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Thomas More

St. Thomas More

Born: February 6, 1478

Died: July 6, 1535

Canonized: May 19, 1935, by Pope Pius XI

Feast Day: June 22

Patron Saint of: civil servants, court clerks, government employees, lawyers

Thomas was born in London, England, to Sir John and Agnes More. As part of his upper-class education, at the age of 13, he became a page to Cardinal Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VII. The Cardinal was highly impressed with Thomas and, as a result, sent him on to Oxford University in 1492 to continue his education. Due to a combination of a lack of money and a desire to learn, Thomas spent most of his non-classroom time in his room studying, becoming fluent in Greek, French and Latin. After two years at Oxford, Thomas went to New Inn in London and then on to Lincoln's Inn to study law and philosophy. He passed the bar in 1501 and by 1504 he was elected to the Parliament. As a member of Parliament, Thomas successfully reduced a Henry VII supported taxation plan. In retaliation, Henry VII had Sir John More arrested and fined 100 pounds on a manufactured charge. After that incident, Thomas was careful not to cross the king again, for fear that his loved ones would be made to suffer. Thomas was married and his wife, Jane, bore four children. Jane died just six years after they were married. Thomas did later remarry. Henry VII died and was replaced by Henry VIII; Cardinal Morton passed on and was replaced by Thomas Wolsey. Thomas More's accomplishments as a lawyer were not unnoticed and he was named undersheriff of London. By 1518, Thomas was a royal councilor and a member of the court before being knighted and named assistant royal treasurer. As his career continued, he also served as speaker of the House of Commons, high steward of Cambridge and chancellor of Lancaster. Thomas More's manor in Chelsea was renowned as the place for intellectuals of the time to gather and share ideas. About this time is when Henry VIII started his betrothment of several wives and the persecution (including imprisonment beheading) of several of them when they no longer fit into his plans. Henry VIII was in full favor of the Church, especially after some well-written defenses against the heresies of Martin Luther; however these sordid events ripped at England and the Church. When Henry VIII's request for an annulment of the marriage to his first wife was refused by the Church, Cardinal Wosley was removed as lord chancellor of England and was replaced by Thomas More in 1529. These were troubling times for the Church in England; while Thomas was busy defending against the heresies of Lutheranism, Henry VIII was setting the wheels in motion to separate the Church of England from the Catholic Church. At first opportunity, Thomas resigned, just 4 years into the job, and restricted his movement for 1 1/2 years to the immediate surroundings of his Chelsea manor. During this time Henry VIII outwardly attacked the Church, stealing her treasures and naming himself head of the Church in the British Isles. The Act of Succession made the separation official in 1534. When Thomas refused to take the oath of the Act of Succession, he was arrested, all possessions were confiscated and he was imprisoned on April 17th of that year in the Tower of London. Shortly thereafter, the Act of Supremacy made the king the supreme head of the Church of England. On July 1, 1535, Thomas More was charged with high treason for denying the king's authority granted by the Act of Supremacy; he was found guilty, thanks to false testimony, and was sentenced to death. The sentence was finally carried out when Thomas More was beheaded on July 6, 1535. His last words before the witnesses of his execution were that he was "the King's good servant but God's first."