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Sir Thomas More and Religious Liberty. Gary B. Doxey International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU June 13, 2012. Sir Thomas More, 1478-1535. The Medieval World. The Renaissance—a Rebirth of Learning Inspired by Greece and Rome. The Medieval Skyline. Medieval Reformers.

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Sir Thomas More and Religious Liberty

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Sir Thomas Moreand Religious Liberty

Gary B. Doxey

International Center for Law and

Religion Studies at BYU

June 13, 2012

Sir Thomas More, 1478-1535

The Medieval World

The Renaissance—a Rebirth of Learning Inspired by Greece and Rome

The Medieval Skyline

Medieval Reformers

Waldo of Lyon


Jan Hus (1369-1415)

John Wycliffe (1328-1384)

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536

The Praise of Folly, 1511

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

“Erasmus laid an egg, and Luther hatched it.”

--Popular saying of the day

The Division of Christendom

1530-1648—A Century of War

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536

Rise of Nation State

  • Emergence of strong rulers in 15th and 16th centuries

  • “National churches”

  • Economic prosperity and new royal revenues

  • Standing armies not dependent on feudal nobility

  • Bureaucratic government institutions

Henry VIII, 1509-1547

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, 1473-1530

More’s Life and Career

  • Born in London, 1478

  • Studied classics at Oxford, 1492-1494 (age 15)

  • Clerk at New Inn and later Lincoln’s Inn

  • Called to bar, 1502 (age 24)

  • Elected to Parliament, 1504

  • Joined Privy Council, 1514

Utopia, 1516

Thomas More, the Religious Man

William Tyndale, 1492-1536

“Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

John Foxe, 1517-1587

Foxe’s Acts and Monuments akaFoxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563

The Context--Summary

  • Renaissance—the new learning of humanism

  • Reformation—conflict and schism, a danger to the powers who ruled the status quo

  • Rise of modern nation state—stronger, more centralized government

Context Continued

  • More was at the center of all these developments as a high governmental officer and confidant of the king; one of his special assignments was to bend his considerable intellectual and legal authority to put down Protestant subversives and insurgents who threatened the king’s stability

An Additional ElementDynastic Problems

Wars of the Roses, 1455-1485

Anne Boleyn

Clement VII, 1523-1534

Thomas Cromwell, 1485-1540

Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556

Key Events in his Later Life

  • 1527—Henry first expresses doubts about his marriage

  • 1529—Wolsey falls from grace and Henry appoints More as Lord Chancellor

  • 1531– Convocation of Canterbury grants Henry title of Supreme Head of the English Church “as far as the law of Christ allows.”

  • 1532—More resigns as Lord Chancellor

Key Events in his Later Life

  • 1533—More refuses to attend coronation of Anne Bolyn

  • 1534—More refuses to affirm the oath of succession. He is placed in custody.

  • 1535—More is tried and executed for treason

Tower Hill, July 6, 1535

William Roper

“He spoke little before his execution. Only he asked the bystanders to pray for him in this world, and he would pray for them elsewhere. He then begged them earnestly to pray for the King, that it might please God to give him good counsel, protesting that he died the King’s good servant but God’s first.”

-- Paris Newsletter, July 1535

“Had we been master of such a servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions than such a worthy counselor.”

--Charles V, HRE

“…more pure than any snow…such as England never had and never again will have.”


A Man for All Purposes?

The Religious Freedom Legacy?

  • Perception is reality? A martyr for conscience

  • Whose conscience? A deeper debate than meets the eye

  • Practical reality: an example of the painful nature of Europe’s conflict with pluralism and the practical accommodations that eventually led to begrudging toleration.

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