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Sir Thomas More 2 Essay, Research Paper
The true story of Sir Thomas More, whose refusal to recognize Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn cost him
Robert Bolt s classic about the rise and fall of Thomas More who would not go against his conscience even to
satisfy the demands of his King.
More is the central character in this play, and we watch as he struggles with being polarized between his loyalty
to his king and the loyalty to the Holy Church. Henry is married to a barren Catherine of Aragon and is desperate
to produce a male heir. He wishes to divorce his queen so that he might marry Anne Boleyn. Seeking More’s
endorsement for his actions, Henry boldly declares himself head of the church in England, and demands an oath
of allegiance from his subjects. More makes every effort to skirt the issue, choosing to remain silent on the
subject of the divorce while trying to keep his loyalty to Henry from coming into question. Steadfast in his refusal
to renounce the authority of the Pope, More is subjected to imprisonment and falls victim to the perjured
testimony of Richard Rich, which paves the way to More’s conviction as a traitor.
Bolt provides a narrator to the story in the comedic person of a character known only as the Common Man, who
plays multiple roles during the course of the play, but keeps us grounded in the action that is or has unfolded
before us. It is a wonderful addition to this historical opus.
However active the King had become, he needed councillors and especially he needed a chancellor.
The choice of Wolsey’s successor fell, after some difficult discussions, on Thomas More. More, whom
Wolsey had allegedly regarded as the only man in the kingdom fit to succeed him, had virtually all the
qualifications. For twelve years he had been a councillor and courtier, very close to the King and in his
secrets. As chancellor of the Duchy since 1526 he had proved his abilities in law and equity; and he
had wide experience of Europe and its diplomacy….A common lawyer and ex-Speaker of the Commons,
he was well placed to soothe the fury which Wolsey had aroused in those two centres of English
public life. He was a man of wisdom, sense and fame. But he lacked the major qualification: he opposed
the Divorce as Henry knew he did and viewed the King’s likely future policy with displeasure and
dismay. Henry had to exercise much pressure to get him to accept office, though not quite as much as
More’s friends supposed. For More had reasons for taking on a burden which he could see would be
immense….he…recognized that the call of 1529 provided an opportunity, uncertain and full of danger as
it was, to do what he could for the cause he held dearest. He had watched the growth of heresy with a
sick heart and blamed Wolsey bitterly for not stopping it; now he could act. And like everybody else
he realized that the conflict developing between the King and the Pope threatened both the Church
universal in England and the liberties of the English Church itself: so conscientious and
doom-conscious a man could not but agree to serve where he might still be able to arrest disaster. Thus
More took the chancellorship with purposes in mind which from the first threatened his relationship
with Henry, and the fact that after his accepting the King promised him not to trouble his conscience
over the Divorce a promise faithfully kept for over four years speaks better for Henry’s generosity
than for More’s sense of the realities.
More is a saint because he never let go of his beliefs in the law and his faith.
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