Renaissance and Reformation Thomas More
by
Eugenio M. Olivares-Merino
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0346

Introduction

Thomas More is one of the most important figures of the English Renaissance. Scholar, statesman, lawyer, author, family man, and saint (canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935), he is considered by many an example of virtue, while others criticize him for his intolerance and fanaticism. The truth is that More has been a controversial individual ever since his execution for high treason in 1535. His memory was erased from the English court as his family suffered persecution, while in Europe the news of his death was received with consternation. Parallel to this, while he achieved iconic stature among recusants in England and the Low Countries, Protestants (especially after John Foxe’s 1563 Book of Martyrs) denounced his implacable fury at religious heterodoxy. One of the reasons that might explain the existence of two Mores, so to speak, are the “huge gaps” in his life, as claimed by John Guy in his biography (see Guy 2000). We do have information about his public life, but his private self seems to be elusive, despite the fact that his Correspondence is considered by many as a window into the “Inner Man,” using Louis L. Martz’s words (see Martz 1990). In any case, it must be admitted that (until the 1970s) More had been treated kindly by scholars. Most of them relied on the 16th-century biographers, whose works were often hagiographical. For centuries, the generally accepted image of More was the benevolent man presented by Biographies such as Bridgett 1891 or Chambers 1935 (cited under Biographies: Modern Works). More was also popular with the general public, thanks to his sympathetic portrayal in A Man for All Seasons, both the 1960 play by Robert Bolt and the movie it inspired, directed by Fred Zinnemann in 1966. Nevertheless, especially in the decade of the 1980s, a group of scholars started to revise this beauteous image of Sir Thomas, offering a rather somber picture of the man. In any case, this is just part of the story. As already stated, More’s relevance in 16th-century humanism remains unchallenged and his Utopia (1516) is still considered one of the most influential works five hundred years after its publication.

General Overviews

The following collections of essays about More might be a good starting point for scholars and students. The different approaches provide a solid interdisciplinary perception of More and his time, and clearly show the different (and often confrontational) assessments of him. Sylvester 1972 shows the early traces of this debate about More, while Sylvester and Marc’hadour 1977 provides a more heterogeneous tone in general terms. Published over thirty years after, Cousins and Grace 2009 is a successful attempt to offer an updated reassessment of More and his works, an effort complemented by the wider-ranging Logan 2011.

  • Cousins, A. D., and Damian Grace, eds. A Companion to Thomas More. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009.

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    Twelve articles plus a select bibliography including several excellent contributions by well-known Morean scholars (G. Marc’hadour, C. H. Miller, D. Baker-Smith, A. Kinney, etc.). For those who have never approached More, this collection presents a balanced biographical view—“a Thomas More of many parts” (p. 11)—while scholars with a deeper knowledge will value the substantial discussions on several key issues. The essays contain generous notes and all provide references for further reading.

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  • Logan, George M., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Students and nonspecialists may take good advantage of the synoptic introduction offered in this work, whose quality and scope will also appeal to Morean scholars. The Companion is arranged in three parts: “Life, Times and Work,” “Five Major Works,” and “Reception.” The book concludes with “Foundational Resources for More Studies,” which lists useful publication details of the Yale Edition of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More.

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  • Sylvester, Richard S., ed. St. Thomas More: Action and Contemplation: Proceedings of the Symposium held at St. John’s University, 9–10 October, 1970. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972.

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    This volume contains the four lectures given at the St. Thomas More Symposium held at St. John’s University, evaluating four aspects of his life: More and the law (R. J. Shoeck); his “Tower Works” (L. L. Martz); his political career (G. R. Elton); and his spirituality (G. Marc’hadour). This seems to be the seed for the collection of essays published seven five years later (see Sylvester and Marc’hadour 1977).

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  • Sylvester, R. S., and G. P. Marc’hadour, eds. Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    For decades the only multifaceted approach to More and his work: forty-seven articles divided into four sections. The volume includes works by prestigious literary figures and reputed scholars from different fields of knowledge. The most prominent names in 20th-century Morean criticism were also included. Despite the obvious complexity of some of the pieces, many other articles provide an introductory approach to the different aspects of More and his writings.

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Bibliographies and Reference Guides

It would be difficult to find a reference work that does not include an entry about Thomas More. Baker-Smith 2014 is probably the latest addition to date. In any case, Lakowski’s the International Thomas More Bibliography is always the starting point for any scholar, for its impressive encyclopedic range and meticulousness. As to other works, Gibson 1961, Boswell and Prescott 1994, and Wentworth 1995 complement each other, whereas the works published by the Sullivans, beginning with Sullivan and Sullivan 1946, carry on a line of their own.

  • Baker-Smith, Dominic. “Thomas More.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2014 Edition. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2014.

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    A well-organized and informed article, particularly useful for grads and undergrads, also including a select bibliography as well as links to several websites about More.

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  • Boswell, Jackson Campbell, and A. L. Prescott. Sir Thomas More in the English Renaissance: An Annotated Catalogue. Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994.

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    A monumental undertaking, this work supplements Gibson 1961. It identifies about 706 works with references to More published up to 1640. Nevertheless, as clarified by the author, it only mentions publications written in English, which excludes continental works published in other languages.

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  • Geritz, Albert J. Thomas More: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1935–1997. Bibliographies and Indexes in World Literature 54. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

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    This work contains over 1600 annotated entries for works (books, chapters, journal articles, and many unpublished dissertations) dealing with More’s life and works published not only in English, but in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. It also includes a biographical chapter, as well as descriptions of More’s writing style and sources.

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  • Gibson, Reginald Walter. St. Thomas More: A Preliminary Bibliography of His Works and of Moreana to the Year 1750. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.

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    The classic descriptive bibliography for Morean writings, it bears a close relationship to the Yale edition of his works. It covers up to 1750 and is complemented by Boswell and Prescott 1994. Gibson’s bibliography was updated in 1981 by Constance Smith (An Updating of R. W. Gibson’s St Thomas More: A Preliminary Bibliography. St Louis, MO: Center for Reformation Research), and by Wentworth 1995.

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  • The International Thomas More Bibliography.

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    An extensive and exhaustive compilation by Romuald I Lakowski, periodically revised and augmented. Its clear layout makes it especially accessible guide for the student and specialist alike. An earlier revised version of the Utopia section was published in 1995 in Early Modern Literary Studies. The rest appeared as an electronic offprint in 1996–1997 in iEMLS.

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  • Sullivan, Majie Padberg, and Frank Sullivan. Moreana 14781945: A Preliminary Check List of Material by and about Saint Thomas More. Kansas City, MO: Rockhurst College, 1946.

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    A listing of More’s writings, plus criticism and a subject index. The same authors also published Moreana: Materials for the Study of Saint Thomas More. 4 vols. (Los Angeles: Loyola University, 1964–1968) plus an Index for the edition in 1971. M. J. Sullivan later published Moreana: Materials for the Study of Saint Thomas More: Supplement and chronology to 1800 (Los Angeles: Loyola University, 1977); and Moreana: Materials for the Study of Saint Thomas More: Supplement 2 (Los Angeles: Loyola University, 1985).

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  • Wentworth, Michael D. The Essential Sir Thomas More: An Annotated Bibliography of Major Modern Studies. Reference Publication in Literature. New York: Hall, 1995.

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    Organized in seven sections and in alphabetical order, this works lists over eight hundred items (books and articles) published on More during the 20th century and up to 1991. Wentworth’s introduction also provides information on the main studies written in other languages. Thanks to a comprehensive index and “taxonomic consistency” (p. x), this work is useful for both students and scholars.

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Concordances

The concordance is a very useful device to understand the meaning of terms and the context in which those words are used. Bolchazy, et al. 1978 is a pioneering but dry text, with its focus solely on Utopia. The online concordances provided by The Center for Thomas More Studies are, on the other hand, wider in scope and easy to use.

Primary Sources

More’s written production consists of his literary works (both in Latin and English), which were composed between c. 1496 and 1535; and his correspondence spanning from 1499 to 1535. In the first group we find historical works, fiction, religious treatises, prayers, and poetry. His correspondence includes letters by and to members of his family, friends, and cultural and political personalities.

Works

In the following list of sources, students and scholars will find the most accessible and acclaimed editions of Thomas More’s works. His reputation as a writer was well established in Europe and England in his lifetime, but after his execution his work was banned. Like most humanists, More never stopped composing, not even when imprisoned in the Tower of London. During Mary I’s Catholic interim William Rastell edited his English writings (1557), but his Latin works had to be published outside England at Louvain (1565 and 1566) and Frankfurt (1689). These editions are available through Early English Books Online. The only critical edition of his complete works was finished in 1997 by Yale University Press, a date too late if compared to any other figure from the English early modern period. As for two other relevant editions of Utopia, Logan, et al. 1995 is very useful for students, while Prévost 1978 is for specialists.

  • The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. 15 vols. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1963–1997.

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    This is the standard scholarly edition of the works of Thomas More, usually abbreviated as CW, followed by volume and part numbers. More’s English works are provided with glossaries, but in their original form (without modernizing spelling, punctuation, capitalization, or grammar). The Latin works are presented with facing English translations. The Yale edition also provides comprehensive introductory material and annotation.

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  • Logan, George M., Robert M. Adams, and Clarence H. Miller. Utopia: Latin Text and English Translation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Since the Yale edition of Utopia 1965, this is the first to present an accurate Latin text (with modernized spelling and punctuation) with an English translation, Logan’s revised version of the reputed English text by Adams. This edition is especially recommended for scholars and graduate students, as it includes a clear introduction, footnotes to the Latin text, and background notes. It also contains a “Brief Guide to Scholarship” and a bibliography, as well as a short index, and all in less than three hundred pages.

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  • Prévost, André, ed. L’Utopie de Thomas More: Présentation texte original, apparat critique exégèse, traduction, et notes. Paris: Mame, 1978.

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    This edition reprints a facsimile of the November 1518 edition of Utopia (with a detailed critical apparatus), accompanied by Prévost’s French translation. The work also contains an introduction that complements Surtz and Hexter’s essays for the Yale edition. Prévost’s edition is completed with a bibliographie of modern scholarship, and an index et definitions.

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  • Rastell, William, ed. The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght, sometyme Lorde Chauncellour of England, written by him in the Englysh tongue. 2 vols. Printed at London at the costes and charges of John Cawod, John Waly, and Richarde Tottell, 1557.

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    William Rastell was More’s nephew and printer. His editorial skills were respectable and the main achievement of this work is to have organized a bulk of materials into a single book. More’s English works were arranged chronologically. Two facsimile editions exist: one by editors W. E. Campbell and A. W. Reed. W. E. Campbell, A. W. Reed, and R. W. Chambers. 2 vols. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1931; and the second by editor K. J. Wilson. 2 vols. London: Scolar Press, 1978.

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Correspondence

In 1947 Rogers published More’s epistolary, excluding his correspondence with Erasmus, which had already been included in Allen, et al. 1906–1958; Rogers also published a selection of letters in 1961. Herbrüggen 1966 contains other letters not included elsewhere. Miller 1994 is also a relevant contribution. More’s published and unpublished letters are about 280 in number (approximately two-thirds in Latin and one-third in English), a small amount if compared to the correspondence of other figures of the European Renaissance.

  • Allen, P. S., et al. Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami. 11 vols. and index. Oxford: Clarendon, 1906–1958.

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    This work is still considered one of the main contributions of the 20th century to Renaissance scholarship. It contains the then known fifty-four letters written between More and Erasmus, from 1499 to 1929. More’s last letters to his friend, published by Erasmus in De preparatione ad Mortem (1534), are also included. Most of these volumes are now available for download (courtesy of University of Toronto) online. For an English translation of More and Erasmus correspondence, see: R. A. B. Mynors et al., trans. The Correspondence of Erasmus. Collected Works of Erasmus. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974–). Seventeen volumes have been published so far (2016).

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  • Herbrüggen, Hubertus Schulte. Sir Thomas More: Neue Briefe Mit einer Einführung in die Epistolographische Tradition. Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1966.

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    This work written in German includes nineteen Latin letters not published in Rogers 1947. See also by Herbrüggen: “A letter of Dr Johann Eck to Thomas More” Moreana 2.8 (1965): 51–58; “Three additions to More0’s correspondence” Moreana 20.79–80 (1983): 35–41; and “Seven new letters from Thomas More” Moreana 27.103 (1990): 49–66.

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  • Miller, Clarence H. “Thomas More’s Letters to Frans van Cranevelt, Including Seven Recently Discovered Autographs: Latin Text, English Translation, and Facsimiles of the Originals.” Moreana 31.117 (1994): 3–66.

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    Miller presents the Latin text and English translations of thirteen letters (together with eleven facsimiles) by More to Cranevelt, including seven new letters discovered in 1989.

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  • Rogers, Elizabeth Frances, ed. The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947.

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    The standard edition of More’s correspondence. It does not include the fifty-four epistles exchanged between Erasmus and Thomas More—already published in Allen’s Opus epistolarum 1906–1947—which are catalogued chronologically with a cross reference to the said work. The remaining 164 letters by and to More available at the date of publication are accompanied by helpful footnotes providing Biographies of names mentioned in the letters, as well as historical contextualization. A must for any Morean scholar.

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  • Rogers, Elizabeth Frances. St. Thomas More: Selected Letters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.

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    This work contains the English translation of sixty-six letters (forty-five from Latin and twenty-one from English into modern spelling), this time including translations of twelve letters from More to Erasmus from Allen’s edition. Rogers also included one new English letter by More which had not been included in her 1947 edition.

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Biographies

The picture of More’s life is painted with hues of restrained joy, but also with the dark color of fatalism, something that is well illustrated in Holbein’s works. The biographies of this attractive and polemic figure might be grouped into two sections: those written in the 16th century, on the one hand, and those published from the end of the 19th century onwards. In between, there’s a silence of over two hundred years in which More was (at least in England) an unpleasant reminder of the old religion.

Early Works

Thomas More’s reputation was built upon the “source” biographies, in English and Latin. Roper’s memoir of his father-in-law, Roper 1935, originally written c. 1557, is the necessary place to start, a work complemented by the full-scale biography by Harpsfield 1932, originally c. 1559, and the other two Tudor biographies: the anonymous Ro.Ba 1950, originally written in 1599, and Stapleton 1966, originally presented in a Latin text in 1588. More 1828, originally c. 1626, has the value of having been written by one of More’s descendants.

  • Harpsfield, Nicholas. The Life and Death of Sir Thomas More. Edited by E. V. Hitchcock. Early English Text Society, o.s. 186. London: Oxford University Press, 1932.

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    Harpsfield was personally acquainted with Roper, from whom he received the task of writing about More. Although Harpsfield used the latter’s work and notes, his biography is not simply a rewriting of Roper’s, as the final work contains much of his own research (from More’s writings, Erasmus’s letters, and other documents about More’s trial and execution). According to Chambers 1935 (cited under Modern Works), this biography “is an achievement [. . .] the first formal biography in the English language” (p. 31).

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  • More, Cresacre. The Life of Sir Thomas More. Edited by J. Hunter. London: William Pickering, 1828.

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    Thomas More’s grand-son, Cresacre, made full use of the previous biographies to compose his Life. This work was highly influential for a great deal of time, since the earlier biographies had not been published yet. For modern scholarship, its value its mostly anecdotal.

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  • Ro.Ba. The Lyfe of Syr Thomas More, sometymes Lord Chancellor of England. Edited by E. V. Hitchcock and P. E. Hallet, with additional notes and appendices by A. W. Reed. Early English Text Society, o.s. 222. London: Oxford University Press, 1950.

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    Despite the fact that this anonymous biography (in English) contains very few new materials (for example the “merry tales” about More as a wit), it is a well-arranged combination of the materials offered in the Roper-Harpsfield works, with those others by the Catholic refugees in the continent as recorded by Stapleton. This work was probably composed around 1599 and is thus the last Tudor biography of More.

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  • Roper, William. The Life of Sir Thomas Moore Knighte. Edited by E. V. Hitchcock. Early English Text Society, o.s. 197. London: Oxford, 1935.

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    This is the first of the earliest “lives,” written by More’s son-in-law. Despite Roper’s lapses of memory and inaccuracies, even when we take for granted that the biographer was devoted to More, Roper’s vivid picture of his father-in-law at home and in his final years is the necessary beginning of any study of Thomas More.

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  • Stapleton, Thomas. The Life and Illustrious Martyrdom of Sir Thomas More. Translated by P. E. Hallett. Edited by E. E. Reynolds. New York: Fordham University Press, 1966.

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    Originally published in Latin as the third part of Tres Thomae, this biography of More was written while Stapleton was still exiled in the Low Countries. He relied on both his contacts with fellow exiles, and the documents put at his disposal by Dorothy Colly, the widow of More’s secretary and Margaret Roper’s maid. Stapleton devoted one chapter of his biography to More’s first daughter, Margaret, thus fostering further research on her.

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Modern Works

During the 20th and early 21st centuries, and maybe because of his canonization in 1535, Thomas More has been both glorified and denigrated on equal terms. Chambers 1935 set the basis for More’s long-standing characterization as humanist, saint, educator, and honest politician, a portrait prefigured in Bridgett 1891. Greenblatt 1980, Fox 1982, and Marius 1984 ushered in major shifts in this unchallenged view, while Martz 1990 provided a measured countercase refutation. Ackroyd 1998 allegedly tried to avoid controversies, while Guy 2000 is highly skeptical about reaching any certainties from available data. Curtright 2012 provides a useful review of all these perspectives.

  • Ackroyd, Peter. The Life of Thomas More. London: Chatto and Windus, 1998.

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    This well-known biographer and critic wrote this work with the general public in mind. A pleasure to read, Ackroyd’s Life provides a vivid picture of More’s London, but remains a rather superficial approach to the character himself.

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  • Bridgett, T. E. Life and Writings of Sir Thomas More. London: Burns & Oates, 1891.

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    This voluminous work is considered one of the first modern biographies of More. Published shortly after his beatification (1886), it was the standard Life until Chambers’s work replaced it. Guy 2000 did speak quite favorably of Father Bridgett’s book as “an outstanding work of scholarship” whose “confessional bias is not unduly obtrusive” (p. 234).

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  • Chambers, R. W. Thomas More. London: Jonathan Cape, 1935.

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    Of More’s 20th century biographies, this is the most influential and well known. It was published in the year of More’s canonization and still remains a highly valued contribution. Chambers largely draws information from More’s letters and writings, presenting him basically as an honest and sincere man, while omitting less favorable episodes in his life.

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  • Curtright, Travis. “Introduction: Non Sum Oedipus, Sed Morus.” In The One Thomas More. By Travis Curtright, 1–14. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012.

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    In the introduction to his work (a serious attempt to reconcile the contradicting sides of More’s character through the analysis of several of his works), the author presents an assessment of the different portraits of More, pointing at the possible reasons behind such conflicting views. An extremely useful introduction both for graduates and scholars.

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  • Fox, Alistair. Thomas More: History and Providence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.

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    Following a chronological analysis of his writings, Fox casts light on More’s inner struggles, a permanent conflict between his spirituality and his attachment to the world. Gradually More found comfort, but only by fiercely fighting Lutherans and, during his imprisonment, through acceptance of temporal defeat and his identification with Christ.

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  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    This is not a biographical work, but rather an attempt to locate authors and their works in a sociocultural context with the purpose of presenting literature “as an essential element in the cultural creation of identity” (p. 2). From this perspective, Greenblatt challenged the traditional view of More and claimed that it was an artful construction. The historical More then is “a narrative fiction” (p. 51).

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  • Guy, J. A. Thomas More. London: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Despite his vast knowledge of the historical sources, Guy explicitly claims: “I no longer believe that a truly historical biography of Thomas More can be written” (p. xi). The author revises the main and most controversial topics in More’s life, without ever losing sight of the difference between that which can be known, and mere conjectures. Leaving the reader without any of the certainties of other biographies, Guy’s More is more enigmatic than ever.

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  • Marius, Richard. Thomas More: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 1984.

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    Marius’s revisionist work presents More as a violent religious fanatic, tortured by his repressed sexuality. This inner conflict conditioned his entire life. In order to bring More down from the pedestal on which previous biographers placed him, Marius often indulges in psychobiographical speculation. Marius is less passionate in the description of the political and religious context of More’s life.

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  • Martz, Louis L. Thomas More: The Search for the Inner Man. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

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    In an attempt to respond to Marius’s (and others’) crude portrayals, Martz wrote four chapters in which More’s so-called “stridencies” are contextualized according to the procedures and standards of his time. The author remarks on the integrity of More’s inner life, as emerging from his last works and letters. Some interesting considerations are presented regarding the image of More as depicted by Holbein.

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Journals

Journals covering the early modern period, religious or doctrinal topics, Latin studies, and literature in general will often include articles about Thomas More. However, Moreana: Thomas More, Renaissance & Humanism is the most prominent in its focus on all topics related to him. For over fifty years, it has published works about humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. The publication entitled Thomas More Studies, published online by the Center for Thomas More Studies, is an accessible source of information containing wide-ranging materials.

  • Moreana: Thomas More, Renaissance & Humanism. 1963–.

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    Moreana was founded by Germain Marc’hadour, with the purpose of providing a forum for academic research and discussion on the English humanist and his time. Up to 2016, Moreana was a France based journal, that published two double issues yearly, in English, French and Spanish, under the Editorship of Marie-Claire Phélippeau. In 2017, the editorship of Moreana was transferred to the Center for Thomas More Studies at the University of Dallas for a first period of 6 years. Moreana keeps More scholars in touch with current research concerning Thomas More, humanism, and the Renaissance, and is sponsored by the association Amici Thomae Mori, with members from all over the world.

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  • Thomas More Studies. 2006–.

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    Published by the Center for Thomas More Studies, the first issue of this online publication appeared in 2006 containing the proceedings from the 2005 Thomas More Studies Conference on Utopia (University of Dallas, 4–6 November, 2005). The ten issues produced so far include a broad range of contents, from other conference proceedings to Concordances and indexes to More’s works.

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More the Humanist

While studying at Oxford and London, More was seduced by the renewed interest in classical antiquity that came from Italy. Thomas Linacre, Henry Colet, and William Grocy—the so-called Oxford reformers—planted the seed for More’s conversion to this new thinking. This is described in detail in McConica 2011. But it was Erasmus, later on, who introduced him to Northern humanism. Between 1515 and 1519, More wrote his letters to Dorp, Oxford, Lee, and his “Letter to a Monk”; Sylvester 1977, Kinney 1986, and McCutcheon 1998 analyze these texts, in which the author made such a vehement defense of his Dutch friend and of the humanist concerns of both. Utopia, needless to say, is More’s best known humanist work. For More and his friends, humanism had a strong philological grip. First, it stressed the importance of Greek and Latin (in that order) as a way to claim the inheritance of both classical literature and the Church fathers; and, secondly, language was perceived as a powerful weapon and thus rhetoric was a skill that they all cultivated. All these aspects are lucidly discussed in Kristeller 1980 and Phélippeau 2014. Other specific aspects of More’s humanism are discussed in Adams 1962 and Schoeck 1977.

  • Adams, Robert P. The Better Part of Valour: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives on Humanism, War, and Peace, 1496–1535. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962.

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    A chronologically arranged survey of the thought of the greatest humanists on war and peace, starting with an evaluation of the medieval views prevailing (mainly through romances) in their time. Special attention is paid to More in the central part of the book (chapters 9 and 10), which focuses on Utopia and Henry VIII’s policy.

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  • Kinney, Daniel. “In Defense of Humanism: Letters to Dorp, Oxford, Lee, and a Monk.” In Letters to Dorp, Oxford, Lee, and a Monk; Historia Richardi Tertii, Edited by Daniel Kinney, 15–132. Vol. 15 of The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.

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    More’s most direct statements on the humanistic debate of his age are in these four letters written between 1515 and 1519. Apart from defending Erasmus after the publication of his In Praise of Folly and for his planned edition of the Greek New Testament, More also outlines his own stances on the relevance of Greek for the renewal of theology, as well as other aspects of his agenda as a humanist author.

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  • Kristeller, Paul O. “Thomas More as a Renaissance Humanist.” Moreana 17.65–66 (1980): 5–22.

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    Students and scholars alike will find here a fine introduction to Renaissance humanism and to the way in which More’s writings fit within this scenario. Attention is paid to More’s mastery of Greek, Latin, and rhetorics, as well as his contribution to historiography, poetry, and moral philosophy.

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  • McConica, James. “Thomas More as Humanist.” In The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More. Edited by G. M. Logan, 22–45. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521888622.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Right from the beginning of his academic life at Oxford (1492), More was exposed to this new outlook on learning and civil life which had come from Italy. After a brief discussion of the term ‘humanism,’ the author illustrates how Northern humanism settled down in England, as epitomized by More. Though their aims might vary, these humanists were deeply rooted in the legacy of Greece and Rome, the Scripture, and the Church Fathers.

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  • McCutcheon, Elizabeth. “The Humanism of Thomas More: Continuities and Transformations in His Latin Letters.” In Acta Conventus Neo-Latini Bariensis: Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies: Bari, 29 August to 3 September 1994. Edited by Rhoda Schnur, et al., 25–40. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies 184. Tempe, AZ: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1998.

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    A detailed revision of More’s Latin epistolary, tracking his basic humanist ideas, many of which were derived from Pico de la Mirandola, Lucian, and Erasmus. As the author herself concludes, “his Latin letters give us the many faces of his humanism as well as many different representations of the self” (p. 40). A very clear paper from which readers will obtain an accomplished portrait of More as a skilled practitioner of the epistolary genre, so popular among humanists.

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  • Phélippeau, Marie-Claire. “Thomas More et l’ouverture humaniste.” Moreana 51.195–196 (2014): 187–209.

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    This article written in French by the editor of Moreana provides a clear definition of key terms (Renaissance and humanism) and then offers a general introduction to Thomas More, the humanist. Influenced by the rediscovery of Greek texts, and with the support of his friends, More became a translator, a poet, a polemicist, and a fiction writer.

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  • Schoeck, Richard J. “Sir Thomas More, Humanist and Lawyer.” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by R. S. Sylvester and G. P. Marc’hadour, 569–579. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    A lucid and profusely documented article in which Schoeck dismounts disassembles the Erasmian portrayal of More as a humanist reluctantly dressed up in the robes of a lawyer. His legal mind shaped his humanism, or vice versa, and the author further proves that More was not the only 16th-century lawyer with humanistic concerns (pp. 674–676).

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  • Sylvester, Richard S. “Thomas More: Humanist in Action.” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by R. S. Sylvester and G. P. Marc’hadour, 462–469. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    An illuminating essay in which Sylvester analyzes More’s four Latin letters in defense of humanism to show that the author not only upheld humanist ideas, but illustrated these “in the literary form, structure and style” (p. 462) he used. More’s thorough knowledge of the classics can be savored in his references to the Bible and the Fathers (pp. 665–666).

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Legal Career

Around 1494, Thomas More’s father, Sir John, a prominent attorney, brought his son back to London: he was to study common law. Two years later, he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, one of England’s four legal societies, to prepare for admission to the bar. These initial years are analyzed in O’Sullivan 1977 and Keane 2004. In 1501 he became a full member of the profession. More managed to keep up with his literary and spiritual interests while practicing law. Failure to attach any value to More’s legal life and training in the law (as reported in Brown 1935) most surely provides an incomplete picture of the man, as shown in Hastings 1977, Schoeck 1972, and Berglar 1982.

  • Berglar, Peter. “Gerechtigkeit und Barmherzigkeit in Leben und Werk de Thomas Morus.” In Thomas Morus Gesellschaft—Jahrbuch 1981. Edited by Peter Berglar, et al., 113–127. Düsseldorf, Germany: Triltsch Verlag, 1982.

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    Translated as “Justice and Mercy in the Life and Work of Thomas More,” this work, after defining justice and mercy as twin virtues, goes on to show how More harmonized his legal career with a benevolent heart. The author states that the attacks on More for his lack of compassion are not tenable.

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  • Brown, Brendan F. “St. Thomas More, Lawyer.” Fordham Law Review 4.3 (1935): 375–390.

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    The author provides a resumé of the main events in More’s legal career, which was abruptly cut short by his execution. But even at his trial, the author argues, More revealed his judicial mentality. All in all, a good introduction to the topic.

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  • Hastings, Margaret. “The Ancestry of Sir Thomas More: Sir Thomas More: Maker of English Law?” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester and Germain Marc’hadour, 104–118. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    In an attempt to provide a picture of More as lawyer and judge, the author goes through several documents in the Records of the Duchy of Lancaster where Sir Thomas served as Chancellor (September 1525–October 1529). Hastings states that More at some point saw the possibility of applying “to sixteenth-century England some Utopian principles” (p. 114). In any case, as the author acknowledges, the evidence analyzed is rather scarce to create an accurate portrayal of More’s daily legal practice. And yet, he emerges as a hard-working Chancellor and a peacemaker concerned with the weak (pp. 601–603).

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  • Keane, Robert. “Thomas More as a Young Lawyer.” Moreana 41.160 (2004): 41–71.

    DOI: 10.3366/more.2004.41.4.5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The topic of this paper is More’s early legal career, focusing on his preparation for the bar at Lincoln’s Inn and his associations with the different London courts, especially those held at Westminster Hall.

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  • O’Sullivan, Richard. “St. Thomas More and Lincoln’s Inn.” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by R. S. Sylvester and Germain Marc’hadour, 161–168. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    More’s life is closely associated with this Inn of Court, one of the best and oldest law schools in England. More actively participated (as his father had done before him) throughout his life as a student, then lecturer, and finally as a governing officer (p. 607).

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  • Schoeck, Richard J. “Common Law and Canon Law in Their Relation to Thomas More.” In St. Thomas More: Action and Contemplation: Proceedings of the Symposium Held at St. John's University, 9–10 October, 1970. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester, 17–55. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972.

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    Given the importance of the law in early Tudor history and political thought, this paper “deals with the interface between canon and common law [. . .] in the career and writings of Thomas More” (p. 17). Schoeck presents More as a legal amphibian all-purpose jurist moving easily in both systems. Special attention is given to Richard Hunne’s trial for treason and More’s response to it, as well as to the latter’s own trial.

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More and Politics

Thomas More’s active involvement in Henry VIII’s court is one of the most disputed issues in his life. Scarisbrick 1968 is an excellent portrait of the Tudor monarch, well complemented by MacCulloch 1995, as well as by Guy 1988, a general introduction to the Tudor period. Whether or not More was a reluctant courtier, the real interests behind his political career or Erasmus’s disapproval of More’s activism are commonplaces in the different biographies. Elton 1972 and Elton 1977 are centered on these aspects while revising traditional assumptions about More’s alleged dislike of court life. Guy 1980 also takes this new approach although, after presenting the bare facts, the work leaves value judgments to its readers. Wegemer 1996 emphasizes that More considered his involvement in politics as demanded by his own condition, both as citizen and Christian. This view is also held by Curtis 2011, who adds to the discussion More’s concern with the advance of Lutheranism and the Turks.

  • Curtis, Cathy. “More’s Public Life.” In The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More. Edited by G. M. Logan, 69–92. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521888622.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cathy Curtis stresses that from the moment he accepted a position in the king’s council, More saw himself deeply concerned with the defense of the interests of Christendom, not just in England but in all of Europe, since both were under the threat of interrelated dangers, mainly religious dissension and the Ottoman Empire.

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  • Elton, Geoffrey R. “Thomas More, Councillor (1517–29).” In St. Thomas More: Action and Contemplation: Proceedings of the Symposium Held at St. John's University, 9–10 October, 1970. Edited by R. S. Sylvester, 85–122. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972.

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    In this article, Elton traces the main lines upon which he and other scholars built a revisionist approach to More’s involvement in politics, challenging the traditional view that he had reluctantly entered into Henry VIII’s service while secretly cherishing a life devoted to study. Elton shows how More had long been involved in court politics (both actively and profitably) before his appointment as chancellor.

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  • Elton, Geoffrey R. “Sir Thomas More and the Opposition to Henry VIII.” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by R. S. Sylvester and Germain Marc’hadour, 79–91. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    The author focuses on More’s activities as Lord Chancellor. He first deals with the problematic issues deriving from More’s acceptance of the position, aware as he was that sooner or later he would be involved in the King’s Great Matter. Elton then describes how More relentlessly prosecuted heretics, and finally explores some troublesome episodes in More’s relation with the Reformation Parliament (pp. 596–599).

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  • Guy, John. The Public Career of Sir Thomas More. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1980.

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    Making full use of archival records, the best window to reality according to the author, Guy explores the political side of More’s life. The work is structured in three sections: More and the Council; More and the Law; More and Politics. No attention is paid to More’s diplomatic career.

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  • Guy, John. Tudor England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    A lucid and authoritative account of the history of Tudor England and its political and religious developments, further complemented by contextual (and at times daunting) analyses of the society, political culture, and economy of the period, from 1460 to 1603. Despite the author’s attempt to provide studies of the main characters of the era, this is not a book about personalities. Certainly not for a general audience.

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  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid, ed. The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy, and Piety. New York: St Martin Press, 1995.

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    The editor has gathered a collection of essays by leading scholars in the early Tudor period, thus providing students and researchers with an update on several aspects of Henry VIII’s reign (especially politics and the Church). Attention is also paid to modern historians’ debates about Henry’s reign and personality. Very useful for students and postgrads.

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  • Scarisbrick, J. J. Henry VIII. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

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    Though almost fifty years old, this book is still a principal reference on Henry VIII. The king’s relationship with More is necessarily dealt with, especially when dealing with the King’s Matter and his anticlerical campaign. The author provides such a wealth of evidence that one can’t help but agree with most of his conclusions. The elegant style does not always soften the weight of some of the sections.

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  • Wegemer, Gerard B. Thomas More on Statesmanship. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.

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    The author claims that More always held a consistent position in the face of the different political and religious issues in his life. The roots of this coherence (an alternative to Machiavelli or Hobbes) can be traced in his writings, which show More’s familiarity with classical political philosophy, English history, and the Christian tradition.

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Family and Friends

Erasmus’s description of More as one “born and made for friendship” or as philostorgos (“one who likes family affection”) clearly points at two aspects of More’s personality that have traditionally attracted the attention of Morean scholars. Nevertheless, late-20th-century scholarship and more recent works—Surtz 1967, Marc’hadour 1968, Fantazzi 1981, Herbrüggen 1997, and Baker-Smith 2010—have shown the complexities of More’s relations with his contemporaries and other fellow humanists (Erasmus himself, Fisher, Vives, Cranevelt, and Budé). As for More the husband and father, Guy 2008 presents a very complete picture with all available data, whereas Murphy 2014 and Olivares-Merino 2007 describe More’s household from the perspective of two eyewitnesses (Erasmus and Vives).

  • Baker-Smith, Dominic. “Erasmus and More: A Friendship Revisited.” Recusant History 30.1 (2010): 7–25.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0034193200012607Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The friendship between Erasmus and More lasted over thirty years. It was long depicted as an unproblematic issue, a model friendship between two Christian humanists. However, as the author shows, the religious implications of this relationship were to prove more complex.

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  • Fantazzi, Charles. “Vives, More, and Erasmus.” In Juan Luis Vives: Arbeitsgespräch in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel vom 6. bis. 8. November 1980. Edited by A. Buck, 164–176. Wolfenbütteler Abhandlungen zur Renaissanceforschung 3. Hamburg, Germany: Dr. Ernst Hauswedell, 1981.

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    The author convincingly proves that there are strong reasons to believe that Vives was not fully accepted in the More-Erasmus circle at the beginning, especially due to Erasmus’s touchiness.

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  • Guy, John. A Daughter’s Love: Thomas and Margaret More. London: Fourth Estate, 2008.

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    Guy draws a moving and affectionate portrait of Margaret and her relation with her father. Historical facts are presented with novelistic vividness, for this book is also written for a general audience. However, scholars will make full use of the endnotes, bibliographies, and indices. This biography superseded the classic study of Margaret (E. E. Reynolds, Margaret Roper: Eldest Daughter of St. Thomas More. London: Burns & Oates, 1960).

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  • Herbrüggen, Hubertus S. Morus ad Craneveldium: Litterae Balduinianae novae/ More to Cranevelt; New Baudouin letters. Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 11. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1997.

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    A most complete study about the friendship between these two humanists, including seven new letters by More to his Dutch friend not included in Rogers 1947 (cited under Primary Sources: Correspondence). The volume also presents biographical sketches of the two friends, as well as a profuse bibliography.

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  • Marc’hadour, Germain. “Budé of Paris and More of London.” Moreana 5.19–20 (1968): 157–164.

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    A pioneering approach to the relationship between these two humanists. Budé was, after Erasmus, More’s best friend on the continent. The English humanist highly prized his esteem, as much as he had studies his works. Marc’hadour includes also a brief description of the Correspondence between the two.

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  • Murphy, Clare M. “Erasmus as Biographer of Thomas More and His Family.” In Erasmus and the Renaissance Republic of Letters: Proceedings of a Conference to Mark the Centenary of the Publication of the First Volume of Erasmi epistolae by P.S. Allen, Corpus Christie College, Oxford, 5–7 September 2006. Edited by Stephen Ryle, 85–103. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2014.

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    The last work to be published by Clare M. Murphy, Moreana’s longtime editor, emphasizes Erasmus’s role as the earliest biographer of the Mores. The portrait of More and his family presented in several letters by the Dutch humanist served as inspiration for More’s Tudor biographers and is still often quoted.

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  • Olivares-Merino, Eugenio M. “A Month with the Mores: The Meeting of Juan Luis Vives and Margaret More Roper.” English Studies 88.4 (2007): 388–400.

    DOI: 10.1080/00138380701270754Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author focuses on the friendship between the Spanish humanist and Margaret, in the context of Vives’s visits to the Mores’ household, and as reported in several writings by the Spaniard. Olivares-Merino also hints at the possibility that Vives encouraged Margaret to publish her English translation of Erasmus’s Precatio Dominica.

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  • Surtz, E. “More’s Friendship with Fisher.” Moreana 15–16 (1967): 115–133.

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    More’s relation with the Bishop of Rochester is reflected in the biographies of both, but Surtz provides a new perspective of “the precise degree of familiarity” between the two as inferred from “More’s declarations at his trial” (p. 115). Despite obvious differences in character and vocation, both men show a certain conformity of thought on several of the issues that they had to face (the King’s Great Matter; scholasticism; the relevance of Greek; the prominence of the Fathers, etc.).

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Utopia

Published five hundred years ago, Utopia remains More’s most widely read and discussed work. This work still lures not only students and specialists in the Renaissance and Thomas More, but also anyone interested in political philosophy, rhetoric, or simply literature. The author’s intention in writing this work still puzzles scholars. As for the editions of More’s most famous work, scholars and specialists will certainly appreciate the magisterial Yale Utopia (1965), Logan, et al. 1995, and Prévost 1978 (both cited under Primary Sources: Works). Adams 1992 (with Logan’s revision of 2010) provides an excellent translation together with introductory materials particularly fitting for student readers. Hexter 1952 and Surtz 1957 constitute the pillars of 20th-century criticism on Utopia. The medieval core of this work is remarked upon by Duhamel 1977. Logan 1983 exploits the inherent dual nature of the text, while other works, like Fox 1993, underline More’s own self-deception in regard to the model he proposed, or point at his skepticism about it, as in Baker-Smith 2011. Skinner 1987 illustrates again the recurrent view that Utopia was indeed More’s “best commonwealth.” Cave 2008 deals with the impact of Utopia in contemporary Europe through its translations. Finally, Olin 1989 reads More’s text as an essay about Pride, thus taking up again some of the views espoused in Hexter 1952.

  • Adams, Robert M., ed. Utopia: A Revised Translation, Backgrounds, Criticism. 2d ed. New York: Norton, 1992.

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    The best introduction for students. A selection of several excerpts from the early modern and medieval periods sets Utopia in its immediate philosophical context. The volume is completed by a collection of essays by well-known Morean scholars as well as reputed literary critics. This work was reedited in 2010 and includes Logan’s revision of the translation by Adams, together with later readings on Utopia.

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  • Baker-Smith, Dominic. “Reading Utopia.” In The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More. Edited by George M. Logan, 141–167. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Readers have traditionally interpreted Utopia too literally, as an ideal of perfection to be wished for. Our only witness to the Utopian world is Raphael Hythloday, a fictional character whose last name means “purveyor of nonsense,” alienated from the world after his return from this island. On the other hand, “More”—the literary character—remains a 16th-century Londoner, but somehow changed by a troublesome question: how many Utopian features are really to be wished or hoped for?

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  • Cave, Terence, ed. Thomas More’s Utopia in Early Modern Europe: Paratexts and Contexts. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2008.

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    An examination of all the editions of Utopia until 1650. These “paratexts” are presented in the second part of the book, in their original language and in translation. In the first part (“Versions of Utopia:. . .”), several authors draw the sociocultural contexts for these works in the different European countries where Utopia was translated. Of interest for specialists in early modern cultural history, and to anyone concerned with reader response theory and translation.

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  • Duhamel, P. Albert. “Medievalism of More’s Utopia.” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester and Germain Marc’hadour, 234–250. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    The author draws the attention of readers to a most interesting paradox: Saluted by many as an emblematic work of the English Renaissance, Utopia is in fact the most medieval of Thomas More’s writings. As Duhamel argues, this work is the result of the application of the scholastic method of research, and it is clearly medieval in its style and content.

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  • Fox, Alistair. Utopia: An Elusive Vision. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies 103. New York: Twayne, 1993.

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    Fox stresses the inherently paradoxical nature of Utopia, as More thought that there was a permanent and unresolved tension between people’s desire for social order and their natural impulses. Thus, according to Fox, as the author created his Utopian vision, he gradually lost his faith in it. This work also contains a survey of the critical tradition and an annotated bibliography. The Twayne Masterwork series is primarily addressed to undergraduates.

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  • Hexter, J. H. More’s Utopia: The Biography of an Idea. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952.

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    The seminal work for 20th-century Utopiana, this analysis is meant to be supplemented with Hexter’s introduction to the Yale Edition of Utopia. The author deals with all the ambiguities and complexities of More’s work through the careful evaluation of the arguments put forward by several critics. As an essential support for his argumentation, Hexter suggestively reconstructs the genesis of the book: More had conceived of Utopia as a realizable project.

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  • Logan, George M. The Meaning of More’s Utopia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

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    Many scholars will agree that Utopia is both serious and playful, but then they lose perspective of this duality when analyzing the work. More was a master of irony and this work is his most accomplished illusory creation. After delimiting More’s debt to classical and Renaissance political thought (a most useful part for advanced students), the author qualifies Utopia’s ironic complexity as a thought experiment in which the desirable and the undesirable necessarily meet.

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  • Olin, John C., ed. Interpreting Thomas More’s Utopia. New York: Fordham University Press, 1989.

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    The proceedings of a symposium (New York: Fordham University, 1985) commemorating the 450th anniversary of More’s death. Leaving aside the rather personal introduction, this work contains four contributions, of which “The Key to Nowhere: Pride and Utopia” by Thomas I. White offers a challenging thesis: Utopia is “an essay on pride” (p. 48). Book I explores the links between this capital sin and social evil, while Book II suggests how pride can be fought against.

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  • Skinner, Quentin. “Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and the Language of Renaissance Humanism.” In The Languages of Political Theory in Early-Modern Europe. Edited by Anthony Pagden, 123–157. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511521447.008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this essay, Skinner attempts to determine the place of Utopia in the context of Renaissance discussions of political theory. He then argues that Utopia was for More the “best commonwealth,” a “standard subject of debate” (p. 125) in More’s time and one inaugurated by Plato’s Republic.

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  • Surtz, Edward. The Praise of Pleasure: Philosophy, Education and Communism in More’s. Utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674335356Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Supplemented by the author’s The Praise of Wisdom (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1957), this work, together with Hexter 1952, have constituted the canon of Utopian criticism. In the present work, the author is concerned with the ideas offered in More’s vision, leaving aside the form or style of the book. The author deals with some controverted disputed sections of Utopia, with the ultimate purpose of getting at More’s real intention in writing this work.

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Religious Controversies

No picture of More would be complete if we neglect his role in the opposition to the spreading of Lutheranism, as well as his involvement in Reformation polemics. Thomas More’s dealings with heresy have been the most bitterly contested aspects of his career. Even within his lifetime, his persecution of Protestants aroused controversy and forced More to write his Apology. From our early-21st-century perspective, it seems difficult to tolerate More’s inquisitorial zeal, and the (at times) crude violence of his controversial works. Information about his persecution of heretics is presented from opposing perspectives in the already listed biographies. Ridley 1982 shares the revisionist views presented mainly by Fox 1982, Marius 1984 and Guy 2000 (all three cited under Biographies: Modern Works). Consistent with this view, Elton 1980 further analyzes More’s anti-Lutheran works pointing at pathological reasons behind the author’s violence, a view also held by Fox 2009. From a less psychohistorical perspective, Haas 1972 points at More’s fear of social instability in his fight against Lutherans, an approach further developed in Rex 2011. Pineas 1984 and Bradshaw 1985 are consistent responses to revisionism.

  • Bradshaw, Brendan. “The Controversial Sir Thomas More.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 36.4 (1985): 535–569.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0022046900043992Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Originally planned as a revision of the bibliography about More published from 1979 to 1982, the article turns out to be a revision of the “revisionist” approach to More as a hunter of heretics originally proposed by Elton. As a Christian humanist, More was not opposed to the reform of the Church, but to the Protestant version of it.

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  • Elton, G. R. “The Real Thomas More?” In Reformation Principle and Practice: Essays in Honour of Arthur Geoffrey Dickens. Edited by P. N. Brooks, 21–31. London: Scolar Press, 1980.

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    Elton focuses on More’s fierce opposition to Lutheranism, which he explains as a consequence of his inner conflict with his repressed sexuality. The viscerality of his controversial works (1528–1533) can be better understood in this light.

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  • Fox, Alistair. “The Reluctant Champion: More’s Responsio ad Lutherum and Letter to Bugenhagen.” In A Companion to Thomas More. Edited by A. D. Cousins and Damian Grace, 208–224. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009.

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    The essay analyzes More’s progression from his initial reluctance to take part in controversial works, such as the Responsio, to his later involvement, especially from 1529. Fox claims that More transformed his fight against heresy into a “personal crusade” (p. 221), something which “brought out the worst in him” (p. 222).

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  • Haas, Steven W. “Simon Fish, William Tyndale, and Sir Thomas More’s ‘Lutheran Conspiracy.’” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 23.2 (1972): 125–136.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0022046900055792Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    For More, heresy was associated with violence and sedition. The spread of Lutheranism had to be aborted; otherwise England would end up in chaos. From this perspective, the author claims that More came to believe in a Lutheran conspiracy to overthrow the nation, through the spreading of Tyndale’s beliefs.

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  • Pineas, Rainer. “A Response to Alistair Fox’s Treatment of Thomas More as a Religious Polemicist.” Moreana 21.82 (1984): 119–125.

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    A rebuttal of Fox’s account of More’s religious polemics (see Fox’s Thomas More: History and Providence [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982]). Pineas concludes that the humanist was simply using the common Tudor conventions in controversial writings. In light of this, to build up a psychohistory of More on his polemical writings will only yield “distorted results” (p. 123).

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  • Rex, Richard. “Thomas More and the Heretics: Statesman or Fanatic?” In The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More. Edited by George M. Logan, 93–115. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521888622.006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author claims that More was a statesman, not a fanatic. In order to support his claim, the author first analyzes More’s own religious situation, and then recalls his definition of heresy, its nature and implications. Next, the author shows More’s active involvement in the prosecution of heretics, and finally places his actions in the context of English politics during the 1520s and 1530.

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  • Ridley, Jasper. The Statesman and the Fanatic: Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More. London: Constable, 1982.

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    As opposed to Wolsey (corrupt but practical and flexible), More was fanatical, vengeful, and even psychologically disturbed. His anti-Lutheran campaign was the culminating enterprise of his career and the perfect task for a man with a religious obsession.

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Faith and Spirituality

The relevance of this section is not simply derived from the fact that the Catholic Church canonized More in 1535. In fact, his solid religious convictions provided a sense of unity to his entire existence and so this essential characteristic of his personality has come up in almost every section. More was aware of the requirements of his faith in his everyday life, not only as a public figure and an author, but also as father and husband. Fisher 1960 points to the overwhelming relevance of religious texts in More’s production. Erasmus’s reference to More’s early wishes to live a consecrated life have taken some to believe that he always regretted his decision to get married, while to others (as in Reynolds 1966, Marc’hadour 1972, and Schoeck 1977) this is but a clear indication of More’s honest discernment of his own vocation. As Marius 1968 shows, More’s faith had in Patristic literature a permanent point of reference. This also provided a foundation for his ecclesiology and his struggle against Luther. These aspects are also dealt with in Coulton 1935 and, from a wider perspective, in Gogan 1982. As More became aware of his imminent death, his identification with Christ constituted the core of his spirituality. The centrality of Christ not only in the “Tower Works,” but in earlier texts, is discussed in Jones 1980. Readers are obviously directed to the Yale Edition of these works for valuable introductions on each of them.

  • Coulton, G. G. “The Faith of St. Thomas More.” The Quarterly Review 265 (1935): 327–343.

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    Written as a review article of Chambers 1935 (cited under Biographies: Modern Works), this may very well serve as an overview of the way in which More faced the main events in his life from the perspective of his faith: mainly, the King’s Great Matter, the unity of the Church, and the Lutheran Reformation.

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  • Fisher, Bernard. “English Spiritual Writers: St. Thomas More.” The Clergy Review 45 (1960): 1–10.

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    Fisher explicitly declares that “three-quarters of More’s writings are either ascetical or theological treatises” (p. 1). A general introduction to More’s spirituality, as illustrated in his life and writings. Fisher points to Walter Hilton as the strongest influence on More’s life as a Christian.

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  • Gogan, Brian. The Common Corps of Christendom: Ecclesiological Themes in the Writings of Sir Thomas More. Studies in the History of Christian Thought 26. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1982.

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    More’s ecclesiology is a fundamental issue in his spirituality. In approaching this topic Gogan not only provides an introduction to the views on the Church at the beginning of the 16th century (in its connection with the late medieval period), but also to the early phase of English Protestantism, or Anglo-Lutheranism. A clear and well-documented study, but perhaps just for specialists.

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  • Jones, J. P. “‘Thy Grace to Set the World at Nought’: The Mystical Element in the Works of Thomas More.” Studia Mystica 3.2 (1980): 61–71.

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    More’s Christocentric devotional writing, which culminated in his “Tower Works,” where More found comfort and fortitude in his personal identification with Christ’s sufferings, had been already prefigured in other works by the author, such as the Life of Picus and The Four Last Things.

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  • Marc’hadour, G. “Thomas More’s Spirituality.” In St. Thomas More: Action and Contemplation: Proceedings of the Symposium held at St. John’s University, 9–10 October, 1970. Edited by R. S. Sylvester, 125–159. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972.

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    The founder of Moreana argues that More’s spirituality has to be approached from both theology and anthropology. As much as there is just one single Catholic theology, every man’s response to it is conditioned by his sociocultural context. More’s spirituality until 1520 is illustrated through several of his writings (Life of Pico, early verse, “Letter to a Monk,” Correspondence with Erasmus, etc.)

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  • Marius, R. C. “Thomas More and the Early Church Fathers.” Traditio 24 (1968): 379–407.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0362152900004773Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay is primarily written for specialists and deals with the foundations of More’s spirituality: the Fathers and the Scriptures, which he considered as the very sources of his faith and of his loyalty to the Catholic Church.

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  • Reynolds, E. E. The Heart of Thomas More: Readings for Every Day of the Year. London: Burns & Oates, 1966.

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    Reynolds gathered a collection of about one hundred passages from More’s English works to illustrate his spirituality and his personal attitude to life. This text is addressed to any reader who might have an interest on the topic, and includes a subject index at the end.

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  • Schoeck, R. J. “On the Spiritual Life of St. Thomas More.” Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 52.3 (1977): 324–327.

    DOI: 10.5840/thought197752348Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    More’s spirituality was not simply made up of his religious practices, but was rooted in loving God, serious study, and contemplation. As a direct consequence of this, More showed love and concern for his fellow men.

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Trial and Martyrdom

Leaving aside whether More died for a religious scruple or as a man loyal to his conscience (a concept illustrated in Prévost 1969, Kelley 1977 and Sylvester 1978), his trial was plagued with irregularities, to say the least. More was tried for treason on July 1, 1935. Confronted by fifteen judges and twelve jurors, the defendant made use of all his experience and training. Derrett 1977 and Reynolds 1964 both offer detailed accounts of the legal process against the English humanist, while Kelly, et al. 2011 is a welcome revision. More was found guilty of treason and beheaded five days later. His execution raised outrage on the Continent, where More was seen as a model of integrity, and later he became a martyr; Marc’hadour 1989 and Vázquez de Prada 1966 present interesting considerations on the religious dimension of More’s imprisonment and execution.

  • Derrett, J. D. M. “The Trial of Sir Thomas More.” In Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More. Edited by R. S. Sylvester and G. P. Marc’hadour, 55–78. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    In this work, originally published in 1964 (English Historical Review 79:449–477), the author concentrates on the trial itself, in the light of newly discovered materials. After the assessment of the sources, Derrett refers briefly to the so-called “affair of Standish.” He then proceeds with the description of the trial and concludes with an analysis of More’s final speech. Still a necessary point of reference.

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  • Kelley, Donald R. “The Conscience of the King’s ‘Good Servant.’” Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 52 (1977): 293–299.

    DOI: 10.5840/thought197752345Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Like other humanists of his day, Thomas More had to confront the reconciliation of law and conscience in different scenarios. He faced this dilemma not only as a philosopher and a humanist, but also as royal servant and lawyer.

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  • Kelly, Henry A., Louis W. Karlin, and Gerard B. Wegemer, eds. Thomas More’s Trial by Jury: A Procedural and Legal Review with a Collection of Documents. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2011.

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    A sourcebook including all the major sources for More’s trial. The work also contains the opinions of legal experts and judges discussing the legalities of the trial, whose procedures are compared to 16th-century notions of natural law. This work challenges Derrett’s long-standing opinion that More’s trial complied with contemporary legal norms. Students of law and Tudor history will appreciate this book.

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  • Marc’hadour, Germain. “On Death and Martyrdom: St. Thomas More.” In The Portrayal of Life Stages in English Literature, 1500—1800: Infancy, Youth, Marriage, Aging, Death, Martyrdom: Essays in Honor of Warren Wooden. Edited by Jeanie Watson and Warren Wooden, 203–224. Studies in British History 10. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellon, 1989.

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    The author starts by providing an etymological and historical approach to the word “martyr,” concluding that it refers to someone who bears witness to the truth. In the outline of More’s itinerary to his execution, Marc’hadour discusses the relevance of De Tristitia Christi as an exposition of the prisoner’s views on martyrdom and his acceptance of it. The article finally explores the similarities among More’s death and the executions of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Beckett.

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  • Prévost, André. “Valeur suprême de la conscience: le témoin.” In Thomas More et la crise de la pensée européenne. By André Prévost, 343–354. Paris: Mame, 1969.

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    More was neither a fanatic nor a mystic, but a lucid Christian humanist who carefully formed his conscience (with the use of his reason), and then followed its dictates to the end.

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  • Reynolds, E. E. The Trial of St. Thomas More. London: Burns and Oates, 1964.

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    In this classic work on More’s trial, the author gathers and evaluates the historical sources of the legal process against the ex-Chancellor. Reynolds’s account of the trial is mainly based upon Harpsfield’s narration. Finally, this work also includes the discoveries made by other relevant scholars at the time, mainly Henry de Vocht and J. D. M. Derrett.

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  • Sylvester, Richard S. “Variations on the Theme: Conscience and Consciousness: Thomas More.” In The Author in His Work: Essays on a Problem in Criticism. Edited by L. L. Martz and Aubrey Williams, 163–174. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978.

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    This author convincingly argues that in More’s time, the word “conscience” meant both moral conviction and self-awareness, and so “conscience” and “consciousness” were one single thing.

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  • Vázquez de Prada, Andrés. “Chapters XIII-XVI.” In Sir Tomás Moro. By Andrés Vázquez de Prada, 321–336. Madrid: Rialp, 1966.

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    In this first extensive Spanish biography of More, the author devotes the final chapters to drawing an affectionate portrait of Sir Thomas’s last days, establishing his intimacy with his model, Christ, in the acceptance of martyrdom.

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