Sir Thomas More once said of King Henry VIII that “if my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go” and I often wonder how serious he was. Was it said in jest or did More know exactly what Henry VIII was capable of? It’s impossible to know, but his closeness to the king did indeed cost him his life.

On this day in history, 1st July 1535, Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII’s former chancellor, was tried for high treason by a special commission of oyer and terminer. He was found guilty and sentenced to a full traitor’s death to be carried out at Tyburn, although this was commuted to beheading on Tower Hill. He was executed on 6th July 1535.

You can find out more about the trial and what exactly Sir Thomas More did, or didn’t do, to be accused of treason, in my article from last year – click here.

More was beatified on 29th December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII and then canonised on 19th May 1935. In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared him to be “the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians”. More and his friend, Bishop John Fisher, who was executed on 22nd June 1535, are remembered by Catholics with a feast day on 22nd June every year.

Also on this day in history, 1st July 1536, Parliament declared that Henry VIII’s two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were illegitimate – click here to read more.

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8 thoughts on “1 July 1535 – Sir Thomas More is tried for treason”
  1. More also said ‘when the lion knows his strength no one can gainsay him’ , he was an astute man of character as well as a scholar, he had known Henry since his youth and knew behind the hearty genial man of old there was a streak of cruelty, his temper would come as quickly as his laughter and his need for absolute control was always there maybe, waiting to come out, in the early days of his marital wranglings with Katherine he had promised he would not involve More at all, but as time went on and the break with Rome became inevitable More was put under increased pressure to conform to Hemrys will and no doubt, Henry egged on and nagged to death by Anne Boleyn became determined that everyone must sign the act of supremacy which Henry had passed in parliament, More could not be excused and thus he was bought to trial for treason, he was accused of attempting to deprive the King of his title as supreme head of the church, nonsense, More just wished to be left alone, his very belief was sacred to him, he believed as many did that Katherine was the true queen of England and that the Catholic Church was the true one, he did not believe that Henry had the power to make himself head of a new church and that was his belief and he was entitled to it, as he said , ‘he speaks no harm, he means no harm’, he was silent on the matter yet this silence was taken as treason as he would not agree, and so this man who was revered by many became one more of Henry V111’s victims, but he allowed him to die mercifully by the axe instead of the awful alternative, it was a very sad day when he was executed and I love the story afterwards that his daughter Meg by night rowed up the Thames and took his head, she was saying to Henry he was no traitor and he should not be there a victim to the flies and carrion, it was a brave loving gesture from a devoted daughter, in the London Dungeons Meg is immortalised in wax holding her sad relic with her, it is said she kept the head with her till death, certainly Mores death haunted Henry and he blamed Anne, according to one story he was playing cards with her when his execution was brought to him, he told Anne bitterly she was the cause of his death, he could not play such a trivial game after hearing of it and left Anne, no doubt leaving her feeling rather worried.

  2. Both Cranmer and Cromwell wanted Henry to allow More (and John Fisher) to swear to a compromise version of the Act of Succession … they would publicly accept Anne as queen and Elizabeth as Henry’s legal heir, but they would not have to swear to the preamble which rejected papal authority. Both More and Fisher had agreed to swear on these terms. It was Henry who rejected this plan and insisted on the executions when the full oath was refused.

    1. On his deathbed Henry muttered the word monks over and over again, I believe he did regret their deaths, I can well believe Newdigate was a friend of his but as we’ve seen with More Norris and Anne Boleyn, close friendship and love did not amount to much where Henry V111 was concerned.

      1. I think Henry VIII crying out “monks, monks, monks” is a myth, isn’t it? I know Agnes Strickland mentions it in her Victorian work “Lives of the Queens of England…” and she cites Harpsfield but I haven’t found it in Harpfield’s work and Harpfield would not have been present. I know other sources say that Henry VIII had lost the ability to speak and so answered Archbishop Cranmer by squeezing his hand. Unfortunately, I don’t think Henry VIII did express any regret at what happened to the Carthusian monks.

        1. Hi Claire I definatly read it somewhere but yes he couldn’t speak towards towards the end so it probably is a myth.

  3. Interesting that More should be canonized – he ordered six people to be burned alive at the stake for HIS beliefs. That makes him a murderer. Saint murderer.

    1. He wasn’t a murderer, he was a magistrate and Lord Chancellor doing his job and part of his job was to prosecute heretics. He was directly involved in three of the six in total, one actually died in prison, and two were in his jurisdiction, but his involvement is debated. He was made a saint for his own martyrdom and his own faith. The people who died for heresy are regarded as martyrs as well by many people today. He was also a scholar, humanist, a man who stuck to his principles, no matter what you think, he was held in high esteem throughout Europe, he believed in the principle of law, something Cromwell forgot about and manipulated, he was far fairer on people brought before him than many others, plus it was Henry’s laws he was enforcing and he believed the same as everyone else. Even Cranmer believed in burning heretics, which was an unfortunate irony. It may seem rather horrible or even strange that people could condemn someone to death for a different belief, but it wasn’t 500 years ago and people were only condemned as a last resort. Calling someone a murderer for acting justly by the laws of their time is imposing our own less than perfect standards on a time we don’t understand.

      Thomas More was a man of his time, he didn’t pretend he was a saint but God made him one and I am proud to call him a patron and a saint, even a flawed one. He would probably have found the idea that he was later canonized as quite amusing, that is how human and how much wit he had. Thomas Cromwell is often blamed for much that happened to More but I think there is evidence that he hoped More would take the oath. More actually made a good legal argument by not giving his reasons, but the rules of law had become void by Henry’s Supremacy and he was found guilty of being stubborn basically. Because he refused to sign, he refused Henry a royal title and this was now treason under the new acts. More had also fallen into the trap of speaking theoretically about Parliament not having the competence to rule on a matter of faith, the Headship of the Catholic Church. He should have legally been protected under Magna Carta, but Richard Rich committed perjury and reported their conversation to claim More had made this statement as a fact. He was accused of being obstinate in his refusal, but he had neither denied or admitted Henry’s titles, he had given no reason for his refusal. Henry was fed up and determined More would sign or die. The jury almost actually declared in More’s favour but for his conversation in the Tower.

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