Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)

Sir Thomas More (later canonized St. Thomas More) is famous for his book Utopia (1515) and for his martyrdom. As Chancellor to Henry VIII he refused to sanction Henry's divorce of Queen Catherine. More was imprisoned, tried and executed. This drama was made into a play and an excellent (though not historically accurate) film - A Man of for All Seasons.

More is an excellent example of the early English Renaissance. He was friends with such humanists as Erasmus, John Colet, Thomas Linacre and others. Renaisance thinkers were mainly concerned with four ancient schools -- Aristotelianism, Platonism, Stoicism and Epicureanism. The alliance between Platonism and Christianity was as old as Saint Augustine, but had been revived in the Renaissance by Marsilio Ficino. Aristotle had been Christianized by St Thoma Aquinas. Christianity and Stoicism had many close connections from early on. Epicureanism was being Christianized by Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus. This process was to be continued by Pierre Gassendi.

More coined the term "utopia" which is a pun meaning both "good place" and "no place." More's Utopia is discovered on a voyage to the newly discovered Americas. It is thus one of the first books to invoke the analogy between the great voyages of discovery and discoveries of the mind. Plato's Republic and the Laws provide models for More's reflections on the good citizen and the good state, but More's Utopia is significantly different from these models and blends a variety of philosophical influences. In contrast to the Platonic Republic, More's society is a communistic democracy and not an aristocracy with communism confined to the ruling elite. The new emphasis on the philosophy of pleasure comes from More's understanding of Epicureanism. From the Stoics More gets the notions that mankind form a natural commnnity and the assumed existance of natural law.

More's Utopia established the genre of philosophical utopias much the way in which Montaigne and Bacon established the essay as a philosophical form.

On Line Resources

More Time Line

1478    February 7, born in Milk street, London to John More who 
        was a lawyer and would become a judge on the king's 
1491    After studying at St. Anthony's School in Threadneedle 
        street, is placed in the household of John Morton, Lord 
        Chancelor to Henry VII and Archbishop of Canterbury.
1492    Enters Oxford for two years of study.

1494    At his father's insistence goes to Inns of Court to study
1496    Admitted to Lincoln's Inn, Oxford.

1497    Meets Erasmus.

1499    Becomes barrister after completion of his law studies.

1504    Becomes a member of parliament.

1505    After considering the priesthood decides against it and 
        marries Jane Colt, saying he would rather become a good 
        husband than a bad priest.  
1509    Elected bencher at Lincoln's Inn.

1510    Appointed under-sheriff of London.

1511    Jane dies leaving him with four children.  He marries 
        Alice Middleton, a widow, a month later.
1515    Sent on a diplomatic mission to Antwerp where he begins
        writing Utopia.
1518    Made master of requests and a member of the privy 
        council of Henry VIII.
1523    Elected speaker of parliament.

1529    Made Lord Chancellor.

1532    Resigns chancellorship finding he cannot support Henry's 
        attempts to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn.
1533    December, forbidden to publish.

1534    April, sent to the Tower for refusing to take the oath of 
        the Act of Succession.  While in the Tower writes 
        Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation and 
        De Tristitia Christi.
1535    July 1, tried and convicted for treason.  July 6, 
        beheaded on Tower Hill.
1935    May, is canonized by Pope Pius XI.

Time Line Sources