Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Man for all Seasons

The serious looking fellow above is one Sir Thomas More, born this day 1478 in London, England. Born the son of a successful lawyer, he was duly sent off to the University of Oxford to pursue a legal career. He nearly gave up all the fame and fortune of the lawyer life to become a monk, spending four years at the London Charterhouse subjecting himself to the discipline of a Carthusian monk. He finally decided that becoming a monk was something he was unable to do, because he did not think he could keep the vow of celibacy. I guess Thomas like the horizontal mambo just a bit to much to retire to a life in a monk's cell. He married in 1505, but throughout his life his followed many monkish habits, wearing a hair shirt for the remainder of his life, and on occasion engaging in flagellation. Having become a successful barrister in 1501, More became a Member of Parliament in 1504 where he was soon to rise to the posts that have made him famous. His first marriage resulted in four children, and when his first wife died in 1511, he remarried almost immediately, did I mention he was a bed room Olympian? He rose quickly in the ranks of Henry VIII's government, being a under sheriff in 1510, the Master of Requests in 1514, and a Privy Counsellor in 1518. While doing all this government work, More found time to write what is his most famous book. "Utopia" was completed in 1516, and is More's attempt at describing a perfect society with complete religious tolerance. Some people see the work as a satire, as it propounds ideas that More, as a staunch Catholic, surely could not have been in favour of. Either way, it is a lovely book, and the word Utopia entered the lexicon because of it. In 1529, he became Lord Chancellor, and it was from this high terrain that he was to fall. At first he and Henry VII worked hand in hand expanding the king's power. But, as we all know Henry had a lot of martial problems. The main problem was that he was married to a woman who was unable to produce an heir. The king's main duty was to produce an heir, and Henry loved the ladies and produced many a royal bastard, but no heir. Henry attempted to get his first marriage annulled, believing that he had found a filly, Anne Boleyn, upon which he would sire an heir to the throne. The pope at the time refused to grant Henry's request, and after a lot of back and forth, Henry decided to break with Rome and set up a Church of England with himself at the head. This was more than More could bear, and in 1531 he was allowed to resign as Lord Chancellor. The eventual "reason" for his trial and execution for treason was his refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy, which would acknowledge Henry as the head of the church in England. The panel of judges included the new queen's father, uncle, and brother. I doubt a "fair" trial would have been possible before that group, but More gave his best defense, and refuted a great number of the claims against him. He was ultimately convicted based upon testimony that was almost certainly perjury, and condemned to death. He was executed on July 6th, 1535, telling the executioners as he was mounting the steps of the scaffold "I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself". He was beatified in 1886, canonized in 1935, and added to the Catholic calendar of saints in 1980. He is the patron saint of lawyers (for one), and I guess if I were a praying man, he would be the one I would pray to for guidance when I needed it at my job. I am not a praying man, but I can still admire, and make a hero a man who was willing to die for his beliefs whether I agree with them or not. So, for having that type of courage, Sir Thomas More (February 7th 1478-July 6th, 1535, at the age of 57), you are my (164th) hero of the day.

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