A good friend of mine, talking about his ancestors and Thomas More recommended this biography to me.
It was not an easy book to read. My basic knowledge of Latin and the Early Modern English was not sufficient enough to completely understand (without using a dictionary) the writings and dialogues of Thomas More and his contemporaries. Ackroyd uses them sporadically as in the originally spoken languages in order to give the reader a more accurate picture of Thomas More and the way he interacted with others.
Ackroyd writes very little about the intimate, family life of Thomas More, except about the way he was educated; his absolute admiration for his father and the love for his son and daughters, especially the eldest, Margaret.
More insisted that all three daughters receive the same education as his son. In Henry VIII's time, the education of girls was the privilege of the royal and the rich. It was not intended to educate women as independent thinkers though.
Ackroyd pictures Thomas More as a brilliant scholar of 16th century England who died rather than betray the Catholic church. As a young man, More seriously contemplated becoming a priest, but went on to become one of the most successful politicians of his time. He studied Latin and Greek literature at Oxford University for two years and continued his education by studying common law in London .
More's lifelong friend was Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Dutch Renaissance humanist with whom he shared similar views on social affairs, the Bible teaching, and Latin translations of Lucian's works. Although very busy practicing law, More continued with his literary and spiritual interests. He wrote Utopia, a work of fiction and political philosophy.
As a prominent attorney, Thomas More acted as a secretary and confidant to King Henry VIII in 1518 . With the assistance of More, King Henry VIII wrote the "Defense of the Seven Sacraments" as a response to Martin Luther's attack on Catholic doctrine of salvation and other practices. From there on Thomas More occupied a series of important posts such as Treasurer of England's Exchequer, Chancellor of Lancaster and speaker of the House of Commons. In 1529 he replaced Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor, which was the most important government position in England .
But the fate of Thomas More will soon change and he will lose all the privileges he enjoyed, when More refuses to sign, under oath to recognise King Henry VIII as the Supreme head of the Church of England. More refused to undermine the authority of Pope.
Ackroyd constructs the last period of life of Thomas More in a masterful way. This is the best part of the book in that Ackroyd's writing prowess comes to the fore. Just as he describes the London's streets which More took daily while studying law at Lincoln's Inn , so detailed is Ackroyd's description of Thomas More's last dwelling quarter where he spent as a prisoner in the Tower of London, his trial for treason , the heartbreaking partaking from his family and daughter Margaret and Thomas More's execution (on July 6, 1535).
Ackroyd's book The Life of Thomas More is accompanied by a couple of pages of illustrations and portraits of More's family members, close friends and of Thomas More himself. On his portrait as Lord Chancellor of England, More wears a golden chain with S-S as an emblem of the service to the King. The letters stand for the expression: "Souvent me souvien" (Think of me often). Five hundred and eighty years has passed since his execution, yet Thomas More remains one of England 's most celebrated historical figures. Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More adds more light to More's shining star.
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