"My love and devotion towards Your Majesty is so great, that I shall never speak a word against you in public... so help me God."- Sir Thomas More
The longtime friend and teacher of Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More is a pious Christian lawyer and humanist who abhors war and tries to advise Henry against it. He nevertheless believes that stern action is required to combat the rise of Lutheranism, maintaining every form of staunch Catholic tradition in his home, where he is shown to be a loving father and husband. He has three daughters and a son, all of whom are well-educated; by Season two, he is also a grandfather through his eldest daughter, Margaret Roper. Sir Thomas is portrayed by English actor Jeremy Northam in Season 1 and the first half of Season 2.
Although he briefly becomes Henry's Chancellor and chief minister after the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, More's iron will clashes with Henry's in matters of religion; when Henry breaks the English church away from Rome, More resigns the Chancellorship out of despair and retires. Despite hoping he will be left in peace due to his past friendship with the King, his stubborn devotion to Catholicism and unwillingness to support Henry's reforms leads to him eventually being tried for treason and executed in episode 2.05, despite Henry's hesitation. More's death was a major martyrdom for the Catholic Church, and a considerable blow against the Protestant Reformation.
Background and personality:
More was originally one of Henry's tutors. Henry shows his appreciation for More's teachings by knighting him in episode 3 of The Tudors; he and More affectionately refer to each other as Thomas and Harry. More is very diplomatic (except in matters involving Catholic fundamentalism) and is well-liked by the courts of both France and the Holy Roman Empire; he is straightforward and honest, but despite lacking the tremendous ambition of the King's other courtiers and ministers he is extremely shrewd and intelligent, and knows when to hold his tongue. Henry also mentions Thomas' authorship, commenting on his book Utopia, and his international connections, including his friendship with the famous Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus. Although he desires to form a treaty of 'universal and perpetual peace' which he planned out with Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas shares Henry's dislike of the French, probably because their court seldom keeps Catholic morality (though neither does Henry's). Thomas is looked down on by some of Henry's court because of his lower birth, but he seldom takes notice, as he is not ambitious and dislikes attending the court anyway except when Henry asks him to come.
More, like Wolsey and Henry, refers to himself as a "humanist"; unlike the other two, however, he seems to show genuine distaste for the idea of warfare and violence, describing war as "an activity fit only for beasts, yet practiced by no beast so often as by men". Although his Catholic faith borders on fanatical- making him regard anything even mildly critical of the Pope as heresy- he holds very firmly to his principals of not forcing anyone to do something against their conscience, and recognizes that the perceived corruption of the Catholic Church is what gains Luther more followers. However, this proves somewhat hypocritical of More as he is not against using cruel and unusual punishment on 'heretics' who do not repent (i.e. when he had Simon Fish burned at the stake).
The actual Simon Fish was indeed arrested by Thomas More on returning to England and condemned as a heretic, but he was not one of the six people burned at the stake during More's administration; he died of plague while imprisoned in the Tower. The historical More, who valued structure, tradition and order in society as safeguards against tyranny and error, vehemently believed that Lutheranism and the Protestant Reformation in general were dangerous, not only to the Catholic faith but to the stability of society as a whole but there is no evidence that More ever attended the execution of any heretic.
More and Henry are shown to share the same humanist idealism near the start of the series, but Henry feels pressured to live up to his father's legacy, which was built on warfare; the main area in which they agree is preservation of Catholic funadmentalism, as they are both opposed to Luther. More despairs of Henry's erratic foreign policy (which is partly the result of Henry's most powerful minister, Cardinal Wolsey) while Henry is frustrated by More's dogged alliegance to God before him (although he clearly respects More's nerve, as More is one of only a few people completely unafraid of the King). Despite their friendship, More quietly begins opposing Henry on his 'Great Matter' of divorcing Catherine of Aragon, because he fears that England as a whole will be outraged by the usurping of a Queen it dearly loves.
After Catherine's lawyers are bribed by Henry, More offers Bishop John Fisher as a more suitable replacement to defend her cause; he and Fisher, along with Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, are her strongest public supporters. Wolsey begs More to help him solve the 'great matter' by interfering with French-Imperial-Papal diplomacy, but Thomas refuses to become involved based on his principles of international peace; Wolsey thus partly blames him for his fall from grace at the season's end. When the sweating sickness ravages London in episode 1.07, More keeps Henry (who has fled to northern England to escape the plague) updated on events in the capitol, viewing the disease as God's punishment for the presence of Lutherans in England.
During his relatively short tenure as Lord High Chancellor after Wolsey is deposed (near the end of Season 1) More shows a much darker side through his intense hatred for Protestantism when he burns to death six people he finds guilty of heresy, although he offers them the chance to recant, remarking of heretics, "Wolsey was far too soft on them- I intend not to be". Unfortunately for More, these actions of repression only strengthen the Reformist cause in England. Chapuys warns him that Henry's sympathies seem to be turning towards the Reformists due to the influence of the Boleyn family and his secretary, Thomas Cromwell. However, Thomas refuses to believe Henry would support Protestantism, recalling Henry's authorship of a fundamentalist Catholic pamphlet (in episode 1.03) which caused the Pope to bestow him with the title 'Defender of the Faith.' He changes his opinion after Fisher imforms him that several senoir clergymen have been arrested for showing support for Wolsey, and for opposing Henry's plan for an annulment.
Season TwoEarly in Season Two, Thomas More remains Chancellor, although he is gradually losing Henry's favor due to their conflicting opinions. More is enraged when an assasination attempt is made on Bishop (later Cardinal) Fisher that kills four priests and badly weakens Fisher himself in episode 2.01; the poisoner was a cook browbeaten into working for Earl Thomas Boleyn, though More never proves this. Conflicted with most of the English clergy in their willingness to submit holy authority to Henry and depressed by his failure to prevent it, More eventually asks to resign as Chancellor in episode 2.02 so that he can retire from public life, which the King allows. More also begs him one last time to reconcile with Catherine of Aragon (whom he admires and respects deeply), believing it would repair all the religious strife in the country, but he then promises he will not speak of the King's 'great matter' again in public. Henry thanks More for his many years of service but also warns him he will hold him to that promise.
After it becomes apparent that the king was also changing his attitude towards Catholicism, he becomes worried, finally recalling that Wolsey once told him that he should have told the king what he ought to do, not what he can do, for "if the lion knows his own strength, no man could control him". In the second season More avoids taking any public position over the king's "great matter" of divorce from Catherine and simply professes that he is loyal to the King in the hope that he will be left in peace, but his refusal to attend Anne Boleyn's coronation damages his standing with Henry. In addition, Henry suspects (not completely without reason) that More is privately rallying Catholic nobles and bishops to protest Catherine's treatment and the Reformists' restrictions on religious institutions. In episode 2.04, he is finally summoned to court concerning his avoidance of the oath recognizing Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England (which Thomas Cromwell warned More he would face sooner or later). On being questioned (and threatened) by Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, More admits he is now ready to concede swearing to recognize Henry and Anne's children (including their newborn daughter Elizabeth) as a legitimate heir, but will not proclaim in any way that the King is the head of the Church, though he does not blame others for doing so.
After refusing to take the oath, More is subsequently imprisoned in the Tower and finally condemned to be executed in episode 2.05. He communicates with the similarly imprisoned and condemned Fisher (who has been made a Cardinal by the Pope) through a servant boy, with both of them resolving not to take the oath to spare their lives. The new Reformist Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, who deeply admires More despite hating the Catholic Church, does not wish for his death and tries to persuade him to change his mind several times, in vain. Even the arrival of Thomas's family only seems to stiffen his determination, though he gives his wife and eldest daughter comforting words. After a trial in which More carefully explains and defends his actions, he is sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (traditionally the most humiliating and brutal form of execution in England) but Henry, out of respect, reduces the execution to a quick beheading. Before his death, More states to the sympathetic crowd "tell the King I died his good servant, but Gods' first!" At the precise moment the axe is swung, Henry is shown crying out in agony in his quarters. The small silver crucifix More was holding drops onto the scaffold and is quickly covered in a stream of blood.
Henry shows deep regret and remorse over More's death, and later blames Anne Boleyn for influencing him to destroy his old friend (though he was the one most chiefly responsible, since neither he nor Sir Thomas would bend to one another's will). In episode 2.06, he is plagued by recurring nightmares about Thomas' death. Pope Paul III, on hearing of More's martyrdom (along with that of Cardinal Fisher) cannonizes him as a saint and a martyr.
Thomas More briefly appears in Henry's flashback during the final scene of the Series Finale; Henry is shown talking with More on a riverbank, being reprimanded by More during his quarrel with King Francis and then crying in horror as More is beheaded. More's portrait as Chancellor by the artist Hans Holbein (based on a real historic work by Holbein) is shown in the Chancellor's office in Season Three of The Tudors (somewhat ironically, since the Chancellor in Season Three was the Protestant Thomas Cromwell, who disapproved of More's strict Catholicism)
- Anthony Knivert: "His Majesty loves you above all others, Mr. More- you do know that." Thomas More: (half-joking) "That may be so, Mr. Knivert- but between you and me, if my head were to win him a castle in Spain... I think he would cut it off."
- Charles Brandon: (watching Henry wrestle King Francis after agreeing to a peace treaty) "Henry's gonna win!" Sir Thomas More: (grimly) "Whatever happens here, Henry is not going to win."
- "If you want the world to know that the King of England is easily changeable, shallow, intemperate, incapable of keeping his word- then, of course I will go and tell him- after all, I am merely Your Majesty's humble servant!"
- Thomas More: "As a humanist, I have an abhorrence of war. It is an activity fit only for beasts, yet practiced by no creature so frequently as Man." King Henry: "As a fellow humanist, I share your opinion- but as a King, I'm forced to dissagree." Thomas More: "Spoken like a lawyer." King Henry: "You should know- you taught me." Thomas More: "Not well enough, it seems."
- (to his daughter) "What you see around you, dear heart, is not the fear of the plague or of death, but fear of what for the unrepentant must surely follow."
- "I am against violence, as you know... but I believe that Luther and every one of his followers should be siezed, right now... and burned."
- "I am not so vain as to display the trappings of my power, Master Cromwell, but I tell you this: I fully intend to use it."
- "All right- you talk of facts. Here's a fact for you, Wolsey! Catherine of Aragon is not only a great Queen and the daughter of Kings, she is immensley popular throughout the whole of this country! God forbid the King should divorce her just to ease his own conscience- I don't think the English people would ever forgive him."
- Cardinal Compeggio: "I have a petition signed by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and Lord Boleyn, saying the divorce has the overwhelming support of the people of England." Sir Thomas More (angrily): "As your Eminance would quickly discover if you stepped outside these doors and saw the people of England, that is a manifest lie. On the contrary, the people love their Queen, and they have every reason to do so."
- (to Bishop John Fisher, as Season One ends) "I am reminded of something Wolsey once told me: that I should only tell the King what he ought to do, never what he could do... for, 'if the lion knows his own strength, no man can control him.' Now, we are standing on the edge of the abyss...God only knows what shall become of us."
- "First they 'deflower' you, then they devour you... but they shall never devour me." (speaking of his unwillingness to join the clergy who submitted to Henry)
- "Most gracious Lady- Queen of Hearts. There will surely be even greater crowds than this to greet you when you return to London." (to Catherine of Aragon)
- (angry, to Thomas Cromwell) "Mr. Secretary, I am the King's loyal subject! I speak no harm, and I think no harm- but I wish everybody good. And, if this be not enough to keep a man alive in good faith... then, I long not to live."
- (to his wife, children and grandchildren) "I am summoned to Court, to swear the Oath... I imagine I shall be arrested, afterwards."
- "Mr Cromwell, there really is no difference between us... except that I shall die today, and you tomorrow."
- "And now, I ask you all to pray for the King. Tell him, I died his good servant- but God's first."
- (to his executioner, who asks his forgiveness) "You grant me a service today greater than any mortal man has done. Pluck up your spirits, man- be not afraid to do your office."
- "I think back to earlier days, when I believed the King to be the most promising and enlightened Prince in all of Christendom... I was sure his reign would be a Golden Age."