Why, in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons, does Sir Thomas More refuse to agree to the oath imposed by Henry VIII?
Very late in the second act of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More suggests the reasons that he has refused to take the oath that has been demanded of him:
Now that the Court has determined to condemn me, God knoweth how, I will discharge my mind . . . concerning my indictment and the King's title. The indictment is grounded in an Act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the Law of God. The King in Parliament cannot bestow the Supremacy of the Church because it is a Spiritual Supremacy! And more to this the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and the King's own Coronation Oath!
In other words, More has refused to take the oath for several reasons:
- He believes that the oath violates the laws of God.
- He believes that neither the king alone, nor parliament alone, nor the king and parliament together have the legal, moral, or spiritual right to control the Church.
- He believes that the freedom of the Church from political interference is ancient and is guaranteed by one of the oldest and most important legal documents in English history – the Magna Carta (or Great Charter), which limits to power of kings and guarantees the freedom of the Church.
- He believes that the king himself, when he took his oath upon becoming king, swore to uphold the freedom of the Church.
For all these reasons, More believes that taking an oath that violates all these other laws and oaths would also violate his own conscience, make him a traitor to the Church, and thus make him a traitor to God.