Communicantes: August - October 2002
The Last Days and the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas More

Excerpts from The Life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper, his son in law, The Harvard Classics, Vol. 36,
Collier & Son, New York 1910. We did not modify the Old English version of this text, as it is
published in the Harvard Classics.


The King consulted with his Council what order were meet to be taken with him. And albeit in the beginning they were resolved, that with an oath not to be known whether he had to the supremacy been sworn, or what he thought thereof, he should be discharged, yet did Queen Anne, by her importunate clamour, so sore exasperate the King against him, that, contrary to his former resolution, he caused the oath of the supremacy to be ministered unto him, who, albeit he made a discreet qualified answer, nevertheless was forthwith committed to the Tower. (...)

When Sir Thomas More had remained in the Tower a little more than a month, my wife, longing to see her father, by her earnest suit at length gat leave to go to him. At whose coming (after the seven psalms and litany said, which whensoever she came to him, ere he fell in talk of any worldly matters, he used accustomably to say with her), “I believe (Meg) that they that have put me here, ween they have done me a high displeasure. But I assure you on my faith, mine own dear daughter, if it had not been for my wife and you that be my children, whom I account the chief part of my charge, I would not have failed, long ere this, to have closed myself in as strait a room and straiter too. But since I come hither without mine own desert, I trust that God of his goodness will discharge me of my care, and with his gracious help supply my want among you. I find no cause (I thank God, Meg) to reckon myself in worse case here, than in mine own house. For methinketh God maketh me a wanton, and setteth me on his lap and dandleth me”. (...) And at another time, when he had first questioned with my wife a while of the order of his wife and children, and state of his house in his absence, he asked her how Queen Anne did: “In faith, father (quoth she), never better”. ‑ “Never better, Meg?” quoth he. “Alas (Meg) alas, it pitieth me to remember, in what miserly she (poor soul) shortly shall come”.

After this Mr. Lieutenant coming into his chamber to visit him, rehearsed the benefits and friendships that he had many times received at his hands, and how much bounden he was therefore friendly to entertain him and make him good cheer, which since (the case standing as it did) he could not do without the King’s indignation, he trusted (he said) he would accept his good will, and such poor cheer as he had. “Mr. Lieutenant” (quoth he again), “I verily believe, as you may, so are you my good friends indeed, and would (as you say) with your best cheer entertain me, for the which I most heartily thank you. And assure yourself (Mr. Lieutenant)”, quoth he, “I do not mislike my cheer, but whensoever I do so, then thrust me out of your doors”.

Whereas the oath confirming the supremacy and matrimony was by the first statute comprised in few words, the Lord Chancellor and Mr. Secretary did of their own heads add more words unto it, to make it appear to the King’s ears more pleasant and plausible. And that oath so amplified caused they to be ministered to Sir Thomas More and to all other throughout the Realm, which Sir Thomas perceiving said unto my wife: “I may tell thee (Meg) they that have committed me hither for refusing of the oath, not agreeable with the statute, are not able by their own law to justify my imprisonment. And surely (daughter) it is a great pity that a Christian prince should (by a flexible council ready to follow his affections, and by a weak clergy lacking grace constantly to stand to their learning) with flattery so shameful to be abused”. (...)

As Sir Thomas More in the Tower chanced on a time looking out of his window to behold one Mr. Reynolds, a religious, learned and virtuous of Sion, and three monks of the Charterhouse for the matter of the supremacy going out of the Tower to execution, he, as one longing in that journey to have accompanied them, said unto my wife, then standing there beside him, “Lo, dost thou not see (Meg) that these blessed fathers be now as cheerful going to their deaths, as bridegrooms to their marriages? Wherefore thereby mayest thou see (mine own good daughter) what a difference there is between such as have in effect spent all their days in a strait, hard, penitential, and painful life religiously, and such as have in the world, like worldly wretches, as thy poor father hath done, consumed all the time in pleasure and ease licentiously. For God, considering their long-continued life in most sore and grievous penance, will not longer suffer them to remain here in this vale of misery, and iniquity, but speedily hence take them to the fruition of his everlasting deity: whereas thy silly father (Meg) that, like a most wicked caitiff, hath passed forth the whole course of his miserable life most pitifully, God, thinking him not worthy so soon to come to that eternal felicity, leaveth him here yet, still in the world further to be plunged and turmoiled with misery”.

Within a while after Mr. Secretary (coming to him into the Tower from the King) pretended much friendship towards him, and for his comfort told him, that the King’s Highness was his good and gracious lord and minded not with any matter, wherein he should have any cause of scruple, from henceforth to trouble his conscience. As soon as Mr. Secretary was gone, to express what comfort he conceived of his words, he wrote with a coal (for ink then he had none) these verses following:

“Ay flattering fortune look you never so fair,
Nor never so pleasantly begin to smile,
As though thou wouldst my ruins all repair
During my life thou shalt not me beguile,
Trust I shall, God, to enter in a while
Thy haven of heaven sure and uniform,
Ever after thy calm look I for no storm”.

When Sir Thomas More had continued a good while in the Tower, my lady his wife obtained licence to see him, who at her first coming like a simple woman, and somewhat worldly too, with this manner of salutations bluntly saluted him, “What the good year, Mr. More,” quoth she, “I marvel that you, that have been always hitherunto taken for so wise a man, will now so play the fool to lie here in this close filthy prison, and be content to be shut up among mice and rats, when you might be abroad at your liberty, and with the favour and good will both of the King and his Council, if you would but do as all the bishops and best learned of his Realm have done. And seeing you have at Chelsea a right fair house, your library, your books, your gallery, your garden, your orchards, and all other necessaries so handsomely about you, where you might, in the company of me your wife, your children, and household be merry, I muse what a God’s name you mean here still thus fondly to tarry.”

After he had a while quietly heard her, with a cheerful countenance he said unto her, “I pray thee good Mrs. Alice, tell me, tell me one thing.” ‑ “What is that?” (quoth she). ‑ “Is not this house as nigh heaven as mine own?” To whom she, after her accustomed fashion, not liking such talk, answered, “Bone Deus, bone Deus, man, will this gear never be left?” quoth she. ‑ “Well then, Mrs. Alice, if it be so, it is very well. For I see no great cause why I should much joy of my gay house, or of anything belonging thereunto, when, if I should but seven years lie buried under the ground, and then arise and come thither again, I should not fail to find some therein that would bid me get me out of the doors, and tell me that were none of mine. What cause have I then to like such an house as would so soon forget his master?” (...)

Shortly hereupon Mr. Rich then newly the King’s Solicitor, Sir Richard Southwell, and Mr. Palmer, servant to the Secretary, were sent to Sir Thomas More into the Tower, to fetch away his books from him. (...) Mr. Rich pretending friendly talk with him, among other things of a set course, as it seemed, said thus unto him:

“Forasmuch as it is well known (Mr. More) that you are a man both wise and well learned, as well in the laws of the Realm, as otherwise, I pray you therefore, Sir, let me be so bold as of good will to put unto you this case. Admit there were, Sir, an Act of Parliament, that all the Realm should take me for the King, would not you (Mr. More) take me for the King?” ‑ “Yes, Sir,” quoth Sir Thomas More, “that would I”. ‑ “I put the case further” (quoth Mr. Rich), “that there were an Act of Parliament that all the Realm should take me for the Pope, would then not you, Mr. More, take me for the Pope?” ‑ “For answer”, quoth Sir Thomas More, “to your first case, the Parliament may well (Mr. Rich) meddle with the state of temporal princes; but to make answer to your second case, I will put you this case. Suppose the Parliament would make a law, that God should not be God, would you then, Mr. Rich, say God were not God?” ‑ “No, Sir,” quoth he, “that would I not, since no Parliament may make any such law.” ‑ “No more” (said Sir Thomas More, as Mr. Rich reported of him) “could the Parliament make the King supreme head of the Church.” Upon whose only report was Sir Thomas More indicted of treason upon the Statute in which it was made treason to deny the King to be supreme head of the Church.

When Sir Thomas More came from Westminster to the Towerward again his daughter my wife, desirous to see her father, whom she thought she should never see in this world after, and also to have his final blessing, gave attendance about the Tower wharf, where she knew he should pass by, ere he could enter into the Tower. There tarrying for his coming home, as soon as she saw him, after his blessings on her knees reverently received, she, hasting towards, without consideration of care of herself, pressing in amongst the midst of the throng and the Company of the Guard, that with halbards and bills were round about him, hastily ran to him, and there openly in the sight of all them embraced and took him about the neck and kissed him, who well liking her most daughterly love and affection towards him, gave her his fatherly blessing, and many godly words of comfort besides, from whom after she was departed, she not satisfied with the former sight of her dear father, having respect neither to herself, nor to the press of the people and multitude that were about him, suddendly turned back again, and ran to him as before, took him about the neck, and divers times together most lovingly kissed him, and at last with a full heavy heart was fain to depart from him; the beholding whereof was to many of them that were present thereat so lamentable, that it made them for very sorrow to mourn and weep.

So remained Sir Thomas More in the Tower more than a sevennight after his judgement. From whence the day before he suffered he sent his shirt of hair, not willing to have it seen, to my wife, his dearly beloved daughter, and a letter, written with a coal, contained in the foresaid book of his works, plainly expressing the fervent desire he had to suffer on the morrow in these words: “I cumber you, good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry if it should be any longer than to-morrow. For to-morrow is St. Thomas’ even, and the Octave of St. Peter, and therefore to-morrow long I to go to God, that were a day very meet and convenient for me. And I never liked your manners better, than when you kissed me last. For I like when daughterly love, and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.” And so upon the next morning, being Tuesday, St. Thomas’ even, and the Octave of St. Peter in the year of our Lord God 1537, according as he in his letter the day before had wished, early in the morning came to him Sir Thomas Pope, his singular friend, on message from the King and his Council, that he should before nine of the clock in the same morning suffer death, and that therefore forthwith he should prepare himself thereto. “Mr. Pope,” saith he, “for your good tidings I most heartily thank you. I have been always bounden much to the King’s Highness for the benefits and honours which he hath still from time to time most bountifully heaped upon me, and yet more bounded I am to his Grace for putting me into this place, where I have had convenient time and space to have remembrance of my end, and so help me God most of all, Mr. Pope, am I bound to his Highness, that it pleased him so shortly to rid me of the miseries of this wretched world. And therefore will I not fail most earnestly to pray for his Grace both here, and also in another world.” ‑ “The King’s pleasure is further,” quoth Mr. Pope, “that at your execution you shall not use many words.” ‑ “Mr. Pope” (quoth he), “you do well that you give me warning of his Grace’s pleasure. For otherwise had I purposed at that time somewhat to have spoken, but of no matter wherewith his Grace, or any other should have had cause to be offended. Nevertheless whatsoever I intend I am ready obediently to conform myself to his Grace’s commandment. And I beseech you, good Mr. Pope, to be a mean unto his Highness, that my daughter Margaret may be present at my burial.” ‑ “The King is well contented already” (quoth Mr. Pope) “that your wife, children, and other friends shall have free liberty to be present thereat.” ‑ “O how much beholden,” then said Sir Thomas More, “am I to his Grace, that unto my poor burial vouchsafeth to have so gracious consideration.” Wherewithal Mr. Pope taking his leave of him could not refrain from weeping, which Sir Thomas More perceiving, comforted him in this wise, “Quiet yourself, good Mr. Pope, and be not discomforted. For I trust that we shall once in heaven see each other full merrily, where we shall be sure to live and love together in joyful bliss eternally.”

Upon whose departure Sir Thomas More, as one that had been invited to a solemn feast, changed himself into his best apparel; which Mr. Lieutenant espying, advised him to put it off, saying, that he that should have it was but a worthless fellow. “What Mr. Lieutenant” (quoth he), “shall I account him a worthless fellow, that will do me this day so singular a benefit? Nay, I assure you, were it cloth of gold I would account it well bestowed on him, as St. Cyprian did, who gave his executioner thirty pieces of gold.” And albeit at length, through Mr. Lieutenant’s persuasions, he altered his apparel, yet, after the example of that holy martyr St. Cyprian, did he of that little money that was left him, send one angel of gold to his executioner. And so was he brought by Mr. Lieutenant out of the Tower, and from thence led towards the place of execution, where going up the scaffold, which was so weak that it was ready to fall, he said to Mr. Lieutenant, “I pray you, I pray you, Mr. Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” Then desired he all the people thereabouts to pray for him, and to bear witness with him, that he should then suffer death in and for the faith of the holy Catholic Church, which done he kneeled down, and after his prayers said, he turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful countenance spake unto him. “Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office, my neck is very short. Take heed therefore thou shoot not awry for saving thine honesty.” So passed Sir Thomas More out of this world to God upon the very same day in which himself had most desired.


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