The English statesman, Sir Thomas More, later canonized as Saint Thomas More (1935), was born the son of a lawyer who later became a judge. He was educated at St. Anthony's School and was appointed a page in the home of Archbishop (later Cardinal) Morton, who sent him to Canterbury Hall, Oxford, in the early 1490s. At Oxford, More studied under Colet and Linacre.
More left Oxford without a degree to study at new Inn and Lincoln's Inn in London. His lectures dealt not only with law but also with St. Augustine's City of God. He spent three years as a reader in Furnival's Inn and spent the next four years in the Charterhouse in "devotion and prayer." He early composed various English poems and Latin epigrams that were not printed for several years. However, a Latin translation of four Greek dialogues of Lucian appeared in 1506, and an English translation of the Latin life of his model, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in 1510.
Increasingly involved in public affairs, More became a member of Parliament in 1504, beginning the career that led to the well-known events of his chancellorship and his martyrdom.
Introduced to Henry VIII through Wolsey, More became master of requests (1514), treasurer of the exchequer (1521), and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1525). He was speaker of the House of Commons, and was sent on missions to Francis I and Charles V. On the fall of Wolsey in 1529, More, against his own strongest inclinations, was appointed lord chancellor. In the discharge of his office he displayed a primitive virtue and simplicity.
The one stain on his character as judge is the harshness of his sentences for religious opinions. He sympathized with Colet and Erasmus in their desire for a more rational theology and for radical reform in the manners of the clergy, but like them also he had no desire to break with the historic church. He witnessed with displeasure the successive steps which led Henry to the final schism with Rome. In 1532 he resigned the chancellorship.
In 1534 Henry was declared head of the English Church and More's refusal to recognize any other head of the church then the pope led to his sentence for high treason after a harsh imprisonment in the Tower for more than a year. Still refusing to recant his opinions, More was beheaded on July 7, 1535.
More was twice married. His daughter Margaret, the wife of his biographer William Roper (Life of Sir Thomas More), was distinguished for her high character, accomplishments, and pious devotion to her father. More takes his place with the most eminent humanists of the Renaissance.