A Man For All Seasons

More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.

Robert Whittington, 1520


Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it? No, I will not sign.

Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons



Something for the weekend.  The majestic opening music for A Man of All Seasons (1966).




My favorite sequence from one of my favorite movies.  Paul Scofield and Orson Welles were two of the most talented actors of their time, and it is a pure joy to see them duel.

Realpolitik meets conscience.  It is a superb scene and our sympathies are enlisted, as they should be, on the side of Saint Thomas More as opposed to that ultimate player of power politics, Cardinal Wolsey.  As was said about another Cardinal, Richelieu, by Pope Urban VIII upon the death of Richelieu, the same might also have been said about most of the life of Wolsey:    “If God exists, Cardinal Richelieu will have to answer for many things. If not…, then yes, he will have done well in life” (Si Dieu existe, le cardinal de Richelieu devra répondre de beaucoup de choses. Sinon […] ma foi, il aura bien réussi dans la vie).

Compared to such an ecclesiastical politician, Saint Thomas More represents the startling clarity of a brilliant mind allied with a warm Catholic faith.   One might wish however, that along with the innocence of doves, defenders of the Church in England during the time of Saint Thomas More  had also possessed a bit more of the cunning of serpents.

“The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a heroic stand.  They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom.  They saw that the break with Rome carried with it the risk of a despotism freed from every fetter.  More stood forth as the defender of all that was finest in the medieval outlook.  He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values, and its instinctive sense of otherworldliness.  Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.”

Sir Winston Churchill



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  1. A superb film. One wonders if More had survived if Henry would not now be known as one of the worst rulers in English history. The irony of a male heir at any cost is that Henry was succeeded by two queens. Also by divorcing Katherine of Aragon he lost a brilliant and loyal counselor.

  2. Driving along the A40, about twenty miles west of Oxford, I spotted a pub called “The Inn for all seasons”. I’ll definitely drink to that…but as, the pub’s website explains, it was thus named by Jeremy Taylor who had worked on “A Man for all seasons”. And the building, if not it’s name, dates back to the century of St Thomas More.

    “In the early 1960’s the estate sold The Barrington New Inn to Jeremy Taylor who was a horse master and had worked on many films including Lawrence of Arabia, a Winters Tale and The Man for all Seasons, as homage to his career in the film industry he changed the name of the inn to The Inn for All Season and owned it for many years.”


  3. This was the beginning of the end, wasn’t it? England would never be the same again, and everything that has happened since owes itself to this moment of failure. It is in the final stages of its own destruction.

  4. My favorite film of all time.

    The movie, in my opinion, exemplified the height of Christendom, a culture oozing with Catholicism.

    One day we shall return. I fear it will take a great (or several) catastrophe(s) to shake us from our cultural malaise.

  5. It is a cruel poetic justice that Thomas More, a man whose lack of tolerance for heretics (from his perspective) led to the executions of six men, ended up dying for being a heretic (from the king’s perspective).

  6. “It is a cruel poetic justice that Thomas More, a man whose lack of tolerance for heretics (from his perspective) led to the executions of six men, ended up dying for being a heretic (from the king’s perspective).”

    Blaming Saint Thomas More for the executions is erroneous. Henry was a persecutor and a butcher. It is estimated that he had executed some 72,000 of his subjects during his reign, an astounding 2.6% of the population. More’s own view was recalled by his son-in-law Roper:

    It fortuned before the matter of the said matrimony brought in question, when I, in talk with Sir Thomas More, of a certain joy commended unto him the happy estate of this realm that had so Catholic a prince that no heretic durst show his face, so virtuous and learned a clergy, so grave and sound a nobility, and so loving, obedient subjects, all in one faith agreeing together.“Troth it is indeed, son Roper,” quoth he, and in commending all degrees and estates of the same went far beyond me. “And yet, son Roper, pray God,” said he, “that some of us, as high as we seem to sit upon the mountains, treading heretics under our feet like ants, live not the day that we gladly would wish to be at league and composition with them, to let them have their churches quietly to themselves, so that they would be content to let us have ours quietly to ourselves.” After that I had told him many considerations why he had no cause so to say. “Well,” said he, “I pray God, son Roper, some of us live not till that day,” showing me no reason why he should put any doubt therein.

    Henry of course did not view Saint Thomas More as a heretic, but rather as a friend who betrayed him by not blessing his marriage. After More’s judicial murder, the people blamed Anne Boelyn for his death, calling her a new Salome and worse. Henry supposedly told her that she was guilty of the blood of More. Henry was of course, always and ever, only about Henry, as Boelyn would find out soon enough.

  7. The claims by More’s son, Roper, are certainly at odds with More’s recorded words and deeds. There is no remorse by More for what he’d done. It was only due to the changing winds of religion (specifically from Catholicism to the whims of Henry VIII) did More get a taste of what it was like to be on the outs of those in power, like Richard Bayfield or John Tewksbury. There’s no need to bring up the number of deaths that Henry VIII caused, since it’s clear that he was a tyrant. That doesn’t dismiss the horrible things that “Saint” Thomas More did. I hate to say it, but I find believers are the first to denounce moral relativism, and also the very first to use it when defending a fellow believer. If Thomas More felt the persecution of so-called heretics was morally wrong, instead of just following orders he could have stepped down and said what he felt was right in the face of all those who disagreed.

  8. “That doesn’t dismiss the horrible things that “Saint” Thomas More did.”

    He didn’t do horrible things, certainly not by the standards of his day. Where Protestants gained control Catholics were subject to persecution and the Church outlawed. Virtually no one, outside of perhaps Erasmus, envisioned a future where Protestants and Catholics could live peacefully side by side. That was the hard reality that More was living in. It is the height of presentism to condemn More because he and his world did not comport with 21rst century notions.

    Considering the King who ruled, it is remarkable how few people died while More was Chancellor, and that is why Henry’s overall body count is relevant.

    You have not dealt with Roper’s testimony but simply hand waved it away. Roper wrote the biography during the Catholic restoration of Mary, so he had no motive to soft pedal More’s attitude towards heretics.

  9. I didn’t hand wave Roper’s testimony. I specifically stated that Roper’s claims did not match More’s deeds and words. When he described Richard Bayfield as “like a dog returning to its vomit” that doesn’t sound like someone who would regret later working towards his execution. When More noted that there had been no burnings for eight years, he felt that they should step up the process by saying, “the condemnation of heretics, the clergy might lawfully do much more sharply than they do'”. He was looking to increase the persecutions, not decrease them. That’s not even considering the tree at More’s estate which allegedly was used for “interrogations” (which I understand a few people question the accuracy of those accounts).

    And yes, just as Catholics had persecuted Protestants the reverse would late also be true. That in no way makes it right. You can’t turn on something like EWTN for more than an hour without hearing a denunciation of moral relativism — and yet your site is not the only one defending someone like Thomas More.

    It’s interesting to note that when More sought after perceived heretics like Tynedale with such gusto it never seemed to upset More to considered resigning as chancellor. Only when he was later asked to agree to call Henry the sovereign head of the church did he reach a moral breaking point to then offer his resignation. The facts are clear that Thomas More had no qualms whatsoever in the persecution, torture, and execution of those outside his specific faith.

  10. “That in no way makes it right.”

    It doesn’t? What about governments in the 20th century that took actions against fascist and communist groups that would have imposed tyrannies if they took power? That is the closet we can come to understanding what the world looked like to More and his contemporaries. More could look back in history and see constant violence between the Church and heretical groups for over a thousand years. There is strong evidence that More would have preferred another way, based upon the toleration he depicted in Utopia. Such toleration would only emerge after long centuries of strife, and perhaps only did so due to politics moving to the forefront in the minds of the powerful.

    “The facts are clear that Thomas More had no qualms whatsoever in the persecution, torture, and execution of those outside his specific faith.”

    They most certainly are in dispute as to torture. More denied ever having tortured anyone. In any case, you are simply engaging in presentism and have bupkis ability to put yourselves into More’s shoes and those of his contemporaries. When history is viewed as an inquisition of the past by the present, only distorted history is produced. In any case, More is not remembered because he had some of the common vices of his time, but rather that he had virtues uncommon in all times.

  11. I thought you’d be more mad that I made fun of deep dish pizza 😀

    The United States only took actions against fascist and communist countries after they had established a pattern of taking over other countries. More saw some people who either had a different Christianity than the one at the time or in some cases simply wanted their Christianity in the vernacular. There was no sign of a government takeover then. If you’re saying that the later troubles by Protestant governments justified persecuting people like the six men Thomas More had a hand in killing, you’re assuming that any disruption in the status quo can be met with lethal force. You forget that tyranny usually begets tyranny and persecution usually begets persecution. This again is not a defense of their actions, but clearly if people (like the ones passing English language Bibles) are willing to die for their beliefs they often will have no limits to maintain them once they are able to practice them freely. The way you describe More’s actions isn’t the US fighting to kick the fascists out of France. It’s the actions of Muslim countries then and now killing people to prevent upsetting the Islamic apple cart. Somewhere in China there is a Thomas More proudly keeping a count of how many Christians he’s jailed or killed.

    If you believe there is strong evidence that Thomas More wanted another way, what is that evidence that doesn’t run 180 degrees counter from his own words and his own actions?

    The talk of “presentism” is just a way to use moral relativism without using the words moral relativism. Does the Bible not say to not murder? Did that not hold in More’s time? If you want to praise him for standing up to King Henry in defense of beliefs, I’ll join you in that praise. The weight of such steadfastness crumbles under the weight of causing the death of six people who wished to cause no harm. I simply will not ignore the actions of a murderer.

  12. “I thought you’d be more mad that I made fun of deep dish pizza”

    More for the rest of us Mike! 🙂

    “The United States only took actions against fascist and communist countries after they had established a pattern of taking over other countries.”

    That is precisely what More was witnessing in northern Germany. The Peasant’s War in Germany was still raging when he became Chancellor in 1525. To More and most Catholics of his time, the new fangled Protestant heresy meant anarchy followed by the extirpation of Catholicism and the imposition of dictatorial rule. More put his view succinctly:

    However, as long as they (heretics) refrained from violence, there was little violence done to them. And certainly though God is able against all persecution to preserve and increase his faith among the people, as he did in the beginning, for all the persecution inflicted by the pagans and the Jews, that is still no reason to expect Christian princes to allow the Catholic Christian people to be oppressed by Turks or by heretics worse than Turks.

    “Does the Bible not say to not murder? Did that not hold in More’s time?”

    Of course. What murders, unlawful killings, did More commit?

    “The weight of such steadfastness crumbles under the weight of causing the death of six people who wished to cause no harm. I simply will not ignore the actions of a murderer.”

    The laws against heresy, that More was bound to enforce as Chancellor, had existed for centuries in England prior to his day. More also had the wit, as his comment to his son-in-law indicates, to see where all this was heading: the outlawry of Catholicism in England.

  13. ” I specifically stated that Roper’s claims did not match More’s deeds and words. When he described Richard Bayfield as ‘like a dog returning to its vomit'”

    “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.

    For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'”
    (2 Peter 2:20-22)


    More used a phrase from Scripture. Originally from Proverbs and cited by Peter. As Scripture, it is part of Divine Revelation – infallible Truth revealed by God.

    Why would God use such a phrase (and More reference it?). Because it is a comment on those who once knowing the truth, return to the folly of lies. In fact, the use of such a strong expression is meant to denote the even stronger folly of abandoning Christ after once being embraced by Him (in Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation etc.)

    Now, in More’s time, Luther’s heresy and the schism it caused were grave threats not only to souls and the unity of the Church, but also to the peace of the state. More’s actions were legitimate means of his time to preserve/restore this peace. But more importantly for More, they were a legitimate means to protect souls.

  14. All of Henry’s kids were unhealthy. His son died as a teenager. Both Mary and Elizabeth were probably sterile.

    The pregnancies of Catherine of Aragon:

    In August 1509, two months after the wedding, Catherine’s first pregnancy was announced. On 31 January 1510, she miscarried a girl.
    In May 1510, four months after the loss of her first child, Catherine announced her second pregnancy. A son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was born on 1 January 1511. In his honour, guns were fired from the Tower of London and the city bells were rung, beacons were lit and free wine was distributed to all the population. Five days after his birth, on 6 January 1511, the prince was christened at Richmond Palace, his godparents being the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl of Surrey and the Countess of Devon. On 22 February 1511, after only 52 days of life, the young prince died suddenly. It was said that he died of an intestinal complaint.
    By early 1513, Catherine was pregnant again.[34] On 30 June 1513, Catherine was left as regent in England when Henry VIII went to fight in France. On 17 September 1513, she went into labour prematurely and gave birth to a boy who was either stillborn or died shortly after birth.
    In June 1514, Catherine announced her fourth pregnancy. On 8 January 1515, she gave birth to a stillborn boy.
    In the summer of 1515, Catherine announced her fifth pregnancy; however, less hope was placed on an heir following her previous failed pregnancies. On 18 February 1516, Catherine delivered a healthy girl at 4 a.m. at Greenwich Palace, Kent.[35] She was named Mary and christened three days later (21 February) with great ceremony at the Church of Observant Friars. Despite his evident disappointment, Henry VIII said that if it were a girl this time then surely boys would follow.
    In 1517, Catherine suffered another miscarriage.
    In February 1518, Catherine announced her seventh pregnancy. In March, she visited Merton College, Oxford and also made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Frideswide, asking for a healthy son. On 10 November 1518 she gave birth to a daughter, but the child was weak and lived only a few hours.

    Anne Boleyn had Elizabeth and two stillborn children.

    There is some speculation that Henry had a genetic disorder that made him unhealthy and made his offspring unhealthy.


  15. More, the persecuting lord chancellor, becoming the martyr, is a good example of one who takes the sword, dying by the sword.

  16. Arthur, Henry’s older brother, was sickly and died young. There is conjecture that because of his many mistresses that Henry had VD and Elizabeth may have contracted it? While pregnant Catherine as regent led Henry’s troops while he was in France to quell a disturbance and miscarried as a result.

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