The following letter was written to More’s daughter Margaret on 5 July 1535, the day before his execution. More wrote with a stick of charcoal on cloth; King Henry VIII had ordered his books and writing materials to be removed.
More had been appointed Lord Chancellor upon Wolsey’s fall in 1529. He was already a respected philosopher and writer throughout Europe. But to his English contemporaries, he was most famous as a lawyer. He was a brilliant jurist; he served in parliament and on diplomatic missions. Unlike most royal servants, he had unimpeachable integrity. He could not be bribed. He believed, above all else, in the impartial supremacy of the law. As Chancellor, he worked industriously to promote justice and faith in the courts. However, he resigned in 1532 when the king’s determination to annul his marriage to Katharine of Aragon caused Henry to reject papal authority in England.
More was deeply pious. He recognized the abuses of the Catholic church, but he believed it could reform itself from within. He could not accept spiritual reformation via secular power. As a young man, he had been torn between a career in the church and a career in law. Though he had chosen the latter, he never lost his passion for theology.
After resigning the chancellorship, More retired to his family home. He attempted to live modestly and quietly, hoping to be left alone. But he was too famous and respected to be forgotten. Henry VIII knew that his controversial reformation would be far more credible if men such as More accepted it. As the premier intellectual in England, More’s opinion was too important to remain his own.
It should be noted that More accepted parliament’s ability to decide the succession in favor of the king’s children with Anne Boleyn, for it was a legal issue and parliament was within rights to decide it. However, he would not take an oath recognizing Henry’s position as Supreme Head of a new English church. He simply could not repudiate the spiritual authority of the papacy.
And so he was arrested in the spring of 1534. He was kept in the Tower of London for over a year, under increasingly harsh conditions. The king hoped that imprisonment would alter More’s disposition. It did not. More was finally charged with high treason and tried at Westminster on 1 July 1533. Despite his brilliant defense, he was found guilty and executed on 6 July. The news shocked all of Europe. It remains the most famous example of judicial murder during Henry’s reign. More was later canonized by the Catholic church.
Our Lord bless you, good daughter, and your good husband, and your little boy, and all yours, and all my children, and all my god-children and all our friends. Recommend me when ye may to my good daughter Cecily, whom I beseech Our Lord to comfort; and I send her my blessing and to all her children, and pray her to pray for me. I send her a handkercher, and God comfort my good son, her husband. My good daughter Daunce hath the picture in parchment that you delivered me from my Lady Coniers, her name on the back. Show her that I heartily pray her that you may send it in my name to her again, for a token from me to pray for me.
I like special well Dorothy Colly. I pray you be good unto her. I would wot whether this be she that you wrote me of. If not, yet I pray you be good to the other as you may in her affliction, and to my good daughter Jane Aleyn too. Give her, I pray you, some kind answer, for she sued hitherto me this day to pray you be good to her.
I cumber you, good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry if it should be any longer than to-morrow, for it is St. Thomas’s even, and the utas of St. Peter; and therefore, to-morrow long I to go to God. It were a day very meet and convenient for me.
I never liked your manner towards me better than when you kissed me last; for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost. I send now my good daughter Clement her algorism stone, and I send her and my godson and all hers God’s blessing and mine. I pray you at time convenient recommend me to my good son John More. I liked well his natural fashion. Our Lord bless him and his good wife, my loving daughter, to whom I pray him to be good, as he hath great cause; and that, if the land of mine come to his hands, he break not my will concerning his sister Daunce. And the Lord bless Thomas and Austin, and all that they shall have.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "The last letter of Sir Thomas More, 1535" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter/last-letter-sir-thomas-1535/, February 27, 2015