More's London

Sir Thomas More is probably England's best-known martyr. As chancellor and chief political advisor to henry VIII, More paid with his life when he opposed the King's self-serving  renunciation of the Roman Catholic Church. He was arrested, charged with treason, imprisoned and finally executed in 1535. To coincide with the opening of the Tower of London cell in which he spent the last 15 months of his life, we take you on a whirlwind tour of attractions with a Thomas More connection.

Early Years

Thomas More was born in 1478 to an influential fammily that lived in Milk Street, near the present-day St Paul's Cathedral. More's birthplace is gone but there is a plaque marking the site where the crooked timber-framed house once stood. More spent his early years in this prosperous area of Cheapside and, at the age of seven, began his formal education at St Anthony's School in nearby Threadneedle Street.

The 12-year-old More entered public life as a page to Archbishop Morton at Lambeth Palace. This London residence of the Archbishop of Cantebury is one of the few medieval buildings left in the Capital. As part of the Millennium celebrations, visitors will geta  rare view of the Crypt, Guard Room, Chapel and the ecclesiatical Library when the palace opes to the public from 1 April to 4 November 2000.

Personal Development

More received private education at Lambeth Palace and his capacity for learning was eventually rewarded with a place at Oxford University. When he returned to London at the age of 18, he studied law at Lincoln's Inn, where his father was a senior member. From 1496 he attended lectures and dined in the Old Hall, making the contacts that ensured a future in government and public life.

While studying law, More attached himself to the strict Carthusian monastery at Charterhouse Square to receive spiritual formation. More's time here has been described as a period of deep contemplation, but he finally decided against joing the resident order fo monks. As a penance he wore a scratchy hair shirt beneath his clothes for the rest of his life. Tours of the old monastery are by arrangement, on Wednesdays only between April and July (call 020 7253 9503 fmi).

Public Life

More's legal career progressed swiftly and his rise to the highest public office in the land was nothing short of meteoric. In 1510 he was made Under Sherrif of London, he became Privy Councillor by 1516, was Knighted by 1520 and became the first laymen to hold the post of Lord Chancellor, "The Man for all Seasons" presided over the country's highest law court in Westminster Hall - the oldest surviving part of the Palace of Westminster.

During this time, Thomas More became a close friend of Cardinal Wolsey, spending a great deal of time at his home at Hampton Court. Even after Wolsey's fall from favour in  1528, More continued to visit Hampton Court, as Henry VIII had confiscated the palace as a royal residence. He also served at the King's court at Windsor Castle.

More's Chelsea

More's successful career made him a wealthy man and in 1524 he bought 27 acres fo land in Chelsea, then a riverside village surrounded by countryside. Outside the Convent Chapel in Beaufort Street is a mosaic portrait of More, with an inscription stating that his house once stood here. Notable academic, including Desiderius Erasmus, and the artist Hans Holbein visited More at this site.

One the corner of Cheyne Walk and Danvers Street stands Crosby Hall. More's city residence originally stood in Bishopsgate, but was transported stone by stone to Chelsea in 1910 to avoid demolition. Unfortunately, Crosby Hall is not open to the public but it's Tudor splendour can be viewed from the outside.

During his time in the area, More was a devoted member of the congregation at Chelsea Old Church. He rebuilt one fo the chapels and erected a tomb to his first wife. Included in the lower inscription are the words "For Alice and myself this tomb I rear", penned by More who himself wished to be buried here, but sadly it was not to be. Today, a statue to Thomas More stands as a reminder of the great man's connection with the church. There's also an engraving of More by the Florentine artist Bartolozzi inside the church.

Final Showdown

More's career ended, where it began, at Lambeth Palace. He was escorted to the Palace in 1534 and asked to swear an oath rejecting Papal authority. His refusal sealed his fate and he left as a prisoner. His own trial was held at Westminster Hall, where he was condemned and taken to the Tower of London to await his own execution.

To mark the year 2000, the cell where Thomas More was imprisoned has been opened to the public for the first time. Visitors can see inside the small stone dungeon, in the lower part of the Bell Tower, where More spent his last months writing letters to his family. The accompanying exhibition includes the final letter he composed to his daughter and a relic of the hair shirt he wore as a penance under his clothes.

More of More

The head of Thomas More was rescued and laid to rest at St. Dunstan's Church, a stone's throw away from the Cantebury Cathedral shrine of England's other great martyr, St Thomas Becket.

Relics from More's life are rare. After his execution, the King was keen to ensure his possessions did not become objects of Catholic veneration. Some survived, however, and you can currently see the Jewels of Sir Thomas More at the British Museum. Room 46 contains artefacts associated with the life and legacy fo More - including bejewlled seals and crosses.

-- Published by Virgin Net, 2000


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