Thomas More (1478-1535)
King Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Whenever my friends argue, it’s because they have strong, opposing opinions on various issues. Controversy is part of human nature, and certain disagreements between humans have played key roles in shaping history. John McKay’s A History of Western Society shows how philosophies and views of living began to drastically change in the “Renaissance” period, and the changes were appropriate for such a time named after the word “rebirth” (McKay 407). Many different historians and rhetoricians began to emerge and present their own theories and ideas in the form of literature. Among these remarkable people are Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), who wrote the famed political work The Prince, and Thomas More (1478-1535), who wrote Utopia, a book about the perfect society (417).
According to Gale Biography article “More, Sir Thomas” by Milton Krieger, More was born on February 6, 1478 to a family closely connected with London’s legal community, and he developed a unique perspective and slant on humanist ideals (Krieger 1). Krieger suggests that as the influence of humanism in England during More’s time began to grow, he began to explore the style of thought by mixing in his own educational and religious backgrounds with the new concepts of individualism and personal capabilities (1). More became part of London’s Christian humanist circle while maintaining to advance his legal career, and eventually entering Parliament in 1504. Since Thomas More had developed such full and opinionated views of humanism throughout his life, it was inevitable that he eventually clash with the authoritative and controlling Henry VIII.
According to Steven Douglas Smith’s research article on Thomas More, the king had More executed, in 1535 officially for “opposing religious policy” because More refused to recognize the ruler’s supremacy over the Catholic church, but some historians think that More’s death was partly caused by his lack of support for Henry VIII’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn (Smith 159). Unfortunately, we cannot ask Thomas More why he had such a dispute with his king, but we can look into his literature to see if the historians have a valid point. More’s “perfect society” in Utopia has some strict and very specific rules on divorce and remarriage, as when the Utopian law states that for failed marriages, “the guilty are made infamous and are never allowed the privilege of another marriage” (More, 7). Despite Thomas More’s actual intentions, his life and demise show just how dangerous revolutionary ideas can be to individuals supporting them.
Excerpt from 1966 film A Man for All Seasons in which More refuses to sanction Henry’s manipulation to make himself head of the Church of England:
McKay, John. A History of Western Society. 4. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. 416-418. Print.
Krieger, Milton. “More, Sir Thomas (1478-1535).” Encyclopedia of World Biography 1. (1998): n.pag. Gale Biography in Context. Web. 2 Feb 2012.
Smith, Steven Douglas. “Interrogating Thomas More: The Conundrums of Conscience.” Social Science Research Network. University of San Diego, 25 sep 2003. Web. 10 Feb 2012. <http://www.thomasmorestudies.org/tmstudies/Interrogating_TM_QnD.pdf>.
“Utopia/Chapter 7.” Wikisource, The Free Library. 5 Sep 2011, 11:51 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Feb 2012 <//en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Utopia/Chapter_7&oldid=3364115>.
Andrew Stuttaford. Thomas More. 2010. Photograph. Secular RightWeb. 13 Feb 2012. <http://secularright.org/SR/wordpress/tag/thomas-more/>.
Zinnemann, Fred, dir. A Man for All Seasons. Phoenix Film and Video, 1966. Web. 14 Feb 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SHzBoU_05A&feature=player_embedded>.