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Thomas More

There were seven judges including the new Lord Chancellor, Thomas Audley. More was immediately told that he could even yet take the oath and beg the King's pardon and be saved. Sir Thomas More declined. More, still one of the country's best barristers, complained first of his long imprisonment and how he was in no condition to defend himself. A chair was brought in for him and he was allowed to sit down. More made an impassioned defence, saying that he had always told the King his personal opinions when asked. He then complained about the Act which seemed to allow conviction from silence. "Neither can any one word or action of mine be alleged or produced to make me culpable. By all which I know, I would not transgress any law, or become guilty of any treasonable crime for no law in the world can punish any man for his silence. This God only that is the judge of the secrets of the hearts." And then Sir Thomas More's trials took a dramatic turn. The King's solicitor general was sworn in as witness and testified that More has "confessed" to him, in a private conversation in the Tower of London several months earlier. According to Richard Rich, More had linked the King's supposed "supremacy" with the right of Parliament to depose of the sovereign. How, then, could Parliament depose of a King if he were supreme, More had allegedly asked? This was sensational testimony and would suffice to convict More. More was taken by surprise but put on his bravest face and went on the offensive. "If I were a man, my lords, that has no regards to my oath, (and) I had no occasion to be here at this time, as is well known to every body, as a criminal; and if this oath, Mr. Rich, which you have taken, be true, then I pray I may never see God's face which, were it otherwise, is an impression I would not be guilty of to gain the whole world." More did not seem to have a mean bone in his body. Erasmus once said that "What did nature ever create milder, sweeter and happier than the genius of Thomas More? All the birds come to him to be fed. There is not any man living so affectionate to his children as he, and he loveth his wife as if she were a girl of fifteen." But More faced perjury which could convict him. "In good faith, Mr. Rich, I am more concerned for your perjury than my own danger," he rebutted. "I must tell you that neither myself nor anybody else to my knowledge ever took you to be a man of such reputation that I or any other would have anything to do with you in a matter of importance. I am sorry I am forced to speak it (but) you always lay under the odium of a very lying tongue." More's efforts to discredit Rich were part of the package the jury of 12 took with them to consider. But they soon returned with a verdict: guilty. The Lord Chancellor began to read the sentence when More interjected. "My lord, the practice in such cases was to ask the prisoner before sentence whether he had any thing to offer why judgment should not be pronounced against him." The Lord Chancellor abruptly stopped his sentence reading and asked More what he was "able to say to the contrary." More was now on borrowed time. He protested against the charge as best he could. "A son is only by generation. We are by regeneration made spiritual children of Christ and the Pope." The sentence for treason was then handed down: "That he should be carried back to the Tower of London and from thence drawn on a hurdle through the City of London to Tyburn there to be hanged till he should be half dead; that then he should be cut down alive, his privy parts cut off, his belly ripped, his bowels burnt, his four quarters set up over four gates of the City, and his head upon London Bridge." When the sentence was read out, More said he may as well speak freely now and revealed that he was totally unable to see the sense of the oath of supremacy. To this, the Lord Chancellor replied that why, then, had so many bishops and academics taken the oath of supremacy? "I am able to produce against one bishop which you can produce, a hundred holy and Catholic bishops for my opinion; and against one realm, the consent of Christendom for a thousand years." And upon those desperate words, More rejoined that "albeit your lordships have been my judges to condemnation, yet we may hereafter meet joyfully together in Heaven to our everlasting salvation." Thomas More was then led back to London Tower, but this time with the Tower's axe before him, pointed edge leading the procession and towards the convict as was the custom. Henry the 8th later commuted the sentence to a quick beheading. The day of execution was July 6, 1535 and the procession left London Tower at nine in the morning. This was a big spectacle for Londoners, a parade of sorts. Persons who had lost law suits before him when he was Lord Chancellor, seized the opportunity to heckle the condemned man. To one wretched woman he yelled back: "I very well remember the case and if I were to decide it now, I would make the same decree." Brought up to the scaffold, Thomas More said to his executioner. ""Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office. My neck is very short. Take heed, therefore, thou not strike awry for saving thine honesty."

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