The final accusation, defense, and condemnation of St. Thomas More

September 1, 2021 • 7 min

From Life of Sir Thomas More, page 85

When Sir Thomas More was brought from the Tower to Westminster Hall to answer to the indictment, and at the King’s Bench bar there before the judges arraigned, he openly told them that he would upon that indictment have abiden in law, but that he thereby should have been driven to confess of himself the matter indeed, that was the denial of the king’s supremacy, which he protested was untrue.

Wherefore he thereunto pleaded not guilty, and so reserved unto himself advantage to be taken of the body of the matter after verdict to avoid that indictment: and moreover added, that if those only odious terms, maliciously, traitorously, and diabolically, were put out of the indictment, he saw therein nothing justly to charge him.

And for proof to the jury that Sir Thomas More was guilty of this treason Master Rich was called forth to give evidence unto them upon his oath, as he did: against whom thus sworn, Sir Thomas More began in this wise to say:

If I were a man, my lords, that did not regard an oath I needed not, as it is well known, in this place, and at this time, nor in this case to stand here as an accused person.

And if this oath of yours, Master Rich, be true, then I pray that I never see God in the face, which I would not say, were it otherwise, to win the whole world.

Then recited he to the court the discourse of all their communication in the Tower according to the truth, and said:

In good faith, Master Rich, I am sorrier for your perjury than for mine own peril, and you shall understand that neither I nor no man else to my knowledge, ever took you to be a man of such credit as in any matter of importance I or any other would at any time vouchsafe to communicate with you.

And I, as you know, of no small while have been acquainted with you and your conversation, who have known you from your youth hitherto, for we long dwelled together in one parish.

Whereas yourself can tell I am sorry you compel me to say you were esteemed very light of your tongue, a great dicer, and of no commendable fame. And so in your house at the Temple, where hath been your chief bringing up, were you likewise accounted.

Can it therefore seem likely unto your honourable lordships that I would in so weighty a cause so unadvisedly overshoot myself as to trust Master Rich, a man of me always reputed of so little truth, as your lordships have heard, so far above my sovereign lord the king, or any of his noble counsellors, that I would unto him utter the secrets of my conscience touching the king’s Supremacy, the special point and only mark at my hands so long sought for?

A thing which I never did, nor never would, after the statute thereof made, reveal unto the king’s highness himself or to any of his honourable counsellors, as it is not unknown unto your honours at sundry and several times sent from his grace’s own person to the Tower unto me for none other purpose.

Can this in your judgment, my lords, seem likely to be true? And if I had so done indeed, my lords, as Master Rich hath sworn, seeing it was spoken but in familiar secret talk, nothing affirming, and only in putting of cases, without other displeasant circumstances, it cannot justly be taken to be spoken maliciously: and where there is no malice, there can be no offence.

And over this I can never think, my lords, that so many worthy bishops, so many honourable personages, and many other worshipful, virtuous, wise and well learned men, as at the making of that law were in the parliament assembled, ever meant to have any man punished by death in whom there could be found no malice, taking malitia for malevolentia:

For if malitia be generally taken for sin, no man is there then that can excuse himself. Quia si dixerimus quod peccatum non habemus, nosmet ipsos seducemus, et veritas in nobis non est.

And only this word maliciously is in the statute material, as this term forcibly is in the statute of forcible entries, by which statute if a man enter peaceably, and put not his adversary out forcibly, it is no offence, but if he put him out forcibly, then by that statute it is an offence, and so shall he be punished by this term forcibly.

Besides this, the manifold goodness of the king’s highness himself, that hath been so many ways my singular good lord and gracious sovereign, and that hath so dearly loved and trusted me, even at my very first coming into his noble service, with the dignity of his honourable Privy Council vouchsafing to admit me, and to offices of great credit and worship most liberally advanced me;

And finally with that weighty room of his grace’s high chancellor, the like whereof he never did to temporal man before, next to his own royal person the highest officer in this whole realm, so far above my qualities or merits able and meet therefore of his own incomparable benignity honoured and exalted me;

By the space of twenty years and more, showing his continual favour toward me, and (until at mine own poor suit it pleased his highness giving me license with his majesty’s favour to bestow the residue of my life, for the provision of my soul, in the service of God, and of his special goodness thereof to discharge and unburthen me) most benignly heaped honours continually more and more upon me:

All this his highness’ goodness, I say, so long thus bountifully extended towards me, were in my mind, my lords, matter sufficient to convince this slanderous surmise by this man so wrongfully imagined against me.

Master Rich, seeing himself so disproved, and his credit so foully defaced, caused Sir Richard Southwell and Master Palmer, who at the time of their communication were in the chamber, to be sworn what words had passed betwixt them.

Whereupon Master Palmer upon his depositions said, that “he was so busy about trussing up Sir Thomas More’s books into a sack that he took no heed to their talk.”

Sir Richard Southwell likewise said upon his deposition, that “because he was appointed only to look to the conveyance of those books he gave no ear to them.”

After this were there many other reasons, not now in my remembrance, by Sir Thomas More in his own defence alleged to the discredit of Master Rich’s foresaid evidence, and proof of the clearness of his own conscience;

All which notwithstanding, the jury found him guilty.

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