Karl Kautsky

Thomas More and his Utopia


Part II.


1. The Political Condition of England at the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century

WE have already described the general political situation of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A few words will suffice to indicate the special aspects of this situation in England.

At the end of the fifteenth century the two most powerful of the medieval estates, the Nobility and the Church -were completely subjugated by the Crown. The tendency of the general development, which was to weaken both these estates, was accentuated in England by a number of special circumstances. The power of the feudal nobility received a formidable blow from the Wars of the Roses. The English Barons, as predatory as their forefathers, had sought to acquire spoil and land and people first in the Holy Land and then in France. When these sources of plunder were stopped up, the English nobles were perforce thrown back on quarrelling with each other for the only objects of exploitation that remained: the land and people of England.

In 1453 Calais was all of France that was still in the hands of the English. The whole mob of noble English exploiters, who up to a few years before were still deriving large gains from the conquered countries, suddenly found themselves crowded within the narrow confines of their Motherland.

There was a redundancy of exploiters. The proceeds were insufficient to permit them to continue living the extravagant lives which the exploitation of France had accustomed them to. The natural consequences of this redundancy was a “struggle for existence,” the division of the English nobility into two hostile factions, which, under the pretext of defending the claim of the House of York or that of the House of Lancaster to the Throne of England, slaughtered and plundered each other. The Wars of the Roses were a contest for the right to the Throne about as much as the struggle between protectionists and free traders is a battle for the rights of the poor man.

In reality they were a struggle between two exploiting factions for the object of plunder, carried on with immense bitterness and cruelty. Both parties adopted the attitude of granting no pardon, and any noble who escaped death on the battlefield fell victim to the axe of the executioner of the momentary victorious party.

In this fearful carnage, which lasted a generation (from 1452, when the French possessions were finally lost, until 1485), nearly the whole of the nobility perished, and their landed property fell to the king, who created there-with a new nobility possessing neither the power nor the prerogatives of the feudal caste. True, the great English landowners were once more to become a power which could defy the monarchy and make it dependent upon them, but this was not yet the case in the time of Thomas More, who was born seven years before the close of the Civil War. The higher nobles of More’s time were nearly all creatures of the monarchy, owing their possessions to the reigning king or his father, and therefore being wholly dependent upon him.

The clergy, like the nobles, had also been degraded into being servants of the monarchy. Perhaps no other monarchy in Europe had been so dependent upon the Papacy as was England after the Norman Conquest.

The Normans had won the country with the assistance of the Church, in return for which the victorious Norman Duke William the Conqueror, who now became England’s king, acknowledged himself as a fief of the Pope. Later, in the year 1213, John Lackland was obliged to accept his kingdom from the Pope against an annual payment of 1,000 marks.

The Norman feudal monarchy of England had every reason to assist the aggrandisement of the Papacy so long as the English nobles might hope that the Crusades would unlock for them the treasury houses of the East. As the prospects of this became increasingly slender towards the end of the thirteenth century, the exploitation of France became of paramount interest for the English knights and barons, and at the same time English merchants became interested in the acquirement of French possessions with which they could drive a prosperous trade, unhindered by duties and other obstacles. In the contest with France, however, the Pope was not an ally, but an opponent of the English, France having made him wholly her tool in the fourteenth century. This hostility brought to a head the anti-papal sentiment in England more rapidly than in the other non-Romance countries; it strengthened in all lands exploited by the Papacy the influences which since the fourteenth century had been increasingly striving for independence of Rome. In England, as later in Germany, this hostility to the Papacy assumed two mutually antagonistic shapes, according to the classes in which it was embodied: on the one hand a democratic form, proceeding from the peasants, the artisans, and sometimes the lesser nobles; on the other hand a monarchical form, proceeding from the monarchy and its creatures and the merchants. The first tendency favoured the doctrines of Wicliff and gave rise to the sect of Lollards.

The monarchical tendency was satisfied, without disturbing the dogmas of the Church, to impose considerable legal restrictions upon the Papacy, which crippled its power to exploit.

As early as 1360 Parliament passed laws to this end. In 1390 every Englishman was forbidden, under penalty of losing his property and life, to accept any benefice from a foreigner or to send money out of the country. And this measure was reinforced by the Statute of Premunire, which has become a basic law of the English Constitution. It rested with the kings if and how far this law should be enforced. By virtue of it they became almost entirely independent of the Papacy, upon which they could exert strong pressure by threatening to strictly enforce the Statute of Premunire. But the days were long past when the national clergy, independent of the Pope, could defy the King.

They could not escape dependence upon the Papacy without falling into dependence upon the monarchy. The clergy became the servants of the king in the degree that the Pope’s power in England declined.

Nor did the Turkish danger assist the Papacy to recover its power in England, which of all countries in Europe had least to fear from the Turks.

Thus it fell out that in More’s time the English nobility and clergy were the submissive servants of the monarchy, to which they imparted an absolute power such as it then possessed in no other country of Europe.

With the rise of the monarchy, however, the burghers and peasants came to the fore. We have already shown how the peasants substantially improved their position in Europe generally at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries. Serfdom was vanishing, personal service was in many places entirely abolished, and often replaced by money taxes, a change which also offered many advantages to the landlords. The labour of paid hands, of wage workers, took the place of serf labour. But the number of people compelled to take service for wages was then but small, and wages were high. Slight causes were sufficient to effect a rapid rise in wages. A number of circumstances, such as the ravages of the Black Death, which broke out in England in 1348; the rise of new industries, which attracted considerable labour power to the towns-as the Norwich woollen industry in the fourteenth century-or which created a domestic industry in the country and thereby reduced the number of available wage workers; distant wars, which absorbed soldiers – all this brought about a general rise of 50 per cent., and for a time much more, in the wages of the English workers during the second half of the fourteenth century.

The landlords fell into despair. They tried to make the labourers work and to reduce wages by Act of Parliament. The first of these statutes of labourers was passed in 1349. But the landlords were not satisfied with these laws. They sought to re-impose the yoke of serfdom directly upon workers and peasants.

Finally the oppression became intolerable. Workers and peasants rose under Wat Tyler in 1381. The rebellion had no direct success. Its leader was treacherously slain, the insurgents were disbanded, their ringleaders executed, and Lollardry was cruelly persecuted. But the rebellion gave the landlords a salutary fright; they desisted from their attempts to coerce peasants and workers. The civil wars of the fifteenth century broke up feudalism completely.

Thus a defiant and sturdy race of free peasants developed in England. It was these peasants who made England’s army formidable from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, and against whose resistance the flower of France was shattered, as were later the Cavaliers of the Stuarts.

They formed a body of men which could be very dangerous to the monarchical power if a class should exist which knew how to use them for this purpose. In the absence of affiliations with another class, the peasant was not dangerous; he had no political or material aspirations, and his interest did not extend much further than the bounds of his community, hardly beyond those of his county. Left at peace within these bounds, he was content.

However free the English peasant might have felt under Henry VII or Henry VIII – that is, in More’s time – he offered no obstacle to kingly absolutism, towards which his feelings were indifferent if not friendly, as he discerned in absolutism a bulwark against the invasions of the large landowners, which were beginning in More’s time, and which we shall deal with later.

No more than from the strengthening of the peasant class did the monarchy suffer any loss through the rapid increase in the, power of the burghers. Of the two sections which composed it, the handicraftsmen were then an unruly element, defiant and self-conscious and never shirking a fight. Next to the peasants, they supplied the most numerous recruits for Lollardry. But like the peasant, the artisan, or at least the artisan of the country towns, lived and worked much more in his community than in the State, and however rebellious and stubborn in his local affairs, he exercised no permanent influence upon national affairs. Moreover, in More’s age guild handicraft was already on the decline in many country towns, and its decay was so rapid that the Protector Somerset could proceed to confiscate guild property for the Crown, just as Henry VIII had confiscated Church property. And this at a time when the foundations of the sanctity of the modern form of property were being laid.

In any case this confiscation was only carried out in the country towns, not in London. Nobody dared to touch the guilds of this city. In More’s time the citizens of London were a power for which the English kings had more respect than for the Church, the nobles, the peasants, and the country towns. The centralising tendency of trade had nowhere asserted itself so early and so widely as in France and England, the two States which were the earliest to become national States.

Paris and London were the first towns to make the whole economic life of their countries tributary to them, and their masters were the actual masters of the country.

The merchants possessed the greatest power in London. London was primarily a commercial city; and there England’s trade, considerable even in More’s time, was centred.

In the thirteenth century the Hanseatic League undertook the largest part of the English carrying trade, and London was the site of one of its most flourishing factories, the Steelyard; in the fifteenth century English ships sailed to France and the Netherlands, to Portugal and Morocco; they penetrated to the Baltic and there started a bitter competition with the Hanseatic League; in this direction one trading company, the Merchant Adventurers, was particularly active. The development of the fisheries also fostered the expansion of the Mercantile Marine. English mariners became ever bolder and more enterprising, venturing farther and farther into uncharted seas. Trade and the whale drew them to Iceland; and in the era of discoveries they were to make discoveries in the Northern Sea, which, while not so profitable as those of the Spaniards and Portuguese, required quite as much daring and seamanship as the latter.

A few years after More’s death they were to find the way to Archangel on the northern coast of Russia, and in 1497 John Cabot of Bristol, sailing in English ships, discovered Labrador and thus reached the American continent almost fourteen months before Columbus.

Important as were these discoveries and the bold enterprising spirit to which they were due for the subsequent commercial greatness of England, in More’s day they had merely a symptomatic significance. England’s chief trade was then carried on with much nearer countries; the wool trade with the Netherlands was its most important part.

Wool-combing had early – in the tenth century – developed in the Netherlands, for which it had created great wealth. Up to the seventeenth century, however, there were only two countries in Europe which exported wool: England and Spain. English wool was much better than the Spanish and within easier reach of the Netherlands. Consequently, England actually monopolised the wool trade with the Netherlands, just as in the eighteen sixties the Southern States of the American Union monopolised the supply to England of the cotton that was indispensable for the textile industry. England’s wealth therefore grew with the wealth of the Netherlands, or rather the wealth of the wool-growing great landowners, the merchants, and the monarchs of England. The growth in the wealth of the former had up to More’s time been checked partly by the civil wars and the devastations and confiscations which followed in their wake, partly by the absence of a proletariat, a reserve army of workless, to keep down wages: Not until More’s time was any effort made to remove this deplorable lack of poverty in the interest of national prosperity. Henceforth the great landowners received their proper share in the profits of the wool monopoly. Previously the lion’s share had fallen to the merchants and the monarchs. The export duty on wool then formed one of the most fertile sources of the revenue of the English kings, and was one of the firmest supports of absolutism. The more trade developed, the stronger became the king’s power in the country, but the more, too, the king was obliged to serve the interests of commerce.

The Tudors, whose rule began with Henry VII and ended with Elizabeth, perceived quite early that the interests of commerce were also theirs, and therefore fostered trade generally as far as they could. Tyrannically as they reigned, the London citizens, the decisive power in the realm next to the monarchy, tolerated their rule; the citizens of London lived almost entirely by trade, directly or indirectly, and so long as trade flourished they had no cause for rebellion.

Thus the Tudor rule encountered no obstacle; it was the most absolute that has ever existed in England.

It must not be imagined that the English bourgeoisie was in a state of abjection on this account. It was fully aware of its strength, and did not shirk opposing the monarchy, when the latter’s policy was inimical to its interests. And the absolute rule of the Tudors would not have lasted over a hundred years if they had not for the most part known exactly how far they might go and effected a timely retreat before the people on the occasions when they overshot the mark.

The resistance and freedom-loving sentiments of the people, above all of London, was the sole impediment to the power of the Tudors.

Their parliaments were impotent. Since the thirteenth century representatives of the towns, as well as of the nobility and clergy, had been summoned to Parliament, of course, merely for the purpose of compelling the towns to make monetary grants. Meanwhile, as the wealth of the towns grew, the power of their representatives and their influence on legislation increased. It was a peculiarity of the English Parliament that, in the fourteenth century, the representatives of the lower nobility separated from the higher nobility, who henceforth formed the Upper House, together with the higher dignitaries of the Church, and united with the representatives of the towns and constituted the Lower House. The power of Parliament, of course, depended on the classes that stood behind it and upon their unity. Where two hostile parties held the balance, the king had an easy task. Until the seventeenth century, however, the power of Parliament in its contests with the ruling power was less than that of the classes it represented, as members of Parliament were accessible to personal influences. The middle classes could not be bribed or intimidated, but their representatives could; while the king could have members of Parliament who displeased him executed for high treason.

If a king yielded to Parliament, it was not out of regard for its rights, but out of concern for the power of those whose interests it represented.

Provided they remained on good terms with the people, the Tudors had no need to propitiate their parliaments.

Impotent, subject to personal influences, composed for the greater part of noble and spiritual creatures of the king, the parliaments of Tudor times were indeed the most servile in English history. They left legislation wholly to the monarchy and willingly discharged the office of executioner required of them. Only on one point were they obstinate, frequently compelling the kings to yield because they had the masses behind them, and that was the question of granting supplies.

All the conditions above described fostered a strange apparent contradiction. Nowhere in Europe was the absolute power of the monarchy greater than in the England of Mores time, and perhaps in no country were the freedom-loving sentiments and self-consciousness of the citizens more strongly developed than there.

2. More as Monarchist and Opponent of Tyranny

More was the child of the conditions described above. The contradiction referred to was therefore reflected in his writings. Owing to his enthusiastic temperament, he perhaps reveals it more clearly than anyone else. He absorbed with avidity the doctrine of the Humanists that a prince was really necessary, but he should be the servant of philosophers. He extended this to include the people, and what with others was merely a literary flourish was his firm conviction. He hated tyranny as only an Englishman can hate it, and yet he was convinced of the necessity of the monarchy. He held it right to depose the king if he acted contrary to the people’s interests, but only in order to put a better king in his place.

This, shortly, is his political standpoint. It may best be elucidated by a short description of Mores political thought and actions.

His first political expressions are to be found in his epigrams. One of them deals with “The good and the bad prince”: “What is a good prince? A sheepdog, who keeps away the wolves? And a bad prince? The wolf himself.”

Another is entitled, “The difference between a tyrant and a prince.”

“How is a legitimate king distinguished from a loathsome tyrant? The tyrant holds his subjects for his slaves, the king regards them as his children.”

The distinction reminds one of the fiction of constitutionalists, who hold that while the king reigns he does not govern. More needed this fiction to reconcile his theoretical conviction as to the necessity of monarchy with the hatred he felt for the tyranny of the reigning king, who was then Henry VII.

The kind of ideas which filled his mind may be inferred from his translating Lucian’s dialogue, The Tyrannicide, from Greek into Latin, and composing a reply thereto.

It has been sought by More’s clerical biographers to represent his preoccupation with such themes as a mere academical interest, but the Catholic Audin, who wrote a commentary to the French translation of Stapleton’s biography, published in Paris in 1849, was obliged to admit that The Tyrannicide is a political confession of faith. More hated despotism, and did not believe in divine right; he is ready to acquit anyone who rebels against a bad prince.

3. More as Representative of the London Merchants

More soon had occasion to prove that his “manly pride before the prince’s throne” was more than a theoretical flourish. At the age of twenty-six he was elected to the Parliament convened by Henry VII., in order to obtain legal pretexts for plundering the people. The late Parliament of 1496-97 had without demur voted two fifteenths on account of the threatened war with Scotland. The fifteenths was a property tax of a specific amount, paid by the counties, towns, and holdings, as also by the clergy. In 1500 the yield of a fifteenth was estimated at £37,930.

The king’s avarice grew with the complaisancy of Parliament. He demanded three fifteenths from the Parliament of 1504, in which More sat. The money was partly for the dowry of his daughter Margaret, who was marrying the King of Scotland, partly for a contribution on the occasion of the knighthood of his son Arthur.

To appreciate the shameless character of the demand, it should be remembered chat the knighthood contribution was derived from the feudal constitution and had long fallen into disuse; it had last been granted in the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Black Prince was made a knight. Moreover, Arthur had died in 1502.

Yet Parliament did not seem reluctant to concede the demand. The Bill had already passed two readings when “at the last debate More made such argument and reasons there against that the King’s demand thereby was clean overthrown; so that one of the King’s privy chamber, named Master Tiler, being present thereat, brought word to the King out of the Parliament House that a beardless boy had disappointed all his purpose,” as Roper tells us.

It seems, however, that Henry’s demand was not entirely rejected, but the amount was reduced.

As may be imagined, Henry VII was enraged at the young opposition leader. First of all he addressed himself to the father, as the son possessed no property which he could have confiscated. He imprisoned old John More in the Tower, and fined him £100, but this did not satisfy his revenge. The young politician was obliged to withdraw from public life and remain in hiding to escape the tyrant’s anger. This was probably the time of More’s sojourn in a monastery and his intention of becoming a monk. More also contemplated emigrating at the time.

After a time the King forgot the “beardless boy,” but More was obliged to be cautious and keep away from Parliament. That he was not idle at this time is evident from the fact that immediately after Henry VII’s death in 1509 he was appointed Under Sheriff of London, a promotion which proved that he had gained some reputation as a lawyer. In this office he must have quickly acquired the confidence of his fellow citizens, and at the same time gained a profound insight into the economic situation of the country, for we soon find him entrusted with important missions as the representative of the London merchants. Roper tells us: “For his learning, wisdom, knowledge and experience, men had such estimation that before he came to the service of King Henry VIII, at the suit and instance of the English merchants, he was by the King’s consent made twice ambassador in certain great causes between them and the merchants of the Steelyard.” The conclusion of this passage is based on a misunderstanding, as it was not until a later date that More was deputed to compose quarrels with the Hanseatic League.

The first of these commissions was entrusted to More in the year 1515. Of this More tells us in the first book of Utopia: “Henry the Eighth, the unconquered King of England, a prince adorned with all the virtues that become a great monarch, having some differences of no small consequence with Charles, the most serene prince of Castile, sent me into Flanders, as his ambassador, for treating and composing matters between them.”

Prince Charles, the later Emperor Charles V, as heir of the German Emperor Maximilian and a boy of three, was betrothed to the French Princess Claudia, then two years old. A change in diplomatic relations led to the rupture of this betrothal, and Charles was betrothed with Mary, daughter of Henry VII of England, in the year 1506, but in 1514 Maximilian found it useful for the purposes of an alliance with France to betroth Charles again with a French princess, the younger sister of his first fiancée. The father of the first and third fiancées, Louis XII, married the second discarded fiancée, the English Princess Mary.

This series of betrothals is typical of the absolutism of the time of More. Small scattered States were then welded into larger States by marriages, and nobody was accounted a statesman who was not a skilful marriage broker.

Henry VIII, was, of course, much displeased at Maximilian’s treachery. In 1515 Charles assumed the government of the Netherlands, and Henry promptly sought to injure him by inducing Parliament to forbid the export of wool to the Netherlands. Soon, however, Henry made his peace with Charles, and moreover the prohibition of the export of wool was as inconvenient for the English merchants as for the Hollanders. More was sent to re-open this trade. His mission was attended with complete success, and consequently he was sent to Calais in 1517 on a similar expedition, in order to settle disputes between English and French merchants.

More proved so versatile and his reputation in London was so high that Henry had every reason to attract him to Court, but More held aloof. He even refused a pension which the King offered him, fearing he would thereby forfeit the confidence of his fellow citizens.

He was resolved to champion civic freedom, should strife break out between the London citizens and the King.

In fact, he had no cause to be pleased with Henry VIII. Henry VII had been a miser, hoarding money, and bleeding the people whenever and wherever he could. His son was amiable and generous, encouraging trade and the arts by his luxurious habits, a friend of the new sciences and of Humanism; in short, a liberal Crown Prince according to the ideas of his time. Universal joy greeted him when he ascended the throne.

More, too, hoped that a prince had now come who would submit to the guidance of philosophers, and be a father to his people, and not a slaveholder.

The first acts of Henry VIII’s government were also calculated to make him popular; above all, the execution of Empson and Dudley, the two zealous ministers of Henry VII.

Soon, however, Henry’s policy disclosed a less popular side. He joined the so-called “Holy League” against France (1512) and took part in the war against France, which lasted until 1514, costing England much money and bringing little glory and no advantage.

Henry had allowed himself to be made the cat’s-paw of other people, in particular, the Catholic Ferdinand of Aragon, who was well pleased with the “Holy War” for the protection of the “Holy Father”

To the costs of the war was added the expense of the upkeep of a luxurious court and a mania for building. Henry built fifty palaces, and was so impatient for their completion that the workers were hardly allowed to rest. He well deserved the fame of being one of the first in England to introduce night work and Sunday work on a large scale.

The greed of the spendthrift was worse than that of the miser. There was no limit to the taxes, and even the poorest labourers were burdened. One of the new fiscal laws enacted that workers with an annual wage of £2 must pay one shilling, those earning £1 per annum six-pence, and those earning less, fourpence.

Moreover, there was the favourite device of debasing the currency, which, of course, could only yield temporary gains, but proved very useful when debts had to be paid.

4. The Political Criticism of Utopia

Such a prince as Henry VIII. was not the “sheepdog who protected his flock from the wolves,” but the wolf himself. More felt profoundly disillusioned, and in this frame of mind wrote Utopia. In the second book he describes how happy a State could be if it were rationally organised and governed.

The first book shows bow badly States were governed in reality, and what crimes stained Henry’s reign in particular. This book is an important document for the glimpses it gives of the economic and political situation at the beginning of the sixteenth century and for the light it throws on More as a politician. We must therefore consider it closely.

In estimating the book we must no more be misled by the homage paid to the King than we should judge the materialists of the eighteenth century by the reverence they occasionally accorded to Christianity.

In both cases the art of the critics on the opposition side consisted in suggesting that the reader should read between the lines the opposite of what they purported to convey.

Thus in Utopia More assigned the championship of his standpoint to Raphael Hythloday, while he introduces himself as a critic of his ideas. Not what More says, but what Hythloday says, is important. More relates how he met Raphael in Bruges on the occasion of his mission. He and his friend Peter Giles implore Raphael to enter the King’s service. The latter refuses, and gives his reasons in detail. These passages well deserve quotation.

“I wonder, Raphael, how it comes that you enter into no king’s service, for I am sure there are none to whom you would not be very acceptable; for your learning and knowledge, both of men and things, is such, that you would not only entertain them very pleasantly, but be of great use to them, by the examples you could set before them, and the advices you could give them; and by this means you would both serve your own interest, and be of great use to all your friends.” “As for my friends,” answered he, “I need not be much concerned, having already done for them all that was incumbent on me; for when I was not only in good health, but fresh and young, I distributed that among my kindred and friends which other people do not part with till they are old and sick; when they then unwillingly give that which they can enjoy no longer themselves, I think my friends ought to rest contented with this, and not to expect that for their sakes I should enslave myself to any king whatsoever.” “Soft and fair,” said Peter; “I do not mean that you should be a slave to any king, but only that you should assist them, and be useful to them.” “The change of the word,” said he, “does not alter the matter.” “But term it as you will,” replied Peter, “ I do not see any other way in which you can be so useful, both in private to your friends, and to the public, and by which you can make your own condition happier.” “Happier,” answered Raphael; “is that to be compassed in a way so abhorrent to my genius? Now I live as I will, to which I believe few courtiers can pretend. And there are so many that court the favour of great men, that there will be no great loss if they are not troubled either with me or with others of my temper.” Upon this, said More, “I perceive, Raphael, that you neither desire wealth nor greatness; and indeed I value and admire a man much more than I do any of the great men in the world. Yet I think you would do what would well become so generous and philosophical a soul as yours is, if you would apply your time and thoughts to public affairs, even though you may happen to find it a little uneasy to yourself: and this you can never do with so much advantage, as by being taken into the counsel of some great prince, and putting him on noble and worthy actions, which I know you would do if you were in such a post; for the springs both of good and evil flow from the prince, over a whole nation, as from a lasting fountain. So much learning as you have, even without practice in affairs, or so great a practice as you have had, without any other learning, would render you a very fit counsellor to any king whatsoever.” “You are doubly mistaken,” said he, “Mr. More, both in your opinion of me, and in the judgment you make of things: for as I have not that capacity that you fancy I have, so, if I had it, the public would not be one jot the better, when I had sacrificed my quiet to it. For most princes apply themselves more to affairs of war than to the useful arts of peace; and in these I neither have any knowledge, nor do I much desire it; they are generally more set on acquiring new kingdoms, right or wrong, than on governing well those they possess. And among the ministers of princes, there are none that are not so wise as to need no assistance, or at least that do not think themselves so wise, that they imagine they need none; and if they court any, it is only those for whom the prince has much personal favour, whom by their fawnings and flatteries they endeavour to fix to their own interests: and indeed Nature has so made us, that we all love to be flattered, and to please ourselves with our own notions. The old crow loves his young, and the ape her cube. Now if in such a Court, made up of persons who envy all others, and only admire themselves, a person should but propose anything that he had either read in history, or observed in his travels, the rest would think that the reputation of their wisdom would sink, and that their interest would be much depressed, if they could not run it down: and if all other things failed, then they would fly to this, that such or such things pleased our ancestors, and it were well for us if we could but match them: They would set up their rest on such an answer, as a sufficient confutation of all that could be said: as if it were a great misfortune, that any should be found wiser than his ancestors; but though they willingly let go all the good things that were among those of former ages, yet if better things are proposed they cover themselves obstinately with this excuse of reverence to past times.”

There follows an account of the episode at Archbishop Morton’s, from which we have already quoted a passage. Then the theme is taken up again, More asserting: “I cannot change my opinion; for I still think that if you could overcome that aversion which you have to the Courts of Princes, you might, by the advice which it is in your power to give, do a great deal of good to mankind; and this is the chief design that every good man ought to propose to himself in living; for your friend Plato thinks that nations will be happy, when either philosophers become kings, or kings become philosophers; it is no wonder if we are so far from that happiness, while philosophers will not think it their duty to assist kings with their councils.” “They are not so base-minded,” said he, “but that they would willingly do it; many of them have already done it by their books, if those that are in power would but hearken to their good advice. But Plato judged right, that except kings themselves became philosophers, they who from their childhood are corrupted with false notions, would never fall in entirely with the councils of philosophers, and this he himself found to be true in the person of Dionysius.

“Do not you think, that if I were about any king, proposing good laws to him, and endeavouring to root out all the cursed seeds of evil that I found in him, I should either be turned out of his Court, or at least be laughed at for my pains? For instance, what could it signify if I were about the King of France, and were called into his Cabinet Council, where several wise men, in his hearing, were proposing many expedients: as by what arts and practices Milan may be kept; and Naples, that had so oft slipped out of their hands, recovered; how many Venetians, and after them the rest of Italy, may be subdued; and then how Flanders, Brabant and all Burgundy, and some other kingdoms which he had swallowed already in his designs, may be added to his empire. One proposes a league with the Venetians, to be kept as long as he finds his account in it, and that he ought to communicate councils with them, and give them some share of the spoil, till his success make him need or fear them less, and then it will be easily taken out of their hands. Another proposes the hiring the Germans, and the securing the Switzers by pensions. Another proposes the gaining the Emperor by money, which is omnipotent with him. Another proposes a peace with the King of Aragon, and in order to cement it, the yielding up the King of Navarre’s pretensions. Another thinks the Prince of Castile is to be wrought on, by the hope of an alliance; and that some of his courtiers are to be gained by the French faction by pensions. The hardest point of all is what to do with England: a treaty of peace is to be set on foot, and if their alliance is not to be depended on, yet it is to be made as firm as possible; and they are to be called friends but suspected as enemies: therefore the Scots are to be kept in readiness, to be let loose upon England on every occasion: and some banished nobleman is to be supported underhand (for by the league it cannot be done avowedly) who has a pretension to the Crown, by which means the suspected prince may be kept in awe. Now when things are in so great a fermentation, and so many gallant men are joining councils, how to carry on the war, if so mean a man as I should stand up and wish them to change all their councils to let Italy alone and stay at home, since the kingdom of France was indeed greater than could be well governed by one man; that therefore he ought not to think of adding others to it: and if after this, I should propose to them the resolutions of the Achorians, a people that lie on the South East of Utopia, who long ago engaged in war, in order to add to the dominions of their prince another kingdom, to which he had some pretensions by an ancient alliance. This they conquered, but found that the trouble of keeping it was equal to that by which it had been gained; that the conquered people were always either in rebellion or exposed to foreign invasions, while they were obliged to be incessantly at war, either for or against them, and consequently could never disband their army; that in the meantime they were oppressed with taxes, their money went out of the kingdom, their blood was spilt for the glory of their king, without procuring the least advantage to the people, who received not the smallest benefit from it even in time of peace; and that their manners being corrupted by a long war, robbery and murders everywhere abounded, and their laws fell into contempt; while their king, distracted with the care of two kingdoms, was the less able to apply his mind to the interests of either. When he saw this, and that there would be no end to these evils, they by joint councils made a humble address to their king, desiring him to choose which of the two kingdoms he had the greatest mind to keep, since he could not hold both; for they were too great a people to be governed by a divided king, since no man would willingly have a groom that should be in common between him and another. Upon which the good prince was forced to quit his new kingdom to one of his friends (who was not long after dethroned), and to be content with his old one. To this I would add that after all those warlike attempts the vast confusions, and the consumption both of treasure and of people that must follow them; perhaps upon some misfortune they might be forced to throw up all at last; therefore it seemed much more eligible that the king should improve his ancient kingdom all he could, and make it flourish as much as possible; that he should love his people, and be loved by them; that he should live amongst them, govern theme gently, and let other kingdoms alone since that which had fallen to his share was big enough if not too big for him. Pray how do you think such a speech as this would be heard?” “I confess,” said More, “I think not very “well.” “But what,” said he, “if I should sort with another kind of ministers, whose chief contrivances and consultations were, by what art the price’s treasures might be increased. Where one proposes raising the value of specie when the king’s debts are large, and lowering it when his revenues were to come in, that so he might both pay much with a little, and in a little receive a great deal: another proposes a pretence of a war, that money might be raised in order to carry it on, and that a peace be concluded as soon as that was done; and this with such appearances of religion as might work on the people, and make them impute it to the piety of their prince, and to his tenderness for the lives of his subjects; a third revives some old musty laws and proposes the levying the penalties of these laws, that as it would bring in a vast treasure so there might be a good pretence for it, since it would look like the executing of a law, and the doing of justice. A fourth proposes the prohibiting of many things under severe penalties, especially such as were against the interests of the people, and then the dispensing with these prohibitions upon great compositions, to those who might find their advantage m breaking them. This would serve two ends, both of them acceptable to many; for as those whose avarice led them to transgress would be severely fined, so the selling licenses dear would look as if a prince were tender to his people and would not easily or at low rates dispense with anything that might be against the public good. Another proposes that the judges must be made sure, that they may declare always in favour of the prerogative, that they must be often sent for to Court, that the king may hear them argue those points in which he is concerned; since how unjust soever any of his pretensions may be, yet still some one or other of them, either out of contradiction to others or the pride of singularity, or to make their court, would out some pretence or other to give the king a fair colour to carry the point: for if the judges but differ in the opinion, the clearest thing in the world is made by that means disputable, and truth being once brought in question, the king may then take advantage to expound the law for his own profit, while the judges that stand out will be brought over, either out of fear or modesty, and they being thus gained, all of them may be sent to the bench to give sentence boldly, as the king would have it: for fair pretence will never be wanting when sentence is to be given in the prince’s favour. It will either be said that equity lies on his side, or some words in the law will be found sounding that way, or some forced sense will be put to them: and when all things fail, the king’s undoubted prerogative will be pretended, as that which is above all law: and to which a religious judge ought to have a special regard. Thus all consent to that maxim of Grassus, that a prince cannot have treasure enough, since he must maintain his armies out of it: that a king, even though he would, can do nothing unjustly; that all property is in him, not excepting the very persons of his subjects: that no man has any other property, but that which the king out of his goodness thinks fit to leave him. And they think it is the prince’s i nterests that there be as little of this left as may be, as if it were his advantage that his pe ople should have neither riches or liberty, since these things make them less easy and less willing to submit to a cruel and unjust government; whereas necessity and poverty blunts them, makes them patient, beats them down, and breaks that height of spirit, that might otherwise dispose them to rebel.

“What success could I count on with my principles under such councils of the king?” asks Raphael.

The whole passage is a scorching satire on the contemporary monarchy. It constitutes More’s political confession of faith, and his justification for holding aloof from the Court.

5. More Enters the King’s Service

Two years after More wrote Utopia we find him at Court at the start of his short but brilliant career, which was to lead him in little more than a decade to the highest position in the kingdom below the king, that of Lord Chancellor. What happened during these two years to bring about such a change in More’s outlook?

In our view, the clue to More’s transformation is to be sought in the success which Utopia met with.

This was enormous, not only in the learned world, but also amongst statesmen. We may very well suppose that Utopia heightened More’s influence in London itself. His communism frightened nobody, for no communist party then existed. His criticism of absolutism, his plea that the king should attend to the welfare of his subjects rather than prosecute wars, were demands which openly and boldly expressed the yearnings of the aspiring middle class.

In feudal times the King had been pre-eminently leader in war, and had never interfered with economic processes.

The modern king, the leader of the bourgeoisie, ought, above all, to facilitate the enrichment of the middle class, not frowning on war itself so much as on every war that was not in the interests of commerce. And as out of mere vanity and under the influence of the feudal tradition Henry had become involved in such wars, Mores injunctions found strong support among the middle class.

In the eyes of Humanists and of the middle class More’s communism was a high-minded enthusiasm, but his criticism of existing political conditions went right to their hearts.

This explains the great influence of Utopia on its contemporaries, an influence which even Henry VIII could not escape. With his Utopia More had sketched a general political programme which won general applause, and this brought him into the front rank of English politicians. Even if he would, he could now no longer hold aloof from Court, precisely because of his bold criticism of the existing absolutism.

More had ceased to be a private individual. The favourite of London, England’s predominant city, and the favourite of the Humanists, who created public opinion, he had become a political factor to be won or destroyed. Henry had already tried to win More. Now he strained every effort to attract him to his service. Refusal of overtures so urgently made would have drawn upon him the enmity of the all-powerful king, and was then synonymous with high treason, often involving execution. Absolutism would tolerate a private opposition no more than a public one; it acted on the principle: who is not for me is against me.

While, on the one hand, consequent upon the success of Utopia, the pressure on More to overcome his disinclination towards the Court was much stronger than it had previously been, on the other hand, this resolution itself was weakening. We have every reason for thinking that the impression made by Utopia was so great that Henry was obliged to make concessions and lighten the burdens of the people.

It is certain that a few months after the appearance of Utopia Henry abandoned his war policy and surrendered a portion of his French conquests. In February, 1518, Tournai was given back to France and a marriage was arranged between the Dauphin and Henry’s daughter Mary. This marked the close of England’s wars with France, a tradition handed down from feudal times.

In 1516 Cardinal Wolsey had become Lord Chancellor. He was a man well disposed towards the Humanists, and Seebohm concludes from various indications that Wolsey admitted that the principles of Utopia ought to be enforced at least to the extent of reducing the annual expenditure.

A policy of peace, economy, sympathy with Humanism these were the prospects then offered by Henry VIII’s Court. They were illusory, but there they were. Ought More, under these circumstances, to persist in a resistance which might cost him his head? Ought he not rather to engage in public activity, in spite of his forebodings? Was there any other chance of doing useful work, from his standpoint, than at the Court of his prince? Might not Henry VIII be amenable to rational advice? And was it not better to make the attempt rather than nurse his anger in inaction and merely to write Utopias?

Only this line of reasoning, combined with the effects of Utopia, in our opinion, render More’s change of side intelligible, as otherwise it would remain an enigma, in the case of a character such as his, which held tenaciously to its convictions and had no desire for money or honours.

In fact, we have not found any other explanation attempted, nor was an explanation necessary for people who regarded Utopia as a mere literary exercise, such as most of More’s biographers.

Seebohm alone has attempted to explain the apparent contradiction between Mores political principles and his activities between 1516 and 1518.He finds it in the literary success of Utopia, which caused Henry to deem it advisable to win over More, and made the latter hope that his advice would be heeded.

We agree with Seebohm on this point, although the influence which More gained as a writer does not seem to us sufficient to explain why Henry VIII. attached so much importance to securing his services and retaining them. In our opinion, too little regard has hitherto been paid to the fact that More had become the representative of one of the most powerful and enterprising classes in England. Only More’s importance for London and London’s importance for England provides us with a clue to the influence of Utopia and the influence of its author on the English Court.

6. More’s Contest with Lutheranism

At the time More came to Henry VIII’s Court, the Reformation movement which had begun in Germany in the previous year was beginning to spread in England. More was obliged to adopt an attitude towards it; like the overwhelming majority of other Humanists he emphatically opposed the movement as soon as it was clear that it signified the separation of the constituent parts of Christendom from the Papacy, the break-up of Christendom.

We have already discussed the reasons why Humanists in general opposed the Reformation. These reasons had a special influence with More. In a previous chapter we have shown that they were not of an ecclesiastical character. More clearly perceived the abuses of the Church and did not hesitate to reveal them. If despite this the Catholic Church persists in numbering him among her saints, because he abused Luther, she can give him good company. She can, for example, put by his side Rabelais, who would also have nothing to do with the Reformation, and empties the vials of his mockery upon Calvin.

The motives which led More to oppose the Reformation are to be sought in the political and economic sphere. When the author of the present treatise began to study Mores writings he was of the opinion that More’s hostility to the Reformation, so far as it partook of a political nature, was to be ascribed to his hostility to absolutism. This opinion has proved to be untenable. As we have seen, More was no opponent of monarchy, which, on the contrary, he held to be extremely necessary, like the great majority of Humanists. Scarcely any class in the sixteenth century regarded the monarchy as more necessary than did the merchants. Now More was in a practical respect the representative of their class interests, although in his theoretical outlook he was more advanced. Capital has always called for “order,” only occasionally for “freedom.” Order was its most important vital element; More, who had become great in the minds of the London middle class, was therefore a “man of order” who disliked nothing more than independent action of the people. All for the people, but nothing by the people, was his watchword.

The German Reformation, however, was in its inception a popular movement. The common exploiter of all classes of the German nation was the Roman Papacy. When once a class rose against the latter, it necessarily drew the other classes with it. Cities, knights, peasants, all rebelled against Rome with a tumult that almost frightened the princes. Only as the movement progressed did the struggle against the Romish exploitation among the lower classes become a struggle against exploitation in general, and the national rebellion of Germany against Rome a civil war, a peasants’ war. And only since the strength of the lower classes was broken in this internal strife has the Reformation in Germany tended to assume the shape of a purely dynastic affair.

At the outset the Lutherans addressed themselves to all classes of the nation; only when they saw that the antagonisms within the nation were irreconcilable and that they had to come down on the side of a definite class, did they elect to support princedom.

This transformation of Lutheranism was not manifest until after the great peasant war of 1525. We can there-fore understand why More came to attack the Lutheran doctrines on account of their danger to monarchy. He did this in 1523 in a Latin treatise: Thomas More’s Answer to the Insults which Martin Luther has heaped on Henry VIII.

The title tells us what caused the polemic. We have already mentioned Henry VIII’s book against Luther respecting the “Seven Sacraments.” This book was answered by Luther, not in the politest fashion, in the following year.

More rejoined in his above-mentioned treatise with equal bluntness in the Latin language. Atterbury opined that of all the men of his time More possessed the greatest facility of abuse in good Latin. The personal attacks on Luther, who is held up as drunkard and ignorant, fill the greatest part of the Answer. It contains, however, a defence of the Papacy and an indication of the political danger of the new doctrines. Thus it is stated, among other things: “The enemies of the Christian faith have every time proved to be enemies of the Holy Stool. If, however, the office is to be blamed for the faults of men, as the Lutherans calumniate the Papacy in the most dastardly manner, it is not the Papacy alone, but also the Monarchy, and all political chiefs generally that are assailed and the people will find themselves disorderly and lawless. And yet it is better for the community to have bad guides than none at all. It is, therefore, wiser to reform the Papacy than to abolish it.”

Five years later More published his Dialogue Concerning Heresies and Matters of Religion. In this he enters rather more upon theological discussions, but the most important are those of a secular character. The following passage seems to us particularly illuminating for More’s attitude towards the Reformation: “And one special thing with which he (Luther) spiced all the poison was the liberty that he so highly commended unto the people, bringing them in belief that having faith they needed nothing else. For as for fasting, prayer, and such other things, he taught them to neglect and set at naught as vain and unfruitful ceremonies, teaching them also that being faithful Christians, so were us near cousins to Christ that they be in a full freedom and liberty discharged of all governors and all manner of laws spiritual or temporal except the gospel only. And albeit he said that of a special perfection it should be well done to suffer the rule and authority of popes, princes, and other governors, which rule and authority he called but only tyranny, yet he with that the people be so free by faith that they be no more boundern thereto than they be bound to suffer wrong. And this doctrine also teacheth Tyndall as the special matter of his Whole Book of Disobedience. Now was this doctrine in Germany of the common uplandish people so pleasantly harsh, that it blinded them in the looking upon the remainder and could not suffer them to consider and see what end the same would in conclusion come to. The temporal lords were glad also to hear this gibe against the clergy and the people as glad to hear it against the clergy and against the lords too, and against all other governors of every good town and city, and finally, so far went it forward that at the last it began to burst out and fall to open force and violence. For intending to begin at the feeblest there gathered them together for the letting forth of these ungracious heresies a boisterous company of the unhappy sect, and first rebelled against an abbot and after against a bishop, wherewith the temporal lords had good game sport and dissembled the matter, gaping after the lands of the spirituality till they had almost played as Aesop telleth of the dog which to snatch at the shadow of the cheese in the water let fall and lost the cheese that he bear in his mouth. For so was it shortly after that those uplandish Lutherans took so great boldness and so began to grow strong that they set also upon the temporal lords. Which had they not set hand thereto the sooner while they looked for other men’s lands, had been like shortly to lose their own. But so quit they themself that they flew upon the point of 70,000 Lutherans in one summer and subdued the remnant in that part of Germany to a right miserable servitude. Howbeit meanwhile many mischievous deeds they did, and yet in divers other parts of Germany and Switzerland this ungracious sect by the negligence of the governors in great cities is so seriously grown that finally the common people have compelled the rulers to follow them, who if they had taken heed in time they might have ruled and led.”

Here we find the class struggle which underlay the Reformation to a certain extent distinctly portrayed by a contemporary of the Reformation, although More did not see that the struggle against the Papacy was a struggle against exploitation.

This was due to the peculiar economic position of England, of which we shall speak in the next part. Here we are only concerned to show that one of the political reasons which caused More to oppose the Reformation was its popular character, its character as a national, as a popular movement. But its national character was distasteful to him in another sense. Like many other Humanists, More had a strong national and a strong international bias at the same time. In Italy, the native country of Humanism, this seemingly contradictory attitude was determined by the economic conditions. As we have shown, the unity of the whole of Christendom under the Papacy was in Italy’s national interest, or rather in the material interest of Italy’s ruling class. Outside Italy, and particularly in the non-Romance countries, this international sentiment had no material support, and was a mere ideological whim, without any influence on the people. In any case More’s internationalism seems to find an explanation in the actual conditions. More was, as we know, an opponent of dynastic wars, and therefore a representative of real material interests, which required that union and peace should prevail in Christendom; it was, however, an illusion to believe that Catholicism was still capable of representing this unifying force. The Pope himself had become a secular prince, competing with his colleagues in diplomatic intrigues and dynastic wars.

7. More in Conflict with the Monarchy

Common hostility to Lutheranism was bound to bring Henry VIII and More closer together. Meanwhile More’s business knowledge and importance grew. No wonder he advanced rapidly. Appointments as Master of Requests and Privy Councillor followed in quick succession; within a few years Henry appointed him Treasurer of the Exchequer and shortly afterwards Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which post he held until 1529. His elevation to the knighthood would fall within this time.

But More no more allowed himself to be bribed by these posts of honour than he was led into unconditional subjection to the monarchy by his antagonism to popular movements. That he was independent towards the monarchy, and that neither Court service nor the Reformation had altered his attitude, that the rule of the king, as the shepherd of his people, was necessary, while subjection to tyrants, to shearers of the people, was shameful, was proved when Wolsey caused him to be elected as Speaker of Parliament in 1523.

This Parliament had, of course, as its chief task, to grant money. More’s task there was no pleasant one; the Speaker functioned not merely as president of the proceedings of the Lower House, but he had also to compile the budget and present it to the House, and therefore performed some of the functions of the modern Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Henry, of course, thought it was More’s business to make his demands plausible to the Commons; and this was in any event necessary, for the Lower House was by no means disposed to grant new taxes. Cardinal and Lord Chancellor Wolsey, much irritated, went himself to intimidate Parliament, in which task he counted on More’s assistance.

As Roper tells us, he perceived with angry surprise that the man he had chosen to be his tool defended the rights of the Lower House against the all-powerful minister. Beside himself with rage, he rushed out of Parliament. Eventually Henry achieved his object, but only after he had intimidated Parliament with threats.

Serious objections have been raised to this account of Roper’s and the matter has not yet been cleared up. We must leave it at that, and likewise Roper’s statements that it was desired to get rid of the inconvenient man, but that he could not be openly attacked, as he had gained rather than lost influence with the citizens by his courageous championship of the rights of the Lower House. It was therefore sought, under the appearance of a promotion, to procure his removal from the country by sending him as Ambassador to Spain. More perceived the trap and refused the honour which Henry offered him “on the grounds of health.”

However that may be, More was soon to come into serious conflict with the King, which finally ended with a promotion of another kind. Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Spain, the widow of his brother Arthur. This lady, however, became the more tedious to him the older she grew, and when he became acquainted with Anne Boleyn, one of his Court ladies, a pretty and witty girl who had learnt and practiced all the arts of coquetry at the French Court, he fell so violently in love as to conceive the project of marrying Anne and divorcing Catherine. As the Pope would not grant the divorce, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and started the Reformation in England.

Such are the circumstances which make world history, as they are usually narrated, and in this instance they almost compel belief.

According to this account, England would still be Catholic to-day if Henry had been less amorous and Anne less coquettish.

In reality the grounds and even the occasion of the separation of the Church lay somewhat deeper than a mere amour. Many Catholic princes had unattractive wives, and attractive mistresses as well, before and after Henry VIII without a separation of the Catholic Church arising therefrom; and many Popes before and after Henry VIII pronounced divorces when they thought fit. We have therefore to enquire whence it came that Henry’s divorce gave the impulse to such an extensive transformation.

The marriages of absolute monarchs, especially in the sixteenth century, had a peculiar character. The realms of absolute princes were their domains, over which they exercised complete control, and which they strove to augment as much as possible. States had not yet attained the consistency of modern national States, and were still in a state of constant flux; here a fragment was detached and there a fragment was added; here two countries were united by marriage; there territory was rounded off with a small neighbour by the treaty of inheritance. Among the princes as among the great landowners there was a frenzied greed for land, and consequently everlasting wars, diplomatic intrigues, and alliances which were broken as easily as they were concluded. The strongest diplomatic alliance was that sealed by an alliance of marriage, which enabled spies and agents to be placed by the side of the friend at Court in the shape of the spouse. While excessive confidence would not be placed on the marriage alliance, it offered a better guarantee than a mere piece of parchment, and the inheritance claims which arose from the marriage might, in certain circumstances, be extremely useful.

It may be imagined in what light the “sanctity of marriage” appeared under these circumstances. Children were paired with each other; old women with boys, old men with schoolgirls.

Thus, as we have said, England’s attachment to Spain under Henry VII was strengthened by the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with Henry’s eldest son Arthur. At the time of his betrothal Arthur was six years old. When eleven years old he married, and he died the following year. Seven years later Arthur’s widow married his younger brother, afterwards Henry VIII.

The marriage had been delayed because Henry did not wholly trust his father-in-law, who did not want to pay the promised dowry.

In the course of Henry’s reign a change came over the relations between England and Spain. By uniting in his hands Spain, the Netherlands, and, the German Imperial Crown, Charles V had become a formidable power, completely overshadowing France, and rendering superfluous the Anglo-Spanish Alliance which had been directed against the preponderance of France. England’s friendship with Spain suffered an eclipse, and was replaced by an alliance with France. Thus the marriage with Catherine had become purposeless. The divorce was promoted not alone by Henry, but by his minister Cardinal Wolsey, who, however, wanted not Anne but a French princess to take Catherine’s place.

The same motives which impelled Henry and Wolsey to promote the divorce, impelled the Pope to oppose it. At the precise time when the divorce affair assumed its acutest form, from 1527 to 1533, the Pope was most completely dependent on Charles V, who was Catherine’s nephew. Clement VII made every effort to satisfy Henry; he would even have granted him the divorce (and he would have been a poor Pope not to have found a canonical reason therefor), but Charles would not hear of such a concession.

He so accentuated the dispute as to leave the Pope the choice of being England’s tool or Spain’s.

The Lutherans explained they could not assent to the divorce, but they advised Henry to follow the example of Abraham and Jacob and take two wives. Luther even permitted the Landgrave of Hesse to live in bigamy, “on account of the drunkenness and ugliness of the Landgravine.”

Henry contemptuously rejected the Lutheran permission. He imagined in his pride that he could compete with the powers which then strove for the domination and exploitation of the Papacy, with Francis I of France and the Spanish-German Hapsburg, Charles. He even aspired to the German Imperial Crown. And when Pope Leo X died, Wolsey applied for the tiara, as he also did on the death of Leo’s successor. On both occasions Henry was forced to suffer the humiliation of seeing creatures of Charles chosen instead of his own creatures – viz., Hadrian VI (1522 to 1523) and Clement VII. The affair of the divorce completely convinced Henry that it was useless to attempt to dominate the Papacy, and therefore, if he was not to be under the heel of the Papacy, if he wanted to be master of the country and master of the Church, there was no alternative but separation from Rome.

To this political motive was added an economic motive: the great treasure which the miserly Henry VII had bequeathed had long been dissipated in war and luxury. The Parliament of 1523 had shown that however pliable it might be in other respects, it was not to be relied on for large money grants. What lay nearer to hand than to imitate what had been done so well by the cousins in Germany, to end financial embarrassment by the confiscation of Church property. Although the dissolution of the monasteries was not proceeded with until after More’s death, it was already threatened in his lifetime, thus intimidating the priesthood and impelling it to purchase the despot’s favour by large grants of money. The confiscation of property was not resorted to until nothing considerable remained to be extorted.

In no other country was the separation of the Church so flagrant, so shameless, such a mere result of the lust, arrogance, and greed of absolutism as in England. No change was made in the dogmas and the ritual except that the King took the place of the Pope. Lutheranism was forbidden equally with popery.

It is clear that, with his international outlook, More could no more sympathise with this kind of Reformation than with the beginnings of Lutheranism. He was constrained to oppose the foundation of any national Church. Nor could he assent to any augmentation of the princely power. On the contrary, he desired to restrict it, at least, not so much from below as from above. He felt the necessity of a limitation, a subordination of absolutism; he did not, however, think that the requisite force for this was to be found in the people, and therefore took refuge in a doctrinal illusion, which he shared with many Humanists, and which we have already touched on in the first part: that the prince ought to be guided by the Pope, above whom should stand the council, the latter being inspired with the spirit of Humanism. The old bottles should remain, the wine should be renewed. And then the monarchy desired to transform the Church from a brake into a tool! In this More could not assist.

He had long kept to himself his objections to Henry’s Reformation. It was not until after he had been pronounced guilty at his trial that he spoke out and declared that England, which only formed a small part of the whole of Christendom, could. no more make laws which contradicted the general laws of the Church than the City of London could legislate against an Act of Parliament. And he added “I nothing doubt but that, though not in this Realm, yet in Christendom about, of these well learned bishops and virtuous men that are yet alive, they be not the fewer part that are of my mind therein. Therefore, I am not bounden to conform my conscience to the council of one realm, against the general council of all Christendom.”

This is a plain enough utterance in the language of his time.

More’s standpoint was as bold as it was untenable. We have already drawn attention to the instability of German and English Humanism, to which we have attributed its rapid disappearance. The majority of Humanists were mere theorists, professors, and men of letters, who withdrew into the background when the storm of the Reformation burst. A fiery spirit like More would not do this, nor could he have done so had he wished. His political influence was too great for him to be allowed to vanish unregarded. He must either serve the king or perish. In view of his character, these alternatives sealed his fate.

But it was some time before Nemesis overtook him. It was already preparing as More was in the ascendant, and was promoted to the highest position in the realm below the king. At any rate, from the start he had opposed the divorce. Henry hoped, however, up to the last minute to win him over, and he had every reason to continue his efforts, as More’s popularity was then greater than ever.

In 1529, More, together with Cuthbert Tunstall and John Haclet, was sent to Cambrai, to represent England in the peace negotiations between England and France on the one side and Spain on the other side. The peace was specially important for the English merchants, as the trade with the Netherlands had suffered considerably from the war. More and his companions conducted the negotiations with great skill, and secured a treaty favourable beyond all expectations with which the English, and particularly the merchants, were extremely pleased.

Such a useful and popular man had to be won over, if this was at all possible.

When, therefore, Wolsey succumbed to the intrigues of Anne Boleyn, More was appointed Lord Chancellor in his place, being the first layman not a member of the higher nobility to occupy this post. He accepted the position reluctantly, but he had no choice. His frame of mind may be gleaned from his installation-speech.

The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk led him in public procession through Westminster Hall, where More assumed his position before the assembled people. The Duke of Norfolk made a flattering speech, praising the merits of the new Lord Chancellor, to which More replied that he was not so delighted at his promotion as other people thought, when he remembered his wise and powerful predecessor and the latter’s fall.

“I ascend this seat as a post full of troubles and dangers and without any real honour. The higher the post of honour the greater the fall, as the example of my predecessor proves.”

His gloomy forebodings were destined soon to be fulfilled. He tried to remain neutral, but in vain. He was soon confronted with the request to put his name to actions which he profoundly disapproved of. Henry compelled him to read to the Lower House the opinions of the Universities of Paris, Orleans, Angers, Bruges, Toulouse, Bologna, and Padua, which he had bought, and those of Oxford and Cambridge, which had been extorted: these opinions declared Henry’s divorce to be canonically valid. Then More perceived that to remain in office any longer was incompatible with his convictions, and he resigned his position in 1532.

8. More’s Downfall

With his retirement More’s fate was decided. He had declared against the tyrant at a moment when the latter needed all his servants and had embarked on a struggle against bodies of citizens of his own realm. To retire in such circumstances was, in the eyes of the King, to favour rebellion and high treason.

More withdrew completely from public life without deceiving himself for a moment as to what awaited him. But the blow was longer in coming than he thought. More’s influence and reputation were too great for Henry to neglect any means of winning him before he destroyed him. Rewards and honours proved unavailing. Perhaps he might be moved by threats and coerced by necessity.

A system of chicanery and torments began. More’s property, which was not very considerable, was confiscated by the king. More did not possess much cash, being poorer at the close of his Court career than at the commencement. He now lived at Chelsea in great need.

In 1533 a charge of high treason was brought against a Canterbury nun, Elizabeth Barton, called the Maid of Kent, an impostor who pretended to see visions. She had prophesied that the king would not live a month after his marriage with Anne Boleyn. More was drawn into the trial because he had once chanced to meet the nun; he had adopted a very reserved attitude, recognising at once that she was an impostor. The charge was so unfounded and More’s reputation so great that the Lords refused to pass the Bill which declared the nun of Kent and her coadjutors guilty of high treason, unless More’s name was struck out of it. To this Henry was obliged to assent. The nun, together with six others, was executed. More came through this unscathed.

The Duke of Norfolk pressed him to submit to the King. “It is dangerous to strive with princes, and I would rather that you fell in with the king’s wishes, for by God a prince’s anger means death.” “Is that all, my Lord?” replied More. “That makes only this difference between you and I, that I die to-day and you to-morrow.”

In November, 1633, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which made the King the supreme head of the English Church. Moreover, Parliament ordained that Henry’s first marriage was invalid and his second lawful: it excluded Catherine’s daughter Mary from the succession and declared Anne’s daughter Elizabeth to be Henry’s lawful successor. An oath was drawn up embodying the recognition of this principle and submitted to all the priests in London and Westminster, and, in addition, to More. He refused to swear the entire oath, but declared his willingness to subscribe to the part that referred to the succession. In consequence of this refusal he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. There he remained for more than a year, poorly nourished, and soon deprived of his books as well: in vain; physically he could be broke, but not morally; he persisted in his refusal to take the oath.

Finally he was brought to trial.

Parliament had prescribed no punishment for refusing to take the oath. To remedy this defect, it was later declared to be high treason for anybody maliciously to attempt to deprive the King of his title as head of the English Church.

More had maintained an obstinate silence respecting his reasons for refusing the oath, but silence is not high treason. In their embarrassment the authorities made use of a peculiar witness, the Attorney-General, Rich, who asserted that More had confided to him that Parliament had no right to make the king head of the Church.

In vain More pointed out how absurd it was to suppose he would make a confession to a man whom he had long held as of no credit which he had made to nobody else. In vain other witnesses who were present at Rich’s interview with More in the town declared that they had heard nothing. The jury were worthy of the witness. They found More guilty without more ado. He was sentenced to be hanged: drawn, mutilated, and quartered.

The King allowed More to be beheaded, at which he exclaimed, “God preserve my friends from such favour.” His humour did not desert More, and his last words were a jest.

On July 6 he was executed in the Tower. The scaffold was badly put together, and it swayed as he ascended it. He therefore remarked to the lieutenant of the Tower who conducted him: “Pray you see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” Then he tried to speak to the people, but was prevented from doing so. “And after he prayed he turned to the executioner,” relates Roper, “and with a cheerful countenance spake thus unto him: ‘Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is very short; take heed thou strike not awry.’”

Thus died the first of the great communist Utopians.


Last updated on 23.11.2003