Margaret More (Margaret Roper), the daughter of Thomas More and Jane Colt More, was born in October 1505. She lived at the Old Barge, Bucklersbury, with her parents and her sisters, Elizabeth (1506) and Cicely (1507), and brother, John (1509). According to her biographer, Margaret Bowker "the death of her mother in 1511, when she was little more than six years old, and the marriage of her father a mere month later to Alice Middleton, were a foretaste of the sadness that was to mark her life and give to her person a gravity that increased with time." (1)
Jane More was only twenty-four when she died. His second wife, Alice Middleton, was a widow of a London merchant. More's friend, Desiderius Erasmus, later commented he married her because he needed a woman to look after his children. Jasper Ridley, the author of The Statesman and the Fanatic (1982) has argued: "She had the additional advantage for More of being utterly devoid of any sexual attractions, so that no one could think that he had married her in order to indulge in the lusts of the flesh. Erasmus says that she was a good housekeeper, but More himself never had a good word to say for her." (2) More used to say, jokingly, that she was "in no way beautiful, or a girl", for she was no longer young when she married him, and bore him no children. (3)
On the death of her mother Margaret witnessed the arrival not only of a stepmother but of two new members of the family: a stepsister Alice and an adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, who was almost exactly her own age. Thomas More, now started up his own school for the five pupils. "This boasted distinguished tutors, and a curriculum that was rare enough for Tudor boys and exceedingly rare for girls. Besides studying Latin and Greek and reading the early fathers Margaret was introduced to astronomy, philosophy, theology, geometry, and arithmetic, with the purpose, in More's view, to introduce her to piety, humility, and, supremely, Christian virtue." (4)
As Alison Plowden, the author of Tudor Women (2002) has pointed out that More and his humanist friends were all deeply interested in education and anxious to propagate their plans for a wider and more liberal curriculum in the schools and universities. "More was the first Englishman seriously to experiment with the novel idea that girls should be educated too. This may have been partly due to the fact that he had three daughters and an adopted daughter but only one son, and was undoubtedly helped by the fact that the eldest girl, Margaret, turned out to be unusually intelligent and receptive. She and her sisters Elizabeth and Cecily, together and their foster-sister Margaret Gigs, studied Latin and Greek, logic, philosophy and theology, mathematics and astronomy, and Margaret More, who presently became Margaret Roper, developed into a considerable and widely respected scholar in her own right." More argued that girls were "equally suited for those studies by which reason is cultivated and becomes fruitful like a ploughed land on which the seed of good lessons has been sown". (5)
Jasper Ridley has accused Thomas More of having an unnatural relationship with Margaret: "Thomas More... was a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert. He enjoyed being flogged by his favourite daughter as much as flogging heretics, beggars and lunatics in his garden. He humiliated his wife by pointing out to his guests, in her presence, how ugly she was in order to show that he had not married her because he was lusting for a beautiful woman." (6)
On 2nd July, 1521, Margaret, aged sixteen, married the lawyer, William Roper. He was interested in the religious ideas of Martin Luther. This brought him into conflict with her father, Thomas More, who detested heretics. More complained that the heretics were "busily" at work in every alehouse and tavern, where they expounded their doctrines. More had pointed out that he had seen young lawyers were "wont to resort to their readings in a chamber at midnight". (7)
More supported Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, when in a great ceremony burned Luther's texts on a pyre set up in St Paul's Churchyard. Wolsey was impressed with More and after he introduced him to Henry VIII he was given the post of Treasurer of the Exchequer. He also served as Speaker of the House of Commons and sent on foreign missions to France, Spain and Italy. (8)
In 1523 Mary Roper had her first child, Elizabeth, whom More had hoped would be a boy - but if not, that she will "make up for the inferiority of her sex by her zeal to imitate her mother's virtue and learning". In 1524 the Roper family with the More family, some of whom had married, moved to a large house in Chelsea that contained its own chapel and library. "The house provided space and a garden bordering on the river where Margaret's subsequent children, Mary, Thomas, Margaret, and Anthony, could join their cousins in a school not unlike that of The Barge. Margaret had the care of her father's alms and washed his hair shirt." It was claimed that Henry VIII often arrived at the house unexpectedly. (9)
Thomas More replaced Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in October 1529. According to Peter Ackroyd, this was a shrewd political move. "Since More was known to be an avid hunter of heretics, it was evident proof that Henry did not wish to disavow the orthodox Church. In fact, More started his pursuit within a month of taking his position he arrested a citizen of London, Thomas Phillips, on suspicion of heresy... It was the beginning of the new chancellor's campaign of terror against the heretics." (10)
More was opposed to the divorce but came under increasing pressure from other members of the Privy Council to agree with this policy. (11) When this was unsuccessful, he was excluded from the inner circle of councillors concerned with the divorce proceedings. More now concentrated his energies on persecuting Heretics. In 1530 he issued two proclamations proscribing a number of publications and banned the importation of any foreign imprints of English works. More imprisoned a number of men for owning banned books. More also ordered the execution of three heretics and publicly approved of the execution of others. "The vigour with which More pursued heretics through the courts was mirrored by the relentlessness with which he fought them... The times demanded strictness, he repeatedly argued, because the stakes were so high. No other aspect of More's life has engendered greater controversy than his persecution of heretics. Critics argue that as one of Europe's leading intellectuals, and one with particularly strong humanist leanings, More should have rejected capital punishment of heretics. His supporters point out that he was a product of his times, and that those men he most admired... lamented but accepted as necessary the practice of executing heretics." (12)
After reading More's book people might have thought that he would be in favour of religious toleration. However, since More had written Utopia there had been a rapid growth in Protestantism. More was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church and he was determined to destroy the Protestant movement in England. As a writer, More was aware of the power of books to change people's opinions. He therefore drew up a list of Protestant books that were to be banned. This included the English translation of the Bible by William Tyndale.
More attempted to make life difficult for those publishing such books. He introduced a new law that required the name and address of the printer to be printed in every book published in England. People caught owning Protestant books were sat facing back-to-front on a horse. Wearing placards explaining their crimes, these people were walked through the streets of London. More also organized public burnings of Protestant books. People found guilty of writing and selling Protestant books were treated more harshly. Like those caught making Protestant sermons, they were sometimes burnt at the stake. (13)
More wrote to a friend that he especially hated the Anabaptists: "The past centuries have not seen anything more monstrous than the Anabaptists". His biographer, Jasper Ridley, has argued: "As Thomas More approached the age of fifty, all the conflicting trends in his strange character blended into one, and produced the savage persecutor of heretics who devoted his life to the destruction of Lutheranism. To say that he suffered from paranoia on this subject would be to resort to a glib phrase, not a serious psychiatric analysis; but it is unquestionable that More, like other persecutors throughout history, believed that the foundations of civilisation, and all that he valued as sacred, were threatened by the forces of evil, and that it was his mission to exterminate the enemy by all means, including torture and lies. The worst of all the heretics were the Anabaptists, the most extreme of all the Protestant sects, who were already causing great concern to the authorities in Germany and the Netherlands. They not only rejected infant baptism, but believed, like the inhabitants of Utopia, that goods should be held in common." (14)
Thomas More wrote that of all the heretical books published in England, Tyndale's translation of the New Testament, was the most dangerous. He began his book, Confutation of Tyndale's Answer, with a striking opening sentence: "Our Lord send us now some years as plenteous of good corn we have had some years of late plenteous of evil books. For they have grown so fast and sprung up so thick, full of pestilent errors and pernicious heresies, that they have infected and killed I fear me more simple souls than the famine of the dear years have destroyed bodies." (15)
Henry discovered that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead on 25th January, 1533. It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England. Thomas More was careful to make it clear that despite his growing opposition to the King's church policies, he accepted Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn as being part of God's providence, and would neither "murmur at it nor dispute upon it", since "this noble woman" was "royally anointed queen". (16)
Elizabeth was born on 7th September, 1533. Henry expected a son and selected the names of Edward and Henry. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne. (17) Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has pointed out: "As the king's only legitimate child, Elizabeth was, until the birth of a prince, his heir and was to be treated with all the respect that a female of her rank deserved. Regardless of her child's sex, the queen's safe delivery could still be used to argue that God had blessed the marriage. Everything that was proper was done to herald the infant's arrival." (18)
In December 1533 Henry VIII gave Thomas Cromwell permission to unleash all the resources of the state in discrediting the papacy. "In one of the fiercest and ugliest smear campaigns in English history the minister showed his mastery of propaganda techniques as the pope was attacked throughout the nation in sermons and pamphlets. In the new year another session of parliament was summoned to enact the necessary legislation to break formally the remaining ties which bound England to Rome, again under Cromwell's meticulous supervision." (19)
In March 1534 Pope Clement VII eventually made his decision. He announced that Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. This gave Henry the title of the "Supreme head of the Church of England". A Treason Act was also passed that made it an offence to attempt by any means, including writing and speaking, to accuse the King and his heirs of heresy or tyranny. All subjects were ordered to take an oath accepting this. (20)
Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, refused to take the oath and were imprisoned in the Tower of London. More was summoned before Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell at Lambeth Palace. More was happy to swear that the children of Anne Boleyn could succeed to the throne, but he could not declare on oath that all the previous Acts of Parliament had been valid. He could not deny the authority of the pope "without the jeoparding of my soul to perpetual damnation." (21)
On 15th June, 1534, it was reported to Thomas Cromwell that the Observant Friars of Richmond refused to take the oath. Two days later two carts full of friars were hanged, drawn and quartered for denying the royal supremacy. A few days later a group of Carthusian monks were executed for the same offence. "They were chained upright to stakes and left to die, without food or water, wallowing in their own filth - a slow, ghastly death that left Londoners appalled". (22) Cromwell told Sir Thomas More that the example he was setting was resulting in other men being executed. More responded: "I do nobody harm. I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live." (23)
In May 1535, Pope Paul III created Bishop John Fisher a Cardinal. This infuriated Henry VIII and he ordered him to be executed on 22nd June at the age of seventy-six. A shocked public blamed Queen Anne for his death, and it was partly for this reason that news of the stillbirth of her child was suppressed as people might have seen this as a sign of God's will. Anne herself suffered pangs of conscience on the day of Fisher's execution and attended a mass for the "repose of his soul". (24)
Henry VIII decided it was time that Thomas More was tried for treason. The trial was held in Westminster Hall. More denied that he had ever said that the King was not Head of the Church, but claimed that he had always refused to answer the question, and that silence could never constitute an act of high treason. The prosecution cited the statement that he had made to Thomas Cromwell on 3rd June, where he argued that the Act of Supremacy was like a two-edged sword in requiring a man either to swear against his conscience or to suffer death for high treason. (25)
The verdict was never in doubt and Thomas More was convicted of treason. Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley "passed sentence of death - the full sentence required by law, that More was to be hanged, cut down while still living, castrated, his entrails cut out and burned before his eyes, and then beheaded. As he was being taken back to the Tower, Margaret Roper and his son John broke through the cordon of guards to embrace him. After he had bidden them farewell, as he moved away, Margaret ran back, again broke through the cordon, and embraced him again." (26)
Henry VIII commuted the sentence to death by the headsman's axe. On the night before his execution, Thomas More sent Margaret his hairshirt, so that no one should see it on the scaffold and so that she could treasure that link that was a secret between the two of them. He wrote to her saying: "I long to go to God... I never liked your manner toward me better than when you kissed me last; for I love when daughterly love, and dear charity, hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in Heaven." (27)
On 6th July, 1535, he was taken to Tower Hill. More told his executioner: "You will give me this day a greater benefit than ever any mortal man can be able to give me. Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is very short; take heed, therefore, thou strike not awry for saving of thine honesty."
More's family were given the headless corpse to the family and it was buried at the church of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London. Thomas More's head was boiled, as usual, to preserve it and to add terror to its appearance before exhibiting it. It was put on the pole on London Bridge which Fisher's head had occupied for the past fortnight. After a few days, Margaret Roper bribed a constable of the watch to take it down and give it to her. She hid the head in some place where no one found it. (28)
Little is known of her last years. Margaret Roper died at Chelsea in the summer of 1544, probably in childbirth, and was buried, according to her husband, "in Chelsea parish church - possibly with her father's head in her hands". (29)
On the death of her mother Margaret witnessed the arrival not only of a stepmother but of two new members of the family: a stepsister Alice and an adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, who was almost exactly her own age. The additions made it possible for More to employ tutors for his family, and certainly by the time she was ten Margaret participated in what was known as his ‘school'. This boasted distinguished tutors, and a curriculum that was rare enough for Tudor boys and exceedingly rare for girls. Besides studying Latin and Greek and reading the early fathers Margaret was introduced to astronomy, philosophy, theology, geometry, and arithmetic, with the purpose, in More's view, to introduce her to piety, humility, and, supremely, Christian virtue.
More was the first Englishman seriously to experiment with the novel idea that girls should be educated too. This may have been partly due to the fact that he had three daughters and an adopted daughter but only one son, and was undoubtedly helped by the fact that the eldest girl, Margaret, turned out to be unusually intelligent and receptive. She and her sisters Elizabeth and Cecily, together and their foster-sister Margaret Gigs, studied Latin and Greek, logic, philosophy and theology, mathematics and astronomy, and Margaret More, who presently became Margaret Roper, developed into a considerable and widely respected scholar in her own right.
No one was more active in persecuting the Protestants who distributed the English Bible than Sir Thomas More, a brilliant lawyer, writer and intellectual who was a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert. He enjoyed being flogged by his favourite daughter as much as flogging heretics, beggars and lunatics in his garden. He humiliated his wife by pointing out to his guests, in her presence, how ugly she was in order to show that he had not married her because he was lusting for a beautiful woman. When he was writing as a propagandist for the Catholic Church, he was a shameless liar. On one occasion he wrote a very favourable review of his own book, pretending that it had been written by a non-existent, eminent, foreign theologian, when in fact he had written it himself.
According to the version published in Paris, More added that he had only been proceeded against because of his constant opposition to Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn. Roper and Harpsfield say nothing about this, even though they were writing in Mary's reign, when any condemnation of the divorce of Mary's mother and the marriage to Anne would have been very popular with the queen and the authorities. If More did in fact say this, it was of course untrue. Whatever More may have thought, he had not publicly opposed Henry's marriage to Anne, and had often pointed this out to Henry and Cromwell; and though More had been sentenced to life imprisonment for refusing to swear an oath supporting the marriage, he was sentenced to death for refusing to recognise that the king was Supreme Head of the Church of England. The supremacy had become the essential issue by 1535, and even if More had been an enthusiastic supporter of the divorce, he would have been executed for refusing to accept the royal supremacy. The Paris report is therefore probably wrong, and Roper and Harpsfield right, on this point.
When More had finished, Audley passed sentence of death - the full sentence required by law, that More was to be hanged, cut down while still living, castrated, his entrails cut out and burned before his eyes, and then beheaded. As he was being taken back to the Tower, Margaret Roper and his son John broke through the cordon of guards to embrace him. After he had bidden them farewell, as he moved away, Margaret ran back, again broke through the cordon, and embraced him again. At the Tower, he was informed that he was to die before 9 a.m. on 6 July, the Eve of St Thomas of Canterbury's Day, and that the king, in his mercy, had commuted the sentence to death by the headsman's axe. On the night before his execution, he sent Margaret his hairshirt, so that no one should see it on the scaffold and so that she could treasure that link that was a secret between the two of them. He wrote her a last letter with the piece of coal that he had used for writing during the three weeks since they had removed his hooks and writing materials.
In his letter, he asked Meg to give his farewell messages to his son, his daughter-in-law and their children, to his daughter Cecily Heron, to Margaret Clement, and to several of her maidservants; but he sent no message to his wife. He told Meg that he was happy to die on the eve of Becket's feast day and in the week after St Peter's Day, and he praised her courage in breaking through the cordon of guards to hid him farewell.
I cumber you, good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry if it should be any longer than tomorrow. For it is St Thomas Even and the utas of St Peter; and therefore tomorrow long I to go to God; it were a day very mete and convenient for me. I never liked your manner toward me better than when you kissed me last; for I love when daughterly love, and dear charity, hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.
Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in Heaven.