More More (and Less Les)

We were remiss of late in letting pass mention of Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy’s wild apocalyptic ride of a novel, which takes place just prior to and during the July 4 celebration of the birth of our “old violent beloved U.S.A.” … “at a time near the end of the world.” (Notice the reference there in the Korrektiv masthead?) Percy’s protagonist is one Tom More, bad Catholic, psychiatrist, and inventor (viz. The Lapsometer, patent pending) and descendant of his namesake Saint Thomas More, another fellow who lived in troubled political times. Well, we missed mentioning Percy’s More, but we’re just in time to observe the saintly More’s death day. Here’s something on the subject from today’s Writer’s Almanac:

On this date in 1535, Sir Thomas More (books by this author) was executed in London. More was a lawyer, philosopher, humanist, and statesman, and since 1935, he’s also a Catholic saint. He is the author of Utopia (1516) and the unfinished History of King Richard III (1513-1518), which has been called the first masterpiece of English historiography and provided the source material for Shakespeare’s play Richard III (1591).
More attracted the attention of Henry VIII in 1515 when he successfully resolved a trade dispute with Flanders, and again when he helped quell a London uprising against foreigners in 1517. Henry appointed him to his Privy Council in 1518, and knighted him in 1521; one of More’s early services to the king was to assist him in writing his Defence of the Seven Sacraments, a rebuttal of Martin Luther. Henry named him Speaker of the House of Commons, where More advocated free speech in Parliament. Even though he was not in favor of Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon, he still remained the king’s trusted advisor, confidant, and friend; he succeeded Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529, when Wolsey fell from favor.

He was a devout Catholic who had at one time considered becoming a monk, and he grew uncomfortable with Henry’s increasing opposition to the pope. When More resigned in 1532, citing ill health, it was probably due as much or more to his unease over the split with Rome. He refused to attend the coronation of the king’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and though he acknowledged that she was the rightful queen, he refused to take an oath that named Henry Supreme Head of the Church of England. He was arrested for treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London on April 17, 1534. He wasn’t tried until more than a year later, but imprisonment suited his ascetic tastes; he said to his daughter Margaret that he would have chosen “as strait a room, and straiter too,” had he been given a choice. He was tried on July 1, 1535, and the judges — among them Anne Boleyn’s brother, father, and uncle — unanimously found him guilty. Traitors were customarily hanged, drawn, and quartered, and that was his sentence, but Henry commuted it to beheading. More spent the five days before his execution writing a prayer and several letters of farewell, and when he mounted Tower Hill to the scaffold, he told his escort, “See me safe up, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.” His last words were, “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More is the subject of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons (1960). The play’s title comes from something that Robert Whittington, an English grammarian and contemporary of More’s, wrote about him in 1520: “More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of a sad gravity. A man for all seasons.”

So, more More, I say.

(And less Les.)

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