July 1 – Sir Thomas More is found guilty

Posted By on July 1, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 1st July 1535, in the reign of King Henry VIII, the king’s former Lord Chancellor and friend, Sir Thomas More, was tried for high treason.

More was tried by a special commission of oyer and terminer, who found him guilty.

He was sentenced to death and executed on 6th July 1535.

But how did More, a faithful and loyal servant of the king, end up in this mess?

Who was on the commission and what exactly happened?

Find out all about the fall of Sir Thomas More in this video (transcript below):

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 1st July 1535, Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII’s former Lord Chancellor, was tried for high treason by a special commission of oyer and terminer. He was found guilty and was executed on 6th July 1535.

Sir Thomas More once famously 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.

In 1531, More had refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, declaring that Henry VIII was Supreme Head of the English Church, because he believed that this position belonged to the Pope. He offered to resign on a couple of occasions and his resignation was finally accepted by Henry in 1532. More then refused to swear his allegiance to the Act of Succession, although he accepted Parliament’s right to declare Anne Boleyn as Queen, because he could not accept the part of the Act which asserted Parliament’s authority to legislate in religious matters – in More’s opinion, only the Pope had this right. Resignation and silence was not enough for the King and his followers. More’s refusal sign the oath, and his refusal to attend Anne Boleyn’s coronation, led to him being arrested for treason on charges of “praemunire”.

On many occasions, Thomas Cromwell tried to persuade More to sign the oath but More’s conscience would not allow him to back down on matters of faith, and he ended up going to trial.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, includes a record of the commission of oyer and terminer which tried Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII’s former chancellor, for treason on 1st July 1535, including a list of those who sat in judgement on More, many of who you’ll recognise:

Sir Thomas Audley, More’s replacement as chancellor; Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk; Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; Henry Clifford, Earl of Cumberland; Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire; George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon; Henry, Lord Montagu; George Boleyn, Lord Rochford; Andrew, Lord Windsor; Thomas Cromwell, secretary; Sir William Fitzwilliam; Sir William Paulet; Sir John Fitzjames; Sir John Baldwyn; Sir Richard Lister; Sir John Port; Sir John Spelman; Sir Walter Luke; and Sir Anthony Fitzherbert.”
How fickle the Tudor court could be.

But what was Sir Thomas More actually charged with. Well, he was tried for high treason for denying the validity of the new Act of Succession. The indictment stated that More had traitorously attempted to deprive the king of the title of the Supreme Head of the Church; that he had written to his fellow prisoner Bishop John Fisher that “The Act of Parliament is like a sword with two-edges, for if a man answer one way it will confound his soul, and if he answer the other way it will confound his body”, something that he’d repeated during interrogations. More had held on to the belief that if he did not voice his denial of the King’s supremacy over the Church in England, then he could not be found guilty but unfortunately Cromwell produced Richard Rich to claim that he had heard More deny that the King was head of the Church. After hearing this, More spoke up and said that “no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality”.

At his trial at Westminster, More pleaded “Not guilty”, but he was found guilty under the Treason Act of 1534, and sentenced to a full traitor’s death to be carried out at Tyburn, although this was commuted to beheading on Tower Hill.

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 Tudor history, 1st July 1543, in the reign of King Henry VIII, the Treaties of Greenwich were signed. These treaties were between the kingdoms of Scotland and England, and, amongst other terms, was the agreement of a marriage between Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI, and Mary, Queen of Scots.

You can find out more about these treaties and the subsequent war known as the Rough Wooing in my video at https://youtu.be/0Xmp5ar3MkU

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