Friday, August 7, 2015

Tackling Tudor Thomases, One At a Time. Today's Thomas: More

Thomas More was a deeply, sincerely pious man who'd known Henry VIII from the time the kind was a very little boy.

He'd first met Henry VIII back when Henry was still Prince Hal, the younger brother of the 'heir' Prince Arthur. While More was the same age as Henry's father, Henry VII, More was pleased to talk with the youngster, who showed at that early age, a winning combination of charisma and intelligence.
While not a member of the clergy, More's faith was the cornerstone of his personality; his occupation was lawyer - which sounds a little ironic now, but the law in Tudor England included components of religion as not believing in God, for example, was considered heretical and was punishable. 
So, interpretation of the law by a reasonable, religious lawyer - as long as the lawyer wasn't gripped by crazy Christian fervor - was a way to show mercy while still upholding the law of the land.

More attended Saint Anthony School in London; at the time, Saint Anthony had a reputation for excellence in education. He then went to Oxford for a couple of years to get what we'd call 'required coursework' under his belt, then began his study of the law. 
It was common in Tudor times for young men to spend at least some time studying English law; all the better to defend themselves in the future, should they need to do that; not all of them, however, became lawyers. 

More married at age twenty-seven and his wife, reported to be lovely, gentle and kind, gave birth to his three daughters and one son.
More believed in education.
He didn't care if a person were young, old, male or female, his love of learning was what he shared with everyone in his circle.
For example, he reportedly tutored his wife in the arts - literary and musical.
His daughters received an education far, far above that of other girls and that had a happy ripple effect on the daughters of noblemen whose fathers followed More's example.
Until the brainy More girls demonstrated their language skills in letters written (in Latin, no less - aykm?) to their proud papa who showed them to his friends, girls could completely slack off at school and no one cared. 
Leading by example, More made it acceptable to stop the well-tolerated flow of messages: "Hello, this is the Attendance Office at _______ School. Your daughter missed ____ period today. If this is an excused absence .  .  . "(noblemen stopped excusing it, and got behind giving the girls more to do than just embroider and learn to dance.) 

As often happened back then, More's wife died around six years into the marriage. 
Six years. 
Four children. 
(Makes one wonder if the women didn't just make good on the threat of mothers since the beginning of time, "If I don't get some sleep, I'm going to lie down on the floor and die.")

Less than a month later, More had re-married.
With four children, a man's life just ran smoother with a wife. 
More's second wife was - well, rich (widow) and snippy with a big mouth, according to his social circle.
A man's got to do what a man's got to do, so More seems to have put noticing his wife's faults beneath his dignity and the union was not an unhappy one. 

Career-wise, More started off politically as a member of Parliament. He then moved on as a second-in-command of a sheriff's office in London. 
He did such a solid, honest job serving the public that it brought him to the attention of his higher-ups, and eventually he ended up serving very close to the King, indeed.

Henry VIII, no longer the engaging little boy but a full-grown King of England, asked advice of More often and gave More's counsel his full attention. 
More was made Lord Chancellor once Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (previous Lord Chancellor) blew it and had that honor yanked away from him, proving Henry VIII's reliance on the counsel and loyalty of their friendship. 
Thomas More, man of his word, answered to God and God alone. 
Then along came Anne Boleyn.
Her relationship with Henry blew apart the very fiber of the structure of English society; to have her, Henry had to bring down the rule of the Catholic church in England in order to divorce/annul his then-wife.
To make a long and fascinating story short, Anne Boleyn may not have been the reason protestants took hold in England, but she certainly was the wick that lit the dynamite.

To have her (Henry VIII's idea) as his wife (Anne Boleyn's idea) the King had to discredit the Catholic laws about who is responsible for all of those souls needing saving on the earth at that time. 
Henry being Henry, he said, "Easy-peasey, I'm in charge and God is totally cool with that, lemon-squeezey."

More (and pretty much everyone else in the country) disagreed.
When Henry went ahead and married Anne, then threw a coronation to end all coronations to convince the public they love-love-loved their new Queen, More refused to attend.
Henry then upped the ante by forcing everybody to declare they believed God was cool with, in fact wanted, Henry VIII to be in charge of the after-death welfare of all the souls in England.
More called bullshit on Henry's idea by refusing to take the bait - er, oath.

So all those years of being friends with one of the nicest Tudor Thomases went right down the toilet and Henry VIII had More thrown into the Tower of London as a traitor.
Nice guy, right?
At first, the atmosphere in More's new Tower digs was fairly decent - as an upper-class citizen, he'd have been able to arrange for good meals, a mattress, some blankets, books, maybe a servant or two.
But time marched on, and Henry VIII and More began to play the Uncle game (of course, you should substitute, 'I'm the Head of the Church' for 'Uncle.)
"Say 'Uncle!'" Henry said.
"Nope," More said.
So the blankets and mattress got taken away.
"Say Uncle!"
Away went the access to good meals.
"Say Uncle!"
Away went books, servants, candles.
"Last time, Tom. Say Uncle!
"FUCK YOU!" (Of course, More probably didn't use profanity.)

So Henry had More led out to a rickety old wooden scaffold (when scaffolds get rickety? a hell of a lot of executions are going on in that time period) where More, by then unsteady on his feet due to living in damp, walk-in-cooler temperatures and eating next to nothing, had to ask for help to climb the stairs.
Did he whine about it?
Did he sob uncontrollably?
No, he did not.
He made the first of two jokes, both said within about five minutes of taking an axe to the neck: "I pray you, Master Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself." lol.

Once up on the platform, he told everyone who could hear him that he would die being the following things:
1. a good Catholic
2. a servant faithful to the King
3. "but God's servant first." 
More got the last word, and said it better than anyone could have - until he topped even that zinger.

Beheading meat the doomed prisoner put their head on a block of wood, the better to expose the neck. 
After assuming the position, More took a minute to hold up the proceedings when he carefully lifted his beard out of the way.
He commented that his beard shouldn't be cut off as it hadn't committed treason.

And that, my friends, is a great exit line. 

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