Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors – Blessed Thomas More, Layman

detail from 'Portrait of Sir Thomas More' by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527, tempera on wood, Frick Collection, New York, New YorkArticle

Born 7 February 1478, in Cheapside, London, he was sent to Saint Antony’s School, Threadneedle Street, and was then placed in the household of Cardinal Moreton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor. At the age of fourteen he was sent to Oxford, and studied under Linacre and Grocyn, and four years later became a lecturer at Furnival’s Inn. In his twenty-fifth year he had serious thoughts of becoming a religious. “The world was made up,” he wrote, “of false love and flattery, of hatred and quarrels, and of all that ministered to the body and the Devil.” Being near the Carthusians, he imitated their austerities, wore a hair shirt, took the discipline on Fridays and Fast Days, said Lauds, Matins, and the Penitential Psalms, and always heard an entire Mass daily. This practice he continued throughout his life, and observed it so religiously that when the King once sent for him while he was hearing Mass he would not stir until the Mass was finished, although the summons was twice or thrice repeated. To the Royal messenger urging him to come without delay, he said that he thought first to perform his duty to a better Man than the King was, nor was the King then angered with Sir Thomas’s boldness.

King Henry VIII took such pleasure in More’s company that he would sometimes upon the sudden come to his house at Chelsea to be merry with him, whither on a time unlocked for he came to dinner, and after dinner, in a fair garden of his, walked with him by the space of an hour holding his arms about his neck. Of all of which favours he made no more account than a deep wise man should do. Wherefore, when that after the King’s departure his son-in-law, Mr. William Roper, rejoicingly came unto him saying these words, “Sir, how happy are you whom the King hath so familiarly entertained, as I have never seen him do to any other except Cardinal Wolsey, whom I have seen his Grace walk withal arm in arm,” Sir Thomas More answered in this sort: “I thank our Lord, son, I find his Grace my very good Lord indeed, and I believe he doth as singularly favour me as he doth any subject within this realm. Howbeit, Son Roper, I have no cause to be proud thereof, for if my head could win him one castle in France, it should not fail to serve his turn.”

“Tindale conceals the meaning of words by his translation [of the Bible]. For priest he substitutes senior, for the Church the congregation, confession becomes knowledge, and penance, repentance. He changes grace into favour, whereas every favour is not grace in England, for in some favour there is little grace…. A contrite heart he changes into a troubled heart, and many more things like and many texts untruly translated for the maintenance of heresy. The most foolish heretic in the town may write more false heresies in one leaf than the wisest man in the whole world can well and conveniently by reason and authority confute in forty. These evangelical brethren think my works too long. But also Our Lady’s psalter think they too long by all the Ave Marias, and some good piece of the Creed too. Then the Mass think they too long by the Secrets and the Canon. Instead of a long Breviary, a short primer shall serve them; and yet the primer without Our Lady s Matins. And the seven Psalms think they long enough without the Litany; and as for dirge or commemoration for their friends souls, all that service is too long.” – Saint Thomas More

On Henry VIII assuming the title of Supreme Head of the Church, More resigned his chancellorship, and, being thereby reduced to extreme poverty, he thus announced the change to his family:

“I have been brought up at Oxford, at an Inn of Chancery, at Lincoln’s Inn, and also in the King’s Court, and so from the least degree to the highest, and yet my revenues are now a little above a hundred pounds the year. So that we must, if we like to live together, become contributors together. But we had better not fall to the lowest fare first. We will not therefore descend to Oxford fare, nor to the fare of New’s Inn, but we will begin with Lincoln’s Inn diet, which, if we find ourselves unable to maintain, then will we next year after go one step down to New Inn fare. If that exceed our ability too, then will we the next year after descend to Oxford fare, where many grave, ancient, and learned fathers be conversant continually; which if our ability stretch not to maintain neither, then may we yet with bags and wallets go a-begging together, and hoping for pity some good folk will give their charity, at every man’s door to sing Salve Regina, and so keep company merrily together.”

MLA Citation

  • Father Henry Sebastian Bowden. “Blessed Thomas More, Layman”. Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors, 1910. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 April 2019. Web. 22 August 2019. <>