,—“This child here waiting at the table, whosoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvellous man.”* More, in his historical work, thus commemorates this early friend, not without a sidelong glance at the acts of a courtier:—“He was a man of great natural wit, very well learned, honourable in behaviour, lacking in no wise to win favour.”† In Utopia he praises the cardinal more lavishly, and with no restraint from the severe justice of history. It was in Morton’s house that he was probably first known to Colet, dean of St. Paul’s, the founder of St. Paul’s school, and one of the most eminent restorers of ancient literature in England; who was wont to say, that “there was but one wit in England, and that was young Thomas More.”‡
More went to Oxford in 1497, where he appears to have had apartments in St. Mary’s Hall, but to have carried on his studies at Canterbury College,§ on the spot where Wolsey afterwards reared the magnificent edifice of Christchurch. At that university he found a sort of civil war waged between the partisans of Greek literature, who were then innovators in education and suspected of heresy, if not of infidelity, on the one hand; and on the other side the larger body, comprehending the aged, the powerful, and the celebrated, who were content to be no wiser than their forefathers. The younger followers of the latter faction affected the ridiculous denomination of Trojans, and assumed the names of Priam, Hector, Paris, and Æneas, to denote their hostility to the Greeks. The puerile pedantry of these coxcombs had the good effect of awakening the zeal of More for his Grecian masters, and of inducing him to withstand the barbarism which would exclude the noblest productions of the human mind from the education of English youth. He expostulated with the university in a letter addressed to the whole body, reproaching them with the better example of Cambridge, where the gates were thrown open to the higher classics of Greece, as freely as to their Roman imitators.∥ The established clergy even then, though Luther had not yet alarmed them, strangers as they were to the new learning, affected to contemn that of which they were ignorant, and could not endure the prospect of a rising generation more learned than themselves. Their whole education was Latin, and their instruction was limited to Roman and canon law, to theology, and school philosophy. They dreaded the downfal of the authority of the Vulgate from the study of Greek and Hebrew. But the course of things was irrresistible. The scholastic system was now on the verge of general disregard, and the perusal of the greatest Roman writers turned all eyes towards the Grecian masters. What man of high capacity, and of ambition becoming his faculties, could read Cicero without a desire to comprehend Demosthenes and Plato? What youth desirous of excellence but would rise from the study of the Georgics and the Æneid, with a wish to be acquainted with Hesiod and Apollonius, with Pindar, and above all with Homer? These studies were then pursued, not with the dull languor and cold formality with which the indolent, incapable, incurious majority of boys obey the prescribed rules of an old establishment, but with the enthusiastic admiration with which the superior few feel an earnest of their own higher powers, in the delight which arises in their minds at the contemplation of new beauty, and of excellence unimagined before.
More found several of the restorers of Grecian literature at Oxford, who had been the scholars of the exiled Greeks in Italy;—Grocyn, the first professor of Greek in the university; Linacre, the accomplished founder of the college of physicians; and William Latimer, of whom we know little more than what we collect from the general testimony borne by his most eminent contemporaries to his learning and virtue. Grocyn, the first of the English restorers, was a late learner, being in the forty-eighth year of his age when he went, in 1488, to Italy, where the fountains of ancient learning were once more opened. After having studied under Politian, and learnt Greek from Chalcondylas, one of the lettered emigrants who educated the teachers of the western nations, he returned to Oxford, where he taught that language to More, to Linacre, and to Erasmus. Linacre followed the example of Grocyn in visiting Italy, and profiting by the instructions of Chalcondylas. Colet spent four years in the same country, and in the like studies. William Latimer repaired at a mature age to Padua, in quest of that knowledge which was not to be acquired at home. He was afterwards chosen to be tutor to Reginald Pole, the King’s cousin; and Erasmus, by attributing to him “maidenly modesty,” leaves in one word an agreeable impression of the character of a man chosen for his scholarship to be Linacre’s colleague in a projected translation of Aristotle, and solicited by the latter for aid in his edition of the New Testament.*
At Oxford More became known to a man far more extraordinary than any of these scholars. Erasmus had been invited to England by Lord Mountjoy, who had been his pupil at Paris, and continued to be his friend during life. He resided at Oxford during a great part of 1497; and having returned to Paris in 1498, spent the latter portion of the same year at the university of Oxford, where he again had an opportunity of pouring his zeal for Greek study into the mind of More. Their friendship, though formed at an age of considerable disparity,—Erasmus being then thirty and More only seventeen,—lasted throughout the whole of their lives. Erasmus had acquired only the rudiments of Greek at the age most suited to the acquisition of languages, and was now completing his knowledge on that subject at a period of mature manhood, which he jestingly compares with the age at which the elder Cato commenced his Grecian studies.* Though Erasmus himself seems to have been much excited towards Greek learning by the example of the English scholars, yet the cultivation of classical literature was then so small a part of the employment or amusement of life, that William Latimer, one of the most eminent of these scholars, to whom Erasmus applied for aid in his edition of the Greek Testament, declared that he had not read a page of Greek or Latin for nine years,† that he had almost forgotten his ancient literature, and that Greek books were scarcely procurable in England. Sir John More, inflexibly adhering to the old education, and dreading that the allurements of literature might seduce his son from law, discouraged the pursuit of Greek, and at the same time reduced the allowance of Thomas to the level of the most frugal life;—a parsimony for which the son was afterwards, though not then, thankful, as having taught him good husbandry, and preserved him from dissipation.
At the university, or soon after leaving it, young More composed the greater part of his English verses; which are not such as from their intrinsic merit, in a more advanced state of our language and literature, would be deserving of particular attention. But as the poems of a contemporary of Skelton, they may merit more consideration. Our language was still neglected, or confined chiefly to the vulgar uses of life. Its force, its compass, and its capacity of harmony, were untried: for though Chaucer had shone brightly for a season, the century which followed was dark and wintry. No master genius had impregnated the nation with poetical sensibility. In these inauspicious circumstances, the composition of poems, especially if they manifest a sense of harmony, and some adaptation of the sound to the subject, indicates a delight in poetry, and a proneness to that beautiful art, which in such an age is a more than ordinary token of a capacity for it. The experience of all ages, however it may be accounted for, shows that the mind, when melted into tenderness, or exalted by the contemplation of grandeur, vents its feelings in language suited to a state of excitement, and delights in distinguishing its diction from common speech by some species of measure and modulation, which combines the gratification of the ear with that of the fancy and the heart. The secret connection between a poetical ear and a poetical soul is touched by the most sublime of poets, who consoled himself in his blindness by the remembrance of those who, under the like calamity,
We may be excused for throwing a glance over the compositions of a writer, who is represented a century after his death, by Ben Jonson, as one of the models of English literature. More’s poem on the death of Elizabeth, the wife of Henry VII., and his merry jest How a Serjeant would play the Friar, may be considered as fair samples of his pensive and sportive vein. The superiority of the latter shows his natural disposition to pleasantry. There is a sort of dancing mirth in the metre which seems to warrant the observation above hazarded, that in a rude period the structure of verse may be regarded as some presumption of a genius for poetry. In a refined age, indeed, all the circumstances are different: the frame-work of metrical composition is known to all the world; it may be taught by rule, and acquired mechanically; the greatest facility of versification may exist without a spark of genius. Even then, however, the secrets of the art of versification are chiefly revealed to a chosen few by then poetical sensibility; so that sufficient remains of the original tie still continue to attest its primitive origin. It is remarkable, that the most poetical of the poems is written in Latin: it is a poem addressed to a lady, with whom he had been in love when he was sixteen years old, and she fourteen; and it turns chiefly on the pleasing reflection that his affectionate remembrance restored to her the beauty, of which twenty-five years seemed to others to have robbed her.*
When More had completed his time at Oxford, he applied himself to the study of the law, which was to be the occupation of his life. He first studied at New Inn, and afterwards at Lincoln’s Inn.† The societies of lawyers having purchased some inns, or noblemen’s residences, in London, were hence called “inns of court.” It was not then a metaphor to call them an university; they had professors of law; they conferred the characters of barrister and serjeant, analogous to the degrees of bachelor, master, and doctor, bestowed by the universities, and every man, before he became a barrister, was subjected to examination, and obliged to defend a thesis. More was appointed reader at Furnival’s Inn, where he delivered lectures for three years. The English law had already grown into a science, formed by a process of generalisation from usages and decisions, with less help from the Roman law than the jurisprudence of any other country, though not with that total independence of it which English lawyers in former times considered as a subject of boast: it was rather formed as the law of Rome itself had been formed, than adopted from that noble system. When More began to lecture on English law, it was by no means in a disorderly and neglected state. The ecclesiastical lawyers, whose arguments and determinations were its earliest materials, were well prepared, by the logic and philosophy of their masters the Schoolmen, for those exact and even subtle distinctions which the precision of the rules of jurisprudence eminently required. In the reigns of the Lancastrian princes, Littleton had reduced the law to an elementary treatise, distinguished by a clear method and an elegant conciseness. Fortescue had during the same time compared the governments of England and France with the eye of a philosophical observer. Brooke and Fitzherbert had compiled digests of the law, which they called (it might be thought, from their size, ironically) “Abridgments.” The latter composed a treatise, still very curious, on “writs;” that is, on those commands (formerly from the king) which constitute essential parts of every legal proceeding. Other writings on jurisprudence occupied the printing presses of London in the earliest stage* of their existence. More delivered lectures also at St. Lawrence’s church in the Old Jewry, on the work of St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, that is, on the divine government of the moral world; which must seem to readers who look at ancient times through modern habits, a very singular occupation for a young lawyer. But the clergy were then the chief depositaries of knowledge, and were the sole canonists and civilians, as they had once been the only lawyers.† Religion, morals, and law, were then taught together without due distinction between them, to the injury and confusion of them all. To these lectures, we are told by the affectionate biographer, “there resorted Doctor Grocyn, an excellent cunning man, and all the chief learned of the city of London.”‡ More, in his lectures, however, did not so much discuss “the points of divinity as the precepts of moral philosophy and history, wherewith these books are replenished.”§ The effect of the deep study of the first was, perhaps, however, to embitter his polemical writings, and somewhat to sour that naturally sweet temper, which was so deeply felt by his companions, that Erasmus scarcely ever concludes a letter to him without epithets more indicative of the most tender affection than of the calm feelings of friendship.*
The tenderness of More’s nature combined with the instructions and habits of his education to predispose him to piety. As he lived in the neighbourhood of the great Carthusian monastery, called the “Charter-house,” for some years, he manifested a predilection for monastic life, and is said to have practised some of those austerities and self-inflictions which prevail among the gloomier and sterner orders. A pure mind in that age often sought to extinguish some of the inferior impulses of human nature, instead of employing them for their appointed purpose,—that of animating the domestic affections, and sweetening the most important duties of life. He soon learnt, however, by self-examination, his unfitness for the priesthood, and relinquished his project of taking orders, in words which should have warned his church against the imposition of unnatural self-denial on vast multitudes and successive generations of men.†
The same affectionate disposition which had driven him towards the visions, and, strange as it may seem, to the austerities of the monks, now sought a more natural channel. “He resorted to the house of one Maister Colt, a gentleman of Essex, who had often invited him thither; having three daughters, whose honest conversation and virtuous education provoked him there especially to set his affection. And albeit his mind most served him to the second daughter, for that he thought her the fairest and best favoured, yet when he considered that it would be both great grief, and some shame also, to the eldest, to see her younger sister preferred before her in marriage, he then of a certain pity framed his fancy toward her, and soon after married her, neverthemore discontinuing his study of the law at Lincoln’s Inn.”‡ His more remote descendant adds, that Mr. Colt “proffered unto him the choice of any of his daughters; and that More, out of a kind of compassion, settled his fancy on the eldest.”§ Erasmus gives a turn to More’s marriage with Jane Colt, which is too ingenious to be probable:—“He wedded a very young girl of respectable family, but who had hitherto lived in the country with her parents and sisters, and was so uneducated, that he could mould her to his own tastes and manners. He caused her to be instructed in letters; and she became a very skilful musician, which peculiarly pleased him.”∥
The plain matter of fact seems to have been, that in an age when marriage chiefly depended upon a bargain between parents, on which sons were little consulted, and daughters not at all, More, emerging at twenty-one from the toil of acquiring Greek, and the voluntary self-torture of Carthusian mystics, was delighted at his first entry among pleasing young women, of whom the least attractive might, in these circumstances, have touched him; and that his slight preference for the second easily yielded to a good-natured reluctance to mortify the elder. Most young ladies in Essex, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, must have required some tuition to appear in London among scholars and courtiers, who were at that time more mingled than it is now usual for them to be. It is impossible to ascertain the precise shade of feeling which the biographers intended to denote by the words “pity” and “compassion,” for the use of which they are charged with a want of gallantry or delicacy by modern writers; although neither of these terms, when the context is at the same time read, seems unhappily employed to signify the natural refinement, which shrinks from humbling the harmless self-complacency of an innocent girl.
The marriage proved so happy, that nothing was to be regretted in it but the shortness of the union, in consequence of the early death of Jane Colt, who left a son and three daughters; of whom Margaret, the eldest, inherited the features, the form, and the genius of her father, and requited his fond partiality by a daughterly love, which endured to the end.
In no long time* after the death of Jane Colt, he married Alice Middleton, a widow, seven years older than himself, and not handsome;—rather, for the care of his family, and the management of his house, than as a companion and a friend. He treated her, and indeed all females, except his daughter Margaret, as better qualified to relish a jest, than to take a part in more serious conversation; and in their presence gave an unbounded scope to his natural inclination towards pleasantry. He even indulged himself in a Latin play of words on her want of youth and beauty, calling her “nec bella nec puella.”† “She was of good years, of no good favour or complexion, nor very rich, and by disposition near and worldly. It was reported that he wooed her for a friend of his; but she answering that he might speed if he spoke for himself, he married her with the consent of his friend, yielding to her that which perhaps he never would have done of his own accord. Indeed, her favour could not have bewitched, or scarce moved, any man to love her; but yet she proved a kind and careful mother-in-law to his children.” Erasmus, who was often an inmate in the family, speaks of her as “a keen and watchful manager, with whom More lived on terms of as much respect and kindness as if she had been fair and young.” Such is the happy power of a loving disposition, which overflows on companions, though their attractions or deserts should be slender. “No husband,” continues Erasmus, “ever gained so much obedience from a wife by authority and severity, as More won by gentleness and pleasantry. Though verging on old age, and not of a yielding temper, he prevailed on her to take lessons on the lute, the cithara, the viol, the monochord, and the flute, which she daily practised to him. With the same gentleness he ruled his whole family, so that it was without broils or quarrels. He composed all differences, and never parted with any one on terms of unkindness. The house was fated to the peculiar felicity that those who dwelt in it were always raised to a higher fortune; and that no spot ever fell on the good name of its happy inhabitants.” The course of More’s domestic life is minutely described by eye-witnesses. “His custom was daily (besides his private prayers with his children) to say the seven psalms, the litany, and the suffrages following; so was his guise with his wife, children, and household, nightly before he went to bed, to go to his chapel, and there on his knees ordinarily to say certain psalms and collects with them.”* “With him,” says Erasmus, “you might imagine yourself in the academy of Plato. But I should do injustice to his house by comparing it to the academy of Plato, where numbers, and geometrical figures, and sometimes moral virtues, were the subjects of discussion; it would be more just to call it a school and exercise of the Christian religion. All its inhabitants, male or female, applied their leisure to liberal studies and profitable reading, although piety was their first care. No wrangling, no angry word, was heard in it; no one was idle: every one did his duty with alacrity, and not without a temperate cheerfulness.”† Erasmus had not the sensibility of More; he was more prone to smile than to sigh at the concerns of men: but he was touched by the remembrance of these domestic solemnities in the household of his friend. He manifests an agreeable emotion at the recollection of these scenes in daily life, which tended to hallow the natural authority of parents, to bestow a sort of dignity on humble occupation, to raise menial offices to the rank of virtues, and to spread peace and cultivate kindness among those who had shared, and were soon again to share, the same modest rites, in gently breathing around them a spirit of meek equality, which rather humbled the pride of the great than disquieted the spirits of the lowly. More himself justly speaks of the hourly interchange of the smaller acts of kindness which flow from the charities of domestic life, as having a claim on his time as strong as the occupations which seemed to others so much more serious and important. “While,” says he, “in pleading, in hearing, in deciding causes or composing differences, in waiting on some men about business, and on others out of respect, the greatest part of the day is spent on other men’s affairs, the remainder of it must be given to my family at home; so that I can reserve no part of it to myself, that is, to study. I must talk with my wife, and chat with my children, and I have somewhat to say to my servants; for all these things I reckon as a part of my business, except a man will resolve to be a stranger at home; and with whomsoever either nature, chance, or choice, has engaged a man in any commerce, he must endeavour to make himself as acceptable to those about him as he can.”*
His occupations now necessarily employed a large portion of his time. His professional practice became so considerable, that about the accession of Henry VIII., in 1509, with his legal office in the city of London, it produced 400l. a year, probably equivalent to an annual income of 5000l. in the present day. Though it be not easy to determine the exact period of the occurrences of his life, from his establishment in London to his acceptance of political office, the beginning of Henry VIII.’s reign may be considered as the time of his highest eminence at the bar. About this time a ship belonging to the Pope, or claimed by his Holiness on behalf of some of his subjects, happened to come to Southampton, where she was seized as a forfeiture,—probably as what is called a droit of the crown, or a droit of the admiralty,—though under what circumstances, or on what grounds we know not. The papal minister made suit to the King that the case might be argued for the Pope by learned counsel in a public place, and in presence of the minister himself, who was a distinguished civilian. None was found so well qualified to be of counsel for him as More, who could report in Latin all the arguments to his client, and who argued so learnedly on the Pope’s side, that he succeeded in obtaining an order for the restitution of the vessel detained.
It has been already intimated, that about the same time he had been appointed to a judicial office in the city of London, which is described by his son-in-law as “that of one of the under-sheriffs.” Roper, who was himself for many years an officer of the court of King’s Bench, gives the name of the office correctly; but does not describe its nature and importance so truly as Erasmus, who tells his correspondent that More passed several years in the city of London as a judge in civil causes. “This office,” he says, “though not laborious, for the court sits only on the forenoon of every Thursday, is accounted very honourable. No judge of that court ever went through more causes; none decided them more uprightly; often remitting the fees to which he was entitled from the suitors. His deportment in this capacity endeared him extremely to his fellow-citizens.”* The under-sheriff was then apparently judge of the sheriff’s court, which, being the county court for London and Middlesex, was, at that time, a station of honour and advantage.† For the county courts in general, and indeed all the ancient subordinate jurisdictions of the common law, had not yet been superseded by that concentration of authority in the hands of the superior courts at Westminster, which contributed indeed to the purity and dignity of the judicial character, as well as to the uniformity and the improvement of the administration of law,—but which cannot be said to have served in the same degree to promote a speedy and cheap redress of the wrongs suffered by those suitors to whom cost and delay are most grievous. More’s office, in that state of the jurisdiction, might therefore have possessed the importance which his contemporaries ascribed to it; although the denomination of it would not make such an impression on modern ears. It is apparent, that either as a considerable source of his income, or as an honourable token of public confidence, this office was valued by More; since he informs Erasmus, in 1516, that he had declined a handsome pension offered to him by the king on his return from Flanders, and that he believed he should always decline it; because either it would oblige him to resign his office in the city, which he preferred to a better, or if he retained it, in case of a controversy of the city with the king for their privileges, he might be deemed by his fellow-citizens to be disabled by dependence on the crown from sincerely and faithfully maintaining their rights.‡ This last reasoning is also interesting, as the first intimation of the necessity of a city law-officer being independent of the crown, and of the legal resistance of the corporation of London to a Tudor king. It paved the way for those happier times in which the great city had the honour to number the Holts and the Denmans among her legal advisers.§
More is the first person in our history distinguished by the faculty of public speaking. A remarkable occasion on which it was successfully employed in parliament against a lavish grant of money to the crown is thus recorded by his son-in-law as follows:—“In the letter time of king Henry VII. he was made a burgess of the parliament, wherein was demanded by the king about three fifteenths for the marriage of his eldest daughter, that then should be the Scottish queen. At the last debating whereof he made such arguments and reasons there against, that the king’s demands were thereby clean overthrown; so that one of the king’s privy chamber, named maister Tyler, being present thereat, brought word to the king out of the parliament house, that a beardless boy had disappointed all his purpose. Whereupon the king, conceiving great indignation towards him, could not be satisfied until he had some way revenged it. And forasmuch as he, nothing having, could nothing lose, his grace devised a causeless quarrel against his father; keeping him in the Tower till he had made him to pay 100l. fine,” (probably on a charge of having infringed some obsolete penal law). “Shortly after, it fortuned that Sir T. More, coming in a suit to Dr. Fox, bishop of Winchester, one of the king’s privy council, the bishop called him aside, and, pretending great favour towards him, promised that if he would be ruled by him he would not fail into the king’s favour again to restore him; meaning, as it was afterwards conjectured, to cause him thereby to confess his offences against the king, whereby his highness might, with the better colour, have occasion to revenge his displeasure against him. But when he came from the bishop he fell into communication with one maister Whitforde, his familiar friend, then chaplain to that bishop, and showed him what the bishop had said, praying for his advice. Whitforde prayed him by the passion of God not to follow the counsel; for my lord, to serve the king’s turn, will not stick to agree to his own father’s death. So Sir Thomas More returned to the bishop no more; and had not the king died soon after, he was determined to have gone over sea.”* That the advice of Whitforde was wise, appeared from a circumstance which occurred nearly ten years after, which exhibits a new feature in the character of the King and of his bishops. When Dudley was sacrificed to popular resentment, under Henry VIII., and when he was on his way to execution, he met Sir Thomas, to whom he said,—“Oh More, More! God was your good friend, that you did not ask the king forgiveness, as manie would have had you do; for if you had done so, perhaps you should have been in the like case with us now.”*
It was natural that the restorer of political eloquence, which had slumbered for a long series of ages,† should also be the earliest of the parliamentary champions of liberty. But it is lamentable that we have so little information respecting the oratorical powers which alone could have armed him for the noble conflict. He may be said to hold the same station among us, which is assigned by Cicero, in his dialogue On the Celebrated Orators of Rome, to Cato the censor, whose consulship was only about ninety years prior to his own. His answer, as Speaker of the House of Commons, to Wolsey, of which more will be said presently, is admirable for its promptitude, quickness, seasonableness, and caution, combined with dignity and spirit. It unites presence of mind and adaptation to the person and circumstances, with address and management seldom surpassed. If the tone be more submissive than suits modern ears, it is yet remarkable for that ingenious refinement which for an instant shows a glimpse of the sword generally hidden under robes of state. “His eloquent tongue,” says Erasmus, “so well seconds his fertile invention, that no one speaks better when suddenly called forth. His attention never languishes; his mind is always before his words; his memory has all its stock so turned into ready money, that, without hesitation or delay, it gives out whatever the time and the case may require. His acuteness in dispute is unrivalled, and he often perplexes the most renowned theologians when he enters their province.”‡ Though much of this encomium may be applicable rather to private conversation than to public debate, and though this presence of mind may refer altogether to promptitude of repartee, and comparatively little to that readiness of reply, of which his experience must have been limited; it is still obvious that the great critic has ascribed to his friend the higher part of those mental qualities, which, when justly balanced and perfectly trained, constitute a great orator.
As if it had been the lot of More to open all the paths through the wilds of our old English speech, he is to be considered also as our earliest prose writer, and as the first Englishman who wrote the history of his country in its present language. The historical fragment§ commands belief by simplicity, and by abstinence from too confident affirmation. It betrays some negligence about minute particulars, which is not displeasing as a symptom of the absence of eagerness to enforce a narrative. The composition has an ease and a rotundity (which gratify the ear without awakening the suspicion of art) of which there was no model in any preceding writer of English prose.
In comparing the prose of More with the modern style, we must distinguish the words from the composition. A very small part of his vocabulary has been superannuated; the number of terms which require any explanation is inconsiderable: and in that respect the stability of the language is remarkable. He is, indeed, in his words, more English than the great writers of a century after him, who loaded their native tongue with expressions of Greek or Latin derivation. Cicero, speaking of “old Cato,” seems almost to describe More. “His style is rather antiquated; he has some words displeasing to our ears, but which were then in familiar use. Change those terms, which he could not, you will then prefer no speaker to Cato.”*
But in the combination and arrangement of words, in ordinary phraseology and common habits of composition, he differs more widely from the style that has now been prevalent among us for nearly two centuries. His diction seems a continued experiment to discover the forms into which the language naturally runs. In that attempt he has frequently failed. Fortunate accident, or more varied experiment in aftertimes, led to the adoption of other combinations, which could scarcely have succeeded, if they had not been more consonant to the spirit of the language, and more agreeable to the ear and the feelings of the people. The structure of his sentences is frequently not that which the English language has finally adopted: the language of his countrymen has decided, without appeal, against the composition of the father of English prose.
The speeches contained in his fragment, like many of those in the ancient historians, were probably substantially real, but brightened by ornament, and improved in composition. It could, indeed, scarcely be otherwise: for the history was written in 1513,† and the death of Edward IV., with which it opens, occurred in 1483; while Cardinal Morton, who became prime minister two years after that event, appears to have taken young More into his household about the year 1493. There is, therefore, little scope, in so short a time, for much falsification, by tradition of the arguments and topics really employed. These speeches have the merit of being accommodated to the circumstances, and of being of a tendency to dispose those to whom they were addressed to promote the object of the speaker; and this merit, rare in similar compositions, shows that More had been taught, by the practice of speaking in contests where objects the most important are the prize of the victor, that eloquence is the art of persuasion, and that the end of the orator is not the display of his talents, but dominion over the minds of his hearers. The dying speech, in which Edward exhorts the two parties of his friends to harmony, is a grave appeal to their prudence, as well as an affecting address from a father and a king to their public feelings. The surmises thrown out by Richard against the Widvilles are short, dark, and well adapted to awaken suspicion and alarm. The insinuations against the Queen, and the threats of danger to the lords themselves from leaving the person of the Duke of York in the hands of that princess, in Richard’s speech to the Privy Council, before the Archbishop of York was sent to Westminster to demand the surrender of the boy, are admirable specimens of the address and art of crafty ambition. Generally speaking, the speeches have little of the vague common-place of rhetoricians and declaimers; and the time is no wasted in parade. In the case, indeed, of the dispute between the Archbishop and the Queen, about taking the Duke of York out of his mother’s care, and from the Sanctuary at Westminster, there is more ingenious argument than the scene allows; and the mind rejects logical refinements, of which the use, on such an occasion, is quite irreconcilable to dramatic verisimilitude. The Duke of Buckingham alleged in council, that sanctuary could be claimed only against danger; and that the royal infant had neither wisdom to desire sanctuary, nor the malicious intention in his acts without which he could not require it. To this notable paradox, which amounted to an affirmation that no certainly innocent person could ever claim protection from a sanctuary, when it was carried to the Queen, she answered readily, that if she could be in sanctuary, it followed that her child, who was her ward, was included in her protection, as much as her servants, who were, without contradiction, allowed to be.
The Latin epigrams of More, a small volume which it required two years to carry though the press at Basle, are mostly translations from the Anthologia, which were rather made known to Europe by the fame of the writer, than calculated to increase it. They contain, however, some decisive proofs that he always entertained the opinions respecting the dependence of all government on the consent of the people, to which he professed his adherence almost in his dying moments. Latin versification was not in that early period successfully attempted in any Transalpine country. The rules of prosody, or at least the laws of metrical composition, were not yet sufficiently studied for such attempts. His Latinity was of the same school with that of his friend Erasmus, which was, indeed, common to the first generation of scholars after the revival of classical study. Finding Latin a sort of general language employed by men of letters in their conversation and correspondence, they continued the use of it in the mixed and corrupted state to which such an application had necessarily reduced it: they began, indeed, to purify it from some grosser corruptions; but they built their style upon the foundation of this colloquial dialect, with no rigorous observation of the good usage of the Roman language. Writings of business, of pleasantry, of familiar intercourse, could never have been composed in pure Latinity; which was still more inconsistent with new manners, institutions, and opinions, and with discoveries and inventions added to those which were transmitted by antiquity. Erasmus, who is the master and model of this system of composition, admirably shows how much had been gained by loosening the fetters of a dead speech, and acquiring in its stead the nature, ease, variety, and vivacity of a spoken and living tongue. The course of circumstances, however, determined that this language should not subsist, or at least flourish, for much more than a century. It was assailed on one side by the purely classical, whom Erasmus, in derision, calls “Ciceronians;” and when it was sufficiently emasculated by dread of their censure, it was finally overwhelmed by the rise of a national literature in every European language.
More exemplified the abundance and flexibility of the Erasmian Latinity in Utopia, with which this short view of all his writings, except those of controversy, may be fitly concluded. The idea of the work had been suggested by some of the dialogues of Plato, who speaks of vast territories, formerly cultivated and peopled, but afterwards, by some convulsion of nature, covered by the Atlantic Ocean. These Egyptian traditions, or legends, harmonised admirably with that discovery of a new continent by Columbus, which had roused the admiration of Europe about twenty years before the composition of Utopia. This was the name of an island feigned to have been discovered by a supposed companion of Amerigo Vespucci, who is made to tell the wondrous tale of its condition to More, at Antwerp, in 1514: and in it was the seat of the Platonic conception of an imaginary commonwealth. All the names which he invented for men or places* were intimations of their being unreal, and were, perhaps, by treating with raillery his own notions, intended to silence gainsayers. The first book, which is preliminary, is naturally and ingeniously opened by a conversation, in which Raphael Hythloday, the Utopian traveller, describes his visit to England; where, as much as in other countries, he found all proposals for improvement encountered by the remark, that,—“Such things pleased our ancestors, and it were well for us if we could but match them; as if it were a great mischief that any should be found wiser than his ancestors.” “I met,” he goes on to say, “these proud, morose, and absurd judgments, particularly once when dining with Cardinal Morton at London.” “There happened to be at table an English lawyer, who run out into high commendation of the severe execution of justice upon thieves, who were then hanged so fast that there were sometimes twenty hanging upon one gibbet, and added, ‘that he could not wonder enough how it came to pass that there were so many thieves left robbing in all places.’ ” Raphael answered, “that it was because the punishment of death was neither just in itself, nor good for the public; for as the severity was too great, so the remedy was not effectual. You, as well as other nations, like bad schoolmasters, chastise their scholars because they have not the skill to teach them.” Raphael afterwards more specially ascribed the gangs of banditti who, after the suppression of Perkin Warbeck’s Cornish revolt, infested England, to two causes; of which the first was the frequent disbanding of the idle and armed retainers of the nobles, who, when from necessity let loose from their masters, were too proud for industry, and had no resource but rapine; and the second was the conversion of much corn field into pasture for sheep, because the latter had become more profitable,—by which base motives many landholders were tempted to expel their tenants and destroy the food of man. Raphael suggested the substitution of hard labour for death; for which he quoted the example of the Romans, and of an imaginary community in Persia. “The lawyer answered, ‘that it could never be so settled in England, without endangering the whole nation by it:’ he shook his head, and made some grimaces, and then held his peace, and all the company seemed to be of his mind. But the cardinal said, ‘It is not easy to say whether this plan would succeed or not, since no trial has been made of it; but it might be tried on thieves condemned to death, and adopted if found to answer; and vagabonds might be treated in the same way.’ When the cardinal had said this, they all fell to commend the motion, though they had despised it when it came from me. They more particularly commended that concerning the vagabonds, because it had been added by him.”*
From some parts of the above extracts it is apparent that More, instead of having anticipated the economical doctrines of Adam Smith, as some modern writers have fancied, was thoroughly imbued with the prejudices of his contemporaries against the inclosure of commons, and the extension of pasture. It is, however, observable, that he is perfectly consistent with himself, and follows his principles through all their legitimate consequences, though they may end in doctrines of very startling sound. Considering separate property as always productive of unequal distribution of the fruits of labour, and regarding that inequality of fortune as the source of bodily suffering to those who labour, and of mental depravation to those who are not compelled to toil for subsistence, Hythloday is made to say, that, “as long as there is any property, and while money is the standard of all other things, he cannot expect that a nation can be governed either justly or happily.”† More himself objects to Hythloday: “It seems to me that men cannot live conveniently where all things are common. How can there be any plenty where every man will excuse himself from labouring? for as the hope of gain does not excite him, so the confidence that he has in other men’s industry may make him slothful. And if people come to be pinched with want, and yet cannot dispose of any thing as their own, what can follow but perpetual sedition and bloodshed; especially when the reverence and authority due to magistrates fall to the ground; for I cannot imagine how they can be kept among those that are in all things equal to one another.” These remarks do in reality contain the germs of unanswerable objections to all those projects of a community of goods, which suppose the moral character of the majority of mankind to continue, at the moment of their adoption, such as it has been heretofore in the most favourable instances. If, indeed, it be proposed only on the supposition, that by the influence of laws, or by the agency of any other cause, mankind in general are rendered more honest, more benevolent, more disinterested than they have hitherto been, it is evident that they will, in the same proportion, approach to a practice more near the principle of an equality and a community of all advantages. The hints of an answer to Plato, thrown out by More, are so decisive, that it is not easy to see how he left this speck on his romance, unless we may be allowed to suspect that the speculation was in part suggested as a convenient cover for that biting satire on the sordid and capacious government of Henry VII., which occupies a considerable portion of Hythloday’s first discourse. It may also be supposed that More, not anxious to save visionary reformers from a few light blows in an attack aimed at corrupt and tyrannical statesmen, thinks it suitable to his imaginary personage, and conducive to the liveliness of his fiction, to represent the traveller in Utopia as touched by one of the most alluring and delusive of political chimeras.
In Utopia, farm-houses were built over the whole country, to which inhabitants were sent in rotation from the fifty-four cities. Every family had forty men and women, besides two slaves; a master and mistress preside over every family; and over thirty families a magistrate. Every year twenty of the family return to town, being two years in the country; so that all acquire some knowledge of agriculture, and the land is never left in the hands of persons quite unacquainted with country labours. When they want any thing in the country which it doth not produce, they fetch it from the city without carrying any thing in exchange: the magistrates take care to see it given to them. The people of the towns carry their commodities to the market place, where they are taken away by those who need them. The chief business of the magistrates is to take care that no man may live idle, and that every one should labour in his trade for six hours of every twenty-four;—a portion of time, which, according to Hythloday, was sufficient for an abundant supply of all the necessaries and moderate accommodations of the community; and which is not inadequate where all labour, and none apply extreme labour to the production of superfluities to gratify a few,—where there are no idle priests or idle rich men,—and where women of all sorts perform their light allotment of labour. To women all domestic offices which did not degrade or displease were assigned. Unhappily, however, the iniquitous and unrighteous expedient was devised, of releasing the better order of females from offensive and noisome occupations, by throwing them upon slaves. Their citizens were forbidden to be butchers, “because they think that pity and good-nature, which are among the best of those affections that are born within us, are much impaired by the butchering of animals;”—a striking representation, indeed, of the depraving effects of cruelty to animals, but abused for the iniquitous and cruel purpose of training inferiors to barbarous habits, in order to preserve for their masters the exclusive benefit of a discipline of humanity. Slaves, too, were employed in hunting, which was deemed too frivolous and barbarous an amusement for citizens. “They look upon hunting as one of the basest parts of a butcher’s business, for they account it more decent to kill beasts for the sustenance of mankind, than to take pleasure in seeing a weak, harmless, and fearful hare torn in pieces by a strong, fierce, and cruel dog.” An excess of population was remedied by planting colonies; a defect, by the recall of the necessary number of former colonists; irregularities of distribution, by transferring the superfluous members of one township to supply the vacancies in another. They did not enslave their prisoners, nor the children of their own slaves. In those maladies where there is no hope of cure or alleviation, it was customary for the Utopian priests to advise the patient voluntarily to shorten his useless and burthensome life by opium or some equally easy means. In cases of suicide, without permission of the priests and the senate, the party is excluded from the honours of a decent funeral. They allow divorce in cases of adultery, and incorrigible perverseness. Slavery is the general punishment of the highest crime. They have few laws, and no lawyers. “Utopus, the founder of the state, made a law that every man might be of what religion he pleased, and might endeavour to draw others to it by force of argument and by amicable and modest ways; but those who used reproaches or violence in their attempts were to be condemned to banishment or slavery.” The following passage is so remarkable, and has hitherto been so little considered in the history of toleration, that I shall insert it at length—“This law was made by Utopus, not only for preserving the public peace, which, he said, suffered much by daily contentions and irreconcilable heat in these matters, but because he thought the interest of religion itself required it. As for those who so far depart from the dignity of human nature as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance without a wise and over-ruling Providence, the Utopians never raise them to honours or offices, nor employ them in any public trust, but despise them as men of base and sordid minds; yet they do not punish such men, because they lay it down as a ground, that a man cannot make himself believe any thing he pleases: nor do they drive any to dissemble their thoughts; so that men are not tempted to lie or disguise their opinions among them, which, being a sort of fraud, is abhorred by the Utopians:”—a beautiful and conclusive reason, which, when it was used for the first time, as it probably was in Utopia, must have been drawn from so deep a sense of the value of sincerity as of itself to prove that he who thus employed it was sincere. “These unbelievers are not allowed to argue before the common people; but they are suffered and even encouraged to dispute in private with their priests and other grave men, being confident that they will be cured of these mad opinions by having reason laid before them.”
It may be doubted whether some extravagancies in other parts of Utopia were not introduced to cover such passages as the above, by enabling the writer to call the whole a mere sport of wit, and thus exempt him from the perilous responsibility of having maintained such doctrines seriously. In other cases he seems diffidently to propose opinions to which he was in some measure inclined, but in the course of his statement to have warmed himself into an indignation against the vices and corruptions of Europe, which vents itself in eloquent invectives not unworthy of Gulliver. He makes Hythloday at last declare,—“As I hope for mercy, I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, but that they are a conspiracy of the richer sort, who, on pretence of managing the public, do only pursue their private ends.” The true notion of Utopia is, however, that it intimates a variety of doctrines, and exhibits a multiplicity of projects, which the writer regards with almost every possible degree of approbation and shade of assent; from the frontiers of serious and entire belief, through gradations of descending plausibility, where the lowest are scarcely more than the exercises of ingenuity, and to which some wild paradoxes are appended, either as a vehicle, or as an easy means (if necessary) of disavowing the serious intention of the whole of this Platonic fiction.
It must be owned, that though one class of More’s successors was more susceptible of judicious admiration of the beauties of Plato and Cicero than his less perfectly formed taste could be, and though another division of them had acquired a knowledge of the words of the Greek language, and perception of their force and distinctions, for the attainment of which More came too early into the world, yet none would have been so heartily welcomed by the masters of the Lyceum and the Academy, as qualified to take a part in the discussion of those grave and lofty themes which were freely agitated in these early nurseries of human reason.
The date of the publication of Utopia would mark, probably, also the happiest period of its author’s life. He had now acquired an income equivalent to four or five thousand pounds sterling of our present money, by his own independent industry and well-earned character. He had leisure for the cultivation of literature, for correspondence with his friend Erasmus, for keeping up an intercourse with European men of letters, who had already placed him in their first class, and for the composition of works, from which, unaware of the rapid changes which were to ensue, he probably promised himself more fame, or at least more popularity, than they have procured for him. His affections and his temper continued to insure the happiness of his home, even when his son with a wife, three daughters with their husbands, and a proportionable number of grandchildren, dwelt under his patriarchal roof.
At the same period, the general progress of European literature, and the cheerful prospects of improved education and diffused knowledge, had filled the minds of More and Erasmus with delight. The expectation of an age of pacific improvement seems to have prevailed among studious men in the twenty years which elapsed between the migration of classical learning across the Alps, and the rise of the religious dissensions stirred up by the preaching of Luther. “I foresee,” says Bishop Tunstall, writing to Erasmus, “that our posterity will rival the ancients in every sort of study; and if they be not ungrateful, they will pay the greatest thanks to those who have revived these studies. Go on, and deserve well of posterity, who will never suffer the name of Erasmus to perish.”* Erasmus, himself, two years after, expresses the same hopes, which, with unwonted courtesy, he chooses to found on the literary character of the conversation in the palace of Henry VIII.:—“The world is recovering the use of its senses, like one awakened from the deepest sleep; and yet there are some who cling to their old ignorance with their hands and feet, and will not suffer themselves to be torn from it.”† To Wolsey, he speaks in still more sanguine language, mixed with the like personal compliment:—“I see another golden age arising, if other rulers be animated by your spirit. Nor will posterity be ungrateful. This new felicity, obtained for the world by you, will be commemorated in immortal monuments by Grecian and Roman eloquence.”‡ Though the judgment of posterity in favour of kings and cardinals is thus confidently foretold, the writers do not the less betray their hope of a better age, which will bestow the highest honours on the promoters of knowledge. A better age was, in truth, to come: but the time and circumstances of its appearance did not correspond to their sanguine hopes. An age of iron was to precede, in which the turbulence of reformation and the obstinacy of establishment were to meet in long and bloody contest.
When the storm seemed ready to break out, Erasmus thought it his duty to incur the obloquy which always attends mediatorial counsels. “You know the character of the Germans, who are more easily led than driven. Great danger may arise, if the native ferocity of that people be exasperated by untimely severities. We see the pertinacity of Bohemia and the neighbouring provinces. A bloody policy has been tried without success. Other remedies must be employed. The hatred of Rome is fixed in the minds of many nations, chiefly from the rumours believed of the dissolute manners of that city, and from the immoralities of the representatives of the supreme pontiff abroad.” The uncharitableness, the turbulence, the hatred, the bloodshed, which followed the preaching of Luther, closed the bright visions of the two illustrious friends, who agreed in an ardent love of peace, though not without a difference in the shades and modifications of their pacific temper, arising from some dissimilarity of original character. The tender heart of More clung more strongly to the religion of his youth; while Erasmus more anxiously apprehended the disturbance of his tastes and pursuits. The last betrays in some of his writings a temper, which might lead us to doubt, whether he considered the portion of truth which was within reach of his friend as equivalent to the evils attendant on the search.
The public life of More may be said to have begun in the summer of 1514,* with a mission to Bruges, in which Tunstall, then Master of the Rolls, and afterwards Bishop of Durham, was his colleague, and of which the object was to settle some particulars relating to the commercial intercourse of England with the Netherlands. He was consoled for a detention, unexpectedly long, by the company of Tunstall, whom he describes† as one not only fraught with all learning, and severe in his life and morals, but inferior to no man as a delightful companion. On this mission he became acquainted with several of the friends of Erasmus in Flanders, where he evidently saw a progress in the accommodations and ornaments of life, to which he had been hitherto a stranger. With Peter Giles of Antwerp, to whom he intrusted the publication of Utopia by a prefatory dedication, he continued to be closely connected during the lives of both. In the year following, he was again sent to the Netherlands on a like mission; the intricate relations of traffic between the two countries having given rise to a succession of disputes, in which the determination of one case generally produced new complaints.
In the beginning of 1516 More was made a privy-councillor; and from that time may be dated the final surrender of his own tastes for domestic life, and his predilections for studious leisure, to the flattering importunities of Henry VIII. “He had resolved,” says Erasmus, “to be content with his private station; but having gone on more than one mission abroad, the King, not discouraged by the unusual refusal of a pension, did not rest till he had drawn More into the palace. For why should I not say ‘drawn,’ since no man ever laboured with more industry for admission to a court, than More to avoid it? The King would scarcely ever suffer the philosopher to quit him. For if serious affairs were to be considered, who could give more prudent counsel? or if the King’s mind was to be relaxed by cheerful conversation, where could there be a more facetious companion?”‡ Roper, who was an eye-witness of these circumstances, relates them with an agreeable simplicity. “So from time to time was he by the King advanced, continuing in his singular favour and trusty service for twenty years. A good part thereof used the King, upon holidays, when he had done his own devotion, to send for him; and there, sometimes in matters of astronomy, geometry, divinity, and such other faculties, and sometimes on his worldly affairs, to converse with him. And other whiles in the night would he have him up into the leads, there to consider with him the diversities, courses, motions, and operations of the stars and planets. And because he was of a pleasant disposition, it pleased the King and Queen, after the council had supped at the time of their own (i. e. the royal) supper, to call for him to be merry with them.” What Roper adds could not have been discovered by a less near observer, and would scarcely be credited upon less authority: “When them he perceived so much in his talk to delight, that he could not once in a month get leave to go home to his wife and children (whose company he most desired), he, much misliking this restraint on his liberty, began thereupon somewhat to dissemble his nature, and so by little and little from his former mirth to disuse himself, that he was of them from thenceforth, at such seasons, no more so ordinarily sent for.”* To his retirement at Chelsea, however, the King followed him. “He used of a particular love to come of a sudden to Chelsea, and leaning on his shoulder, to talk with him of secret counsel in his garden, yea, and to dine with him upon no inviting.”† The taste for More’s conversation, and the eagerness for his company thus displayed, would be creditable to the King, if his behaviour in after time had not converted them into the strongest proofs of utter depravity. Even in Henry’s favour there was somewhat tyrannical; and his very friendship was dictatorial and self-willed. It was reserved for him afterwards to exhibit the singular, and perhaps solitary, example of a man unsoftened by the recollection of a communion of counsels, of studies, of amusements, of social pleasures with such a companion. In the moments of Henry’s partiality, the sagacity of More was not so utterly blinded by his good-nature, that he did not in some degree penetrate into the true character of these caresses from a beast of prey. “When I saw the King,” says his son-in-law, “walking with him for an hour, holding his arm about his neck, I rejoiced, and said to Sir Thomas, how happy he was whom the King had so familiarly entertained, as I had never seen him do to any one before, except Cardinal Wolsey. ‘I thank our Lord, son,’ said he, ‘I find his grace my very good lord indeed, and I believe he doth as singularly favour me as any other subject within this realm: howbeit, 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, when there was war between us, it should not fail to go.’ ”‡
An edition of Utopia had been printed incorrectly, perhaps clandestinely, at Paris: but, in 1518, Erasmus’ friend and printer, Froben, brought out a correct one at Basle, the publication of which had been retarded by the expectation of a preface from Budæus, the restorer of Greek learning in France, and probably the most critical scholar in that province of literature on the north of the Alps. The book was received with loud applause by the scholars of France and Germany. Erasmus in confidence observed to an intimate friend, that the second book having been written before the first, had occasioned some disorder and inequality of style; but he particularly praised its novelty and originality, and its keen satire on the vices and absurdities of Europe.
So important was the office of under-sheriff then held to be, that More did not resign it till the 23d of July, 1519,* though he had in the intermediate time served the public in stations of trust and honour. In 1521 he was knighted, and raised to the office of treasurer of the exchequer,† a station in some respects the same with that of chancellor of the exchequer, who at present is on his appointment designated by the additional name of under-treasurer. It is a minute but somewhat remarkable, stroke in the picture of manners, that the honour of knighthood should be spoken of by Erasmus, if not as of superior dignity to so important an office, at least as observably adding to its consequence.
From 1517 to 1522, More was employed at various times at Bruges, in missions like his first to the Flemish government, or at Calais in watching and conciliating Francis I., with whom Henry and Wolsey long thought it convenient to keep up friendly appearances. To trace the date of More’s reluctant journeys in the course of the uninteresting attempts of politicians on both sides to gain or dupe each other, would be vain, without some outline of the negotiations in which he was employed, and repulsive to most readers, even if the inquiry promised a better chance of a successful result.—Wolsey appears to have occasionally appointed commissioners to conduct his own affairs, as well as those of his master, at Calais. At this place they could receive instructions from London with the greatest rapidity, and it was easy to manage negotiations, and to shift them speedily, with Brussels and Paris; with the additional advantage, that it might be somewhat easier to conceal from each one in turn of those jealous courts the secret dealings of his employers with the other, than if the despatches had been sent directly from London to the place of their destination. Of this commission More was once at least an unwilling member. Erasmus, in a letter to Peter Giles on the 15th of November, 1518, says, “More is still at Calais, of which he is heartily tired. He lives with great expense, and is engaged in business most odious to him. Such are the rewards reserved by kings for their favourites.”* Two years afterwards, More writes more bitterly to Erasmus, of his own residence and occupations. “I approve your determination never to be involved in the busy trifling of princes; from which, as you love me, you must wish that I were extricated. You cannot imagine how painfully I feel myself plunged in them, for nothing can be more odious to me than this legation. I am here banished to a petty sea-port, of which the air and the earth are equally disagreeable to me. Abhorrent as I am by nature from strife, even when it is profitable, as at home, you may judge how wearisome it is here where it is attended by loss.”† —On one of his missions,—that of the summer of 1519—More had harboured hopes of being consoled by seeing Erasmus at Calais, for all the tiresome pageantry, selfish scuffles, and paltry frauds, which he was to witness at the congress of kings,‡ where he could find little to alter those splenetic views of courts, which his disappointed benevolence breathed in Utopia. Wolsey twice visited Calais during the residence of More, who appears to have then had a weight in council, and a place in the royal favour, second only to those of the cardinal.
In 1523,§ a parliament was held in the middle of April, at Westminster, in which More took a part so honourable to his memory, that though it has been already mentioned when touching on his eloquence, it cannot be so shortly passed over here, because it was one of those signal acts of his life which bears on it the stamp of his character. Sir John, his father, in spite of very advanced age, had been named at the beginning of this parliament one of “the triers of petitions from Gascony,”—an office of which the duties had become nominal, but which still retained its ancient dignity; while of the House of Commons, Sir Thomas himself was chosen to be the speaker. He excused himself, as usual, on the ground of alleged disability; but his excuse was justly pronounced to be madmissible. The Journals of Parliament are lost, or at least have not been printed; and the Rolls exhibit only a short account of what occurred, which is necessarily an unsatisfactory substitute for the deficient Journals. But as the matter personally concerns Sir Thomas More, and as the account of it given by his son-in-law, then an inmate in his house, agrees with the abridgment of the Rolls, as far as the latter goes, it has been thought proper in this place to insert the very words of Roper’s narrative. It may be reasonably conjectured that the speeches of More were copied from his manuscript by his pious son-in-law.”* —“Sith I perceive, most redoubted sovereign, that it standeth not with your pleasure to reform this election, and cause it to be changed, but have, by the mouth of the most reverend father in God the legate, your highness’s chancellor, thereunto given your most royal assent, and have of your benignity determined far above that I may bear for this office to repute me meet, rather than that you should seem to impute unto your commons that they had unmeetly chosen, I am ready obediently to conform myself to the accomplishment of your highness’s pleasure and commandment. In most humble wise I beseech your majesty, that I may make to you two lowly petitions;—the one privately concerning myself, the other the whole assembly of your commons’ house. For myself, most gracious sovereign, that if it mishap me in any thing hereafter, that is, on the behalf of your commons in your high presence to be declared, to mistake my message, and in lack of good utterance by my mishearsal to prevent or impair their prudent instructions, that it may then like your most noble majesty to give me leave to repair again unto the commons’ house, and to confer with them and take their advice what things I shall on their behalf utter and speak before your royal grace.
“Mine other humble request, most excellent prince, is this: forasmuch as there be of your commons here by your high commandment assembled for your parliament, a great number of which are after the accustomed manner appointed in the commons’ house to heal and advise of the common affairs among themselves apart; and albeit, most dear liege lord, that according to your most prudent advice, by your honourable writs every where declared, there hath been as due diligence used in sending up to your highness’s court of parliament the most discreet persons out of every quarter that men could esteem meet thereunto; whereby it is not to be doubted but that there is a very substantial assembly of right wise, meet, and politique persons: yet, most victorious prince, sith among so many wise men, neither is every man wise alike, nor among so many alike well witted, every man well spoken; and it often happeth that as much folly is uttered with painted polish speech, so many boisterous and rude in language give right substantial counsel; and sith also in matters of great importance, the mind is often so occupied in the matter, that a man rather studieth what to say than how; by reason whereof the wisest man and best spoken in a whole country fortuneth, when his mind is fervent in the matter, somewhat to speak in such wise as he would afterwards wish to have been uttered otherwise, and yet no worse will had when he spake it than he had when he would so gladly change it; therefore, most gracious sovereign, considering that in your high court of parliament is nothing treated but matter of weight and importance concerning your realm, and your own royal estate, it could not fail to put to silence from the giving of their advice and counsel many of your discreet commons, to the great hindrance of your common affairs, unless every one of your commons were utterly discharged from all doubt and fear how any thing that it should happen them to speak, should happen of your highness to be taken. And in this point, though your wellknown and proved benignity putteth every man in good hope; yet such is the weight of the matter, such is the reverend dread that the timorous hearts of your natural subjects conceive towards your highness, our most redoubted king and undoubted sovereign, that they cannot in this point find themselves satisfied, except your gracious bounty therein declared put away the scruple of their timorous minds, and put them out of doubt. It may therefore like your most abundant grace to give to all your commons here assembled your most gracious licence and pardon freely, without doubt of your dreadful displeasure, every man to discharge his conscience, and boldly in every thing incident among us to declare his advice; and whatsoever happeneth any man to say, that it may like your noble majesty, of your inestimable goodness, to take all in good part, interpreting every man’s words, how uncunningly soever they may be couched, to proceed yet of good zeal towards the profit of your realm, and honour of your royal person; and the prosperous estate and preservation whereof, most excellent sovereign, is the thing which we all, your majesty’s humble loving subjects, according to the most bounden duty of our natural allegiance, most highly desire and pray for.”
This speech, the substance of which is in the Rolls denominated “the protest,” is conformable to former usage, and the model of speeches made since that time in the like circumstances. What follows is more singular, and not easily reconciled with the intimate connection then subsisting betweer the speaker and the government, especially with the cardinal:—
“At this parliament Cardinal Wolsey found himself much aggrieved with the burgesses thereof; for that nothing was so soon done or spoken therein, but that it was immediately blown abroad in every alehouse. It fortuned at that parliament a very great subsidy to be demanded, which the cardinal, fearing would not pass the commons’ house, determined, for the furtherance thereof, to be there present himself. Before where coming, after long debating there, whether it was better but with a few of his lords, as the most opinion of the house was, or with his whole train royally to receive him; ‘Masters,’ quoth sir Thomas More, ‘forasmuch as my lord cardinal lately, ye wot well, laid to our charge the lightness of our tongues for things uttered out of this house, it shall not in my mind be amiss to receive him with all his pomp, with his maces, his pillars, his poll-axes, his hat, and great seal too; to the intent, that if he find the like fault with us hereafter, we may be the bolder from ourselves to lay the blame on those whom his grace bringeth here with him.’ Whereunto the house wholly agreeing, he was received accordingly. Where after he had by a solemn oration, by many reasons, proved how necessary it was the demand then moved to be granted, and farther showed that less would not serve to maintain the prince’s purpose; he seeing the company sitting still silent, and thereunto nothing answering, and, contrary to his expectation, showing in themselves towards his request no towardness of inclination, said to them, ‘Masters, you have many wise and learned men amongst you, and sith I am from the king’s own person sent hitherto unto you, to the preservation of yourselves and of all the realm, I think it meet you give me some reasonable answer.’ Whereat every man holding his peace, then began to speak to one Master Marney, afterwards lord Marney; ‘How say you,’ quoth he, ‘Master Marney?’ who making him no answer neither, he severally asked the same question of divers others, accounted the wisest of the company; to whom, when none of them all would give so much as one word, being agreed before, as the custom was, to give answer by their speaker; ‘Masters,’ quoth the cardinal, ‘unless it be the manner of your house, as of likelihood it is, by the mouth of your speaker, whom you have chosen for trusty and wise (as indeed he is), in such cases to utter your minds, here is, without doubt, a marvellously obstinate silence:’ and thereupon he required answer of Mr. Speaker; who first reverently, on his knees, excusing the silence of the house, abashed at the presence of so noble a personage, able to amaze the wisest and best learned in a realm, and then, by many probable arguments, proving that for them to make answer was neither expedient nor agreeable with the ancient liberty of the house, in conclusion for himself, showed, that though they had all with their voices trusted him, yet except every one of them could put into his own head their several wits, he alone in so weighty a matter was unmeet to make his grace answer. Whereupon the cardinal, displeased with Sir Thomas More, that had not in this parliament in all things satisfied his desire, suddenly arose and departed.”*
This passage deserves attention as a specimen of the mild independence and quiet steadiness of More’s character, and also as a proof how he perceived the strength which the commons had gained by the power of the purse, which was daily and silently growing, and which could be disturbed only by such an unseasonable show of an immature authority as might too soon have roused the crown to resistance. It is one among many instances of the progress of the influence of parliaments in the midst of their apparently indiscriminate submission, and it affords a pregnant proof that we must not estimate the spirit of our forefathers by the humility of their demeanour.
The reader will observe how nearly the example of More was followed by a succeeding speaker, comparatively of no distinction, but in circumstances far more memorable, in the answer of Lenthall to Charles I., when that unfortunate prince came to the House of Commons to arrest the five members of that assembly, who had incurred his displeasure.
There is another point from which these early reports of parliamentary speeches may be viewed, and from which it is curious to consider them. They belong to that critical moment in the history of our language when it was forming a prose style,—a written diction adapted to grave and important occasions. In the passage just quoted, there are about twenty words and phrases (some of them, it is true, used more than once) which would not now be employed. Some of them are shades, such as “lowly,” where we say “humble;” “company,” for “a house of parliament;” “simpleness,” for “simplicity,” with a deeper tinge of folly than the single word now ever has; “right,” then used as a general sign of the superlative, where we say “very,” or “most;” “reverend,” for “reverent,” or “reverential.” “If it mishap me,” if it should so happen, “to mishap in me,” “it often happeth,” are instances of the employment of the verb “hap” for happen, or of a conjugation of the former, which has fallen into irrecoverable disuse. A phrase was then so frequent as to become, indeed, the established mode of commencing an address to a superior, in which the old usage was, “It may like,” or “It may please your Majesty,” where modern language absolutely requires us to say, “May it please,” by a slight inversion of the words retained, but with the exclusion of the word “like” in that combination. “Let” is used for “hinder,” as is still the case in some public forms, and in the excellent version of the Scriptures. “Well witted” is a happy phrase lost to the language except on familiar occasions with a smile, or by a master in the art of combining words. Perhaps “enable me,” for “give me by your countenance the ability which I have not,” is the only phrase which savours of awkwardness or of harsh effect in the excellent speaker. The whole passage is a remarkable example of the almost imperceptible differences which mark various stages in the progress of a language. In several of the above instances we see a sort of contest for admission into the language between two phrases extremely similar, and yet a victory which excluded one of them as rigidly as if the distinction had been very wide. Every case where subsequent usage has altered or rejected words and phrases must be regarded as a sort of national verdict, which is necessarily followed by their disfranchisement. They have no longer any claim on the English language, other than that which may be possessed by all alien suppliants for naturalization. Such examples should warn a writer, desirous to be lastingly read, of the danger which attends new words, or very new acceptations of those which are established, or even of attempts to revive those which are altogether superannuated. They show in the clearest light that the learned and the vulgar parts of language, being those which are most liable to change, are unfit materials for a durable style; and they teach us to look to those words which form the far larger portion of ancient as well as of modern language,—that “well of English undefiled,” which has been happily resorted to from More to Cowper, as being proved by the unimpeachable evidence of that long usage to fit the rest of our speech more perfectly, and to flow more easily, clearly, and sweetly, in our composition.
Erasmus tells us that Wolsey rather feared than liked More. When the short session of parliament was closed, Wolsey, in his gallery of Whitehall, said to More, “I wish to God you had been at Rome, Mr. More, when I made you speaker.”—“Your Grace not offended, so would I too, my lord,” replied Sir Thomas; “for then should I have seen the place I long have desired to visit.”* More turned the conversation by saying that he liked this gallery better than the cardinal’s at Hampton Court. But the latter secretly brooded over his revenge, which he afterwards tried to gratify by banishing More, under the name of an ambassador to Spain. He tried to effect his purpose by magnifying the learning and wisdom of More, his peculiar fitness for a conciliatory adjustment of the difficult matters which were at issue between the King and his kinsman the Emperor. The King suggested this proposal to More, who, considering the unsuitableness of the Spanish climate to his constitution, and perhaps suspecting Wolsey of sinister purposes, earnestly besought Henry not to send his faithful servant to his grave. The King, who also suspected Wolsey of being actuated by jealousy, answered, “It is not our meaning, Mr. More, to do you any hurt; but to do you good we should be glad; we shall therefore employ you otherwise.”* More could boast that he had never asked the King the value of a penny for himself, when on the 25th of December, 1525,† the King appointed him chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, as successor of Sir Anthony Wingfield—an office of dignity and profit, which he continued to hold for nearly three years.
In the summer of 1527, Wolsey went on his magnificent embassy to France, in which More and other officers of state were joined with him. On this occasion the main, though secret object of Henry was to pave the way for a divorce from Queen Catharine, with a view to a marriage with Anne Boleyn, a young beauty who had been bred at the French court, where her father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, created Earl of Wiltshire, had been repeatedly ambassador.
On their journey to the coast, Wolsey sounded Archbishop Wareham and Bishop Fisher on the important secret with which he was intrusted. Wareham, an estimable and amiable prelate, appears to have intimated that his opinion was favourable to Henry’s pursuit of a divorce.‡ Fisher, bishop of Rochester, an aged and upright man, promised Wolsey that he would do or say nothing in the matter, nor in any way counsel the Queen, except what stood with Henry’s pleasure; “for,” said he, “though she be queen of this realm, yet he acknowledgeth you to be his sovereign lord:”§ as if the rank or authority of the parties had any concern with the duty of honestly giving counsel where it is given at all. The overbearing deportment of Wolsey probably overawed both these good prelates: he understood them in the manner most suitable to his purpose; and, confident that he should by some means finally gain them, he probably coloured very highly their language in his communication to Henry, whom he had himself just before displeased by unexpected scruples.
It was generally believed by their contemporaries that More and Fisher had corrected the manuscript of Henry’s answer to Luther; while it is certain that the propensity of the King to theological discussions constituted one of the links of his intimacy with the former. As More’s writings against the Lutherans were of great note in his own time, and as they were probably those of his works on which he exerted the most acuteness, and employed most knowledge, it would be wrong to omit all mention of them in an estimate of his mind, or as proofs of his disposition. They contain many anecdotes which throw considerable light on our ecclesiastical history during the first prosecution of the Protestants, or, as they were then called, Lutherans, under the old statutes against Lollards, during the period which extended from 1520 to 1532; and they do not seem to have been enough examined with that view by the historians of the Church.
Legal responsibility, in a well-constituted commonwealth, reaches to all the avowed advisers of the government, and to all those whose concurrence is necessary to the validity of its commands: but moral responsibility is usually or chiefly confined to the actual authors of each particular measure. It is true, that when a government has attained a state of more than usual regularity, the feelings of mankind become so well adapted to it, that men are held to be even morally responsible for sanctioning, by a base continuance in office, the bad policy which may be known not to originate with themselves. These refinements were, however, unknown in the reign of Henry VIII. The administration was then carried on under the personal direction of the monarch, who generally admitted one confidential servant only into his most secret counsels; and all the other ministers, whatever their rank might be, commonly confined their attention to the business of their own offices, or to the execution of special commands intrusted to them. This system was probably carried to its utmost height under so self-willed a prince as Henry, and by so domineering a minister as Wolsey. Although there can be no doubt that More, as a privy-councillor, attended and co-operated at the examination of the unfortunate Lutherans, his conduct in that respect was regarded by his contemporaries as little more than the enforcement of orders which he could not lawfully decline to obey. The opinion that a minister who disapproves measures which he cannot control is bound to resign his office, is of very modem origin, and still not universally entertained, especially if fidelity to a party be not called in to its aid. In the time of Henry, he was not thought even entitled to resign. The fact of More’s attendance, indeed, appears in his controversial writings, especially by his answer to Tyndal. It is not equitable to treat him as effectively and morally, as well as legally, answerable for measures of state, till the removal of Wolsey, and the delivery of the great seal into his own hands. The injustice of considering these transactions in any other light appears from the circumstance, that though he was joined with Wolsey in the splendid embassy to France in 1527, there is no reason to suppose that More was intrusted with the secret and main purpose of the embassy,—that of facilitating a divorce and a second marriage. His responsibility, in its most important and only practical part, must be contracted to the short time which extends from the 25th of October, 1529, when he was appointed chancellor, to the 16th of May, 1532, when he was removed from his office, not much more than two years and a half.* Even after confining it to these narrow limits, it must be remembered, that he found the system of persecution established, and its machinery in a state of activity. The prelates, like most other prelates in Europe, did their part in convicting the Protestants of Lollardy in the spiritual courts, which were the competent tribunals for trying that offence. Our means of determining what executions for Lollardy (if any) took place when More had a decisive ascendant in the royal councils, are very imperfect. If it were certain that he was the adviser of such executions, it would only follow that he executed one part of the criminal law, without approving it, as succeeding judges have certainly done in cases of fraud and theft;—where they no more approved the punishment of death than the author of Utopia might have done in its application to heresy. If the progress of civilization be not checked, we seem not far from the period when such capital punishments will appear as little consistent with humanity, and indeed with justice, as the burning of hereties now appears to us. More himself deprecates an appeal to his writings and those of his friend Erasmus, innocently intended by themselves, but abused by incendiaries to inflame the fury of the ignorant multitude.† “Men,” says he (alluding evidently to Utopia), “cannot almost now speak of such things insomuch as in play, but that such evil hearers were a great deal the worse.” “I would not now translate the Moria of Erasmus,—even some works that I myself have written ere this, into English, albeit there be none harm therein.” It is evident that the two philosophers deeply felt the injustice of citing against them, as a proof of inconsistency, that they departed from the pleasantries, the gay dreams,—at most the fond speculations, of their early days, when they saw these harmless visions turned into weapons of destruction in the blood-stained hands of the boors of Saxony, and of the ferocious fanatics of Munster. The virtuous love of peace might be more prevalent in More; the Epicurean desire of personal ease predominated more in Erasmus: but both were, doubtless from commendable or excusable causes, incensed against those odious disciples, who now, “with no friendly voice,” invoked their authority against themselves.
If, however, we examine the question on the grounds of positive testimony, it is impossible to appeal to a witness of more weight than Erasmus. “It is,” said he, “a sufficient proof of his clemency, that while he was chancellor no man was put to death for these pestilent dogmas, while so many have suffered capital punishment for them in France, in Germany, and in the Netherlands.”* The only charges against him on this subject, which are adverted to by himself, relate to minor severities; but as these may be marks of more cruelty than the infliction of death, let us listen on this subject to the words of the merciful and righteous man:† “Divers of them have said that of such as were in my house when I was chancellor, I used to examine them with torments, causing them to be bound to a tree in my garden, and there piteously beaten. Except their sure keeping, I never did else cause any such thing to be done unto any of the heretics in all my life, except only twain: one was a child and a servant of mine in mine own house, whom his father, ere he came to me, had nursed up in such matters, and set him to attend upon George Jay. This Jay did teach the child his ungracious heresy against the blessed sacrament of the altar; which heresy this child in my house began to teach another child. And upon that point I caused a servant of mine to strip him like a child before mine household, for amendment of himself and ensample of others.” “Another was one who, after he had fallen into these frantic heresies, soon fell into plain open frensy: albeit that he had been in Bedlam, and afterwards by beating and correction gathered his remembrance;‡ being therefore set at liberty, his old frensies fell again into his head. Being informed of his relapse, I caused him to be taken by the constables and bounden to a tree in the street before the whole town, and there striped him till he waxed weary. Verily, God be thanked, I hear no harm of him now. And of all who ever came in my hand for heresy, as help me God, else had never any of them any stripe or stroke given them, so much as a fillip in the forhead.”§
This statement, so minute, so capable of easy confutation, if in any part false, was made public after his fall from power, when he was surrounded by enemies, and could have no friends but the generous. It relates circumstances of public notoriety, or at least so known to all his own household (from which it appears that Protestant servants were not excluded), which it would have been rather a proof of insanity than of imprudence to have alleged in his defence, if they had not been indisputably and confessedly true. Wherever he touches this subject, there is a quietness and a circumstantiality, which are among the least equivocal marks of a man who adheres to the temper most favourable to the truth, because he is conscious that the truth is favourable to him.* Without relying, therefore, on the character of More for probity and veracity (which it is derogatory to him to employ for such a purpose), the evidence of his humanity having prevailed over his opinion decisively outweighs the little positive testimony produced against him. The charge against More rests originally on Fox alone, from whom it is copied by Burnet, and with considerable hesitation by Strype. But the honest martyrologist writes too inaccurately to be a weighty witness in this case; for he tells us that Firth was put to death in June 1533, and yet imputes it to More, who had resigned his office a year before. In the case of James Baynham, he only says that the accused was chained to two posts for two nights in More’s house, at some unspecified distance of time before his execution.
Burnet, in mentioning the extreme toleration taught in Utopia, truly observes, that if More had died at the time of its publication, “he would have been reckoned among those who only wanted a fit opportunity of declaring themselves openly for a reformation.”† The same sincere and upright writer was too zealous for an historian, when he added.—“When More was raised to the chief post in the ministry, he became a persecutor even to blood, and defiled those hands which were never polluted with bribes.” In excuse for the total silence of the honest bishop respecting the opposite testimony of More himself (of whom Burnet speaks even then with reverence), the reader must be reminded that the third volume of the History of the Reformation was written in the old age of the Bishop of Salisbury, thirty years after those more laborious researches, which attended the composition of the two former volumes, and under the influence of those ammosities against the Roman Catholic Church, which the conspiracy of Queen Anne’s last ministers against the Revolution had revived with more than their youthful vigour. I must be owned that he from the commence ment acquiesced too lightly in the allegations of Fox; and it is certain, that if the fact, however deplorable, had been better proved, yet in that age it would not have warranted such asperity of condemnation.*
The date of the work in which More denies the charge, and challenges his accusers to produce their proofs, would have aroused the attention of Burnet if he had read it. This book, entitled “The Apology of Sir Thomas More,” was written in 1533, “after he had given over the office of lord chancellor,” and when he was in daily expectation of being committed to the Tower. Defenceless and obnoxious as he then was, no man was hardy enough to dispute his truth. Fox was the first who, thirty years afterwards, ventured to oppose it in a vague statement, which we know to be in some respects inaccurate; and on this slender authority alone has rested such an imputation on the veracity of the most sincere of men. Whoever reads the Apology will perceive, from the melancholy ingenuousness with which he speaks of the growing unpopularity of his religion in the court and country, that he could not have hoped to escape exposure, if it had been then possible to question his declaration.†
On the whole, then, More must not only be absolved; but when we consider that his administration occurred during a hot paroxysm of persecution,—that intolerance was the creed of his age,—that he himself, in his days of compliance and ambition, had been drawn over to it as a theory,—that he was filled with alarm and horror by the excesses of the heretical insurgents in Germany, we must pronounce him, by his abstinence from any practical share in it, to have given stronger proofs than any other man, of a repugnance to that execrable practice, founded on the unshaken basis of his natural humanity.
The fourth book of the Dialogue* exhibits a lively picture of the horror with which the excesses of the Reformers had filled the mind of this good man, whose justice and even humanity were disturbed, so far at least as to betray him into a bitterness of language and harshness of opinion foreign from his general temper. The events themselves are, it must be owned, sufficient to provoke the meekest,—to appal the firmest of men. “The temporal lords,” he tells us, “were glad to hear the cry against the clergy; the people were glad to hear it against the clergy and the lords too. They rebelled first against an abbot, and after against a bishop, wherewith the temporal lords had good game and sport, and dissembled the matter, gaping after the lands of the spirituality, till they had almost played, as Æsop telleth of the dog, which, to snatch at the shadow of the cheese in the water, let fall and lost the cheese which he bare in his mouth. The uplandish Lutherans set upon the temporal lords: they slew 70,000 Lutherans in one summer, and subdued the remnant in that part of Almayne into a right miserable servitude. Of this sect was the great part† of those ungracious people which of late entered Rome with the Duke of Bourbon.” The description of the horrible crimes perpetrated on that occasion is so disgusting in some of its particulars, as to be unfit for the decency of historical narrative. One specimen will suffice, which, considering the constant intercourse between England and Rome, is not unlikely to have been related to More by an eye-witness:—“Some took children and bound them to torches, and brought them gradually nearer to the fire to be roasted, while the fathers and mothers were looking on, and then began to speak of a price for the sparing of the children; asking first 100 ducats, then fifty, then forty, then at last offered to take twain: after they had taken the last ducat from the father, then would they let the child roast to death.” This wickedness (More contended) was the fruit of Luther’s doctrine of predestination; “for what good deed can a man study or labour to do, who believeth Luther, that he hath no free will of his own.”‡ “If the world were not near an end, and the fervour of devotion almost quenched, it could never have come to pass that so many people should fall to the following of so beastly a sect.” He urges at very great length, and with great ability, the tendency of belief in destiny to overthrow morality; and represents it as an opinion of which, on account of its incompatibility with the order of society, the civil magistrate may lawfully punish the promulgation; little aware how decisively experience was about to confute such reasoning, however specious, by the examples of nations, who, though their whole religion was founded on predestination, were, nevertheless, the most moral portion of mankind.* “The fear,” says More, “of outrages and mischiefs to follow upon such heresies, with the proof that men have had in some countries thereof, have been the cause that princes and people have been constrained to punish heresies by a terrible death; whereas else more easy ways had been taken with them. If the heretics had never begun with violence, good Christian people had peradventure used less violence against them: while they forbare violence, there was little violence done unto them. ‘By my soul,’ quoth your friend,† ‘I would all the world were agreed to take violence and compulsion away.’ ‘And sooth,’ said I, ‘if it were so, yet would God be too strong for his enemies.’ ” In answer, he faintly attempts to distinguish the case of Pagans, who may be tolerated, in order to induce them to tolerate Christians, from that of heretics, from which no such advantage was to be obtained in exchange;—a distinction, however, which disappeared as soon as the supposed heretics acquired supreme power. At last, however, he concludes with a sentence which sufficiently intimates the inclination of his judgment, and shows that his ancient opinions still prevailed in the midst of fear and abhorrence. “And yet, as I said in the beginning, never were they by any temporal punishment of their bodies any thing sharply handled till they began to be violent themselves.” It is evident that his mind misgave him when he appeared to assent to intolerance as a principle; for otherwise there was no reason for repeatedly relying on the defence of society against aggression as its justification. His silence, however, respecting the notorious fact, that Luther strained every nerve to suppress the German insurgents, can never be excused by the sophistry which ascribes to all reformers the evil done by those who abuse their names. It was too much to say that Luther should not have uttered what he believed to be sacred and necessary truth, because evil-doers took occasion from it to screen their bad deeds. This controversial artifice, however grossly unjust, is yet so plausible and popular, that perhaps no polemic ever had virtue enough to resist the temptation of employing it. What other controversialist can be named, who, having the power to crush antagonists whom he viewed as the disturbers of the quiet of his own declining age,—the destroyers of all the hopes which he had cherished for mankind, contented himself with severity of language (for which he humbly excuses himself in his Apology—in some measure a dying work), and with one instance of unfair inference against opponents who were too zealous to be merciful.
In the autumn of 1529, More, on his return from Cambray, where he had been once more joined in commission with his friend Tunstall as ambassador to the emperor, paid a visit to the court, then at Woodstock. A letter written from thence to his wife, on occasion of a mishap at home, is here inserted as affording a little glimpse into the management of his most homely concerns, and especially as a specimen of his regard for a deserving woman, who was, probably, too “coarsely kind” even to have inspired him with tenderness.*
“Mistress Alyce, in my most harty will, I recomend me to you. And whereas I am enfourmed by my son Heron of the loss of our barnes and our neighbours also, wt all the corne that was therein, albeit (saving God’s pleasure) it is gret pitie of so much good corne lost, yet sith it hath liked hym to send us such a chance, we must sale bounden, not only to be content, but also to be glad of his visitation. He sent us all that we have lost and sith he hath by such a chance taken it away againe, his pleasure be fulfilled. Let us never grudge thereat, but take it in good worth, and hartely thank him, as well for adversitie, as for prosperitie. And par adventure we have more cause to thank him for our losse, than for our winning: for his wisedom better seeth what is good for us then we do ourselves. Therefore I pray you be of good cheere, and take all the howsold with you to church, and there thank God both for that he hath given us, and for that he has left us, which if it please hym, he can increase when he will. And if it please him to leave us yet lesse, at hys pleasure be it. I praye you to make some good ensearche what my poor neighbours have loste, and bidde them take no thought therefore, and if I shold not leave myself a spone, there shall no poore neighbour of mine bere no losse by any chance happened in my house. I pray you be with my children and household mery in God. And devise somewhat with your friends, what way wer best to take, for provision to be made for corne for our household and for sede thys yere coming, if ye thinke it good that we keepe the ground still in our handes. And whether ye think it good yt we so shall do or not, yet I think it were not best sodenlye thus to leave it all up, and to put away our folk of our farme, till we have somewhat advised us thereon. Howbeit if we have more nowe than ye shall neede, and which can get the other maisters, ye may then discharge us of them. But I would not that any man wer sodenly sent away he wote nere wether. At my coming hither, I perceived none other, but that I shold tary still with the kinges grace. But now I shall (I think), because of this chance, get leave this next weke to come home and se you; and then shall we further devise together uppon all thinges, what order shall be best to take: and thus as hartely fare you well with all our children as you can wishe. At Woodstok the thirde daye of Septembre, by the hand of
“Your loving husband,
Thomas More, Knight.”
A new scene now opened on More, of whose private life the above simple letter enables us to form no inadequate or unpleasing estimate. On the 25th of October 1529, sixteen days after the commencement of the prosecution against Wolsey, the King, by delivering the great seal to him at Greenwich, constituted him lord chancellor,—the highest dignity of the state and of the law, and which had previously been generally held by ecclesiastics.* A very summary account of the nature of this high office, may perhaps prevent some confusion respecting it among those who know it only in its present state. The office of chancellor was known to all the European governments, who borrowed it, like many other institutions, from the usage of the vanquished Romans. In those of England and France, which most resembled each other, and whose history is most familiar and most interesting to us,† the chancellor, whose office had been a conspicuous dignity under the Lower Empire, was originally a secretary who derived a great part of his consequence from the trust of holding the king’s seal, the substitute for subscription under illiterate monarchs, and the stamp of legal authority in more cultivated times. From his constant access to the king, he acquired every where some authority in the cases which were the frequent subject of complaint to the crown. In France he became a minister of state with a peculiar superintendence over courts of justice, and some remains of a special jurisdiction, which continued till the downfal of the French monarchy. In the English chancellor were gradually united the characters of a legal magistrate and a political adviser; and since that time the office has been confined to lawyers in eminent practice. He has been presumed to have a due reverence for the law, as well as a familiar acquaintance with it; and his presence and weight in the counsels of a free commonwealth have been regarded as links which bind the state to the law.
One of the earliest branches of the chancellor’s duties seems, by slow degrees, to have enlarged his jurisdiction to the extent which it reached in modern times.* From the chancery issued those writs which first put the machinery of law in motion in every case where legal redress existed. In that court new writs were framed, when it was fit to adapt the proceedings to the circumstances of a new case. When a case arose in which it appeared that the course and order of the common law could hardly be adapted, by any variation in the forms of procedure, to the demands of justice, the complaint was laid by the chancellor, before the king who commanded it to be considered in council,—a practice which, by degrees, led to a reference to that magistrate by himself. To facilitate an equitable determination in such complaints, the writ was devised called the writ of “subpænâ,” commanding the person complained of to appear before the chancellor, and to answer the complaint. The essential words of a petition for this writ, which in process of time has become of so great importance, were in the reign of Richard III. as follows: “Please it therefore, your lordship,—considering that your orator has no remedy by course of the common law,—to grant a writ subpænâ, commanding T. Coke to appear in chancery, at a certain day, and upon a certain pain to be limited by you, and then to do what by this court shall be thought reasonable and according to conscience.” The form had not been materially different in the earliest instances, which appear to have occurred from 1380 to 1400. It would seem that this device was not first employed, as has been hitherto supposed,† to enforce the observance of the duties of trustees who held lands, but for cases of an extremely different nature, where the failure of justice in the ordinary courts might ensue, not from any defect in the common law, but from the power of turbulent barons, who, in their acts of outrage and lawless violence, bade defiance to all ordinary jurisdiction. In some of the earliest cases we find a statement of the age and poverty of the complainant, and of the power, and even learning, of the supposed wrongdoer;—topics addressed to compassion, or at most to equity in a very loose and popular sense of the word, which throw light on the original nature of this high jurisdiction.‡ It is apparent, from the earliest cases in the reign of Richard II., that the occasional relief proceeding from mixed feelings of pity and of regard to substantial justice, not effectually aided by law, or overpowered by tyrannical violence, had then grown into a regular system, and was subject to rules resembling those of legal jurisdiction. At first sight it may appear difficult to conceive how ecclesiastics could have moulded into a regular form this anomalous branch of jurisprudence. But many of the ecclesiastical order,—originally the only lawyers,—were eminently skilled in the civil and canon law, which had attained an order and precision unknown to the digests of barbarous usages then attempted in France and England. The ecclesiastical chancellors of those countries introduced into their courts a course of proceeding very similar to that adopted by other European nations, who all owned the authority of the canon law, and were enlightened by the wisdom of the Roman code. The proceedings in chancery, lately recovered from oblivion, show the system to have been in regular activity about a century and a half before the chancellorship of Sir Thomas More,—the first common lawyer who held the great seal since the Chancellor had laid any foundations (known to us) of his equitable jurisdiction. The course of education, and even of negotiation in that age, conferred on Moore, who was the most distinguished of the practisers of the common law, the learning and ability of a civilian and a canonist.
Of his administration, from the 25th of October 1529, to the 16th of May 1532, four hundred bills and answers are still preserved, which afford an average of about a hundred and sixty suits annually. Though this average may by no means adequately represent the whole occupations of a court which had many other duties to perform, it supplies us with some means of comparing the extent of its business under him with the number of similar proceedings in succeeding times. The whole amount of bills and answers in the reign of James I. was thirty-two thousand. How far the number may have differed at different parts of that reign, the unarranged state of the records does not yet enable us to ascertain. But supposing it, by a rough estimate, to have continued the same, the annual average of bills and answers during the four years of Lord Bacon’s administration was fourteen hundred and sixty-one, being an increase of nearly ten-fold in somewhat less than a century. Though cases connected with the progress of the jurisdiction and the character of the chancellor must have somewhat contributed to this remarkable increase, yet it must be ascribed principally to the extraordinary impulse given to daring enterprise and national wealth by the splendid administration of Elizabeth, which multiplied alike the occasions of litigation and the means of carrying it on.* In a century and a half after, when equitable jurisdiction was completed in its foundations and most necessary parts by Lord Chancellor Nottingham, the yearly average of suits was, during his tenure of the great seal, about sixteen hundred.† Under Lord Hardwicke, the chancellor of most professional celebrity, the yearly average of bills and answers appears to have been about two thousand; probably in part because more questions had been finally determined, and partly also because the delays were so aggravated by the multiplicity of business, that parties aggrieved chose rather to submit to wrong than to be ruined in pursuit of right. This last mischief arose in a great measure from the variety of affairs added to the original duties of the judge, of which the principal were bankruptcy and parliamentary appeals. Both these causes continued to act with increasing force; so that, in spite of a vast increase of the property and dealings of the kingdom, the average number of bills and answers was considerably less from 1800 to 1802 than it had been from 1745 to 1754.‡
It must not be supposed that men trained in any system of jurisprudence, as were the ecclesiastical chancellors, could have been indifferent to the inconvenience and vexation which necessarily harass the holders of a merely arbitrary power. Not having a law, they were a law unto themselves; and every chancellor who contributed by a determination to establish a principle, became instrumental in circumscribing the power of his successor. Selden is, indeed, represented to have said, “that equity is according to the conscience of him who is chancellor; which is as uncertain as if we made the chancellor’s foot the standard for the measure which we call a foot.”§ But this was spoken in the looseness of table-talk, and under the influence of the prejudices then prevalent among common lawyers against equitable jurisdiction. Still, perhaps, in his time what he said might be true enough for a smart saying: but in process of years a system of rules has been established which has constantly tended to limit the originally discretionary powers of the chancery. Equity, in the acceptation in which that word is used in English jurisprudence, is no longer to be confounded with that moral equity which generally corrects the unjust operation of law, and with which it seems to have been synonymous in the days of Selden and Bacon. It is a part of law formed from usages and determinations which sometimes differ from what is called “common law” in its subjects, but chiefly varies from it in its modes of proof, of trial, and of relief; it is a jurisdiction so irregularly formed, and often so little dependent on general principles, that it can hardly be defined or made intelligible otherwise than by a minute enumeration of the matters cognisable by it.*
It will be seen from the above that Sir Thomas More’s duties differed very widely from the various exertions of labour and intellect required from a modern chancellor. At the utmost he did not hear more than two hundred cases and arguments yearly, including those of every description. No authentic account of any case tried before him, if any such be extant, has been yet brought to light. No law book alludes to any part of his judgments or reasonings. Nothing of this higher part of his judicial life is preserved, which can warrant us in believing more than that it must have displayed his never-failing integrity, reason, learning, and eloquence.
The particulars of his instalment are not unworthy of being specified as a proof of the reverence for his endowments and excellences professed by the King and entertained by the public, to whose judgment the ministers of Henry seemed virtually to appeal, with an assurance that the King’s appointment would be ratified by the general voice. “He was led between the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk up Westminster Hall to the Stone Chamber, and there they honourably placed him in the high judgment-seat of chancellor;”† (for the chancellor was, by his office, the president of that terrible tribunal.) “The Duke of Norfolk, premier peer and lord high treasurer of England,” continues the biographer, “by the command of the king, spoke thus unto the people there with great applause and joy gathered together:—
“ ‘The King’s majesty (which, I pray God, may prove happie and fortunate to the whole realme of England) hath raised to the most high dignitie of chancellourship Sir Thomas More, a man for his extraordinarie worth and sufficiencie well knowne to himself and the whole realme, for no other cause or earthlie respect, but for that he hath plainely perceaved all the gifts of nature and grace to be heaped upon him, which either the people could desire, or himself wish, for the discharge of so great an office. For the admirable wisedome, integritie, and innocencie, joyned with most pleasant facilitie of witt, that this man is endowed withall, have been sufficiently knowen to all Englishmen from his youth, and for these manie yeares also to the King’s majestie himself. This hath the King abundantly found in manie and weightie affayres, which he hath happily dispatched both at home and abroad, in divers offices which he hath born, in most honourable embassages which he hath undergone, and in his daily counsell and advises upon all other occasions. He hath perceaved no man in his realme to be more wise in deliberating, more sincere in opening to him what he thought, nor more eloquent to adorne the matter which he uttered. Wherefore, because he saw in him such excellent endowments, and that of his especiall care he hath a particular desire that his kingdome and people might be governed with all equitie and justice, integritie and wisedome, he of his owne most gracious disposition hath created this singular man lord chancellor; that, by his laudable performance of this office, his people may enjoy peace and justice; and honour also and fame may redounde to the whole kingdome. It may perhaps seem to manie a strange and unusuall matter, that this dignitie should be bestowed upon a layman, none of the nobilitie, and one that hath wife and children; because heretofore none but singular learned prelates, or men of greatest nobilitie, have possessed this place; but what is wanting in these respects, the admirable vertues, the matchless guifts of witt and wisedome of this man, doth most plentifully recompence the same. For the King’s majestie hath not regarded how great, but what a man he was; he hath not cast his eyes upon the nobilitie of his bloud, but on the worth of his person; he hath respected his sufficiencie, not his profession; finally, he would show by this his choyce, that he hath some rare subjects amongst the rowe of gentlemen and laymen, who deserve to manage the highest offices of the realme, which bishops and noblemen think they only can deserve. The rarer therefore it was, so much both himself held it to be the more excellent, and to his people he thought it would be the more gratefull. Wherefore, receave this your chancellour with joyful acclamations, at whose hands you may expect all happinesse and content.’
“Sir Thomas More, according to his wonted modestie, was somewhat abashed at this the duke’s speech, in that it sounded so much to his praise, but recollecting himself as that place and time would give him leave, he answered in this sorte:—‘Although, most noble duke, and you right honourable lords, and worshipfull gentlemen, I knowe all these things, which the King’s majestie, it seemeth, hath bene pleased should be spoken of me at this time and place, and your grace hath with most eloquent wordes thus amplifyed, are as far from me, as I could wish with all my hart they were in me for the better performance of so great a charge; and although this your speach hath caused in me greater feare than I can well express in words: yet this incomparable favour of my dread soueraigne, by which he showeth how well, yea how highly he conceaveth of my weakenesse, having commanded that my meanesse should be so greatly commended, cannot be but most acceptable unto me; and I cannot choose but give your most noble grace exceeding thankes, that what his majestie hath willed you briefly to utter, you, of the abundance of your love unto me, have in a large and eloquent oration dilated. As for myself, I can take it no otherwise, but that his majestie’s incomparable favour towards me, the good will and incredible propension of his royall minde (wherewith he has these manie yeares favoured me continually) hath alone without anie desert of mine at all, caused both this my new honour, and these your undeserved commendations of me. For who am I, or what is the house of my father, that the King’s highnesse should heape upon me by such a perpetuall streame of affection, these so high honours? I am farre lesse then anie the meanest of his benefitts bestowed on me; how can I then thinke myself worthie or fitt for this so peerlesse dignitie? I have bene drawen by force, as the King’s majestie often professeth, to his highnesse’s service, to be a courtier; but to take this dignitie upon me, is most of all against my will; yet such is his highnesse’s benignitie, such is his bountie, that he highly esteemeth the small dutiefulnesse of his meanest subjects, and seeketh still magnificently to recompence his servants; not only such as deserve well, but even such as have but a desire to deserve well at his hands, in which number I have alwaies wished myself to be reckoned, because I cannot challenge myself to be one of the former; which being so, you may all perceave with me how great a burden is layde upon my backe, in that I must strive in some sorte with my diligence and dutie to corresponde with his royall benevolence, and to be answerable to that great expectation, which he and you seeme to have of me; wherefore those so high praises are by me so much more grievous unto me, by how much more I know the greater charge I have to render myself worthie of, and the fewer means I have to make them goode. This weight is hardly suitable to my weake shoulders; this honour is not correspondent to my poore desert; it is a burden, not a glorie; a care, not a dignitie; the one therefore I must beare as manfully as I can, and discharge the other with as much dexteritie as I shall be able. The earnest desire which I have alwaies had and doe now acknowledge myself to have, to satisfye by all meanes I can possible, the most ample benefitts of his highnesse, will greatly excite and ayde me to the diligent performance of all, which I trust also I shall be more able to doe, if I finde all your good wills and wishes both favourable unto me, and conformable to his royall munificence: because my serious endeavours to doe well, joyned with your favourable acceptance, will easily procure that whatsoever is performed by me, though it be in itself but small, yet will it seeme great and praiseworthie; for those things are alwaies atchieved happily, which are accepted willingly; and those succeede fortunately, which are receaved by others courteously. As you therefore doe hope for great matters, and the best at my hands, so though I dare not promise anie such, yet do I promise truly and affectionately to performe the best I shall be able.’
“When Sir Thomas More had spoken these wordes, turning his face to the high judgment seate of the chancerie, he proceeded in this manner:—‘But when I looke upon this seate, when I thinke how greate and what kinde of personages have possessed this place before me, when I call to minde who he was that sate in it last of all—a man of what singular wisdome, of what notable experience, what a prosperous and favourable fortune he had for a great space, and how at the last he had a most grevious fall, and dyed inglorious—I have cause enough by my predecessor’s example to think honour but slipperie, and this dignitie not so grateful to me as it may seeme to others; for both is it a hard matter to follow with like paces or praises, a man of such admirable witt, prudence, authoritie, and splendour, to whome I may seeme but as the lighting of a candle, when the sun is downe; and also the sudden and unexpected fall of so great a man as he was doth terribly putt me in minde that this honour ought not to please me too much, nor the lustre of this glistering seate dazel mine eyes. Wherefore I ascende this seate as a place full of labour and danger, voyde of all solide and true honour; the which by how much the higher it is, by so much greater fall I am to feare, as well in respect of the verie nature of the thing it selfe, as because I am warned by this late fearfull example. And truly I might even now at this verie just entrance stumble, yea faynte, but that his majestie’s most singular favour towardes me, and all your good wills, which your joyfull countenance doth testifye in this most honorable assemblie, doth somewhat recreate and refresh me; otherwise this seate would be no more pleasing to me, than that sword was to Damocles, which hung over his head, tyed only by a hayre of a horse’s tale, when he had store of delicate fare before him, seated in the chair of state of Denis the tirant of Sicilie; this therefore shall be always fresh in my minde, this will I have still before mine eies, that this seate will be honorable, famous, and full of glorie unto me, if I shall with care and diligence, fidelitie and wisedome, endeavour to doe my dutie, and shall persuade myself, that the enjoying thereof may be but short and uncertaine; the one whereof my labour ought to performe; the other my predecessor’s example may easily teach me. All which being so, you may easily perceave what great pleasure I take in this high dignitie, or in this most noble duke’s praising of me.’
“All the world took notice now of sir Thomas’s dignitie, whereof Erasmus writeth to John Fabius, bishop or Vienna, thus:—‘Concerning the new increase of honour lately happened to Thomas More, I should easily make you believe it, if I should show you the letters of many famous men, rejoicing with much alacritie, and congratulating the King, the realme, himself, and also me, for More’s honor, in being made lord chancellour of England.’ ”
At the period of the son’s promotion, Sir John More who was nearly of the age of ninety, was the most ancient judge of the King’s Bench. “What a grateful spectacle was it,” says their descendant, “to see the son ask the blessing of the father every day upon his knees before he sat upon his own seat?”* Even in a more unceremonious age, the simple character of More would have protected these daily rites of filial reverence from that suspicion of affectation, which could alone destroy their charm. But at that time it must have borrowed its chief power from the conspicuous excellence of the father and son. For if inward worth had then borne any proportion to the grave and reverend ceremonial of the age, we might be well warranted in regarding our forefathers as a race of superior beings.
The contrast which the humble and affable More afforded to the haughty cardinal, astonished and delighted the suitors. No application could be made to Wolsey, which did not pass through many hands; and no man could apply, whose fingers were not tipped with gold: but More sat daily in an open hall, that he might receive in person the petitions of the poor. If any reader should blame his conduct in this respect, as a breach of an ancient and venerable precept,—“Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour,”† let it be remembered, that there still clung to the equitable jurisdiction some remains of that precarious and eleemosynary nature from which it originally sprung; which, in the eyes of the compassionate chancellor, might warrant more preference for the helpless poor than could be justified in proceedings more rigorously legal.
Courts of law were jealous then, as since, of the power assumed by chancellors to issue injunctions to parties to desist from doing certain acts which they were by law entitled to do, until the court of chancery should determine whether the exercise of the legal right would not work injustice. There are many instances in which irreparable wrong may be committed, before a right can be ascertained, in the ordinary course of proceedings. In such cases it is the province of the Chancellor to take care that affairs shall continue in their actual condition until the questions in dispute be determined. A considerable outcry against this necessary though invidious authority, was raised at the commencement of More’s chancellorship. He silenced this clamour with his wonted prudence and meekness. Having caused one of the six clerks to make out a list of the injunctions issued by him, or pending before him, he invited all the judges to dinner. He laid the list before them; and explained the circumstances of each case so satisfactorily, that they all confessed that in the like case they would have done no less. Nay, he offered to desist from the jurisdiction, if they would undertake to contain the law within the boundaries of righteousness, which he thought they ought in conscience to do. The judges declined to make the attempt; on which he observed privately to Roper, that he saw they trusted to their influence for obtaining verdicts which would shift the responsibility from them to the juries. “Wherefore,” said he, “I am constrained to abide the adventure of their blame.”
Dauncey, one of his sons-in-law, alleged that under Wolsey “even the door-keepers got great gains,” and was so perverted by the venality there practised that he expostulated with More for his churlish integrity. The chancellor said, that if “his father, whom he reverenced dearly, were on the one side, and the devil, whom he hated with all his might, on the other, the devil should have his right.” He is represented by his descendant, as softening his answer by promising minor advantages, such as priority of hearing, and recommendation of arbitration, where the case of a friend was bad. The biographer, however, not being a lawyer, might have misunderstood the conversation, which had to pass through more than one generation before the tradition reached him; or the words may have been a hasty effusion of good nature, uttered only to qualify the roughness of his honesty. If he had been called on to perform these promises, his head and heart would have recoiled alike from breaches of equality which he would have felt to be altogether dishonest. When Heron, another of his sons-in-law, relied on the bad practices of the times, so far as to entreat a favourable judgment in a cause of his own, More, though the most affectionate of fathers, immediately undeceived him by an adverse decree. This act of common justice is made an object of panegyric by the biographer, as if it were then deemed an extraordinary instance of virtue; a deplorable symptom of that corrupt state of general opinion, which, half a century later, contributed to betray into ignominious vices the wisest of men, and the most illustrious of chancellors,—if the latter distinction be not rather due to the virtue of a More or a Somers.
He is said to have despatched the causes before him so speedily, that, on asking for the next, he was told that none remained; which is boastfully contrasted by Mr. More, his descendant, with the arrear of a thousand in the time of that gentleman, who lived in the reign of Charles I.; though we have already seen that this difference may be referred to other causes, and therefore that the fact, if true, proves no more than his exemplary diligence and merited reputation.
The scrupulous and delicate integrity of More (for so it must be called in speaking of that age) was more clearly shown after his resignation, than it could have been during his continuance in office. One Parnell complained of him for a decree obtained by his adversary Vaughan, whose wife had bribed the chancellor by a gilt cup. More surprised the counsel at first, by owning that he received the cup as a new year’s gift. Lord Wiltshire, a zealous Protestant, indecently, but prematurely, exulted: “Did I not tell you, my lords,” said he, “that you would find this matter true?” “But, my lords,” replied More, “hear the other part of my tale.” He then told them that, “having drank to her of wine with which his butler had filled the cup, and she having pledged him, he restored it to her, and would listen to no refusal.” When Mrs. Croker, for whom he had made a decree against Lord Arundel, came to him to request his acceptance of a pair of gloves, in which were contained 40l. in angels, he told her, with a smile, that it were ill manners to refuse a lady’s present; but though he should keep the gloves, he must return the gold, which he enforced her to receive. Gresham, a suitor, sent him a present of a gilt cup, of which the fashion pleased him: More accepted it; but would not do so till Gresham received from him another cup of greater value, but of which the form and workmanship were less suitable to the Chancellor. It would be an indignity to the memory of such a man to quote these facts as proofs of his probity; but they may be mentioned as specimens of the simple and unforced honesty of one who rejected improper offers with all the ease and pleasantry of common courtesy.
Henry, in bestowing the great seal on More, hoped to dispose his chancellor to lend his authority to the projects of divorce and second marriage, which were now agitating the King’s mind, and were the main objects of his policy.* Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII., having married Catharine, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, sovereigns of Castile and Arragon, and dying very shortly after his nuptials, Henry had obtained a dispensation from Pope Julius II. to enable the princess to marry her brother-in-law, afterwards Henry VIII.; and in this last-mentioned union, of which the Princess Mary was the only remaining fruit, the parties had lived sixteen years in apparent harmony. But in the year 1527, arose a concurrence of events, which tried and established the virtue of More, and revealed to the world the depravity of his master. Henry had been touched by the charms of Anne Boleyn, a beautiful young lady, in her twenty-second year, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, who had lately returned from the court of France, where her youth had been spent. At the same moment it became the policy of Francis I. to loosen all the ties which joined the King of England to the Emperor. When the Bishop of Tarbes, his ambassador in England, found, on his arrival in London, the growing distaste of Henry for his inoffensive and exemplary wife, he promoted the King’s inclination towards divorce, and suggested a marriage with Margaret Duchess of Alencon, the beautiful and graceful sister of Francis I.*
At this period Henry for the first time professed to harbour conscientious doubts whether the dispensation of Julius II. could suspend the obligation of the divine prohibition pronounced against such a marriage as his in the Levitical law.† The court of Rome did not dare to contend that the dispensation could reach the case if the prohibition were part of the universal law of God. Henry, on the other side, could not consistently question its validity, if he considered the precept as belonging to merely positive law. To this question, therefore, the dispute was confined, though both parties shrunk from an explicit and precise avowal of their main ground. The most reasonable solution that it was a local and temporary law, forming a part of the Hebrew code, might seem at first sight to destroy its authority altogether. But if either party had been candid, this prohibition, adopted by all Christendom, might be justified by that general usage, in a case where it was not remarkably at variance with reason or the public welfare. But such a doctrine would have lowered the ground of the Papal authority too much to be acceptable to Rome, and yet, on the other hand, rested it on too unexceptionable a foundation to suit the case of Henry. False allegations of facts in the preamble of the bull were alleged on the same side; but they were inconclusive. The principal arguments in the King’s favour were, that no precedents of such a dispensation seem to have been produced; and that if the Levitical prohibitions do not continue in force under the Gospel, there is no prohibition against incestuous marriages in the system of the New Testament. It was a disadvantage to the Church of Rome in the controversy, that being driven from the low ground by its supposed tendency to degrade the subject, and deterred from the high ground by the fear of the reproach of daring usurpation, the inevitable consequence was confusion and fluctuation respecting the first principles on which the question was to be determined.
To pursue this subject through the long negotiations and discussions which it occasioned during six years, would be to lead us far from our subject. Clement VII. (Medici) had been originally inclined to favour the suit* of Henry, according to the usual policy of the Roman Court, which sought plausible pretexts for facilitating the divorce of kings, whose matrimonial connections might be represented as involving the quiet of nations. The sack of Rome, however, and his own captivity left him full of fear of the Emperor’s power and displeasure; it is even said that Charles V., who had discovered the secret designs of the English court, had extorted from the Pope, before his release, a promise that no attempt would be made to dishonour an Austrian princess by acceding to the divorce.† The Pope, unwilling to provoke Henry, his powerful and generous protector, instructed Campeggio to attempt, at first, a reconciliation between the King and Queen; secondly, if that failed, to endeavour to persuade her that she ought to acquiesce in her husband’s desires, by entering into a cloister—(a proposition which seems to show a readiness in the Roman court to waive their theological difficulties); and thirdly, if neither of these attempts were successful, to spin out the negotiation to the greatest length, in order to profit by the favourable incidents which time might bring forth. The impatience of the King and the honest indignation of the Queen defeated these arts of Italian policy; while the resistance of Anne Boleyn to the irregular gratification of the King’s desires,—without the belief of which it is impossible to conceive the motives for his perseverance in the pursuit of an unequal marriage,—opposed another impediment to the counsels and contrivances of Clement, which must have surprised and perplexed a Florentine pontiff. The proceedings, however, terminated in the sentence pronounced by Cranmer annulling the marriage, the espousal of Anne Boleyn by the King, and the rejection of the Papal jurisdiction by the kingdom, which still, however, adhered to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
The situation of More during a great part of these memorable events was embarrassing. The great offices to which he had been raised by the King, the personal favour hitherto constantly shown to him, and the natural tendency of his gentle and quiet disposition, combined to disincline him to resistance against the wishes of his friendly master. On the other hand, his growing dread and horror of heresy, with its train of disorders; his belief that universal anarchy would be the inevitable result of religious dissension, and the operation of seven years’ controversy on behalf of the Catholic Church, in heating his mind on all subjects involving the extent of her authority, made him recoil from designs which were visibly tending towards disunion with the Roman pontiff,—the centre of Catholic union, and the supreme magistrate of the ecclesiastical commonwealth. Though his opinions relating to the Papal authority were of a moderate and liberal nature, he at least respected it as an ancient and venerable control on licentious opinions, of which the prevailing heresies attested the value and the necessity. Though he might have been better pleased with another determination by the supreme pontiff, it did not follow that he should contribute to weaken the holy See, assailed as it was on every side, by taking an active part in resistance to the final decision of a lawful authority. Obedience to the supreme head of the Church in a case which ultimately related only to discipline, appeared peculiarly incumbent on all professed Catholics. But however sincere the zeal of More for the Catholic religion and his support of the legitimate supremacy of the Roman See undoubtedly were, he was surely influenced at the same time by the humane feelings of his just and generous nature, which engaged his heart to espouse the cause of a blameless and wronged princess, driven from the throne and the bed of a tyrannical husband. Though he reasoned the case as a divine and a canonist, he must have felt it as a man; and honest feeling must have glowed beneath the subtleties and formalities of doubtful and sometimes frivolous disputations. It was probably often the chief cause of conduct for which other reasons might be sincerely alleged.
In steering his course through the intrigues and passions of the court, it is very observable that More most warily retired from every opposition but that which Conscience absolutely required: he shunned unnecessary disobedience as much as unconscientious compliance. If he had been influenced solely by prudential considerations, he could not have more cautiously shunned every needless opposition; but in that case he would not have gone so far. He displayed, at the time of which we now speak, that very peculiar excellence of his character, which, as it showed his submission to be the fruit of sense of duty, gave dignity to that which in others is apt to seem, and to be slavish. His anxiety had increased with the approach to maturity of the King’s projects of divorce and second marriage. Some anecdotes of this period are preserved by the affectionate and descriptive pen of Margaret Roper’s husband, which, as he evidently reports in the chancellor’s language, it would be unpardonable to relate in any other words than those of the venerable man himself. Roper, indeed, like another Plutarch, consults the unrestrained freedom of his story by a disregard of dates, which, however agreeable to a general reader, is sometimes unsatisfactory to a searcher after accuracy. Yet his office in a court of law, where there is the strongest inducement to ascertain truth, and the largest experience of the means most effectual for that purpose, might have taught him the extreme importance of time as well as place in estimating the bearing and weight of testimony.
“On a time walking with me along the Thames’ side at Chelsea, he said unto me, ‘Now would to our Lord, son Roper, upon condition that three things were well established in Christendom, I were put into a sack, and were presently cast into the Thames’—‘What great things be those, sir?’ quoth I, ‘that should move you so to wish’—‘In faith, son, they be these,’ said he. ‘The first is, that whereas the most part of Christian princes be at mortal war, they were all at universal peace. The second, that where the church of Christ is at present sore afflicted with many errors and heresies, it were well settled in perfect uniformity of religion. The third, that as the matter of the King’s marriage is now come in question, it were, to the glory of God and quietness of all parties, brought to a good conclusion.”* On another occasion,† “before the matrimony was brought in question, when I, in talk with Sir Thomas More (of a certain joy), commended unto him the happy estate of this realm, that had so catholic a prince, so grave and sound a nobility, and so loving, obedient subjects, agreeing in one faith. ‘Truth it is, indeed, son Roper; and yet I pray God, as high as we sit upon the mountains, treading heretics under our feet like ants, live not the day that we gladly would wish to be at league and composition with them, to let them have their churches, so that they would be contented to let us have ours quietly.’ I answered, ‘By my troth, it is very desperately spoken.’ He, perceiving me to be in a fume, said merrily,—‘Well, well, son Roper, it shall not be so.’ Whom,” concludes Roper, in sixteen years and more, being in his house, conversant with him, I never could perceive him as much as once in a fume.” Doubtless More was somewhat disquieted by the reflection, that some of those who now appealed to the freedom of his youthful philosophy against himself would speedily begin to abuse such doctrines by turning them against the peace which he loved,—that some of the spoilers of Rome might exhibit the like scenes of rapine and blood in the city which was his birth-place and his dwelling-place: yet, even then, the placid mien, which had stood the test of every petty annoyance for sixteen years, was unruffled by alarms for the impending fate of his country and of his religion.
Henry used every means of procuring an opinion favourable to his wishes from his chancellor, who, however, excused himself as unmeet for such matters, having never professed the study of divinity. But the King “sorely” pressed him,* and never ceased urging him until he had promised to give his consent, at least, to examine the question, conjointly with his friend Tunstall and other learned divines. This examination over, More, with his wonted ingenuity and gentleness, conveyed the result to his master. “To be plain with your grace, neither your bishops, wise and virtuous though they be, nor myself, nor any other of your council, by reason of your manifold benefits bestowed on us, are meet counsellors for your grace herein. If you mind to understand the truth, consult St. Jerome, St. Augustin, and other holy doctors of the Greek and Latin churches, who will not be inclined to deceive you by respect of their own worldly commodity, or by fear of your princely displeasure.”† Though the King did not like what “was disagreeable to his desires, yet the language of More was so wisely tempered, that for the present he took it in good part, and oftentimes had conferences with the chancellor thereon.” The native meekness of More was probably more effectual than all the arts by which courtiers ingratiate themselves, or insinuate unpalatable counsel. Shortly after, the King again moved him to weigh and consider the great matter: the chancellor fell down on his knees, and reminding Henry of his own words on delivering the great seal, which were,—“First look upon God, and after God upon me,” added, that nothing had ever so pained him as that he was not able to serve him in that matter, without a breach of that original injunction. The King said he was content to continue his favour, and never with that matter molest his conscience afterwards; but when the progress towards the marriage was so far advanced that the chancellor saw how soon his active co-operation must be required, he made suit to his “singular dear friend,” the Duke of Norfolk, to procure his discharge from office. The duke, often solicited by More, then obtained, by importunate suit, a clear discharge for the chancellor; and upon the repairing to the King, to resign the great seal into his hands, Henry received him with thanks and praise for his worthy service, and assured him, that in any suit that should either concern his honour or appertain unto his profit, he would show himself a good and gracious master to his faithful servant. He then further directed Norfolk, when he installed his successor, to declare publicly, “that his majesty had with pain yielded to the prayers of Sir Thomas More, by the removal of such a magistrate.”*
At the time of his resignation More asserted, and circumstances, without reference to his character, demonstrate the truth of his assertion, that his whole income, independent of grants from the crown, did not amount to more than 50l. yearly. This was not more than an eighth part of his gains at the bar and his judicial salary from the city of London taken together;—so great was the proportion in which his fortune had declined during eighteen years of employment in offices of such trust, advantage, and honour.† In this situation the clergy voted, as a testimonial of their gratitude to him, the sum of 5000l., which, according to the rate of interest at that time, would have yielded him 500l. a year, being ten times the yearly sum which he could then call his own. But good and honourable as he knew their messengers, of whom Tunstall was one, to be, he declared, “that he would rather cast their money into the sea than take it;”—not speaking from a boastful pride, most foreign from his nature, but shrinking with a sort of instinctive delicacy from the touch of money, even before he considered how much the acceptance of the gift might impair his usefulness.
His resources were of a nobler nature. The simplicity of his tastes, and the moderation of his indulgences rendered retrenchment a task so easy to himself, as to be scarcely perceptible in his personal habits. His fool or jester, then a necessary part of a great man’s establishment, he gave to the lord mayor for the time being. His first care was to provide for his attendants, by placing his gentlemen and yeomen with peers and prelates, and his eight watermen in the service of his successor Sir T. Audley, to whom he gave his great barge,—one of the most indispensable appendages of his office in an age when carriages were unknown. His sorrows were for separation from those whom he loved. He called together his children and grandchildren, who had hitherto lived in peace and love under his patriarchal roof, and, lamenting that he could not, as he was wont, and as he gladly would, bear out the whole charges of them all himself, continue living together as they were wont, he prayed them to give him their counsel on this trying occasion. When he saw them silent, and unwilling to risk their opinion, he gave them his, seasoned with his natural gaiety, and containing some strokes illustrative of the state of society at that time:—“I have been brought up,” quoth he, “at Oxford, at an inn of chancery, at Lincoln’s Inn, and also in the king’s court, from the lowest degree to the highest, and yet I have at present left me little above 100l. a year” (including the king’s grants;) “so that now if we like to live together we must be content to be contributaries together; but we must not fall to the lowest fare first:—we will begin with Lincoln’s Inn diet, where many right worshipful and of good years do live full well; which, if we find not ourselves the first year able to maintain, then will we the next year go one step to New Inn fare: if that year exceed our ability, we will the next year descend to Oxford fare, where many grave, learned, and ancient fathers are continually conversant. If our ability stretch not to maintain either, then may we yet with bags and wallets go a begging together, and hoping for charity at every man’s door, to sing Salve regina; and so still keep company and be merry together.”* On the Sunday following his resignation, he stood at the door of his wife’s pew in the church, where one of his dismissed gentlemen had been used to stand, and making a low obeisance to Alice as she entered, said to her with perfect gravity,—“Madam, my lord is gone.” He who for seventeen years had not raised his voice in displeasure, could not be expected to sacrifice the gratification of his innocent merriment to the heaviest blows of fortune.
Nor did he at fit times fail to prepare his beloved children for those more cruel strokes which he began to foresee. Discoursing with them, he enlarged on the happiness of suffering for the love of God, the loss of goods, of liberty, of lands, of life. He would further say unto them, “that if he might perceive his wife and children would encourage him to die in a good cause, it should so comfort him, that for very joy, it would make him run merrily to death.”
It must be owned that Henry felt the weight of this great man’s opinion, and tried every possible means to obtain at least the appearance of his spontaneous approbation. Tunstall and other prelates were commanded to desire his attendance at the coronation of Anne at Westminster. They wrote a letter to persuade him to comply, and accompanied it with the needful present of 20l. to buy a court dress. Such overtures he had foreseen; for he said some time before to Roper, when he first heard of that marriage, “God grant, son Roper, that these matters within a while be not confirmed with oaths!” He accordingly answered his friends the bishops well:—“Take heed, my lords: by procuring your lordships to be present at the coronation, they will next ask you to preach for the setting forth thereof; and finally to write books to all the world in defence thereof.”
Another opportunity soon presented itself for trying to subdue the obstinacy of More, whom a man of violent nature might believe to be fearful, because he was peaceful. Elizabeth Barton, called “the holy maid of Kent,” who had been, for a considerable number of years, afflicted by convulsive maladies, felt her morbid susceptibility so excited by Henry’s profane defiance of the Catholic Church, and his cruel desertion of Catharine, his faithful wife, that her pious and humane feelings led her to represent, and probably to believe, herself to be visited by a divine revelation of those punishments which the King was about to draw down on himself and on the kingdom. In the universal opinion of the sixteenth century, such interpositions were considered as still occurring. The neighbours and visiters of the unfortunate young woman believed her ravings to be prophecies, and the contortions of her body to be those of a frame heaving and struggling under the awful agitations of divine inspiration, and confirmed that conviction of a mission from God, for which she was predisposed by her own pious benevolence, combined with the general error of the age. Both Fisher and More appear not to have altogether disbelieved her pretensions: More expressly declared, that he durst not and would not be bold in judging her miracles.* In the beginning of her prophecies, the latter had been commanded by the King to inquire into her case; and he made a report to Henry, who agreed with him in considering the whole of her miraculous pretensions as frivolous, and deserving no farther regard. But in 1532, several monks† so magnified her performances to More that he was prevailed on to see her; but refused to hear her speak about the King, saying to her, in general terms, that he had no desire to pry into the concerns of others. Pursuant, as it is said, to a sentence by or in the Star Chamber, she stood in the pillory at Paul’s Cross, acknowledging herself to be guilty of the imposture of claiming inspiration, and saying that she was tempted to this fraud by the instigation of the devil. Considering the circumstances of the case, and the character of the parties, it is far more probable that the ministers should have obtained a false confession from her hopes of saving her life, than that a simple woman should have contrived and carried on, for many years, a system of complicated and elaborate imposture. It would not be inconsistent with this aquittal, to allow that, in the course of her self-delusion, she should have been induced, by some ecclesiastics of the tottering Church, to take an active part in these pious frauds, which there is too much reason to believe that persons of unfeigned religion have been often so far misguided by enthusiastic zeal, as to perpetrate or to patronize. But whatever were the motives or the extent of the “holy maid’s” confession, it availed her nothing; for in the session of parliament which met in January, 1534, she and her ecclesiastical prompters were attainted of high treason, and adjudged to suffer death as traitors. Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and others, were attainted of misprision, or concealment of treason, for which they were adjudged to forfeiture and imprisonment during the King’s pleasure.* The “holy maid,” with her spiritual guides, suffered death at Tyburn on the 21st of April, she confirming her former confession, but laying her crime to the charge of her companions, if we may implicitly believe the historians of the victorious party.†
Fisher and his supposed accomplices in misprision remained in prison according to their attainder. Of More the statute makes no mention; but it contains a provision, which, when it is combined with other circumstances to be presently related, appears to have been added to the bill for the purpose of providing for his safety. By this provision, the King’s majesty, at the humble suit of his well beloved wife Queen Anne, pardons all persons not expressly by name attainted by the statute, for all misprision and concealments relating to the false and feigned miracles and prophecies of Elizabeth Barton, on or before the 20th day of October, 1533. Now we are told by Roper,‡ “that Sir Thomas More’s name was originally inserted in the bill,” the King supposing that this bill would “to Sir Thomas More be so troublous and terrible, that it would force him to relent and condescend to his request; wherein his grace was much deceived.” More was personally to have been received to make answer in his own defence: but the King, not liking that, sent the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor, the Duke of Norfolk, and Cromwell, to attempt his conversion. Audley reminded More of the King’s special favour and many benefits: More admitted them; but modestly added, that his highness had most graciously declared that on this matter he should be molested no more. When in the end they saw that no persuasion could move him, they then said, “that the King’s highness had given them in commandment, if they could by no gentleness win him, in the King’s name with ingratitude to charge him, that never was servant to his master so villainous,§ nor subject to his prince so traitorous as he.” They even reproached him for having either written in the name of his master, or betrayed his sovereign into writing, the book against Luther, which had so deeply pledged Henry to the support of Papal pretensions. To these upbraidings he calmly answered:—“The terrors are arguments for children, and not for me. As to the fact, the King knoweth, that after the book was finished by his highness’s appointment, or the consent of the maker, I was only a sorter out and placer of the principal matters therein contained.” He added, that he had warned the King of the prudence of “touching the pope’s authority more slenderly, and that he had reminded Henry of the statutes of premunire,” whereby “a good part of the pope’s pastoral care was pared away;” and that impetuous monarch had answered, “We are so much bounden unto the See of Rome, that we cannot do too much honour unto it.” On More’s return to Chelsea from his interview with these lords, Roper said to him:—“I hope all is well, since you are so merry?”—“It is so, indeed,” said More, “I thank God.”—“Are you, then, out of the parliament bill?” said Roper.—“By my troth, I never remembered it; but,” said More, “I will tell thee why I was so merry; because I had given the devil a foul fall, and that with those lords I had gone so far, as without great shame I can never go back again.” This frank avowal of the power of temptation, and this simple joy at having at the hazard of life escaped from the farther seductions of the court, bestows a greatness on these few and familiar words which scarcely belongs to any other of the sayings of man.
Henry, incensed at the failure of wheedling and threatening measures, broke out into violent declarations of his resolution to include More in the attainder, and said that he should be personally present to insure the passing of the bill. Lord Audley and his colleagues on their knees besought their master to forbear, lest by an overthrow in his own presence, he might be contemned by his own subjects, and dishonoured throughout Christendom for ever;—adding, that they doubted not that they should find a more meet occasion “to serve his turn;” for that in this case of the nun he was so clearly innocent, that men deemed him far worthier of praise than of reproof. Henry was compelled to yield.* Such was the power of defenceless virtue over the slender remains of independence among slavish peers, and over the lingering remnants of common humanity which might still be mingled with a cooler policy in the bosoms of subservient politicians. One of the worst of that race, Thomas Cromwell, on meeting Roper in the Parliament House next day after the King assented to the prayer of his ministers, told him to tell More that he was put out of the bill. Roper sent a messenger to Margaret Roper, who hastened to her beloved father with the tidings. More answered her, with his usual gaiety and fondness, “In faith, Megg, what is put off is not given up.”† Soon after, the Duke of Norfolk said to him,—“By the mass! Master More, it is perilous striving with princes; the anger of a prince brings death.”—“Is that all, my lord? then the difference between you and me is but this,—that I shall die to-day, and you tomorrow.” No life in Plutarch is more full of happy sayings and striking retorts than that of More; but the terseness and liveliness of his are justly overlooked in the contemplation of that union of perfect simplicity with moral grandeur, which, perhaps, no other human being has so uniformly reached.
By a tyrannical edict, miscalled “a law,” in the same session of 1533-4, it was made high treason, after the 1st of May, 1534, by writing, print, deed or act, to do or to procure, or cause to be done or procured, any thing to the prejudice, slander, disturbance, or derogation of the King’s lawful matrimony with Queen Anne. If the same offences should be committed by words, they were to be only misprision. The same act enjoined all persons to take an oath to maintain its whole contents; and an obstinate refusal to make oath was subjected to the penalties of misprision. No form of oath was enacted, but on the 30th of March,* 1534, which was the day of closing the session, the Chancellor Audley, when the commons were at the bar, but when they could neither deliberate nor assent, read the King’s letters patent, containing one, and appointing the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, to be commissioners for administering it.
More was summoned to appear before these commissioners at Lambeth, on Monday the 13th of April. On other occasions he had used, at his departure from his wife and children, whom he tenderly loved, to have them brought to his boat, and there to kiss them, and bid them all farewell. At this time he would suffer none of them to follow him forth of the gate, but pulled the wicket after him, and shut them all from him, and with Roper and four servants took boat towards Lambeth. He sat for a while; but at last, his mind being lightened and relieved by those high principles to which with him every low consideration yielded, whispered:—“Son Roper! I thank our Lord, the field is won.”—“As I conjectured,” says Roper, “it was for that his love to God conquered his carnal affections.” What follows is from an account of his conduct during the subsequent examination at Lambeth sent to his darling child, Margaret Roper. After having read the statute and the form of the oath, he declared his readiness to swear that he would maintain and defend the order of succession to the crown as established by parliament. He disclaimed all censure of those who had imposed, or on those who had taken, the oath, but declared it to be impossible that he could swear to the whole contents of it, without offending against his own conscience; adding, that if they doubted whether his refusal proceeded from pure scruple of conscience or from his own phantasies, he was willing to satisfy their doubts by oath. The commissioners urged that he was the first who refused it; they showed him the subscriptions of all the lords and commons who had sworn; and they held out the King’s sure displeasure against him should he be the single recusant. When he was called on a second time, they charged him with obstinacy for not mentioning any special part of the oath which wounded his conscience. He answered, that if he were to open his reasons for refusal farther, he should exasperate the King still more: he offered, however, to assign them if the lords would procure the King’s assurance that the avowal of the grounds of his defence should not be considered as offensive to the King, nor prove dangerous to himself. The commissioners answered that such assurances would be no defence against a legal charge: he offered, however, to trust himself to the King’s honour. Cranmer took some advantage of More’s candour, urging that, as he had disclaimed all blame of those who had sworn, it was evident that he thought it only doubtful whether the oath was unlawful; and desired him to consider whether the obligation to obey the King was not absolutely certain. More was struck with the subtilty of this reasoning, which took him by surprise, but not convinced of its solidity: notwithstanding his surprise, he seems to have almost touched upon the true answer, that as the oath contained a profession of opinion,—such, for example, as the lawfulness of the King’s marriage, on which men might differ,—it might be declined by some and taken by others with equal honesty. Cromwell, whom More believed to favour him, loudly swore that he would rather see his only son had lost his head than that More had thus refused the oath; he it was who bore the answer to the King, the Chancellor Audley distinctly enjoining him to state very clearly More’s willingness to swear to the succession. “Surely,” said More, “as to swearing to the succession, I see no peril.” Cromwell was not a good man; but the gentle virtue of More subdued even the bad. To his own house More never more returned, being on the same day committed to the custody of the Abbot of Westminster, in which he continued four days; and at the end of that time, on Friday the 17th, he was conveyed to the Tower.*
Soon after the commencement of the session, which began on the 3d of November following,* an act was passed which ratified, and professed to recite, the form of oath promulgated on the day of the prorogation; and enacted that the oath therein recited should be reputed to be the very oath intended by the former act;† though there were, in fact, some substantial and important interpolations in the latter act;—such as the words “most dear and entirely beloved, lawful wife, Queen Anne,” which tended to render that form still less acceptable than before, to the scrupulous consciences of More and Fisher. Before the end of the same session two statutes‡ were passed attainting More and Fisher of misprision of treason, and specifying the punishment to be imprisonment of body and loss of goods. By that which relates to More, the King’s grants of land to him in 1523 and 1525 are resumed; it is also therein recited that he refused the oath since the 1st of May of 1534, with an intent to sow sedition; and he is reproached for having demeaned himself in other respects ungratefully and unkindly to the King, his benefactor.
That this statement of the legislative measures which preceded it is necessary to a consideration of the legality of More’s trial, which must be owned to be a part of its justice, will appear in its proper place. In the mean time, the few preparatory incidents which occurred during thirteen months’ imprisonment, must be briefly related. His wife Alice, though an excellent housewife, yet in her visits to the Tower handled his misfortunes and his scruples too roughly. “Like an ignorant, and somewhat worldly, woman, she bluntly said to him,—‘How can a man taken for wise, like you, play the fool in this close filthy prison, when you might be abroad at your liberty, if you would but do as the bishops have done?’ ” She enlarged on his fair house at Chelsea—“his library, gallery, garden, and orchard, together with the company of his wife and children.” He bore with kindness in its most unpleasing form, and answered her cheerfully after his manner, which was to blend religious feeling with quaintness and liveliness:—“Is not this house as nigh heaven as mine own?” She answered him in what then appears to have been a homely exclamation of contempt,§ “Tilly valle, tilly valle.”∥ He treated her harsh language as a wholesome exercise for his patience, and replied with equal mildness, though with more gravity, “Why should I joy in my gay house, when, if I should rise from the grave in seven years, I should not fail to find some one there who would bid me to go out of doors, for it was none of mine?” It was not thus that his Margaret Roper conversed or corresponded with him during his confinement. A short note written to her a little while after his conmitment, with a coal (his only pen and ink) begins, “Mine own good daughter,” and is closed in the following fond and pious words:—“Written with a coal, by your tender loving father, who in his poor prayers forgetteth none of you, nor your babes, nor your good husband, nor your father’s shrewd wife neither.” Shortly after, mistaking the sense of a letter from her, which he thought advised him to compliance, he wrote a rebuke of her supposed purpose with the utmost vehemence of affection, and the deepest regard to her judgment!—“I hear many terrible things towards me; but they all never touched me, never so near, nor were they so grievous unto me as to see you, my well beloved child, in such a piteous and vehement manner, labour to persuade me to a thing whereof I have of pure necessity, for respect unto myne own soul, so often given you so precise an answer before. The matters that move my conscience I have sundry times shown you, that I will disclose them to no one.”* Margaret’s reply was worthy of herself: she acquiesces in his “faithful and delectable letter, the faithful messenger of his virtuous mind,” and almost rejoices in his victory over all earthborn cares;—concluding thus:—“Your own most loving obedient daughter and bedeswoman,† Margaret Roper, who desireth above all worldly things to be in John Wood’s‡ stede to do you some service.” After some time pity prevailed so far that she obtained the King’s licence to resort to her father in the Tower. On her first visit, after gratefully performing their accustomed devotions, his first care was to soothe her afflicted heart by the assurance that he saw no cause to reckon himself in worse case there than in his own house. On another occasion he asked her how Queen Anne did? “In faith, father,” said she, “never better.”—“Never better, Megg!” quoth he; “alas! Megg, it pitieth me to remember into what misery, poor soul, she shall shortly come.” Various attempts continued still to be made to cajole him; partly, perhaps, with the hope that his intercourse with the beloved Margaret might have softened him. Cromwell told him that the King was still his good master, and did not wish to press his conscience. The lords commissioners went twice to the Tower to tender the oath to him: but neither he nor Fisher would advance farther than their original declaration of perfect willingness to maintain the settlement of the crown, which, being a matter purely political, was within the undisputed competence of parliament. They refused to include in their oath any other matter on account of scruples of conscience, which they forbore to particularise, lest they might thereby furnish their enemies with a pretext for representing their defence as a new crime. A statement of their real ground of objection,—that it would be insincere in them to declare upon oath, that they believed the King’s marriage with Anne to be lawful,—might, in defending themselves against a charge of misprision of treason, have exposed them to the penalties of high treason.
Two difficulties occurred in reconciling the destruction of the victim with any form or colour of law. The first of them consisted in the circumstance that the naked act of refusing the oath was, even by the late statute, punishable only as a misprision; and though concealment of treason was never expressly declared to be only a misprision till the statute to that effect was passed under Philip and Mary,* —chiefly perhaps occasioned by the case of More,—yet it seemed strange thus to prosecute him for the refusal, as an act of treason, after it had been positively made punishable as a misprision by a general statute, and after a special act of attainder for misprision had been passed against him. Both these enactments were, on the supposition of the refusal being indictable for treason, absolutely useless, and such as tended to make More believe that he was safe as long as he remained silent. The second has been already intimated, that he had yet said nothing which could be tortured into a semblance of those acts derogatory to the King’s marriage, which had been made treason. To conquer this last difficulty, Sir Robin Rich, the solicitor-general, undertook the infamous task of betraying More into some declaration, in a confidential conversation, and under pretext of familiar friendship, which might be pretended to be treasonable. What the success of this flagitious attempt was, the reader will see in the account of More’s trial. It appears from a letter of Margaret Roper, apparently written sometime in the winter, that his persecutors now tried another expedient for vanquishing his constancy, by restraining him from attending church; and she adds, “from the company of my good mother and his poor children.”† More, in his answer, expresses his wonted affection in very familiar, but in most significant language:—“If I were to declare in writing how much pleasure your daughterly loving letters gave me, a peck of coals would not suffice to make the pens.” So confident was he of his innocence, and so safe did he deem himself on the side of law, that “he believed some new causeless suspicion, founded upon some secret sinister information,” had risen up against him.‡
On the 2d or 3d of May, 1535, More informed his dear daughter of a visit from Cromwell, attended by the attorney and solicitor-general, and certain civilians, at which Cromwell had urged to him the statute which made the King head of the Church, and required an answer on that subject; and that he had replied:—“I am the King’s true faithful subject, and daily bedesman: I say no harm, and do no harm; and if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live.” This ineffectual attempt was followed by another visit from Cranmer, the Chancellor, the Duke of Suffolk, the Earl of Wiltshire, and Cromwell, who, after much argument, tendered an oath, by which he was to promise to make answers to questions which they might put;* and on his decisive refusal, Cromwell gave him to understand that, agreeably to the language at the former conference, “his grace would follow the course of his laws towards such as he should find obstinate.” Cranmer, who too generally complied with evil counsels, but nearly always laboured to prevent their execution, wrote a persuasive letter to Cromwell, earnestly praying the King to be content with More and Fisher’s proffered engagement to maintain the succession, which would render the whole nation unanimous on the practical part of that great subject.
On the 6th of the same month, almost immediately after the defeat of every attempt to practise on his firmness, More was brought to trial at Westminster; and it will scarcely be doubted, that no such culprit stood at any European bar for a thousand years. It is rather from caution than from necessity that the ages of Roman domination are excluded from the comparison. It does not seem that in any moral respect Socrates himself could claim a superiority. It is lamentable that the records of the proceedings against such a man should be scanty. We do not certainly know the specific offence of which he was convicted. There does not seem, however, to be much doubt that the prosecution was under the act “for the establishment of the king’s succession,” passed in the session of 1533-4,† which made it high treason “to do any thing to the prejudice, slander, disturbance, or derogation of the lawful marriage” between Henry and Anne. Almost any act, done or declined, might be forced within the undefined limits of such vague terms. In this case the prosecutors probably represented his refusal to answer certain questions which, according to them, must have related to the marriage, his observations at his last examination, and especially his conversation with Rich, as overt acts of that treason, inasmuch as it must have been known by him that his conduct on these occasions tended to create a general doubt of the legitimacy of the marriage.
To the first alleged instance of his resist ance to the King, which consisted in his original judgment against the marriage, he answered in a manner which rendered reply impossible; “that it could never be treason for one of the King’s advisers to give him honest advice.” On the like refusal respecting the King’s headship of the Church, he answered that “no man could be punished for silence.” The attorney-general said, that the prisoner’s silence was “malicious:”—More justly answered, that “he had a right to be silent where his language was likely to be injuriously misconstrued.” Respecting his letters to Bishop Fisher, they were burnt, and no evidence was offered of their contents, which he solemnly declared to have no relation to the charges. And as to the last charge, that he had called the Act of Settlement “a two-edged sword, which would destroy his soul if he complied with it, and his body if he refused,” it was answered by him, that “he supposed the reason of his refusal to be equally good, whether the question led to an offence against his conscience, or to the necessity of criminating himself.”
Cromwell had before told him, that though he was suffering perpetual imprisonment for the misprision, that punishment did not release him from his allegiance, and that he was amenable to the law for treason;—overlooking the essential circumstances, that the facts laid as treason were the same on which the attainder for misprision was founded. Even if this were not a strictly maintainable objection in technical law, it certainly showed the flagrant injustice of the whole proceeding.
The evidence, however, of any such strong circumstances attendant on the refusal as could raise it into an act of treason must have seemed defective; for the prosecutors were reduced to the necessity of examining Rich, one of their own number, to prove circumstances of which he could have had no knowledge, without the foulest treachery on his part. He said, that he had gone to More as a friend, and had asked him, if an act of parliament had made him, Rich, king, would not he, More, acknowledge him. More had said, “Yes, sir, that I would?”—“If they declared me pope, would you acknowledge me?”—“In the first case, I have no doubt about temporal governments; but suppose the parliament should make a law that God should not be God, would you then, Mr. Rich, say that God should not be God?”—“No,” says Rich, “no parliament could make such a law.” Rich went on to swear, that More had added, “No more could the parliament make the King the supreme head of the Church.” More denied the latter part of Rich’s evidence altogether; which is, indeed, inconsistent with the whole tenor of his language: he was then compelled to expose the profligacy of Rich’s character. “I am,” he said, “more sorry for your perjury, than for mine own peril. Neither I, nor any man, ever took you to be a person of such credit as I could communicate with on such matters. We dwelt near in one parish, and you were always esteemed very light of your tongue, and not of any commendable fame. Can it be likely to your lordships that I should so unadvisedly overshoot myself, as to trust Mr. Rich with what I have concealed from the King, or any of his noble and grave counsellors?” The credit of Rich was so deeply wounded, that he was compelled to call Sir Richard Southwell and Mr. Panner, who were present at the conversation, to prop his tottering evidence. They made a paltry excuse, by alleging that they were so occupied in removing More’s books, that they did not listen to the words of this extraordinary conversation.
The jury,* in spite of all these circumstances, returned a verdict of “guilty.” Chancellor Audley, who was at the head of the commission, of which Spelman and Fitzherbert, eminent lawyers, were members, was about to pronounce judgment, when he was interrupted by More, who claimed the usual privilege of being heard to show that judgment should not be passed. More urged, that he had so much ground for his scruples as at least to exempt his refusal from the imputation of disaffection, or of what the law deems to be malice. The chancellor asked him once more how his scruples could balance the weight of the parliament, people, and Church of England?—a topic which had been used against him at every interview and conference since he was brought prisoner to Lambeth. The appeal to weight of authority influencing Conscience was, however, singularly unfortunate. More answered, as he had always done, “Nine out of ten of Christians now in the world think with me; nearly all the learned doctors and holy fathers who are already dead, agree with me; and therefore I think myself not bound to conform my conscience to the councell of one realm against the general consent of all Christendom.” Chief Justice Fitzjames concurred in the sufficiency of the indictment; which, after the verdict of the jury, was the only matter before the court.
The chancellor then pronounced the savage sentence which the law then directed in cases of treason. More, having no longer any measures to keep, openly declared, that after seven years’ study, “he could find no colour for holding that a layman could be head of the Church.” The commissioners once more offered him a favourable audience for any matter which he had to propose.—“More have I not to say, my lords,” he replied, “but that as St. Paul held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen to death, and as they are both now saints in heaven, and shall continue there friends for ever; so I verily trust, and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now here on earth been judges to my condemnation, we may, nevertheless, hereafter cheerfully meet in heaven, in everlasting salvation.”*
Sir W. Kingston, “his very dear friend,” constable of the Tower, as, with tears running down his cheeks, he conducted him from Westminster, condoled with his prisoner, who endeavoured to assuage the sorrow of his friend by the consolations of religion. The same gentleman said afterwards to Roper,—“I was ashamed of myself when I found my heart so feeble, and his so strong.” Margaret Roper, his good angel, watched for his landing at the Tower wharf. “After his blessing upon her knees reverently received, without care of herself, pressing in the midst of the throng, and the guards that were about him with halberts and bills, she hastily ran to him, and openly, in sight of them all, embraced and kissed him. He gave her again his fatherly blessing. After separation she, all ravished with the entire love of her dear father, suddenly turned back again, ran to him as before, took him about the neck, and divers times kissed him most lovingly,—a sight which made many of the beholders weep and mourn.”† Thus tender was the heart of the admirable woman who had at the same time the greatness of soul to strengthen her father’s fortitude, by disclaiming the advice for which he, having mistaken her meaning, had meekly rebuked her,—to prefer life to right.
On the 14th of June, More was once more examined by four civilians in the Tower. “He was asked, first, whether he would obey the King as supreme head of the Church of England on earth immediately under Christ? to which he said, that he could make no answer: secondly, whether he would consent to the King’s marriage with Queen Anne, and affirm the marriage with the lady Catharine to have been unlawful? to which he answered that he did never speak nor meddle against the same: and, thirdly, whether he was not bound to answer the said question, and to recognise the headship as aforesaid? to which he said, that he could make no answer”‡ It is evident that these interrogatories, into which some terms peculiarly objectionable to More were now for the first time inserted, were contrived for the sole purpose of reducing the illustrious victim to the option of uttering a lie, or of suffering death. The conspirators against him might, perhaps, have had a faint idea that they had at length broken his spirit; and if he persisted, they might have hoped that he could be represented as bringing destruction on himself by his own obstinacy. Such, however, was his calm and well-ordered mind, that he said and did nothing to provoke his fate. Had he given affirmative answers, he would have sworn falsely: he was the martyr of veracity; he perished only because he was sincere.
On Monday, the 5th of July, he wrote a farewell letter to Margaret Roper, with his usual materials of coal. It contained blessings on all his children by name, with a kind remembrance even to one of Margaret’s maids. Adverting to their last interview, on the quay, he says,—“I never liked your manner towards me better than when you kissed me last; for I love when daughterly love and dear charity have no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.”
Early the next morning Sir Thomas Pope, “his singular good friend,” came to him with a message from the King and council, to say that he should die before nine o’clock of the same morning. “The King’s pleasure,” said Pope, “is that you shall not use many words.”—“I did purpose,” answered More, “to have spoken somewhat, but I will conform myself to the King’s commandment, and I beseech you to obtain from him that my daughter Margaret may be present at my burial.”—“The King is already content that your wife, children, and other friends shall be present thereat.” The lieutenant brought him to the scaffold, which was so weak that it was ready to fall, on which he said, merrily, “Master lieutenant, I pray you see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” When he laid his head on the block he desired the executioner to wait till he had removed his beard, “for that had never offended his highness,”—ere the axe fell.
He has been censured by some for such levities at the moment of death. These are censorious cavils, which would not be worthy of an allusion if they had not occasioned some sentences of as noble reflection, and beautiful composition, as the English language contains. “The innocent mirth, which had been so conspicuous in his life, did not forsake him to the last. His death was of a piece with his life, there was nothing in it new, forced, or affected. He did not look upon the severing his head from his body as a circumstance which ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind; and as he died in a fixed and settled hope of immortality, he thought any unusual degree of sorrow and concern improper.”*
According to the barbarous practice of laws which vainly struggle to carry their cruelty beyond the grave, the head of Sir Thomas More was placed on London bridge. His darling daughter, Margaret, had the courage to procure it to be taken down, that she might exercise her affection by continuing to look on a relic so dear, and carrying her love beyond the grave, she desired that it might be buried with her when she died.† The remains of this precious relic are said to have been since observed, lying on what had once been her bosom. The male descendants of this admirable woman appear to have been soon extinct: Her descendants through females are probably numerous.‡ She resembled her father in mind, in manner, in the features and expression of her countenance, and in her form and gait. Her learning was celebrated throughout Christendom. It is seldom that literature wears a more agreeable aspect than when it becomes a bond of union between such a father and such a daughter.
Sir Thomas More’s eldest son, John, married Anne Cresacie, the heiress of an estate, still held by his posterity through females, at Barnborough, near Doncaster,* where the mansion of the Mores still subsists. The last male desendant was Thomas More, a Jesuit, who was principal of the college of Jesuits at Bruges, and died at Bath in 1795, having survived his famous order, and, according to the appearances of that time, his ancient religion;—as if the family of More were one of the many ties which may be traced, through the interval of two centuries and a half, between the revolutions of religion and those of government.
The letters and narratives of Erasmus diffused the story of his friend’s fate throughout Europe. Cardinal Pole bewailed it with elegance and feeling. It filled Italy, then the most cultivated portion of Europe, with horror. Paulo Jovio called Henry “a Phalaris,” though we shall in vain look in the story of Phalaris, or of any other real or legendary tyrant, for a victim worthy of being compared to More. The English ministers throughout Europe were regarded with averted eyes as the agents of a monster. At Venice, Henry, after this deed, was deemed capable of any crimes: he was believed there to have murdered Catharine, and to be about to murder his daughter Mary.† The Catholic zeal of Spain, and the resentment of the Spanish people against the oppression of Catharine, quickened their sympathy with More, and aggravated their detestation of Henry. Mason, the envoy at Valladolid, thought every pure Latin phrase too weak for More, and describes him by one as contrary to the rules of that language as “thrice greatest”‡ would be to those of ours. When intelligence of his death was brought to the Emperor Charles V., he sent for Sir T. Elliot, the English ambassador, and said to him, “My lord ambassador, we understand that the king your master has put his wise counsellor Sir Thomas More to death.” Elliot, abashed, made answer that he understood nothing thereof. “Well,” said the Emperor, “it is too true; and this we will say, that, if we had been master of such a servant, we should rather have lost the best city in our dominions than have lost such a worthy counsellor;”—“which matter,” says Roper, in the concluding words of his beautiful narrative, “was by Sir T. Elliot told to myself, my wife, to Mr. Clement and his wife, and to Mr. Heywood and his wife.”*
Of all men nearly perfect, Sir Thomas More had, perhaps, the clearest marks of individual character. His peculiarities, though distinguishing him from all others, were yet withheld from growing into moral faults. It is not enough to say of him that he was unaffected, that he was natural, that he was simple, so the larger part of truly great men have been. But there is something homespun in More which is common to him with scarcely any other, and which gives to all his faculties and qualities the appearance of being the native growth of the soil. The homeliness of his pleasantry purifies it from show. He walks on the scaffold clad only in his household goodness. The unrefined benignity with which he ruled his patriarchal dwelling at Chelsea enabled him to look on the axe without being disturbed by feeling hatred for the tyrant. This quality bound together his genius and learning, his eloquence and fame, with his homely and daily duties,—bestowing a genuineness on all his good qualities, a dignity on the most ordinary offices of life, and an accessible familiarity on the virtues of a hero and a martyr, which silences every suspicion that his excellencies were magnified. He thus simply performed great acts, and uttered great thoughts, because they were familiar to his great soul. The charm of this inborn and homebred character seems as if it would have been taken off by polish. It is this household character which relieves our notion of him from vagueness, and divests perfection of that generality and coldness to which the attempt to paint a perfect man is so liable.
It will naturally, and very strongly, excite the regret of the good in every age, that the life of this best of men should have been in the power of one who has been rarely surpassed in wickedness. But the execrable Henry was the means of drawing forth the magnanimity, the fortitude, and the meekness of More. Had Henry been a just and merciful monarch, we should not have known the degree of excellence to which human nature is capable of ascending. Catholics ought to see in More, that mildness and candour are the true ornaments of all modes of faith. Protestants ought to be taught humility and charity from this instance of the wisest and best of men falling into, what they deem, the most fatal errors. All men, in the fierce contests of contending factions, should, from such an example, learn the wisdom to fear lest in their most hated antagonist they may strike down a Sir Thomas More: for assuredly virtue is not so narrow as to be confined to any party; and we have in the case of More a signal example that the nearest approach to perfect excellence does not exempt men from mistakes which we may justly deem mischievous. It is a pregnant proof, that we should beware of hating men for their opinions, or of adopting their doctrines because we love and venerate then virtues.
Some particulars in the life of Sir Thomas More I am obliged to leave to more fortunate inquirers. They are, indeed, very minute; but they may appear to others worthy of being ascertained, as they appeared to me, from their connection with the life of a wise and good man.
The records of the Privy Council are preserved only since 1540, so that we do not exactly know the date of his admission into that body. The time when he was knighted (then a matter of some moment) is not known. As the whole of his life passed during the great chasm in writs for election, and returns of members of parliament, from 1477 to 1542, the places for which he sat, and the year of his early opposition to a subsidy, are unascertained;—notwithstanding the obliging exertion of the gentlemen employed in the repositories at the Tower, and in the Rolls’ chapel. We know that he was speaker of the House of Commons in 1523 and 1524.* Browne Willis owns his inability to fix the place which he represented;† but he conjectured it to have been “either Middlesex, where he resided, or Lancaster, of which duchy he was chancellor.” But that laborious and useful writer would not have mentioned the latter branch of his alternative, nor probably the former, if he had known that More was not Chancellor of the Duchy till two years after his speakership.
An anecdote in More’s chancellorship is connected with an English phrase, of which the origin is not quite satisfactorily explained. An attorney in his court, named Tubb, gave an account in court of a cause in which he was concerned, which the Chancellor (who with all his gentleness loved a joke) thought so rambling and incoherent, that he said at the end of Tubb’s speech, “This is a tale of a tub;” plainly showing that the phrase was then familiarly known. The learned Mr. Douce has informed a friend of mine, that in Sebastian Munster’s Cosmography, there is a cut of a ship, to which a whale was coming too close for her safety, and of the sailors throwing a tub to the whale, evidently to play with. The practice of throwing a tub or barrel to a large fish, to divert the animal from gambols dangerous to a vessel, is also mentioned in an old prose translation of The Ship of Fools. These passages satisfactorily explain the common phrase of throwing a tub to a whale; but they do not account for leaving out the whale, and introducing the new word “tale.” The transition from the first phrase to the second is a considerable stride. It is not, at least, directly explained by Mr. Douce’s citations; and no explanation of it has hitherto occurred which can be supported by proof. It may be thought probable that, in process of time, some nautical wag compared a rambling story, which he suspected of being lengthened and confused, in order to turn his thoughts from a direction not convenient to the story-teller, with the tub which he and his shipmates were wont to throw out to divert the whats from striking the bark, and perhaps said, “This tale is, like our tub to the whale.” The comparison might have become popular; and it might gradually have been shortened into “a tale of a tub.”
extracts from the records of the city of london relating to the appointment of sir thomas more to be under-sheriff of london, and some appointments of his immediate predecessors and of his successor.
(ad 1496. 27th September.)
“Commune consilium tentum die Martj Vicesimo Septimo die Septembr̃ Anno Regni Regis Henr̃ Septimi duo decimo.
“In isto Comūn Consilio Thomas Sall et Thomas Marowe confirmati sunt in Subvic̃ Civitati: London p. anno sequent, &c.”
“Comūne Consiliū tent die Lune xxvto die Sept̃ anno Regni Reĝs Henr̃ vii. xiijo.
“Isto die Thomas Marowe et Eds Dudley confirmat̃ sunt in Sub Vic̃ Sits London p. anno seqū.”
(1498 & 1501.)
Similar entries of the confirmation of Thomas Marowe and Edward Dudley are made in the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th Henry VII., and at a court of aldermen, held on the
17th Nov. 18 Henry 7. the following entry appears:—
“Ad hanc Cur̃ Thomas Marowe uñs sub vice comitū sponte resignat offim̃ suū.”
And at a Common Council held on the same day, is entered—
“In isto Communi Consilio Radūs adye Gentilman elect̃ est in unū Subvic̃ Civitats London loco Thomẽ Marwe Gentilman qui illud officiū sponte resignavit, capiend̃ feod̃ consuet̃.”
“Cōē Consiliū tent die Martis iijo die Septembris anno Regni Regs Henrici Octavi Secundo.
“Eodm̃ die Thom̃s More Gent elect̃ est in unū Subvic̃ Civitats London loc̃ Ric̃ Broke Gent qui nup elect̃ fuit in Recordator London.”
“Yt ys agreed that Thomas More Gent oon of Undersheryfes of London which shall go oỹ the Kings Ambasset̃ in to fflaunders shall occupie his Rowme and office by his sufficient Depute untyll his cūmyng home ageyn”
“Ye shall sweare that ye shall kepe the Secrets of this Courte and not to disclose eny thing ther spoken for the cõen welthe of this citie that myght hurt eny psone or brother of the seyd courte onles yt be spoken to his brothr or to other which in his conscience and discrec̃on shall thynk yt to be for the cõen welthe of this citie
So help you God.”
“Itm̃ ad ista Cur̃ Thomas More and Wills̃ Shelley Subvicecs Cits London jur̃ sunt ad articlm supdcm̃ spect xj die marcii.”
“Ad istam Cur̃ Thomas More Gent un Subvic̃ Cits in Comput̃ Pulletr London libẽ et sponte Surr̃ et resigñ officm̃ pdc̃m in manũ Maioris et Aldrõr.”
“Coie Consiliu tent̃ die Veñis xxiij die Julii anno regni regis Henrici Octavi decimo.”
“Isto die Johes Pakyngton Gent admissus est in unũ subvic̃ Civitats London loco Thome More qui spont et libẽ resignavit Officiu illud in Mañ Maioris aldrōr et Cōīs consilii. Et jur est &c.”
[* ] “In Sir Thomas More’s epitaph, he describes himself as ‘born of no noble family, but of an honest stock,’ (or in the words of the original, familiâ non celebri, sed honestâ natus,) a true translation, as we here take nobility and noble; for none under a baron, except he be of the privy council, doth challenge it; and in this sense he meant it; but as the Latin word nobilis is taken in other countries for gentrie, it was otherwise. Sir John More bare arms from his birth; and though we cannot certainly tell who were his ancestors, they must needs be gentlemen.”—Life of More (commonly reputed to be) by Thomas More, his great grandson, pp. 3, 4. This book will be cited nenceforward as “More.”
[† ] “Homo civilis, innocens, mitis, integer.”—Epitaph.
[* ] Dodd’s Church History, vol. i. p. 141. The Roman Catholics, now restored to their just rank in society, have no longer an excuse for not continuing this useful work. [This has been accordingly done since this note was written, by the Rev. M. A. Tierney.—Ed.]
[* ] Roper’s Life of Sir T. More, edited by Singer. This book will be cited henceforward as “Roper.”
[† ] History of Richard III.
[‡ ] More, p. 25.
[§ ] Athenæ Oxonienses, vol. i. p. 79.
[∥ ] See this Letter in the Appendix to the second volume of Jortin’s Life of Erasmus.
[* ] For Latimer, see Dodd, Church History, vol. i. p. 219.: for Grocyn, Ibid. p. 227: for Colet and Linacre, all biographical compilations.
[* ] “Delibavimus et olim has literas, sed summis duntaxat labiis; at nuper paulo aliius ingressi, videmus id quod sæpenumero apud gravissimos auctores legimus,—Latinam eruditionem, quamvis impendiosam, citra Græcismum mancam esse ac dimidiatam. Apud nos enim rivuli vix quidam sunt, et lacunulæ lutulentæ; apud illos fontes purissimier flumina aurum volventia.”—Opera. Lug. Bat. 1703. vol. iii. p. 63.
[† ] Ibid. vol. iii. p. 293.
[* ] “Gratulatur quod eam repererit incolumem quam olim fermè puer amaverat.”—Not, in Poem. It does not seem reconcilable with dates, that his lady could have been the younger sister of Jane Colt. Vide infrà.
[† ] Inn was successively applied, like the French word hotel, first to the town mansion of a great man, and afterwards to a house where all mankind were entertained for money.
[* ] Doctor and Student (by St. Germain) and Diversité des Courtes were both printed by Rastell in 1534.
[† ]Nullus causidicus nisi clericus.
[‡ ] Roper, p. 5.
[§ ] More, p. 44.
[* ] “Suavissime More.” “Charissime More.” “Mellitissime More.”
[† ] “Maluit maritus esse castus quam sacerdos impurus.” Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 475.
[‡ ] Roper, p. 6.
[§ ] More, p. 30.
[∥ ] Erasmus. Op. vol. iii. p. 475.
[* ] “In a few months,” says Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 475.:—“within two or three years,” according to his great grandson.—More, p. 32.
[† ] Erasmus, vol. iii. p. 475.
[* ] Roper, p. 25.
[† ] Op. vol. iii. p. 1812.
[* ] Dedication of Utopia to Peter Giles, (Burnet’s translation,) 1684.
[* ] Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 476.
[† ] “In urbe suâ pro shyrevo dixit.”—Epitaph.
[‡ ] Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 220.
[§ ] From communications obtained for me from the records of the City, I am enabled to ascertain some particulars of the nature of More’s appointment, which have occasioned a difference of opinion. On the 8th of May, 1514, it was agreed by the common council, “that, Thomas More, gentleman, one of the under-sheriffs of London, should occupy his office and chamber by a sufficient deputy, during his absence as the king’s ambassador in Flanders.” It appears from several entries in the same records, from 1496 to 1502 inclusive, that the under-sheriff was annually elected, or rather confirmed; for the practice was not to remove him without his own application or some serious fault. For six years of Henry’s reign, Edward Dudley was one of the under-sheriffs; a circumstance which renders the superior importance of the office at that time probable. Thomas Marowe, the author of works on law esteemed in his time, though not published, appears also in the above records as under-sheriff.
[* ] Roper, p. 7. There seems to be some forgetfulness of dates in the latter part of this passage, which has been copied by succeeding writers. Margaret, it is well known, was married in 1503; the debate was not, therefore, later than that year: but Henry VII. lived till 1509.
[* ] More, p. 38.
[† ] “Postquam pugnatum est apud Actium, magna illa ingenia cessere.”—Tacitus, Hist. lib. i. cap. 1.
[‡ ] Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 476.
[§ ] History of Richard III.
[* ] De Clar. Orat. cap. 17.
[† ] Holinshed, vol. iii. p. 360. Holinshed called More’s work “unfinished.” That it was meant to extend to the death of Richard III. seems probable from the following sentence:—“But, forasmuch as this duke’s (the Duke of Gloucester) demeanour ministereth in effect all the whole matter whereof this book shall entreat, it is therefore convenient to show you, as we farther go, what manner of man this was that could find in his heart such mischief to conceive.”—p. 361.
[* ] The following specimen of Utopian etymologies may amuse some readers:—
Some are intentionally unmeaning, and others are taken from little known language in order to perplex pedants. Joseph Scaliger represents Utopia as a word not formed according to the analogy which regulates the formation of Greek words.
[* ] Burnet’s translation, p. 13, et seq.
[† ] Burnet’s translation, p. 57. Happening to write where I have no access to the original, I use Burnet’s translation. There can be no doubt of Burnet’s learning or fidelity.
[* ] Erasmi Opera, vol. iii. p. 267.
[† ] Ibid. p. 321.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 591. To this theory neither of the parties about to contend could have assented; but it is not on that account the less likely to be in a great measure true.
[* ] Records of the Common Council of London.
[† ] In a letter to Erasmus, 30th April, 1516.
[‡ ] Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 476.
[* ] Roper, p. 12.
[† ] More, p. 49.
[‡ ] Roper, pp. 21, 22. Compare this insight into Henry’s character with a declaration post of an opposite nature, though borrowed also from castles and towns, made by Charles V. when he heard of More’s murder.
[* ] Records of the city of London.
[† ] Est quod Moro gratuleris; nam Rex hunc nec ambientem nec flagitantem munere magnifico honestavit, addito salario nequaquam penitendo: est enim principi suo à thesauris. . . Nec hoc contentus, equitis aurati dignitatem adjecit.—Erasmus, Op. vol. iii. p. 378.
“Then died Master Weston, treasurer of the exchequer, whose office the King, of his own accord, without any asking, freely gave unto Sir Thomas More.”—Roper, 13.
The minute verbal coincidences which often occur between Erasmus and Roper, cannot be explained otherwise than by the probable supposition, that copies or originals of the correspondence between More and Erasmus were preserved by Roper after the death of the former.
[* ] Op. vol. ii. p. 357.
[† ] Op. vol. iii. p. 589.
[‡ ] Ibid. From the dates of the following letters of Erasmus, it appears that the hopes of More were disappointed.
[§ ] 14 Henry VIII.
[* ] This conjecture is almost raised above that name by what precedes. “Sir Thomas More made an oration, not now extant, to the king’s highness, for his discharge from the speakership, whereunto when the king would not consent, the speaker spoke to his grace in the form following: —It cannot be doubted, without injustice to the honest and amiable biographer, that he would have his readers to understand that the original of the speeches, which actually follow, were extant in his hands.
[* ] Roper, pp. 13—21.
[* ] Roper, p. 20.
[* ] More, p. 53. with a small variation.
[† ] Such is the information which I have received from the records in the Tower. The accurate writer of the article on More, in the Biographia Britannica, is perplexed by finding Sir Thomas More, chancellor of the duchy, as one of the negotiators of a treaty in August, 1526, which seems to the writer in the Biographia to bring down the death of Wingfield to near that time; he being on all sides acknowledged to be More’s immediate predecessor. But there is no difficulty, unless we needlessly assume that the negotiation with which Wingfield was concerned related to the same treaty which More concluded. On the contrary, the first appears to have been a treaty with Spain; the last a treaty with France.
[‡ ] State Papers, Hen. VIII. vol. i. p. 196. Wolsey’s words are,—“He expressly affirmed, that however displeasantly the queen took this matter, yet the truth and judgment of the law must take place. I have instructed him how he shall order himself if the queen shall demand his counsel, which he promises me to follow.”
[§ ] State Papers, Hen. VIII. vol. i. p. 168.
[* ] Records in the Tower.
[† ] More’s answer to Tyndal, part i. p. 128.—(Printed by John Rastell, 1532.)
[* ] Op. vol. iii. p. 1811.
[† ] More’s Apology, chap. 36.
[‡ ] Such was then the mode of curing insanity!
[§ ] Apology, chap. 36.
[* ] There is a remarkable instance of this observation in More’s Dialogue, book iii. chap. xvi., where he tells, with some prolixity, the story of Richard Dunn, who was found dead, and hanging in the Lollard’s Tower. The only part taken by More in this affair was his share as a privy councillor in the inquiry, whether Dunn hanged himself, or was murdered and then hanged up by the Bishop of London’s chancellor. The evidence to prove that the death could not be suicide, was as absurd as the story of the bishop’s chancellor was improbable. He was afterwards, however, convicted by a jury, but pardoned, it should seem rightly, by the King.
[† ] History of the Reformation (Lond. 1820), vol. iii. part i. p. 45.
[* ] The change of opinion in Erasmus, and the less remarkable change of More in the same respect, is somewhat excused by the excesses and disorders which followed the Reformation. “To believe,” says Bayle, “that the church required reformation, and to approve a particular manner of reforming it, are two very different things. To blame the opponents of reformation, and to disapprove the conduct of the reformers, are two things very compatible. A man may then imitate Erasmus, without being an apostate or a traitor.”—Dictionary, art. Castellan. These are positions too reasonable to be practically believed, at the time when their adoption would be most useful.
[† ] In the Apology, More states that four-tenths of the people were unable to read; probably an overrated estimate of the number of readers.
[* ] Dialogue of Sir Thomas More, touching the pestilent sect of Luther, composed and published when he was chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, “but newly oversene by the said Sir T. More, chancellor of England,” 1530.
[† ] A violent exaggeration.
[‡ ] Dialogue, book iv. chap. 8.
[* ] Switzerland, Holland, Scotland, English puritans, New England, French Huguenots, &c.
[† ] This wish is put into the mouth of the adverse speaker in the Dialogue.
[* ] In More’s metrical inscription for his own monument, we find a just but long, and somewhat laboured, commendation of Alice, which in tenderness is outweighed by one word applied to the long-departed companion of his youth.
“Chara Thomæ jacet hic Joanna uxorcula Mori.”
[* ] Thorpe, in 1371, and Knivet, in 1372, seem to be the last exceptions.
[† ] Ducange and Spelman, voce Cancellarius, who give us the series of Chancellors in both countries.
[* ] “Non facile est digito monstrare quibus gradibus, sed conjecturam accipe.”—Spelman, voce Cancellarius.
[† ] Blackstone, book iii. chap. 4.
[‡ ] Calendars of Proceedings in Chancery, temp. Eliz. London 1827. Of ten of these suits which occurred in the last ten years of the fourteenth century, one complains of ouster from land by violence; another, of exclusion from a benefice, by a writ obtained from the king under false suggestions; a third, for the seizure of a freeman, under pretext of being a slave (or nief); a fourth, for being disturbed in the enjoyment of land by a trespasser, abetted by the sheriff; a fifth for imprisonment on a false allegation of debt. No case is extant prior to the first year of Henry V., which relates to the trust of lands, which eminent writers have represented as the original object of this jurisdiction. In the reign of Henry VI. there is a bill against certain Wycliffites for outrages done to the plaintiff, Robert Burton, chanter of the cathedral of Lincoln, on account of his zeal as an inquisitor in the diocese of Lincoln, to convict and punish heretics.
[* ] From a letter of Lord Bacon (Lords’ Journals, 20th March, 1680,) it appears that he made two thousand decrees and orders in a year; so that in his time the bills and answers amounted to about two-thirds of the whole business.
[† ] The numbers have been obligingly supplied by the gentlemen of the Record Office in the Tower.
[‡ ] Account of Proceedings in Parliament relative to the Court of Chancery. By C. P. Cooper, Esq. (Lond. 1828,) p. 102, &c.—A work equally remarkable for knowledge and acuteness.
[§ ] Table Talk, (Edinb. 1809,) p. 55.
[* ] Blackstone, book iii. chap. 27. Lord Hardwicke’s Letter to Lord Kames, 30th June, 1757.—Lord Woodhouselee’s Life of Lord Kames, vol. i. p. 237.
[† ] More, pp. 156, 163.
[* ] More, p. 163.
[† ] Leviticus, chap. xix. v. 15.
[* ] “Thomas Morus, doctrinâ et probitate spectabilis vir, cancellarius in Wolsæi locum constituitur. Neutiquam Regis causæ æquior.”—Thuanus, Historia sui Temporis, lib. ii. c. 16.
[* ] “Margarita Francisci soror, spectatæ formæ et venustatis fœmina, Carolo Alenconio duce marito paulo ante mortuo, vidua permanserat. Ea destinata uxor Henrico: missique Wolsæus et Bigerronum Præsul qui de dissolvendo matrimonio cum Gallo agerent. Ut Caletum appulit, Wolsæus mandatum à rege contrarium accipit, rescivitque per amicos Henricum non tam Galli adfinitatem quam insanum amorem, quo Annam Bolenam prosequebatur, explere velle.”—Ibid. No trace of the latter part appears in the State Papers just (1831) published.
[† ] Leviticus, chap. xx. v. 22. But see Deuteronomy, chap. xxv. v. 5. The latter text, which allows an exception in the case of a brother’s wife being left childless, may be thought to strengthen the prohibition in all cases not excepted. It may seem applicable to the precise case of Henry. But the application of that text is impossible; for it contains an injunction, of which the breach is chastised by a disgraceful punishment.
[* ] Pallavicino, lib. ii. c. 15.
[† ] Ibid.
[* ] The description of the period appears to suit the year 1529, before the peace of Cambray and the recall of the legate Campeggio.
[† ] Probably in the beginning of 1527, after the promotion of More to be chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.
[* ] Roper, p. 32.
[† ] Ibid. p. 48.
[* ] “Honorificè jussit rex de me testatum reddere quod ægrè ad preces meas me demiserit.”—More to Erasmus.
[† ] Apology, chap. x.
[* ] Roper, pp. 51, 52.
[* ] Letter to Cromwell, probably written in the end of 1532.
[† ] Of whom some were afterwards executed.
[* ] 25 H. viii. c. 12.
[† ] Such as Hall and Holinshed.
[‡ ] p. 62.
[§ ] Like a slave or a villain. The word in the mouth of these gentlemen appears to have been in a state of transition, about the middle point between the original sense of “like a slave,” and its modern acceptation of mean or malignant offenders. What proof is not supplied by this single fact in the history of the language of the masters, of their conviction, that the slavery maintained by them doomed the slaves to depravity!
[* ] The House of Lords addressed the King, praying him to declare whether it would be agreeable to his pleasure that Sir Thomas More and others should not be heard in their own defence before “the lords in the royal senate called the Stere Chamber.” Nothing more appears on the Journals relating to this matter. Lords’ Journals, 6th March, 1533. The Journals prove the narrative of Roper, from which the text is composed, to be as accurate as it is beautiful.
[† ] He spoke to her in his conversational Latin,—“Quod differtur non aufertur.”
[* ] Lords’ Journals, vol. i. p. 82.
[* ] Roper tells us that the King, who had intended to desist from his importunities, was exasperated by Queen Anne’s clamour to tender the oath at Lambeth; but he detested that unhappy lady, whose marriage was the occasion of More’s ruin: and though Roper was an unimpeachable witness relating to Sir Thomas’ conversation, he is of less weight as to what passed in the interior of the palace. The ministers might have told such a story to excuse themselves to Roper: Anne could have had no opportunity of contradiction.
[* ] 26 H. VIII. c. 2.
[† ] 25 Id. c. 22. § 9. Compare Lords’ Journals, vol. i. p. 82.
[‡ ] 26 H. VIII. c. 22, 23.
[§ ] Roper, p. 78.
[∥ ] Nares’ Glossary, London, 1822.
[* ] English Works, vol. i. p. 1430.
[† ] His waiting-man, Ibid. p. 1431. Bedesman—one who prays for another.
[‡ ] Roper, p. 72.
[* ] 1 & 2 Phil. and Mar. c. 10.
[† ] English Works, vol. i. p. 1446.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 1447.
[* ] English Works, vol. i. p. 1452.
[† ] 25 H. VIII. c. 22.
[* ] Sir T. Palmer, Sir T. Bent, G. Lovell, esquire. Thomas Burbage, esquire, and G. Chamber, Edward Stockmore, William Brown, Jasper Leake, Thomas Bellington, John Parnell, Richard Bellamy, and G. Stoakes, gentlemen, were the jury.
[* ] Roper, p. 90.
[† ] Ibid. p. 90.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 92.
[* ] Spectator, No. 349.
[† ] She survived her father about nine years.
[‡ ] One of them, Mr. James Hinten Baverstock, inserted his noble pedigree from Margaret, in 1819, in a copy of More’s English Works, at this moment before me.
[* ] Hunter’s South Yorkshire, vol. i. pp. 374, 375.
[† ] Eilis’ Original Letters, 2d series, lett. cxvii.
[‡ ] Ibid. lett. cx. “Ter maximus ille Morus.”
[* ] Instead of Heywood, perhaps we ought to read “Heron?” In that case the three daughters of Sir Thomas More would be present: Mrs. Roper was the eldest, Mrs. Clement the second, and Cecilia Heron the youngest.
[* ] Rolls of Parliament in Lords’ Journals, vol. i.
[† ] Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. iii. p. 112.