The death of St. Thomas More

September 9, 2021 • 6 min

From Life of Sir Thomas More, page 98

So remained Sir Thomas More in the Tower, more than a seven-night after his judgment. From whence, the day before he suffered, he sent his shirt of hair, not willing to have it seen, to my wife, his dearly beloved daughter, and a letter written with a coal (contained in the foresaid book of his works), plainly expressing the fervent desire he had to suffer on the morrow, in these words following:

“I cumber you, good Margret, much, but would be sorry if it should be any longer than to-morrow. For to-morrow is St. Thomas even, and the Utas of St. Peter, and therefore to-morrow I long to go to God: it were a day very meet and convenient for me. Dear Megg, I never liked your manner better towards me than when you kissed me last. For I like when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.”

And so upon the next morrow, being Tuesday, Saint Thomas his eve, and the Utas of Saint Peter, in the year of our Lord 1535 according as he in his letter the day before had wished, early in the morning came to him Sir Thomas Pope, his singular good friend, on message from the king and his council, that he should before nine of the clock of the same morning suffer death; and that, therefore, he should forthwith prepare himself thereto.

“Master Pope,” quoth Sir Thomas More, “for your good tidings I heartily thank you. I have been always much bounden to the king’s highness for the benefits and honours that he had still from time to time most bountifully heaped upon me; and yet more bounden am I to his grace for putting me into this place, where I have had convenient time and space to have remembrance of my end. And so help me God, most of all, Master Pope, am I bounden to his highness that it pleaseth him so shortly to rid me out of the miseries of this wretched world, and therefore will I not fail earnestly to pray for his grace, both here, and also in the world to come.”

“The king’s pleasure is farther,” quoth Master Pope, “that at your execution you shall not use many words.”

“Master Pope,” quoth he, “you do well to give me warning of his grace’s pleasure, for otherwise, at that time, had I purposed somewhat to have spoken; but of no matter wherewith his grace, or any other, should have had cause to be offended. Nevertheless, whatsoever I intended, I am ready obediently to conform myself to his grace’s commandment; and I beseech you, good Master Pope, to be a mean to his highness, that my daughter Margaret may be at my burial.”

“The king is content already,” quoth Master Pope, “that your wife, children and other friends shall have liberty to be present thereat.”

“Oh, how much beholden then,” said Sir Thomas More, “am I unto his grace, that unto my poor burial vouchsafeth to have so gracious consideration!”

Wherewithal Master Pope, taking his leave of him, could not refrain from weeping. Which Sir Thomas More perceiving, comforted him in this wise: “Quiet yourself, good Master Pope, and be not discomforted, for I trust that we shall once in heaven see each other full merrily, where we shall be sure to live and love together, in joyful bliss eternally.”

Upon whose departure, Sir Thomas More, as one that had been invited to some solemn feast, changed himself into his best apparel. Which Master Lieutenant espying, advised him to put it off, saying, that he that should have it was but a javill.

“What, Master Lieutenant?” quoth he, “shall I account him a javill that will do me this day so singular a benefit? Nay, I assure you, were it cloth of gold, I should think it well bestowed on him, as Saint Cyprian did, who gave his executioner thirty pieces of gold.” And albeit, at length, through Master Lieutenant’s importunate persuasion, he altered his apparel, yet, after the example of the holy Martyr St. Cyprian, did he, of that little money that was left him send an angel of gold to his executioner.

And so was he by Master Lieutenant brought out of the Tower, and from thence led towards the place of execution. Where, going up the scaffold, which was so weak that it was ready to fall, he said merrily to the Lieutenant: “I pray you, Master Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself.”

Then desired he all the people thereabout to pray for him, and to bear witness with him, that he should now there suffer death in and for the faith of the holy Catholic Church. Which done, he kneeled down, and, after his prayers said, turned to the executioner with a cheerful countenance, and said unto him: “Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office: my neck is very short, take heed, therefore, thou strike not awry, for saving of thine honesty.”

So passed Sir Thomas More out of this world to God, upon the very same day which he most desired.

Soon after his death came intelligence thereof to the Emperor Charles. Whereupon he sent for Sir Thomas Eliott, our English ambassador, and said to him: “My Lord ambassador, we understand that the king your master hath put his faithful servant, and grave wise councillor, Sir Thomas More, to death.”

Whereupon Sir Thomas Eliott answered that “he understood nothing thereof.”

“Well,” said the Emperor, “it is too true: and this will we say, that had we been master of such a servant, of whose doings ourselves have had these many years no small experience, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions, than have lost such a worthy councillor.”

Which matter was, by the same Sir Thomas Eliott to myself, to my wife, to Master Clement and his wife, to Master John Heywood and his wife, and unto divers others his friends accordingly reported.

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