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.
1478 February 7, born in Milk street, London to John More who was a lawyer and would become a judge on the king's bench. 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 law. 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.