Early Life (World Philosophers and Their Works)
Thomas More was born February 7, 1478, in the Cripplegate neighborhood of London. He was the second of five children born to John More and Agnes Granger. Three siblings apparently died in childhood, and Thomas was the only surviving son. An ambitious and talented man, John More had succeeded his father as butler of Lincoln’s Inn but aspired to be a barrister. The benchers of Lincoln’s Inn liked the young fellow who managed their meals and approved him for membership; he subsequently was admitted to the bar. His marriage to Agnes Granger advanced his career, for she was the daughter of a prosperous merchant and sheriff of London. John More was appointed judge in the Court of Common Pleas, then promoted to the Court of King’s Bench, and was even knighted by the king. Having risen from the working class himself, he had great expectations for his son.
Young More learned Latin at St. Anthony’s School in London. He was much influenced by headmaster Nicholas Holt, who had taught John Colet and William Lattimer, both of whom became English humanists and friends of More. At thirteen, More was placed in the household of Thomas Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, who immediately took a liking to the intelligent boy. In 1492, at Morton’s urging, More entered Canterbury Hall (later absorbed by Christ College), Oxford University, where he met...
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Life’s Work (World Philosophers and Their Works)
By the time of his second marriage, More was emerging as a leading London barrister. In 1509, the same year that Henry VIII ascended the throne, More was elected to Lincoln’s Inn, where he became a reader in 1511. The year before, he was appointed undersheriff of London, a position of considerable responsibility in the sheriff’s court. Especially well liked by London merchants, More was chosen by King Henry as a member of an English delegation sent to Flanders in 1514 to negotiate a commercial treaty. His contribution was minor, but during those six months abroad, he delighted in the company of Peter Giles, a renowned humanist and friend of Erasmus, and began work on his Utopia, published in 1516. His most significant work, Utopia was a skillful satire that condemned the poverty, intolerance, ignorance, and brutality of English society by juxtaposing it to the economic communism and political democracy that prevailed among the tolerant and peace-loving Utopians. Although surely attracted by the idealism of Utopia, More was always the realist, as his History of King Richard III, written about the same time although published much later, makes clear. Disturbed by the ineptitude and avarice in both church and state, he wanted change for the better, but not revolutionary change.
Over the next few years, More became a favorite of Henry VIII and his Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. They sent him on several...
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Influence (World Philosophers and Their Works)
More was a man pulled in several directions at once. He was a talented royal official, a learned and intelligent humanist, and a devout Catholic. As a lawyer and a judge, he gained a reputation for fairness. As the first lay Lord Chancellor, he personified the growing secularization of both society and government in the sixteenth century. Yet like the prelates who had preceded him, More understood the practical limitations of politics, and as Lord Chancellor, he was not about to embrace the religious and political toleration so idealized in Utopia. Indeed, More was basically conservative when it came to religion and politics. He did not hesitate to prosecute religious heretics, regarding them as a threat to both the church and the state.
On the other hand, More found great satisfaction in intellectual and scholarly pursuits. Christian humanism shaped his writings and his relationship with friends and family alike. Utopia at once established his international reputation as a leading literary figure. Among his early works were poems, Latin epigrams, and an English translation and adaptation of the biography in Latin of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, the brilliant young Italian humanist whose writings More deeply admired. Like Pico, More prized the life of the mind. He carried on a prolific correspondence with fellow intellectuals, performed numerous tasks for friends such as Erasmus, and defended humanist literatures from obscurantist...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. New York: Anchor Books, 1999. A helpful biographical study of Sir Thomas More’s life and times, which explores the ideas he developed and the difficult personal decisions that he faced.
Baker-Smith, Dominic. More’s Utopia. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. An accessible study of the development and influence of More’s reflections on the ideal human society.
Fox, Alistair. Thomas More: History and Providence. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983. This intellectual biography details the evolution of More’s thought, delving deep into his views about God and humanity.
Fox, Alistair. Utopia: An Elusive Vision. New York: Twayne, 1993. A veteran More scholar offers an interpretation of More’s aims in the writing and vision of his famous Utopia.
Guy, John. Thomas More. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A study of the life and thought of the author of Utopia.
Marius, Richard. Thomas More. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984. A well-crafted biography that analyzes a man torn between the medieval world of faith and the modern world of reason and who ultimately chose the spirit over the flesh.
Martz, Louis L. Thomas More: The Search for the...
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