396 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 80 PART 3 MAY 2022
paid More his most famous compliment: “More is a man of an angel’s wit
and singular learning … And, as time requireth, a man of marvellous mirth
and pastimes … A man for all seasons.”2
Whittington wrote these words in 1520, 15 years before More died. More
must have established his sterling reputation by that time. In More’s
remaining years, he would confirm Whittington’s assessment of him.
Before he became Lord High Chancellor, More was a Member of Parliament
and Speaker of the House of Commons. As Speaker, he petitioned the
King in 1523 to grant parliamentarians freedom of speech in the chamber.
More became high steward of the University of Cambridge in 1524 and the
University of Oxford in 1525. Several years earlier, More sent a letter to
Oxford in which he criticized the university’s curriculum. A humanist and
Renaissance man par excellence, he emphasized the importance of education
and instilled in his children a love of learning. Ahead of his time, More made
no distinction between men and women on the right to receive an education.
More was an avid scholar and intellectual. His most famous work, Utopia
(1516), inaugurated a new genre of fantastical literature that survives to this
day. More’s History of King Richard III (1513) is regarded as the first work of
major significance written in the English language. More’s literary treatment
of this monarch influenced Shakespeare’s Richard III.
Despite his impressive professional success and intellectual capacity,
More remained grounded and humble. He was a family man, as evidenced
by the letters between More and his daughter Meg. More’s first wife, Jane
Colt, died after bearing him four children. More quickly took Alice Middleton
as his second wife, and remained married to her until he died.
More was a man of great wit and good humour. He could relate to people
from all walks of life. In his own circumstances, he became “all things to all,
to save at least some” (1 Cor 9:22, NABRE).
Many regarded More as a dear friend. One would be forgiven, by focusing
on More’s final years, for thinking that he and Henry VIII were longstanding
enemies. In fact, Henry VIII counted More as a close friend and trusted
counsellor for many years. The Dutch humanist Erasmus (1466–1536) also
became a close friend of More, visiting him in England several times. Upon
learning of his execution, Erasmus said that More’s “soul was more pure
than snow, whose genius was such that England never had and never will
again have its like”.3
Centuries later, More received similar praise from another contender for
the title of finest Englishman to have ever lived. Winston Churchill wrote
that More took a “noble and heroic stand” against Henry VIII.4 Churchill
submitted that More realized the “defects” of the Church at the time, but