Sir Thomas More was a lawyer, scholar and diplomat who rose to become Lord Chancellor of England. He also became part of the circle of scholars, known as ‘Humanists’ who gathered around Erasmus of Rotterdam. Coming to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey, he began to undertake diplomatic work for the King, and joined the King’s Council in 1518. Becoming Lord Chancellor in 1529, he was unable to support Henry’s claim to be Supreme Head of the Church in England, and was executed in 1535.
More was born and bred in the heart of the old City of London and spent most of his life there. He identified strongly with the city, and mentioned it in the epitaph he wrote for himself. To follow More’s footsteps is to see London in a transition between the mediaeval of his boyhood and the massive societal changes that began to happen in the last years of his life as the population exploded and religious practices changed out of all recognition.
More’s life experiences were, in some ways, very similar to many people today – he was of comfortable, but not wealthy, background, went to university, studied for a profession, had a family whom he loved, yet the tumult of the times in which he lived and the very different religious and social outlook make him hard to understand.
Listen to our editor, Melita Thomas, discussing Thomas More with Heather Teysko of the Renaissance English History Podcast.