Sir Thomas More, an English statesman, born in London in 1480, executed there, July 6, 1535. He was the son of Sir John More, one of the justices of the court of king's bench, was educated in Latin under Nicholas Hart, and in his 15th year was placed in the family of Cardinal Morton, archbishop of Canterbury. The aged cardinal often predicted that " whosoever shall live to see it, this child will prove a marvellous rare man." In 1497 he went to Oxford, where he studied Greek under Grocyn, and formed a lifelong friendship with Erasmus. At the university, or soon after leaving it, More composed the greater part of his English verses, and also wrote Latin epigrams (Basel, 1520), which contain proofs that he always regarded government as dependent on the consent of the people. From Oxford he passed to the study of law successively at New Inn and at Lincoln's Inn, London, at the same time delivering lectures on jurisprudence at Furnival's Inn, and on Augustine's De Civitate Dei at St. Laurence's church. He manifested a predilection for monastic life, but soon relinquished the project of adopting it, and resolved on marriage.
Of the three daughters of Mr. Colt, a gentleman of Fssex, the second seemed to him the fairest; but when he considered the slight and consequent grief to the eldest sister if the younger were preferred to her in marriage, he then "of a certain pity framed his fancy " to the former, and married her. Called to the bar, he quickly rose to professional eminence, his practice amounting to £400 a year. He was employed in nearly every important case brought before the courts, was appointed under-sheriff and judge of the sheriff's court for London and Middlesex, was elected a burgess of the parliament under Henry VII., and his eloquence both at the bar and in parliament was frequently successful against the claims of the crown. His effective opposition to a royal grant, causing Henry VII. to declare that "a beardless boy had disappointed all his purpose," drew a fine and imprisonment upon his father, and he himself had resolved to leave the country at the time of that monarch's death. After the accession of Henry VIII. he was still more prominently employed in public affairs.
In 1514 and 1515 he was sent on embassies to the Netherlands with reference to commercial intercourse; after his return he became a privy councillor; in 1521 he was knighted and made treasurer of the exchequer; and at various times he was employed in France to manage the intrigues of Wolsey with Francis I. When parliament assembled in 1523, he was chosen speaker of the house of commons, and displayed his tact and quiet firmness when the house by its silence refused a heavy grant which Cardinal Wolsey had appeared in state to demand. In 1525 he was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster; in 1527 he accompanied Wolsey on his magnificent embassy to France; and about this time he published several learned, witty, and bitter pamphlets against the reformers. He succeeded to the lord chancellorship in 1529, after the fall of Wolsey, and in this position evaded the demand of the king for an opinion concerning his divorce from Queen Catharine. The charges that he was over-zealous in his official efforts for the suppression of heresy were partially denied in his "Apology," written in 1533. He constantly refused to lend his authority to the king's project of divorce and second marriage; and after holding the great seal for two and a half years, he determined no longer to countenance by his official position measures which he disapproved, and obtained permission to resign.
In his house at Chelsea he lived in retirement, making ready for evil times. Implicated in the alleged imposture of Elizabeth Barton, the nun of Kent, whom he believed to be inspired, he was yet in the investigation treated leniently. When at length in 1534 he was required to swear allegiance to the act of succession for securing the throne to the offspring of Anne Boleyn, he refused, and was committed to the tower for misprision of trea-sonl where he remained more than a year, with permission to receive his relatives and correspond with his friends. A deputation then waited on him to urge his acknowledgment of the royal supremacy, but he declined to answer. The council interrogated him again and again in subsequent interviews; but finally (July 1, 1535) he was brought to the bar of the high commission charged with traitorously imagining and attempting to deprive the king of his title as supreme head of the church. lie was condemned, and returned to the tower. On the morning of his execution he dressed in his most elaborate costume, preserved his composure to the last, and, as the fatal stroke was about to fall, signed for a moment's delay while he moved aside his beard, murmuring: "Pity that should be cut; that has not committed treason." There is little information concerning the style of More's oratory.
In his prose writings, but a very small part of his vocabulary has become superannuated. His fragmentary "History of Richard III." (1641) is the first example of classical English prose. ' The work by which he is chiefly known is his Utopia, published in Latin (Louvain, 1516; Basel, 1518), and soon translated into English, French, Dutch, and Italian. It is an account of an imaginary commonwealth in the island of Utopia, feigned to have been discovered by a companion of Amerigo Vespucci, from whom More learns the tale. Society there is represented as free from indolence and avarice, luxury and want, oppression and intolerance; and the ideas that pervade the account are in advance of the age of the author. The best English translation is by Bishop Burnet. A collection of More's Latin works was published at Louvain in 1556, and of his English works at London in 1557. There are biographies by his son-in-law RopCr (1626), Hoddes-den (1652), his great-grandson Thomas More (1726), and Sir James Mackintosh (" Cabinet Cyclopedia," 1831).