Greetings loyal readers. I have had a rest from writing over the Christmastide, but I'm back with a vengeance. I'm entering a long awaited manic period. Tis always a harbinger to episodes of vigorous writing, and mayhap doom. Hold on to your hats......
Most folk remember old king Henry VIII in caricature: a rollicking great lump of a king with a prodigious appetite for food, wine, women, jousting and decollation; this simple expression of the king's nature and character cannot be denied, and indeed, a more detailed exposition of his reign would make an interesting, future foray. However, this essay is not directly concerned with the king, but of a man, who in many ways, is a much more interesting character to consider. But before I introduce this rather singular and remarkable man it is necessary to relate a little background information.
King Henry's reign spanned a time of great turbulence in terms of religious thought, political transition, and intellectual curiosity. And, in retrospect, it will be viewed as the inception of the Renaissance in the northern European countries, including Britain. New learning was vigorously disseminated and assimilated. It heralded the beginning of the demise of the medieval mindset in terms of scholasticism and intellectual thought. Times were a changing and into this volatile mix, was added Luther's vehement rebellion against the criminal excesses of the Catholic clergy. The Reformation seized the minds of men, especially in northern Europe where it spread like a contagion. Henry, forever the opportunist, grasped the prospect the new religion offered with gusto and the wealth of the monasteries flowed into the royal coffers, with alacrity. From now on the English would be Protestant and Henry, as head of the new church, repudiated the religious authority of the Pope.
Let me introduce Thomas More. He was born in London in 1478 to a well to do family. His father was a prominent lawyer, thereabouts. He studied at Oxford University for a time but was kicked out due to his radical views. He was a humanist and despised the antiquated Scholasticism which vied to strangle intellectual progress. However, he was a pious man and would have no truck with this new fangled religion of the Protestants. His intransigence with regard to religious belief would ultimately cost him his head. Subsequently, More continued his education in London and in 1501 became a barrister (his coffee was terrible).
Thomas's rise was rapid. He was a man of profound intellect, witty, engaging and a gifted writer. In 1505 he became a Member of Parliament and was knighted in 1514. Henry the VIII recognised More's dedication, work ethic and intellectual talents and after the fall of the incumbent Chancellor Wolsey, Henry appointed More to take on this prestigious position. This represented More's high water mark of power, and at the time, he was a trusted confident of the king. When complemented for his favour and good grace with the king, More commented with prescient wit: "If my head could win him a castle in France it should not fail to go". More was under no illusions when it came to this unpredictable and irascible king.
His good fortune would not last and his fall from grace was swift. The king wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry the strumpet, Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas was mortified, and as a true Catholic, could not countenance the divorce and remarriage. Although invited to the marriage, More did not attend- it was not going to end well. This proved a turning point in his relations, with by this time, a paranoid, erratic and blood thirsty ruler. It has been estimated that Henry executed 57,000 of his subjects in his 36 year reign. Henry was a king who was used to his own way and woe betide the fool who stood in his way. More's position as Chancellor was now untenable and in 1532 he resigned. In 1534, Parliament passed the 'Act of Supremacy' (some of the older members passed wind) and Henry was now the head of the 'Church of England'. The Pope no longer held sway over the king or the English people. Under the new religious regime the king demanded an 'Oath of Supremacy' from his citizens: More refused, and was tried for 'High Treason'. On rather flimsy evidence he was convicted and on the 6th of July 1535 his head become detached from his emaciated torso, and Sir Thomas More, was no more. His final words before dispatch: "I die the king's good servant, and God's first". Sir Thomas was a true martyr and remained unwavering in his attachment to the Pope and Catholicism.
More was unlucky to have been born in a time of great societal change and disorder. Although an intellectually curious man, and a man willing to embrace the new learning, his education was desperately rooted in the medieval curriculum of Latin with a strict adherence to the religious dogma of Catholicism. One wonders what would have happened if he had been born a 100 years later. Undoubtedly he would have been Protestant and an adherent to the well established 'Church of England'. By then the old moribund Scholasticism had been replaced by a new wonder, Science. A man of his intellect would have thrived in the new intellectual optimism: medieval systems had gone to be replaced by unfettered enthusiasm for the new methodology that promised so much. Antiquated strictures on novel thought had been replaced by unbounded intellectual optimism. Men of intellect could espouse their theories without the threat of religious stricture. Of course, the Church was not happy, but the church had lost its authority and no longer acted as a break to intellectual innovation. Alas, speculation along this path is fruitless. More remains a man of his time and sadly, was fated to be born at the cusp of major intellectual development. O, what wonders he missed!
Sir Thomas's body is buried in a common grave at St Peter ad Vincula Chapel, Tower of London. His head resides elsewhere and body and noddle are fated to remain apart unto eternity. Sir Thomas is revered as a Saint and a true martyr to the Catholic Church.
Who's that Fat Bastard?