Thomas More (1478–1535)

Image: (Wikipedia): “Portrait of Sir Thomas More (1527) by Hans Holbein the Younger, now in the Frick Collection in New York. The work was created during the period from 1526 when Holbein lived in London. He gained the friendship of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who recommended that he befriend More, then a powerful, knighted speaker at the English Parliament.

From: the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Thomas More was an English lawyer, humanist, statesman, and Catholic martyr, whose paradoxical life is reflected in his contrasting titles: he was knighted by King Henry VIII in 1521 and canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935. Born to an affluent mercantile and professional family, he was representative of the lively intellectual culture which had evolved in fifteenth century London and which provided a platform for the early manifestations of humanism. More’s outlook was shaped by his legal role in the affairs of the city, then by far the largest in England with a population of about 50,000, and it was as a representative of city interests that he was first drawn into service of the Crown. This involvement with London’s civic life also played its part in the conception of Utopia, his best known work, completed in 1516.

His friendship with the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus lasted over thirty years and was crucial to the development of his own ideas on literary studies, in particular the revival of Greek, and on the social possibilities of education. It was thanks to Erasmus that he was drawn into the literary networks of Northern humanism. While More cannot be classified in any formal sense as a philosopher, it is in his writings in defence of humanism and in Utopia that he can best be seen as an exponent of ideas. In the early years of their association More and Erasmus shared a critical interest in exposing the follies and abuses of contemporary life, not least in matters of religious practice; but once More was drawn into the savage polemics of the early Reformation, he defended Catholic orthodoxy with all the weapons at his disposal.

However, his efforts were compromised by a shift in government policy. His conscientious refusal to support King Henry’s campaign to repudiate his marriage to Katherine of Aragon led to his retirement from public life and, ultimately, to imprisonment. During fourteen months in the Tower he wrote a number of devotional works which are in contrast to the severity of his polemical writings. Tried for treason, More was beheaded on 6 July 1535. His death caused widespread indignation on the Continent, where he was initially seen as a model of integrity, a Seneca-like counsellor who resisted a tyrannical ruler. His status as a Catholic martyr emerged later under the influence of the English Counter-Reformation.”

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