June 22nd is the feast day of St. Thomas More, best known as the patron of lawyers and the writer of humanist classic Utopia. In his life he was right hand man to King Henry VIII just as the crown’s relationship with Rome began to sour, but he was also a family man, a tireless worker against heresy, and a famously sharp wit. While his life’s work was mostly secular, he had the faith of a martyr and was executed for his refusal to acknowledge both the King of England’s supremacy over the Church and King Henry VIII’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon. Here are some things you might not know about his accomplished life (with GIFs St. Thomas would be proud of).
1. He was a huge Greek book nerd
St. Thomas More loved Greek books and Greek literature. In fact, Thomas loved it so much that his father pulled him out of uni in the equivalent of his sophomore year because his father was terrified Thomas would become too nerdy to actually be a lawyer. It’s ok, St. Thomas. The nerds are the cool kids now.
2. He kind of hated his job (but you would too if you worked for King Henry VIII)
Everyone knew that King Henry was kinda adulterous and kinda fond of killing people who didn’t give giant manbaby Tudor his way. Just being near the guy was hazardous for your health from the neck up. But St. Thomas wanted to do a tiny bit to make England a better place for the poor and the suffering. So he took up his post at court not in order to radically revolutionize things, but, in his own words, “so order that it be not very bad.”
You tried, St. Thomas. You tried real hard.
3. He used his education and position to call out Luther and the Reformers
St. Thomas had no time for the games. The Reformation was gathering momentum in Europe, and St. Thomas was having none of it. Much of his time was spent writing refutations against both Luther and popular English Reformer Tyndale, and he even presided over the office which had the power to deal out the death penalty for recalcitrant heretics (though he scarcely used that power, and was only ever forced by law to do so). Never one to be particularly subtle, Thomas referred to Luther’s teachings and the Reformation as “pestilent.”
Same, St. Thomas. Same.
4. He threw some epic shade at Anne Boleyn and her lackeys
While he long refused to take sides before Parliament concerning Henry’s squabbles with Rome, St. Thomas did ultimately resign his post at court. He also pointedly refused to attend the coronation of Henry’s new (and in the eyes of the Church, illegitimate) wife Anne Boleyn, a former lady-in-waiting in the Tudor court, even though the king ordered no less than three bishops to write St. Thomas requesting his presence. They even sent him money for whatever expenses the event would cost him. He refused to go on account of honor, but kept the money. He told them he figured they were rich enough.
The shade of it all, St. Thomas. The shade of it all.
5. He told hilariously bad jokes to his own executioner
While his last words, “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” are perhaps the most famous thing about St. Thomas More, it is less widely known that he jested with the very men who were minutes away from killing him. With classic self-deprecatory British humor, in between reciting psalms, he cajoled the executioner and made light of how his short neck might impede the blade. Just before he uttered his famous last words, as he mounted the scaffold, he is 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.” He may have been a martyr, but he certainly didn’t go out a grim one.
St. Thomas More, martyr for the truth…pray for us!