Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Trial of Sir Thomas More


[SIR THOMAS MORE, who had succeeded Wolsey as chancellor, did not approve of Henry's separation from the Catholic Church, and refused to acknowledge him as the head of the Church in England. For this he was brought to trial on the charge of treason. The following selection is taken from the supposed journal of More's daughter.
The Editor. ]

July  1.
BY Reason of Will's  minding to be present at the Triall, which, for the Concourse of Spectators, demanded his earlie Attendance, he committed the Care of me, with Bess,  to Dancey,  who got us Places to see Father  on his Way from the Tower  to Westminster Hall.  We coulde not come at him for the Crowd, but clambered on a Bench to gaze our very Hearts away after him as he went by, sallow, thin, grey-haired, yet in Mien not a Whit cast down. Wrapt in a coarse woollen Gown, and leaning on a Staff; which unwonted Support when Bess  markt, she hid her Eyes on my Shoulder and wept sore, but soon lookt up agayn, though her Eyes were soe blinded, I think she coulde not see him. His Face was calm, but grave, as he came up, but just as he passed he caughte the Eye of some one in the Crowd, and smiled in his old, frank Way; then glanced up towards the Windows with the bright Look he hath soe oft cast to me at my Casement, but saw us not. I coulde not help crying "Father,"  but he heard me not; perchance 'twas soe best. . . . I woulde not have had his Face cloud at the sight of poor Bessy's  Tears.

. . . Will  tells me the Indictment was the longest ever hearde; on four Counts. First, his Opinion on the King's Marriage. Second, his writing sundrie Letters to the Bishop of Rochester,  counselling him to hold out. Third, refusing to acknowledge his Grace's Supremacy. Fourth, his positive Deniall of it, and thereby willing to deprive the King of his Dignity and Title.

When the reading of this was over, the Lord Chancellor  sayth, "Ye see how grievouslie you have offended the King his Grace, but and yet he is soe mercifulle, as that if ye will lay aside your Obstinacie, and change your Opinion, we hope ye may yet obtayn Pardon."

Father makes Answer . . . and at Sounde of his deare Voyce alle Men hold their Breaths; . . . "Most noble Lords, I have great Cause to thank your Honours for this your Courtesie . . . but I pray ALMIGHTY GOD I may continue in the Mind I'm in, through his Grace, until Death."

They coulde not make goode their Accusation agaynst him. 'Twas onlie on the Last Count he could be made out a Traitor, and Proof of 't had they none; how coulde they have? He shoulde have beene acquitted out of hand, 'steade of which, his bitter Enemy my Lord Chancellor  called on him for his Defence. Will  sayth there was a generall Murmur or Sigh ran through the Court. Father,  however, answered the Bidding by beginning to expresse his Hope that the Effect of long Imprisonment mighte not have beene such upon his Mind and Body, as to impair his Power of rightlie meeting alle the Charges agaynst him . . . when, turning faint with long standing, he staggered and loosed Hold of his Staff, whereon he was accorded a Seat. 'Twas but a Moment's Weakness of the Body, and he then proceeded frankly to avow his having always opposed the King's  Marriage to his Grace himself, which he was soe far from thinking High Treason, that he shoulde rather have deemed it Treachery to have withholden his Opinion from his Sovereign King when solicited by him for his Counsell. His Letters to the good Bishop  he proved to have been harmlesse. Touching his declining to give his Opinion, when askt, concerning the Supremacy, he alleged there coulde be noe Transgression in holding his Peace thereon, GOD only being cognizant of our Thoughts.

"Nay," interposeth the Attorney Generall,  "your Silence was the Token of a malicious Mind."

"I had always understoode," answers Father,  "that Silence stoode for Consent. Qui tacet, consentire videtur;"  which made Sundrie smile. On the last Charge, he protested he had never spoken Word against the Law unto anie Man.

The Jury are about to acquit him, when up starts the Solicitor Generall,  offers himself as Witness for the Crown, is sworn, and gives Evidence of his Dialogue with Father  in the Tower, falselie adding, like a Liar as he is, that on his saying "No Parliament coulde make a Law that GOD shoulde not be GOD," Father  had rejoyned, "No more coulde they make the King supreme Head of the Church."

I marvell the Ground opened not at his Feet. Father  'brisklie made Answer, "If I were a Man, my Lords, who regarded not an Oath, ye know well I needed not stand now at this Bar. And if the Oath which you, Mr Rich,  have just taken, be true, then I pray I may never see GOD in the Face. In good Truth, Mr Rich, I am more sorry for your Perjurie than my Perill. You and I once dwelt long together in one Parish; your manner of Life and Conversation from your Youth up were familiar to me, and it paineth me to tell ye were ever held very light of your Tongue, a great Dicer and Gamester, and not of anie commendable Fame either there or in the Temple,  the Inn to which ye have belonged. Is it credible, therefore, to your Lordships, that the Secrets of my Conscience touching the Oath, which I never woulde reveal, after the Statute once made, either to the King's Grace himself, nor to anie of you, my honourable Lords, I should have thus lightly blurted out in private Parley with Mr Rich?"

In short, the Villain made not goode his Poynt: ne'erthelesse, the Issue of this black Day was aforehand fixed; my Lord Audley  was primed with a virulent and venomous Speech; the Jury retired, and presentlie returned with a Verdict of Guilty; for they knew what the King's Grace woulde have 'em doe in that Case.

Up starts my Lord Audley;  commences pronouncing Judgment, when—

"My Lord," says Father,  "in my Time, the Custom in these Cases was ever to ask the Prisoner before Sentence, whether he coulde give anie Reason why judgment shoulde not proceed agaynst him."

My Lord, in some Confusion, puts the Question.

And then came the frightful Sentence.

Yes, yes, my Soul, I know; there were Saints of old sawn asunder. Men of whom the World was not worthy.

. . . Then he spake unto 'em his Mind; and bade his Judges and Accusers farewell; hoping that like as St Paul was present and consenting unto St Stephen's  Death, and yet both were now holy Saints in Heaven, so he and they might speedilie meet there, joint Heirs of e'erlasting Salvation.

Meantime, poor Bess  and Cecilie,  spent with Grief and long waiting, were forct to be carried Home by Heron,  or ever Father  returned to his Prison. Was't less Feeling, or more Strength of Body, enabled me to bide at the Tower Wharf with Dancey?  GOD knoweth. They brought him back by Water; my poor Sisters must have passed him. . . . The first Thing I saw was the Axe, turned with its Edge towards him —my first Note of his Sentence. I forct my Way through the Crowd . . . some one laid a cold Hand on mine Arm; 'twas poor Patteson,  soe changed I scarce knew him, with a Rosary of Gooseberries he kept running through his Fingers. He sayth, "Bide your Time, Mistress Meg; when he comes past I'll make a Passage for ye; . . . Oh, Brother, Brother! what ailed thee to refuse the Oath? I've  taken it!" In another Moment, "Now, Mistress, now!" and flinging his Arms right and left, made a Breach through which I darted, fearlesse of Bills and Halberds, and did cast mine Arms about Father's  Neck. He cries, "My Meg!"  and hugs me to him as though our very Souls shoulde grow together. He sayth, "Bless thee, bless thee! Enough, enough, my Child; what mean ye, to weep and break mine Heart? Remember, though I die innocent, 'tis not without the Will of GOD, who coulde have turned mine Enemies' Hearts, if 'twere best; therefore possess your Soul in Patience. Kiss them alle for me, thus and thus . . ." soe gave me back into Dancey's  Arms, the Guards about him alle weeping; but I coulde not thus lose Sight of him for ever; soe, after a Minute's Pause, did make a second Rush, brake away from Dancey,  clave to Father  agayn, and agayn they had Pitie on me, and made Pause while I hung upon his Neck. This Time there were large Drops standing on his dear Brow; and the big Tears were swelling into his Eyes. He whispered, "Meg,  for Christ's  Sake don't unman me; thou'lt not deny my last Request?" I sayd, "Oh! no; " and at once loosened mine Arms. "God's Blessing be with you," he sayth with a last Kiss. I coulde not help crying, "My Father,  my Father!"  "The Chariot of Israel, and the Horsemen thereof!" he vehementlie whispers, pointing upwards with soe passionate a Regard, that I look up, almost expecting a beatific Vision; and when I turn about agayn, he's gone, and I have noe more Sense nor Life till I find myself agayn in mine owne Chamber, my Sisters chafing my Hands.

July  5th.
Alle's over now . . . they've done theire worst, and yet I live. There were Women could stande aneath the Cross. The Maccabees'  Mother—. . . yes, my Soul, yes; I know—Nought but unpardoned Sin. . . . The Chariot of Israel.

Dr Clement hath beene with us. Sayth he went up as blythe as a Bridegroom to be clothed upon with Immortality.

Rupert stoode it alle out. Perfect Love casteth out feare. Soe did his.

My most precious Treasure is this deare Billet, writ with a Coal: the last Thing he sett his Hand to, wherein he sayth, "I never liked your Manner towards me better than when you kissed me last."

They have let us bury his poor mangled Trunk; but, as sure as there's a Sun in Heaven, I'll have his Head! before another Sun hath risen, too. If wise Men won't speed me, I'll e'en content me with a Fool.

I doe think Men, for the most Part be Cowards in theire Hearts . . . moral Cowards. Here and there, we find one like Father,  and like Socrates,  and like . . . this and that one, I mind not theire Names just now, but in the Main, methinketh they lack the moral Courage of Women. Maybe, I'm unjust to 'em just now, being crost.

July  20th

· · · · · · · · · ·
I lay down, but my Heart was waking. Soon after the first Cock crew, I hearde a Pebble cast agaynst my Lattice, knew the Signall, rose, dressed, stole softlie down and let myself out. I knew the Touch of the poor Fool's Fingers; his Teeth were chattering, 'twixt Cold and Fear, yet he laught aneath his Breath as he caught my Arm and dragged me after him, whispering, "Fool and fayr Lady will cheat 'em yet." At the Stairs lay a Wherry with a Couple of Boatmen, and one of 'em stepping up to me, cries, "Alas for ruth, Mistress Meg,  what is't ye do? Art mad to go on this Errand?" I sayd, "I shall be mad if I goe not, and succeed too—put me in, and push off."

We went down the River quietlie enow—at length reach London Bridge  Stairs. Patteson,  starting up, says, "Bide ye all as ye are," and springs aland and runneth up to the Bridge. Anon, returns, and sayth, "Now, Mistress, alle's readie . . . readier than ye wist . . . come up quickly, for the Coast's clear." Hobson  (for twas he) helps me forth, saying, "God speed ye, Mistress . . . An' I dared, I woulde goe with ye." . . . Thought I, there be others in that Case.

Nor lookt I up till aneath the Bridgegate, when casting upward a fearsome Look, I beheld the Dark Outline of the ghastly yet precious Relic; and, falling into a Tremour, did wring my Hands and exclaym, "Alas, alas, that Head hath lain full manie a Time in my Lap, woulde God, woulde GOD it lay there now!" When, o' suddain, I saw the Pole tremble and sway towards me; and stretching forth my Apron, I did in an Extasy of Gladness, Pity, and Horror, catch its Burthen as it fell. Patteson,  shuddering; yet grinning, cries under his Breath, "Managed I not well, Mistress? Let's speed away with our Theft, for Fools and their Treasures are soon parted; but I think not they'll follow hard after us, neither, for there are Well-wishers to us on the Bridge. I'll put ye into the Boat and then say, GOD speed ye, Lady, with your Burthen."

by Anne Manning Rathbone

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