On this day in 1535, the former Lord Chancellor, also lawyer, humanist, social philosopher, author (of “Utopia”) and “Man for All Seasons” Sir, now Saint, Thomas More was beheaded on Tower Hill for High Treason, for refusing to take an oath acknowledging the King, Henry VIII, rather than the Pope, as the Supreme Head of the Church (being “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”).
His son-in-law William Roper wrote of the event:
“And soe was he brought by Mr Lievetenaunt out of the Towre, and thence led towards the place of execution, where goinge upp the Scaffold, which was so weake that it was readie to fall, he sayde … ‘I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lievetenaunt, see me safe upp, and for my cominge downe let mee shift for my selfe’. Then desired he all the people thereaboutes to pray for him, and to beare witnesse with him, that he should suffer death in and for the faith of the holie Catholique Church, which done hee kneeled downe, and after his prayers sayed, hee turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful Countenance spake unto him, ‘Plucke up thy spirittes, man, and be not affrayed to do thine office … ’. Soe passed Sir Thomas Moore out of this world to God … ”.
More’s headless corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. His head was put on a pike on London Bridge. It was later retrieved by his daughter Meg Roper, the wife of William, and buried in the Roper family vault in the church of St Dunstan in Canterbury.
There are plaques in the City marking the sites of More’s birth on Milk Street and of his death on Tower Hill.
There are also statues of him to the west of the City, one on Carey Street just off Chancery Lane, and another outside Chelsea Old Church; and a memorial to him inside Chelsea Old Church (see February 28th posting).
Crosby Hall, where he lived between 1523-4, was moved from its past location in Bishopsgate to its present one opposite Chelsea Old Church in 1910 (see aso December 13th, 2013 posting).
The Tower of London, where More was executed, is visited, although not entered, on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights”, “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights”, “Rebellious London” and “Lost City Highlights” themed specials.
Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of our web-site (www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk).