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A Year: Day to Day Men: 1st of July, Solar Year 2018

Sitting with Clasped Hands

July 1, 1535 is the starting day of the trial of Sir Thomas More.

Thomas More began his studies at Oxford University in 1492, at the age of fourteen, receiving a classical education and becoming proficient in both Latin and Greek. At his father’s insistence he left Oxford after two years to study law at New Inn, a place of initial training for barristers. More became a student in 1496 at Lincoln’s Inn, a professional association for barristers, until 1502 when he was deemed qualified as a barrister.

Thomas More lived for a year near the Carthusian Monastery, joined the monks’ spiritual exercised and contemplated joining the order. However, he decided to remain a layman, standing instead for election to a position in Parliament in 1504 and marrying Jane Colt the following year.  More was elected to Parliament to represent Great Yarmouth, a coastal area in Western England, and later elected in 1510 to represent London.

Thomas More was knighted and made under-treasurer of the Exchequer in 1521, becoming increasingly influential as a personal advisor to King Henry VIII. More succeeded to the office of Lord Chancellor in 1529 when that post became vacant. He strongly supported the Catholic Church and saw the Protestant Reformation as heresy and a threat to the church, particularly the theology of Martin Luther and William Tydale.

More opposed King Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church: he refused to acknowledge King Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church of England, Henry VIII established the church after Pope Paul III had excommunicated the king over his divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy to Henry as required, Thomas More was put on trial for treason.

More was an experienced judge and lawyer who had prepared himself for his final trial over several years. At this trial, he was determined to bring all of his experience and training to bear—to defend not only himself and his family, but also his country, his church, the English tradition of law, and the future of Christendom.

On July 1, 1535, he appeared before fifteen judges and twelve jurors. Despite the impressive numbers, however, this trial was not to be impartial. Thomas More aptly discredited all of the government’s evidence and established the credibility of his own character. The total lack of viable evidence against More proved to be totally irrelevant. The jury took only fifteen minutes to render its verdict: “Guilty.” He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; but the King commuted this to execution by decapitation. The execution took place on 6 July 1535.

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