To Bishop Fisher, 1519

Excerpt of a letter written by Sir Thomas More, soon after being made Privy Councillor, to his friend, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester

I have come to the court extremely against my will, as every one knoweth, and as the king himself knows, for in sport he often twits me with it, and here I hang as unseemly as a man not used to ride doth sit unhandsomely in his saddle; but our prince, whose special and extraordinary favour towards me I know not how ever to deserve, is so affable and courteous to all who approach him, that every one, however little he may imagine it, may hope to win his love, even as citizens' wives of London do, who imagine that Our Lady's picture near the Tower smileth on them when they pray before it. But I am not so happy as to perceive such fortunate signs of deserving his love within myself, and am of too humble a spirit to persuade myself that I deserve it, yet such is the king's virtue and learning, and so great his industry, that the more I see him increase in these high qualities, the less irksome does this courtier's life appear to me.

To his Children, 1521

Sir Thomas More, though spending great lengths of time away from home at court, took a keen interest in his children's education. He wrote to them frequently, and his letters were prized by them

Thomas More to his whole school,

See what a compendious salutation I have found, to save both time and paper, which would otherwise have been wasted in reciting the names of each one of you, and my labour would have been to no purpose, since, though each of you is dear to me by some special title, of which I could have omitted none in a set and formal salutation, no one is dearer to me by any title than each one of you by that of scholar. Your zeal for knowledge binds me to you almost more closely than the ties of blood. I rejoice that Mr. Drew has returned safe, for I was anxious, as you know, about him. If I did not love you so much I should be really envious of your happiness in having so many and such excellent tutors. But I think you have no longer any need of Mr. Nicholas, since you have learnt whatever he had to teach you about astronomy. I hear you are so far advanced in that science that you can not only point out the polar-star or the dog-star, or any of the constellations, but are able also—which requires a skilful and profound astrologer—among all those leading heavenly bodies, to distinguish the sun from the moon! Go forward, then, in that new and admirable science by which you ascend to the stars. But while you gaze on them assiduously, consider that this holy time of Lent warns you, and that beautiful and holy poem of Boetius1 keeps singing in your ears, to raise your mind also to heaven, lest the soul look downwards to the earth, after the manner of brutes, while the body looks upwards. Farewell, my dearest.

From Court, the 23rd March

To his Children, 1522

Sir Thomas More, though spending great lengths of time away from home at court, took a keen interest in his children's education. He wrote to them frequently, and his letters were prized by them

Thomas More to his dearest children, and to Margaret Giggs, whom he numbers amongst his own,

The Bristol merchant brought me your letters the day after he left you, with which I was extremely delighted. Nothing can come from your workshop, however rude or unfinished, that will not give me more pleasure than the most accurate thing that another can write. So much does my affection for you recommend whatever you write to me. Indeed, without any recommendation, your letters are capable of pleasing by their own merits, their wit and pure Latinity. There was not one of your letters that did not please me extremely; but, to confess ingenuously what I feel, the letter of my son John pleased me best, both because it was longer than the others, and because he seems to have given to it more labour and study. For he not only put out his matter prettily and composed in fairly polished language, but he plays with me both pleasantly and cleverly, and turns my jokes on myself wittily enough. And this he does not only merrily, but with due moderation, showing that he does not forget that he is joking with his father and that he is cautious not to give offence at the same time that he is eager to give delight.

Now I expect from each of you a letter almost every day. I will not admit excuses—John makes none—such as want of time, sudden departure of the letter-carrier, or, want of something to write about. No one hinders you from writing, but, on the contrary, all are urging you to do it. And that you may not keep the letter-carrier waiting, why not anticipate his coming, and have your letters written and sealed, ready for anyone to take? How can a subject be wanting when you write to me, since I am glad to hear of your studies or of your games, and you will please me most if, when there is nothing to write about, you write about that nothing at great length. Nothing can be easier for you, since you are girls, loquacious by nature, who have always a world to say about nothing at all. One thing, however, I admonish you, whether you write serious matters or the merest trifles, it is my wish that you write everything diligently and thoughtfully. It will be no harm, if you first write the whole in English, for then you will have much less trouble in turning it into Latin; not having to look for the matter, your mind will be intent only on the language. That, however, I leave to your own choice, whereas I strictly enjoin that whatever you have composed you carefully examine before writing it out clean; and in this examination, first scrutinise the whole sentence and then every part of it. Thus, if any solecisms have escaped you, you will easily detect them. Correct these, write out the whole letter again, and even then examine it once more, for sometimes, in rewriting, faults slip in again that one had expunged. By this diligence your little trifles will become serious matters; for while there is nothing so neat and witty that will not be made insipid by silly and inconsiderate loquacity, so also there is nothing in itself so insipid, that you cannot season with grace and wit if you give a little thought to it. Farewell, my dear children.

From the Court, the 3rd September

To Cardinal Wolsey, 1523

Hit may lyke Your good Grace to be advertised, that yesternyghte the Kinges Highnes commaunded me to advertise Your Grace, that his servaunt, Michael the Geldrois, delivered hym a lettre from Monsr de Iselsteyne, which His Grace hath sent unto Yours, in such maner cowched, that it semeth to His Highnes to have proceded not without thadvice of my Lady Margarete, and the Counsaile there. And for as mych as the lettre mencioned credence to be geven to the bringer, in the declaring of the same, he shewed un to His Highnes, on the behalfe of Monsr Deselsteyne, that my Lady, and all the Counsaile there, and among other hym selfe especially, were very sory for this warre intimated un to thEmperour, and mervelouse loth and hevy wold be, that eny warre shold aryse bytweene theym; and that it were to great pitie, and a thyng highly declaring Our Lord sore displeased with christen people, if the thre gretteste Princes of Christendome, cummyng to so nere poyntes of peace and concord, shold, in so nere hope and expectatione of peace, sodaynly fall at warre; beseching the Kinges Highnes graciously to percever in his godly mynde and appetite of peace, and how so ever it shold happe to fall bytwene hym and Spayne, yit to considre his auncient amite, and to continue hys good and graciouse favour towardes Flaundres, and those Lowe Countrees, whiche, of all folke living, lotheste wolde be to have eny enemyte with His Grace, or his people; adding therunto, that if His Highnes had, of his high wisedome, any convenient meanys, by whiche His Grace thought that the peace myght yit be trayned, and cum to good point, that thing knowen, he wold not dowte to cum over hym selfe to His Grace, with sufficient authorite to conclude hit.

Wherun to the Kinges Grace answered, that no creature living, prince nor pore man, was more lothe to have cummen to the warre than he, nor that more labour and travaile had taken, in his mynde, to conduce the peace; which he had undowbtedly brought to passe, if, with thEmperour, either reasonable respecte of his owne honour, profite, and suertie, or eny regard of the comen weale of Christendome, myght have taken place: and sith hit was without his fawte, and agaynst his mynde, cummen to this point, now His Grace muste and wold, with other his frendes, and helpe of God, defend his and theire good cause, and the comen state of Christendome, agaynste such, as by theire immoderate sore dealing, shewe theym selfe utterly sett uppon a purpose to put all in theire awne subjection: and that as towchyng the Lowe Cuntreis, he had, for the old frendeshippe and amite, such favour to theym, that, as it hath well appered by his actis, synnys thintimation, he hath not bene hasty to do theym harme, nor at the least wise to breke any clause of theire olde entercourse, albeit every clause had not bene kepte toward hym; wherin His Grace said that sumwhat thei had now bygon to loke un to, and he dowted not but more they wold, for their honour.

And where as Monsr Deselstayne, uppon the hoope hadde of eny good wais of peace, offred hym selfe to cum over, with sufficient authoritte, His Grace saied, that both for his great wisedome and good zele towardes peace, and olde frendely mynde toward His Grace, of long tyme well knowen, and for thacquayntaunce bytweene theym, with the favour that His Grace hath, for his well deserving merites, long borne un to hym, no man shold be to His Grace more wellcum, nor none could there cum thens, to whom His Grace could fynd in his hart more largely to declare his mynde; in whiche he had conceived such thinges, that he dowted not, if he cam over with sufficient authorite from thEmperour, either he shold conclude the peace, or playnely perceive and confesse hym selfe, that thEmperours immoderate hardnes shold be the onely lett and defawte.

Uppon this the said Michaell saied, that Monsr Desilsteyne wold be glad to know, what those devices were; which knowen, he myght se what hope he myght have of eny frute to cum of his cummyng: wherunto the Kinges Highnes answered, that sith His Grace had made the intimation, it wold not well stande with his honour, after suche a sleight fashion, to make eny overture of such pointes; but if Mons' Desilsteyn cam in such sufficient maner, authorised by thEmperour, he shold not faile to fynde His Grace such, that having so good zele and desire to the peace, he shold have cause to be gladde of his journey. And thus mych the Kinges Highnes commaunded me to advertise Your Grace, concernyng the communication had bitweene His Grace and the said Michael; desiring Your Grace, of your high wisedome, to considre what were ferther to be devised or sett forth, concernyng the said overture of Monsr Desilsteyne.

After this, whan I was goone from His Highnes, hit lyked hym to send agayne for me in to his Prevy Chambre, abowte 10 of the clokke; and than commaunded me to advertise Your Grace, ferther, that he had considered with hym selfe how loth the Low Cuntreis be, to have eny warre with hym; and that hym selfe and Your Grace, if it may be voided, wold be as lothe to have eny warre with theym; and, for that cause, His Grace thinketh it good, that albeit he wold, there were no slakkenes in putting of my Lord Sandes,1 and his cumpany, in a redynesse, yit they shold not over hastely be sent over, leste those Low Cuntreis, being put in more dowte and fere of His Graces entent and purpose toward theym, for some exploit to be done by land, myght be the rather moved to retayne and kepe stil the goodes of his merchauntes, and to begynne also somme busynes uppon thEnglishe pale; which thing, the mater thus hanging, without ferther fere or suspicion added, His Highnes verily thinketh that they will not attempte, but rather, in good hope of peace, accelerate the delivery of his merchauntes goodes; namely, perceiving the discharge of the Spanyardes, whom, by Your Graces moost prudent advice, His Highnes hath condescended shortely to sett at libertie and fre passage.

And His Grace also thinketh, that if my Lord Sandes, with his cumpany, were at Gisnes, they shold be sore preaced by the French partie to joyne with them, in some exploite uppon the borders of Flaundres; which thyng either they shold stifly refuse to do, and therby peradventure move grudge and suspicion; or joyne in the doing, and therby some hurt done un to Flaundres, uppon the fruntiers, myght not onely exasperat the mater, and hynder the peace, causing the goodes of his merchauntes to be retayned, but also geve occasion to have some broilery made uppon the Englishe pale, in which his people myght percase take more harme, than they shold inferre. And whan I was abowte to have shewed His Highnes sumwhat of my pore mynde in the mater, he saied this gere could not be done so sodeynly, but that His Grace, and Yours, shold speke to gether first; and, in the meane while, he commaunded me thus mych to advertise Your Grace of his mynde.

Ferthermore, His Highnes desireth Your Grace, at such tyme as ye shall call the Spanyardes by fore you, to geve theym libertie to departe, hit may lyke you, in such effectuall wise to declare un to theym, what favour His Highnes bereth to the nation of Spayne and how lothe His Grace wold have ben to. have eny warre with theym; that thopinion of his graciouse favour toward theym, comprobate and corroborate by theire discharge, and franke deliveraunce, being by theym reported in Spayne, may move the nobles, and the peple there, to take the more grevousely toward thEymperour, that his unresonable hardenes shold be the cause and occasion of the warre.

His Highnes hath, also, commaunded me to write un to Your Grace, that ther is an Hospitall in Southwarke, wherof His Highnes is enformed that the Maister is olde, blynd, and feble; and albeit that the Hospitall is in the gifte of the Bishoppe of Winchestre, yit His Grace is enformed, that Your Grace may, as Legate, geve the Maister, in this case, a coadjutor; which if Your Grace conveniently may, then His Highnes very hartely requireth Your Grace, that it may lyke you to appoint for his coadjutor, His Graces Chappeleyn, Mr Stanley, which to desire of Your Grace, he saith that 2 thinges move hym, the one that he wold the man were provided for, being a gentle man borne, and His Graces Chappeleyn; the tother is, that His Grace, being therby ridde and dischargyd of hym, myght, as he shortely wold, have a bettre lerned man in his place.

Hit may lyke Your Grace to receive, with thes presentes, such lettres as the Kinges Grace hath yisterday received owte of Ireland; which, after that I had, by His Graces commaundement, redde and reported un to His Grace, he commaunded me to sende theym un to Your Grace, to be by your high wisedome ferther considered, and answeris to theym to be devised, such as to your high prudence shalbe sene convenient. And thus Our Lord long preserve Your good Grace in honour and helth. At Wyndesore, this 16th of Marche.

Your Graces humble Oratour, and moost bounden Bedisman, Thomas More

To his Daughter, 1520

Sir Thomas More's favorite, Margaret, had written to her father in timid terms, requesting money. He sent her the amount, along with this reply

Dear Margaret,

You ask me for money with too much bashfulness and timidity, since you are asking from a father who is eager to give, and since you have written to me a letter such that I would not only repay each line of it with a golden philippine, as Alexander did the verses of Cherilos, but, if my means were as great as my desire, I would reward each syllable with two gold ounces. As it is, I send only what you have asked, but would have added more, only that as I am eager to give, so am I desirous to be asked and coaxed by my daughter, especially by you, whom virtue and learning have made so dear to my soul. So the sooner you spend this money well, as you are wont to do, and the sooner you ask for more, the more you will be sure of pleasing your father.

To his Wife, 1529

Returning to England from negotiations at Cambray, Sir Thomas More arrived with the King at the Palace of Woodstock to hear that his barns (and some of his neighbors') had been burnt down with all the wheat in them. He wrote to his wife, Lady Alice More, counselling her to not be too aggrieved

Mistress Alice,

In my most heartywise I recommend me to you. And whereas I am informed by my son Heron of the loss of our barns and our neighbours' also, with all the corn that was therein; albeit (saving God's pleasure) it is great pity of so much good corn lost; yet since it has liked him to send us such a chance, we must and are bounden, not only to be content, but also to be glad of his visitation. He sent us all that we have lost; and since he hath by such a chance taken it away again, his pleasure be fulfilled! Let us never grudge thereat, but take it in good worth, and heartily thank him, as well for adversity as for prosperity. And peradventure we have more cause to thank him for our loss than for our winning, for his wisdom better seeth what is good for us than we do ourselves. Therefore, I pray you be of good cheer, and take all the household with you to church, and there thank God, both for that he has given us, and for that he has taken from us, and for that he hath left us; which, if it please him, he can increase when he will, and if it please him to leave us yet less, at his pleasure be it!

I pray you to make some good onsearch what my poor neighbours have lost, and bid them take no thought therefore; for, if I should not leave myself a spoon, there shall no poor neighbour of mine bear no loss by my chance, happened in my house. I pray you be, with my children and your household, merry in God; and devise somewhat with your friends what way were best to take, for provision to be made for corn for our household, and for seed this year coming, if we think it good that we keep the ground still in our hands. And whether we think it good that we so shall do or not, yet I think it were not best suddenly thus to leave it all up, and to put away our folk from our farm, till we have somewhat advised us thereon. Howbeit, if we have more now than ye shall need, and which can get them other masters, ye may then discharge us of them. But I would not that any man were suddenly sent away, he wot not whither.

At my coming hither, I perceived none other but that I should tarry still with the king's grace. But now I shall, I think, because of this chance, get leave this next week to come home and see you, and then shall we farther devise together upon all things, what order shall be best to take.

And thus as heartily fare you well, with all our children, as ye can wish.

At Woodstock, the third day of September, by the hand of Thomas More

To Erasmus, 1532

Excerpt of a letter written by Sir Thomas More, soon after retiring from his post as Lord Chancellor, to his friend, Desiderius Erasmus, concerning his health, as well as his epitaph, written by himself

The thing which I have wished for from a boy, dear Desiderius, which I rejoice in your having ever enjoyed, and myself occasionally,—namely, that being free from public business, I might have some time to devote to God and myself,—that, by the grace of a great and good God, and by the favour of an indulgent prince, I have at last obtained.

I have not, however, obtained it as I wished. For I wished to reach that last stage of my life in a state, which, though suitable to my age, might yet enable me to enjoy my remaining years healthy and unbroken, free from disease and pain. But it remaineth in the hand of God, whether this wish, perhaps unreasonable, shall be accomplished. Meantime a disorder of I know not what nature hath attacked my breast, by which I suffer less in present pain than in fear of the consequence. For when it had plagued me without abatement some months, the physicians whom I consulted gave their opinion, that the long continuance of it was dangerous, and the speedy cure impossible; but that it must be cured by the gradual alterative effects of time, proper diet and medicine. Neither could they fix the period of my recovery, or ensure me a complete cure at last.

Considering this, I saw that I must either lay down my office, or discharge my duty in it incompletely. And since I could not discharge that duty without the hazard of my life, and by so doing should lose both life and office, I determined to lose one of them rather than both. Wherefore, that I might consult the public good as well as my own welfare, I entreated of the kindness of my good and great prince, that from the high office with which (as you know) he honoured me by his incredible favour, far above my pretensions, above my hopes, above my wishes, he should now release me, sinking as I was under the weight of it.

I therefore pray heaven, that God, who alone is able, may repay these favours of his majesty toward me; that the remaining time which he allotteth me may not be spent in inglorious and slothful repose, but that he may give me inclination and strength of body also, to employ it profitably. For, under bad health, I am not equal to anything; nor, my good friend, are we all like Erasmus, that that might be expected from us which God in his kindness seems to have granted exclusively to you. For who but yourself could dare to promise what you accomplish?—you, who are not hindered by the inconveniencies of growing age, and, though you be constantly afflicted with such maladies as might sicken and overcome youth and strength, yet cease you not yearly to instruct mankind by your excellent writings, as if age and ill health had robbed you of nothing.

Certain praters had begun to give it out here, that though I dissembled my sentiments, I gave-up my office unwillingly; but, having set-about my monument, I have not failed to represent the matter as it really was, in my epitaph, that, if anybody could, I might myself confute such insinuations. In appreciating this act, though they could not tax me with falsehood, they acquitted me not of some degree of arrogance. But I preferred this, to letting the other gain credit; certainly not on my own account, who think very little of what men say while God approveth, but since I had written some books in our language in the cause of the faith against certain of our advocates for the most disputed tenets, I conceived that it behoved me to defend the integrity of my character. And that you may know how arrogantly I have written, I send you my epitaph, by which you will see with what assurance I leave these men uncomplimented, that they may the less say of me what they please.

I have now waited a due time for suffrages on my official conduct, but no one hath yet stepped forward to challenge my integrity. I must thus have been very innocent or very cautious, and if my adversaries will not give me credit for the one they must for the other. The king himself hath declared his sentiments on the subject often in private, and twice in public. For when my successor, a very first-rate personage, took his seat, his majesty commanded the duke of Norfolk, high-treasurer of England, to bear most honourable testimony of me, yea more than my modesty will allow me to repeat, and to say that he dismissed me most unwillingly at my entreaty; and not content with so great a favour, he caused this to be repeated long afterward in his presence, in our assembly of peers and commons called parliament, by my successor, in his first speech, made as is customary on that occasion.

To King Henry VIII, 1534

Chelsea 5 March, the original is inside British Museum

Yit may lyke yor highnes to call to yor graciouse remembraunce that at such tyme, as of that great weighty (care?) and office of your chancellor with which so far above my meritis or qualitees able and mete therfore yor highnes had of yor incomparable goodnes honored and exalted me ye were so good and graciouse un to me as at my pore humble suit to discharge and disburden me geving me licence with yor gracious favor to bestow the residew of my life in myn age now to come, abowt the provision for my soule in the service of god, and to be yor gracys bedisman and pray for you it pleased yor highnes ferther to say unto me, that for the service which I byfore hadd done you, (which it than lyked yor goodnes far above my deserving to commend) that in eny suit that I should after have un to yor highnes, which either should concerne myn honor (that word it lyked yor highnes to use un to me) or that should perteyne un to my profit I should fynd yor highnes good and gracious lord unto me.

So is it now graciouse soverayn, that worldely honor ys the thing whereof I have resigned both the possession and the desire in the resignation of yor moost honorable office. And worldely profit I trust experience proveth and dayly more and more shall prove, that I never was very gredy theron. But now ys my most humble suit un to yor excellent highnes, partely to beseche the same, some what to tendre my pore honestie, but principally that of yor accustomed goodnis no sinistre information move yor noble grace, to have eny more distruste of my trouth and devotion toward you than I have or shall duryng my life geve the cause.

For in this mater of the wykked woman of canterbery1 I have un to yor trus[t]y counsaylour Mr Thomas Cromwell by my writing as playnly declared the trouth as I possibly can, which my declaration, of his dutie toward yor grace, and his goodnes toward me so hath I understand declared un to yor grace, in eny parte of all which my dealing, whither eny other man may peradventure put eny dowte, or move eny scrupule of suspition, that can I neither tell, nor lyeth in my hand to lett, but un to my selfe is it not possible eny parte of my said demeanure to seme evil, the very clerenes of myn owne conscience knoweth in all the mater my mynde and entent so good.

Wherfore moste gracious soverayn I neither will nor well it can bycome me, wt yor highnes to reason and argue the mater, but in my moost humble maner prostrate at yor gracious fete I onely byseche yor maiestie wt yor owne high prudence and your accustumede goodnes that yor gracious highnes hath by so many maner ways used un to me, I be a wreche of such a monstrouse ingratitude as could wt eny of theym all, or with eny other person living, digresse fro my bounden dutie of allegaunce toward yor good grace, than desire I no ferther favor at yor graciouse hand, than the losse of all that ever I may best (value or esteem?) in this world, goods, lands, and libertie, and finally my life wt all, wherof the keping of eny parte un to my selfe, could never do me penyworth of pleasure, but onely shold then my recomforte be, that after my short life and yor long (which wt continuall prosperite to goddys pleasure our lord for his mercy send you) I shold onys mete wt yor grace agayn in hevyn, and there be mery with you. Where among myn other pleasuris this shold yet be one, that yor grace shold surely se there than, that (how so ever you take me) I am yor trew bedeman now and ever have bene, and will be till I dye, how so ever yor pleasure be to do by me.

How be it if in the considering of my cause, yor high wysdome and gracious goodnis perceve (as I veryly trust in god you shall) that I none otherwise have demeaned my selfe, than well may stand wt my bounden dutie of faithfullnes toward yor roiall maiestie, than in my moste humble wise I bysech yor most noble grace, that the knowledge of yor trew graciouse persuasion in that byhalfe, may releve the (burden?) of my present hevynesse, conceived of the drede and fere (by that I here such a grevouse bill put by yor learned counseile in to yo high court of parleament agaynst me) lest yor grace myght by some sinistre information be moved eny thyng to thinke the contrary. Which if yor highnes do not (as I trust in god and yor great goodnes the mater by yor awne high prudence examined and considered you will not) then in my moost humble manr I besech yor highnes ferther (albe it that in respecte of my formar requeste this other thing ys very sleight) yit sith yor highnes hath here byfore of yor more habundunt goodnes heped and accumulated uppon me (though I was therto very far unwurthy) fro tyme to tyme both wurshuppe and great honor to, and sith I now have lefte of all such things, and no thing seke or desire but the life to come, and in the meane while pray for yor grace, it may lyke yor highnes of yor accustumed benignite somewhat to tendre my pore honestie and never suffre by the meane of such a bill put forth agaynst me eny man to take occasion here after agaynst the treuth to slawndre me.

Which thyng shold yit by the perill of theire owne soulys do theym selfe more hurt than me which shall I trust settle myn harte with yor graciouse favor to depend uppon the comforte of the trouth and hope of hevyn, and not uppon the fallible opinion of sour spoken words, of light and sour changeale peple. And thus moste dredde and moste dere soverayn lord, I beseche the blessed trinite preserve yor moost noble grace both in body and soule, and all that are yor well willers, and amend all the contrary, among whome if ever I be or ever have been one, than pray I god that he may with myn open shame and destruction declare it.

At my pore howse in Chelchith the fifeth day of march by the knowed rude hand of — yor moste humble and moste hevy faithfull subguett and bedeman,

Thomas More Kt

To His Daughter, 1534

Sir Thomas More, upon warning given him, came before the King’s Commissioners at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s place at Lambeth (the Monday the thirteenth day of April in the year of our Lord 1534, and in the latter end of the twenty-fifth year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth), where he refused the oath then offered unto him. And thereupon was he delivered to the Abbot of Westminster to be kept as a prisoner, with whom he remained till Friday following, and then was sent prisoner to the Tower of London. And shortly after his coming thither he wrote a letter and sent unto his eldest daughter Mistress Margaret Roper, the copy whereof here followeth.

17 April, Tower of London

When I was before the Lords at Lambeth, I was the first that was called in, albeit Master Doctor the Vicar of Croydon was come before me, and divers others. After the cause of my sending for, declared unto me (whereof I somewhat marveled in my mind, considering that they sent for no more temporal men but me), I desired the sight of the oath, which they showed me under the great seal. Then desired I the sight of the Act of the Succession, which was delivered me in a printed roll. After which read secretly by myself, and the oath considered with the act, I showed unto them that my purpose was not to put any fault either in the act or any man that made it, or in the oath or any man that sware it, nor to condemn the conscience of any other man. But as for myself in good faith my conscience so moved me in the matter that though I would not deny to swear to the succession, yet unto the oath that there was offered me I could not swear, without the iubarding of my soul to perpetual damnation. And that if they doubted whether I did refuse the oath only for the grudge of my conscience, or for any other fantasy, I was ready therein to satisfy them by mine oath. Which if they trusted not, what should they be the better to give me any oath? And if they trusted that I would therein swear true, then trusted I that of their goodness they would not move me to swear the oath that they offered me, perceiving that for to swear it was against my conscience.

Unto this my Lord Chancellor said that they all were sorry to hear me say thus, and see me thus refuse the oath. And they said all that on their faith I was the very first that ever refused it; which would cause the King’s Highness to con-ceive great suspicion of me and great indignation toward me. And therewith they showed me the roll, and let me see the names of the lords and the commons which had sworn, and subscribed their names already. Which notwithstanding when they saw that I refused to swear the same myself, not blaming any other man that had sworn, I was in conclusion commanded to go down into the garden, and thereupon I tarried in the old burned chamber, that looketh into the garden and would not go down because of the heat. In that time saw I Master Doctor Latimer come into the garden, and there walked he with divers other doctors and chaplains of my Lord of Canterbury, and very merry I saw him, for he laughed, and took one or twain about the neck so handsomely, that if they had been women, I would have went he had been waxen wanton. After that came Master Doctor Wilson forth from the lords and was with two gentlemen brought by me, and gentlemanly sent straight unto the Tower. What time my Lord of Rochester was called in before them, that cannot I tell. But at night I heard that he had been before them, but where he remained that night, and so forth till he was sent hither, I never heard. I heard also that Master Vicar of Croydon, and all the remnant of the priests of London that were sent for, were sworn, and that they had such favor at the council’s hand that they were not lingered nor made to dance any long attendance to their travail and cost, as suitors were sometimes wont to be, but were sped apace to their great comfort so far forth that Master Vicar of Croydon, either for gladness or for dryness, or else that it might be seen (quod ille notus erat pontifici) went to my Lord’s buttery bar and called for drink, and drank (valde familiariter).

When they had played their pageant and were gone out of the place, then was I called in again. And then was it declared unto me what a number had sworn, even since I went inside, gladly, without any sticking. Wherein I laid no blame in no man, but for my own self answered as before. Now as well before as then, they somewhat laid unto me for obstinacy, that where as before, sith I refused to swear, I would not declare any special part of that oath that grudged my conscience, and open the cause wherefore. For thereunto I had said to them, that I feared lest the King’s Highness would as they said take displeasure enough toward me for the only refusal of the oath. And that if I should open and disclose the causes why, I should therewith but further exasperate his Highness, which I would in no wise do, but rather would I abide all the danger and harm that might come toward me, than give his Highness any occasion of further displeasure than the offering of the oath unto me of pure necessity constrained me. Howbeit when they divers times imputed this to me for stubbornness and obstinacy that I would neither swear the oath nor yet declare the causes why, I declined thus far toward them that rather than I would be accounted for obstinate, I would upon the King’s gracious license or rather his such commandment had as might be my sufficient warrant that my declaration should not offend his Highness, nor put me in the danger of any of his statutes, I would be content to declare the causes in writing; and over that to give an oath in the beginning, that if I might find those causes by any man in such wise answered as I might think mine own conscience satisfied, I would after that with all mine heart swear the principal oath, too.

To this I was answered that though the King would give me license under his letters patent, yet would it not serve against the statute. Whereto I said that yet if I had them, I would stand unto the trust of his honor at my peril for the remnant. But yet it thinketh me, lo, that if I may not declare the causes without peril, then to leave them undeclared is no obstinacy.

My Lord of Canterbury taking hold upon that that I said, that I condemned not the conscience of them that sware, said unto me that it appeared well that I did not take it for a very sure thing and a certain that I might not lawfully swear it, but rather as a thing uncertain and doubtful. But then (said my Lord) you know for a certainty and a thing without doubt that you be bounden to obey your sovereign lord your King. And therefore are ye bounden to leave off the doubt of your unsure conscience in refusing the oath, and take the sure way in obeying of your prince, and swear it. Now all was it so that in mine own mind methought myself not concluded, yet this argument seemed me suddenly so subtle and namely with such authority coming out of so noble a prelate’s mouth, that I could again answer nothing thereto but only that I thought myself I might not well do so, because that in my conscience this was one of the cases in which I was bounden that I should not obey my prince, sith that whatsoever other folk thought in the matter (whose conscience and learning I would not condemn nor take upon me to judge), yet in my conscience the truth seemed on the other side. Wherein I had not informed my conscience neither suddenly nor slightly but by long leisure and diligent search for the matter. And of truth if that reason may conclude, than have we a ready way to avoid all perplexities. For in whatsoever matters the doctors stand in great doubt, the King’s commandment given upon whither side he list soyleth all the doubts.

Then said my Lord of Westminster to me that howsoever the matter seemed unto mine own mind, I had cause to fear that mine own mind was erroneous when I see the great council of the realm determine of my mind the contrary, and that therefore I ought to change my conscience. To that I answered that if there were no more but myself upon my side and the whole Parliament upon the other, I would be sore afraid to lean to mine own mind only against so many. But on the other side, if it so be that in some things for which I refuse the oath, I have (as I think I have) upon my part as great a council and a greater too, I am not then bounden to change my conscience, and confirm it to the council of one realm, against the general council of Christendom. Upon this Master Secretary (as he that tenderly favoreth me), said and swore a great oath that he had lever that his own only son (which is of truth a goodly young gentleman, and shall I trust come to much worship) had lost his head than that I should thus have refused the oath. For surely the King’s Highness would now conceive a great suspicion against me, and think that the matter of the nun of Canterbury was all contrived by my drift. To which I said that the contrary was true and well known, and whatsoever should mishap me, it lay not in my power to help it without peril of my soul. Then did my Lord Chancellor repeat before me my refusal unto Master Secretary, as to him that was going unto the King’s Grace. And in the rehearsing, his Lordship repeated again that I denied not but was content to swear to the succession. Where-unto I said that as for that point, I would be content, so that I might see my oath in that point so framed in such a manner as might stand with my conscience.

Then said my Lord: “Marry, Master Secretary mark that too, that he will not swear that neither but under some certain manner.” “Verily no, my Lord,” quoth I, “but that I will see it made in such wise first, as I shall myself see, that I shall neither be forsworn nor swear against my conscience. Surely as to swear to the succession I see no peril, but I thought and think it reason that to mine own oath I look well myself, and be of counsel also in the fashion, and never intended to swear for a pece, and set my hand to the whole oath. Howbeit (as help me God), as touching the whole oath, I never withdrew any man from it, nor never advised any to refuse it, nor never put, nor will, any scruple in any man’s head, but leave every man to his own conscience. And methinketh in good faith that so were it good reason that every man should leave me to mine.

Thomas More

From the Tower of London, 1535

2 or 3 May

A Letter written and sent by Sir Thomas More to his daughter Mistress Roper, written the second or third day of May, in the Year of our Lord, 1535, and in the 27th Year of the Reign of King Henry VIII. Our Lord bless you. My dearly beloved daughter, I doubt not but by the reason of the King's councillors resorting hither in this time (in which our Lord be their comfort) these fathers of the Charterhouse and Master Reynolds of Sion be now judged to death for treason (whose matters and causes I know not) may hap to put you in trouble and fear of mind concerning me being here prisoner, specially for that it is not unlikely that you have heard that I was brought also before the council here myself, I have thought it necessary to advertise you of the very truth, to the end that you should neither conceive more hope than the matter giveth, lest upon another turn it might aggrieve your heaviness: nor more grief and fear than the matter giveth on the tother side.

Wherefore shortly ye shall understand that on Friday, the last day of April in the afternoon, Master Lieutenant came in here unto me, and showed me that Master Secretary would speak with me, whereupon I shifted my gown, and went out with Master Lieutenant into the gallery to him, where I met many, some known and some unknown, in the way. And in conclusion coming into the chamber where his Mastership sat with Master Attorney, Master Solicitor, Master Bedell, and Master Doctor Tregonwell, I was offered to sit down with them, which in no wise I would. Whereupon Master Secretary showed unto me, that he doubted not, but that I had, by such friends as hither had resorted to me, seen the new statutes made at the last sitting of the parliament. Whereunto I answered: Yea, verily. Howbeit forasmuch as, being here, I have no conversation with any people, I thought it little need for me to bestow much time upon them, and therefore I redelivered the book shortly, and the effect of the statutes I never marked or studied to put in remembrance.

Then he asked me whether I had not read the first statute of them, of the King being head of the church. Whereunto I answered, Yes. Then his Mastership declared unto me, that sith it was now by act of parliament ordained, that his Highness and his heirs be, and ever of right have been, and perpetually should be, supreme head in earth of the Church of England under Christ, the King's pleasure was, that those of his council there assembled, should demand mine opinion, and what my mind was therein. Whereunto I answered, that in good faith I had well trusted, that the King's highness would never have commanded any such question to be demanded of me, considering that I ever from the beginning, well and truly from time to time declared my mind unto his highness; and since that time (I said) unto your Mastership, Master Secretary, also, both by mouth and by writing. And now I have in good faith discharged my mind of all such matters, and neither will dispute kings' titles nor popes': but the King's true faithful subject I am, and will be, and daily I pray for him, and all his, and for you all that are of his honourable council, and for all the realm. And otherwise than this I never intend to meddle.

Whereunto Master Secretary answered, that he thought this manner of answer should not satisfy nor content the King's highness, but that his grace would exact a more full answer. And his Mastership added thereunto that the King's highness was a prince, not of rigour, but of mercy and pity. And though that he had found obstinacy at some time in any of his subjects, yet when he should find them at another time conformable and submit themselves, his Grace would show mercy: and that concerning myself, his highness would be glad to see me take such confortable ways, as I might be abroad in the world again among other men, as I have been before. Whereunto I shortly (after the inward affection of my mind) answered for a very truth, that I would never meddle in the world again, to have the world given me. And to the remnant of the matter, I answered in effect as before, showing that I had fully determined with myself, neither to study nor meddle with any matter of this world, but that my whole study should be upon the passion of Christ, and mine own passage out of this world.

Upon this I was commanded to go forth for a while, and after called in again. At which time Master Secretary said unto me, that though I were a prisoner condemned to perpetual prison, yet I was not thereby discharged of mine obedience and allegiance unto the King's highness. And thereupon demanded me whether that I thought that the King's grace might not exact of me such things as are contained in the statutes, and upon like pains, as he might upon other men. Whereto I answered that I would not say the contrary. Whereunto he said that, likewise as the King's Highness would be gracious to them that he found conformable, so his Grace would follow the course of his laws toward such as he shall find obstinate. And his Mastership said further, that my demeanour in that matter was a thing that of likelihood made others so stiff therein as they be.

Whereto I answered, that I give no man occasion to hold any one point or other, nor never gave any man advice or counsel therein one way or other. And for conclusion I could no farther go, whatsoever pain should come thereof. I am (quoth I) the King's true faithful subject and daily bedesman, and pray for his highness and all the realm. I do nobody no harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live. And I am dying already, and have since I came here, been divers times in the case that I thought to die within one hour. And I thank our Lord thatI was never sorry for it, but rather sorry when I saw the pang past. And therefore my poor body is at the King's pleasure. Would God my death might do him good.

After this Master Secretary said: Well, ye find no fault in that statute: find you any in any of the other statutes after? Whereto I answered, Sir, whatsoever thing should seem to me other than good, in any other statutes or in that statute either, I would not declare what fault I found, nor speak thereof. Whereunto finally his Mastership said, full gently, that of anything that I had spoken here should none advantage be taken. And whether he said farther that there was none to be taken, I am not well remembered. But he said that report should be made unto the King's highness, and his gracious pleasure known. Whereupon I was delivered again to Master Lieutenant, which was then called in. And so was I by Master Lieutenant brought again into my chamber. And here am I yet in such case as I was, neither better nor worse.

That which shall follow lieth in the hand of God, Whom I beseech to put in King's grace's mind, that thing that may be to His high pleasure, and in mine, to mind only the weal of my soul, with little regard of my body, and you with all yours, and my wife, and all my children, and all our other friends, both bodily and ghostly, heartily well to fare. And I pray you and them all pray for me, and take no thought whatsoever shall happen me. For I verily trust in the goodness of God, seem it never so evil to this world, it shall indeed in another world be for the best. Your loving father,

Thomas More, Knight

Last Letter, 1535

Sir Thomas More's last letter, on "such little pieces of paper as he could obtain by stealth, on which he wrote with a coal," was written from prison on the day before his execution for treason. It was to his daughter Margaret, and shows Thomas More's great love for his family. It is also apparent from this letter that More was completely at peace with his impending death, and longed to "go to God" on the following day.

Monday, July 5th

My good daughter,

Our Lord bless you, my good daughter, and your good husband, and your little boy, and all yours, and all my children, and all my godchildren, 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 beg her to pray for me. I send her a handkerchief; and God comfort my good son, her husband. My good daughter Daunce hath the picture in parchment, that you delivered me from my Lady Conyers; her name is on the back of it. Shew 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 especially well Dorothy Colly; I pray you be good unto her. I would wit [know] whether that be she 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 Joan Aleyn too. Give her, I pray you, some kind answer, for she sued hither to me this day, to pray you to be good to her. I cumber you, good Margaret, much, and I should be sorry if it were to be any longer than tomorrow: for it is St. Thomas's even, and the utas [vigil] 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 like when daughterly love and dear charity have no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you, and for all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost. I send now to my good daughter Clement her algorism stone,† and 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 if the land of mine come to his hand, he break not my will concerning his sister Daunce. And our Lord bless Thomas and Austen, and all that they shall have.