Sample Term Paper On “Conscious” Language Of Thomas More’s Last Letters

Type of paper: Term Paper

Topic: Family, Utopia, Thomas More, Letter, England, Time, Religion, Law

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2021/02/16

The discussion of Thomas More’s last letters must be forestalled by a proper introduction and some details of the life of this distinguished person.
Thomas More was one of the greatest English humanists and statesmen, a well-known writer, poet and social thinker, a symbol of true faith and a famous prisoner of conscience. He was born on 7 February 1478 into a wealthy family of a London lawyer. He received initial education in the grammar school of St. Anthony. At the age of thirteen he became a page in the House of the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Morton. With the help of the archbishop, who was among the first to notice his extraordinary talents, he was admitted to Oxford University where he studied from 1492 to 1494. Then at the insistence of his father took various courses in legal schools of London. At the same time More studied classical languages (Latin and Greek), the largest works of ancient and early Christian thinkers (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine). He made friends with a circle of Oxford humanists, John Colet, Thomas Linacre, William Grotsinom, William Lily. In 1499 he met with Erasmus, with whom he was since in a very close friendship (in More's house Erasmus wrote "Praise of Folly", which he dedicated to his friend). Around 1502 Moore became a lawyer and professor of law. In 1504 he was elected to the parliament, within the walls of which he strongly opposed to the financial claims of King Henry VII. Then, for fear of repressions, he was forced to leave politics for a while and return to the practice of law. In 1510, Moore was again in the parliament convened by the new king Henry VIII; he represented the citizens of London; then he was appointed assistant to the city sheriff. In 1515, as part of the British embassy he was sent to Flanders to negotiate wool trade issues. In Flanders, Moore began the work on the first book of "Utopia", which he finished after returning home; the second book "Utopia" (most of the story about the allegedly discovered state of Utopians) had been written much earlier. "Utopia" was originally published in late 1516 in Louvain. The first part contains an analysis of the socio-economic situation of England, sharp criticism of “enclosures”, economic monopoly, degeneration of the English countryside, the moral decline of society; the second book describes the ideal social order based on the principles of community, system, in which the privileged position was held by educated and virtuous people. Henry VIII highly rated the critical pathos of "Utopia", and appointed its author as a state advisor in 1517. In 1518, Moore became the Royal Secretary, he was now sent on diplomatic missions, and from 1521 he was residing on the "Star Chamber", the highest judicial institution in England. Then he was appointed assistant treasurer of the kingdom, and was awarded a knighthood, followed by substantial grants of land. In 1521 in the name of Henry VIII there was issued a treatise against Martin Luther, whose editor, and possibly co-author, was Thomas More. Luther sent a sharp reply to the king, to which Moore in 1523 criticized Luther, accusing him of inciting the common people to revolt against the legitimate rulers. In 1523, with King’s approval More was elected Speaker of the House of Commons, in 1525-1529 years he Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and in October 1529 after Cardinal Wolsey was removed, More became Lord Chancellor of England. In May 1532, King Henry VIII, who was in a conflict with the Pope, took side of the Reformation and the English clergy was forced under the control of royal power. More, who in a contradiction with the reforms advocated the establishment and reinforcement of the Catholic Church, had to resign. Refusing to recognize the "Act od Succession" that proclaimed that the king was now head of the Church of England, Thomas More was imprisoned in the Tower in April of 1534, and in the following year he was accused of treason and executed. In 1935 he was declared a Catholic saint.
Thomas More was as high in the hierarchy of the state service as one can get. Being Lord Chancellor meant that he took part in discussion of all important government matters. Henry VIII kept him close. The king came to his village and dined in his house, which was a rare privilege and signified a great regal favor. More never overestimated the significance. He was well aware of being a mere cog in the ruthless mechanism set in motion by a tyrant. He ended up as a Tower prisoner charged with state treason. Katherine Rodgers describes the legal frame of the More case. A state treason trial defendant «enjoyed no legal counsel», they were not provided details of their case prior to the court hearing, were not allowed witnesses and could not testify in favor of themselves (Rodgers 34). This is one on the reasons More was so scrupulous in conveying all the details of his situation in his letters to his daughter. These letters were «witnesses» of his case for the posterity. The analytical record of the events that became characteristic of all of his letters is clearly seen from the very beginning of this historical correspondence. Short after being confined in the Tower he wrote the first letter to his eldest daughter Mistress Margaret Roper dated 17 April 1534. The strict account of event starts from the first sentence: “ I was the first that was called in, albeit Master Doctor the Vicar of Croydon was come before me, and divers others. “Such a beginning as well serves the purpose of providing consolation to his family. He gives a dry description of the events, which shows that he is calm and in good mental state. No signs of great disturbance are seen in the following facts about his conversation with the Lord Chancellor and the others who offered him to swear the oath. He provides details of their conversation, his reasons for refusal, and then comes a description of what he saw in the garden later. According to Rodgers, More’s intentionality and carefully planned composition of the letter is suggested by alliteration (“I would have went he had been waxen wanton”) and ironic pun (gentlemen “gentlemanly escorted”) (Rodgers 38). More clearly makes a point that he disapproves of what is happening, “without judging anyone in particular.”(Rodgers 38). Comic touches continue to appear in his account later when he summarizes what he heard of Master Vicar of Croydon.
About a year after this first April message More writes another letter dated 2 or 3 of April 1535. He feels that his time is drawing to an end and he begins with giving blessing to his beloved daughter. He wants her to be ready the imminent outcome, which is his execution. At the same time he demonstrates her his unwavering faith and Christian determination. “I have thought it necessary to advertise you of the very truth, to the end that you neither conceive more hope than the matter giveth”, wrote More. After this familial introduction he gets to his usual business of “witnessing” of his case by means of letters. He continues the narrative of facts in his usual manner, providing precise time (“on Friday the last day of April in the afternoon”), listing all the names of all participants of the events, and rendering all dialogues verbatim. Such detailed account takes up most of the letter. In the end of the letter, More again addresses his daughter with consolatory words. He asks her and the rest of the family to pray for him and be strong enough to humbly accept whatever might happen. He ends this letter with “Your loving father” and signs it “Thomas More, Knight”, unlike that of April of 1534, which was signed by name only. I think that More uses his title for reassurance. He as if reminds himself to be strong and dignified in the face of coming death, of which he had no doubt by then. The next letter comes in June of 1545. It has the same structure: introduction with the blessing, detailed account of events, good wishes and prayers in the end. In the final letter, a day before the execution, More speaks to the family. He sends his blessings to everyone in the family, clarifies certain points regarding his will and gives last fatherly instructions. He is perfectly lucid and logical in his language, which proves that he has served his purpose to the end.
His primary prosecutor was Thomas Cromwell, who read all the letters with the purpose to find evidence of More’s treason. It made the prisoner “to choose very carefully the words to express his indignation” (de Silva 7), but “More’s subtlety does not compromise his clarity” (de Silva 7). So all of his letters are in a way letters to Cromwell, but shortly prior to his incarceration he also wrote to him directly. Before we proceed to the analysis of the March letter, it is important to learn some facts about the addressee.
Thomas Cromwell, a distant ancestor of the more famous revolutionary and Lord Protector Oliver, is a significant figure in English history, as important as it is grim. Son of a blacksmith from Putney, who after wandering about Europe invested in learning jurisprudence and managed to make his way into King’s entourage, eventually promoted to secretary of the all-powerful Cardinal Wolsey. Follower of Machiavelli, whose books he read while working on the Friskabaldi banking house in Italy (where he was in charge of relations of bankers with the Pope administration). A turncoat, Cromwell betrayed his patron Cardinal for the sake of King, whom he guided by a steady hand to the position of the head of the British Church with all its assets. Already as chancellor of the kingdom Cromwell sent for execution of Thomas More. And when the power Boleyn became a nuisance, he sent Anna herself to the scaffold. During his time in office, Thomas Cromwell was almost officially the most hated man in England. Rigidity, with which he closed monasteries and suppressed the revolt of the monks, oppressed even King himself, who was a beneficiary of these policies. As a result, after ten years of incredible career and almost unlimited power, he was accused of heresy and treason and beheaded in the courtyard of the Tower in 1540. At the same time Cromwell, as it often happens, was a clever statesman and a great administrator.
Thomas More was aware of the magnitude of his persecutor’s intellect. That’s the reason he was very careful in his tone, when he wrote the letter. He reverently addresses him “Master Cromwell” and “your Mastership”. He mentions his son Roper as if he appeals to his grace in future. Then he gives his version of the situation with Nun of Canterbury. In very subtle remarks he makes Cromwell understand that he was not aware of what she said about King in her trances. More knows that whatever he says can be construed against him in court and his narrative is clear and at the same time ambiguous. He says that the nun was famous among lewd folk, which implies that he doesn’t automatically approves of her prophecies. On the other hand he does not openly deny the revelatory nature of her trances. He appeals to the “blessed Trinity”, says that it is the matter “with which [he] neither durst nor it could become me to encumber the King's noble Grace”.
In his letters Thomas More shows himself a man of great courage and a talented psychologist. He uses, to put it in modern terms, neuro linguistic programming, to comfort his daughter and family and to sow seeds of mercy in the heart of Thomas Cromwell. He did that unconsciously but with a high degree of mastery, aiming soothing words at himself as he writes, constantly reaffirming by means of words his faith and his cause as a martyr and a prisoner of conscience. These to notions (martyr and conscience) deserve a special consideration because they are not as easy to grasp as on might think. According to Rogers, More uses the term “conscience” to denote Christian faith. The etymology of the word also “suggests the legal act of bearing witness.” (Rogers 35) “In the original sense, knowing what we have done (or think), not judging weather or not what we have done (or think) is right or wrong.” (Rogers 36) This meaning is evident as More himself said he was not to judge any of the people. His testimony (and his letters) was intended solely to bear witness to the state mechanisms. That understanding of conscience is related to the New Testament usage of the term “martyr”. Latin translation for Greek martyr is testis. This word is, for example, applied to the witnesses of resurrection (Rogers 36).

Works cited

More, Thomas. The Last Letters of Thomas More. Ed. Alvaro de Silva. Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co: 2001.
Rogers, Katherine. “More as Witness: the Tower Letters.” Moreana Vol. 46, 176. Ed. Michael P. Folly. Accessed at

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