On this day: July 6 Thomas More is executed.

July 6,1535. Tower Hill, London.

Following a complete breakdown in their relationship, and his refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy. Former Lord chancellor, scholar and humanist Sir Thomas More is beheaded upon Tower Hill, London.

A leading adviser to King Henry VIII More assumed the role of Lord Chancellor following the removal of Cardinal Wolsey, More dealt with the issues of state with speed and efficiency. He was also the main opponent of the reformation seeing the works of Luther and Tyndal as heresy and authorizing the burning of many heretics. He also guided Henry VIII in the authoring of ‘Assertio’ to which the Pope granted Henry the title of Defender of the Faith.

As the conflict over supremacy between the Papacy and the King reached its height, More continued to remain unmoved in supporting the supremacy of the Pope over that of the Henry. In 1530, More refused to sign a letter by the leading English churchmen and aristocrats asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and also quarreled with Henry VIII over the heresy laws. In 1532, More asked Henry to accept his resignation, which he did.

On 13 April 1534, More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession. More accepted Parliament’s right to declare Anne Boleyn the legitimate Queen of England, using the precedent of “qui tacet consentire videtur” (who (is) silent is seen to consent.)

Unfortunately for More the Panel was stacked heavily in the Kings favor with both Anne Boleyn’s Father and Brother on the panel the jury took only 15 minutes to find More guilty of Treason, the punishment was to be hanged drawn and quartered, although Henry commuted it to beheading.

The execution took place on 6 July 1535. When he came to mount the steps to the scaffold, he is widely quoted as saying: “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself”; while on the scaffold he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More’s body was buried in an unmarked grave in St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower precinct and his head affixed upon a pike over Tower bridge. The head was later rescued by his daughter Margaret and is said to rest in the Roper Family Vault in St. Dunstan’s Canterbury.

Sir Thomas More, by Hans Holbein the younger
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