“The King’s good servant, but God’s first”
Thomas More was born in London on 7 February 1478, son of Sir John More, a prominent judge. He was educated at St. Anthony’s School in London. He went on to study at Oxford and during this time, he wrote comedies, studied Greek and Latin literature.
Around 1494, More returned to London to study law, was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1496 and became a barrister in 1501. He became a close friend with Desiderius Erasmus during the latter’s first visit to England in 1499. This was to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship and correspondence.
In 1510 More was appointed one of the two undersheriffs of London where he gained the reputation of being impartial and a patron to the poor. In 1510 his first wife died in childbirth. He was soon married again to Dame Alice.
For several reasons during the next decade, More gained the favour of King Henry V111and was made Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. In this role, he helped establish the parliamentary privilege of free speech. He refused to endorse King Henry’s plan to divorce Katherine of Aragon (1527) . Nevertheless, after the fall of Thomas Wolsey in 1529, More became Lord Chancellor, the first layman yet to hold the post.
While his work in the law courts was exemplary, his fall came quickly. Citing ill health, he resigned in 1532, but it is believed the reason was he disapproved of Henry’s stance towards the Church and he refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn in June 1533, which of course did not escape the King’s notice.
In 1534 Thomas refused to swear to the Act of Supremacy, and was committed to the Tower of Lond on 17 April. He was found guilty of treason and was beheaded on July 6 1535. His final words on the scaffold were “The King’s good servant, but God’s first”
Thomas More was beatified in 1886 and canonized as a Saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935.
Prayer of St. Thomas More
Dear St. Thomas More,
Champion of the truth in an age fraught with falsehood,
grant that we, in all the discord of our world today,
may follow your example of humble obedience
and submission to the divine institution
of the Church and the See of Peter.
We make your prayer our own,
that at the end of our earthly lives,
we may in heaven
merrily all meet together,
to our everlasting salvation.