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MonkeyNotes-Utopia by Sir Thomas More
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

SIR THOMAS MORE

Sir Thomas More (1478 - 1535) was an outstanding public figure in England during the reign of Henry VIII in Tudor England. He is best known by students of literature as the author of Utopia, but he is also known as a great diplomat of Henry VIII's court to history students. Being a martyred hero and saint for refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as the rightful head of the Church of England as well as his annulment to Catharine of Aragon, More is also a well-known figure to Roman Catholics.

His parents were Sir John More and Agnes Granger, a relatively prosperous family in London. His father was a lawyer who rose to the rank of a judge in the King's Bench. More's early education was at St. Antony's School in London. When he was twelve, he joined the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Two years later he entered Oxford, and after studying at New Inn, London, he went on to study law at Lincoln's Inn. As a lawyer he was very successful although he was divided for some time whether to enter the church or study law. The period of his youth coincided with the dawn of humanism in Europe. Humanism was the great movement that threw off the shackles of the Middle Ages and its fixation with the afterlife and religious devotion and put man in the center of the universe. More was a great friend of the European humanists Erasmus and Colet, who later influenced his writings. As More's interests were multifaceted, he studied Greek and Latin and also delivered a series of lectures on Augustine's The City of God.


In 1504, More became a member of Parliament. The following year he married Jane Colt and had four children in quick succession -- Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily and John. In 1511, Jane Colt died and More, left with four young children, married a widow named Alice Middleton, who was seven years his senior.

More had entered public service fairly early in his life. In 1510, he became the under-sheriff of England and in 1515, Henry VIII, who had come to admire and respect him, sent him on a special embassy to the Netherlands. Utopia was written during this time to wile away the empty hours. By 1517, More was appointed one of Henry's special councilors. There are some indications that he entered the king's services very reluctantly, but this has not been proved for sure. By 1517, More had also become a member of the Privy Council. After that, promotions came fast. He was knighted in 1521; in 1523, he became Speaker of the House, and in 1529 he became the Lord Chancellor, after the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey. He was the first secular man to achieve this position.

In the 1530s, More wrote a number of polemics against the Lutheran attacks on the Catholic Church. These were requested by Henry VIII who was married to the French monarch, Catherine of Aragon. More and Henry VIII had become very close friends, yet More did not really relish such a relationship with the king as he knew that Henry VIII was a very strong-willed and self-serving monarch. Soon enough, Henry and More began to drift apart over various issues. The main reason was Henry's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. More thought it wrong and to avoid drawing attention to himself, he resigned from being a chancellor in 1532. The official reason he gave was ill health. This ploy, however, did not succeed. More was too prominent and respected and the king hounded him to support him publicly. More refused. His conscience did not permit him to question the validity of Henry's marriage to Catherine. While he was willing to accept Anne Boleyn as the queen, he would not decree Catherine's marriage illegal. This drew the king's ire, as a number of other noblemen, fired by More's example, took up Catherine's side. Henry was desperate to maintain the love and affection of his people but More's silent condemnation turned the tide. Henry did not ever forgive him for that and sent More to the Tower as a traitor where he died "the king's good servant, but God's first."

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