Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers, was born in London on February 7, 1478. He received his early education at Saint Anthony’s School in London, and, as a youth, he served as a page in the household of Cardinal Morton, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sponsored by the Cardinal, More was sent to Oxford University to study law at Canterbury Hall. While at Oxford, he developed his already formidable oratory skills further, studied theology, and, as he mastered Greek and Latin, discovered a passion for the classics.
In 1494, More returned to London for further studies at New Inn and, in 1946, he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn where (while continuing to study law) he pursued the idea of becoming a monk. Living at the Carthusian Charterhouse in London, he subjected himself to the discipline of prayer, fasting, and penance, and these became habits that he maintained for the rest of his life. Although he eventually abandoned his goal of becoming a monk in favor of serving his country politically, he remained dedicated to the Catholic faith throughout his life.
In 1505, More married his beloved Jane Colt who bore him four children. When she died at a young age, he married a widow, Alice Middleton, to be a mother for his young children. Throughout his life, he was an affectionate and faithful husband and father, deeply involved with his children's religious, moral and intellectual education. More once commented that he was happiest in the bosom of his family rather than at court. His home was filled with three generations living under one roof, and a group of poets, scholars and humanists that often gathered there.
More's intellect and skill attracted the attention of Henry VIII, whose influence launched More on a prominent career in public administration. More first served the King as a diplomat and commercial representative, before becoming a prominent tribunal judge and deputy treasurer. As a reward for his diligence in serving the King, More was knighted in 1521 and then appointed as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. In this position, More was instrumental in the establishment of the parliamentary privilege of free speech.
After four years as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, More was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1529, the highest judicial officer of the British crown and the presiding officer of the House of Lords. More was the first layman ever to hold the post of Lord Chancellor. The King further demonstrated his favor by granting More lands in Oxford and Kent and by frequently visiting More's estate on the River Thames. Three years later More resigned his post as Chancellor at the height of his career and reputation. When Henry persisted in holding opinions contrary to Catholic beliefs regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope, More found he could not continue to serve the King in any official capacity. The remainder of More's life was spent writing, mostly in defense of the Catholic Church.
Little more than a year after resigning, More refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and refused to recognize Henry's children to his latest wife as legitimate heirs to the throne. Consequently, he was confined to the Tower of London on April 17. Fifteen months later, he was tried and convicted of treason. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535, and his head was displayed on London Bridge. For his defense of the Church and his refusal to abandon his Catholic faith, Pope Pius XI canonized More in 1935, 400 years after his execution. In 2000, Pope John Paul II further honored More by proclaiming patron of statesman and politicians. His feast day is celebrated on June 22nd.
Information Compiled from:
"St. Thomas More: His Times and Ours" from the Saint Benedict Center
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