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


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.

    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.

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

    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.

  • 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.

    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).

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

    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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