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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > September 2018 > Split Loyaties

Split Loyaties

Thomas More’s duties to God and Crown were set against each other when Henry VIII decided to break away from the Catholic Church. Whatever the Lord Chancellor did next, says Joanne Paul, it could only end badly
Thomas More was canonised 400 years after his death. He is a patron saint of lawyers, politicians, adopted children and difficult marriages
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On the cold Sunday morning of 17 February 1516, scholar and lawyer Thomas More sat down in his London home to pen a letter to his friend Erasmus Five miles down the Thames, at Greenwich, Queen Catherine of Aragon was in labour. More, along with the whole country, would soon be devoting prayers to the safe delivery of a son to secure the Tudor dynasty. But in the few minutes he had dedicated to himself and his work, he had other matters on his mind.

He had recently returned from a diplomatic mission on behalf of Henry VIII. The mission, More told Erasmus, had been long, expensive and professionally futile, although it had been personally productive. While away, he had found the time to begin work on the book that would become his masterpiece, Utopia. He had penned the pages about the ideal island but, upon returning to life in England, had found it difficult to finish his work. There was also another distraction: he had been offered a pension from the King.

Not for the first or last time in his life, More was torn between competing loyalties. He spilled his angst onto the page before him If he took the offered money, he would lose the respect of the people of London, who would see him, one of the city’s two undersheriffs, as a traitor. He did not want to end up in the even more difficult position of having to arbitrate between his city and his liege. For that reason, he wrote, he did not think he would accept Henry’s offer. He would remain as he was: a dedicated citizen, a family man and a scholar.

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About History Revealed

At the dawn of the second century BC, two titans of the ancient world went to war: Macedon, the pre-eminent power of Ancient Greece, and Rome, then still an upstart republic. This is the complete story of a war that defined antiquity, where phalanx clashed with legion. Plus: Protest and turmoil ripples around the world in 1968; the split loyalties of Thomas More, the accident that made Frida Kahlo an artist, a glimpse inside the Titanic & more.