Tuesday, July 6, 2010

July 6, 1535 – Thomas More Escapes

Mere hours before his execution, Catholic loyalists managed to sneak Sir Thomas More, once a favorite of Henry VIII and now a nemesis for his dedication to the Pope, from his prison in the Tower of London. Henry declared a nationwide search, but More was able to escape from England and into France under the guise of a book-trader.

In France, he shed his disguise and began to journey to Rome. Catholic supporters surrounded and protected him despite the impressive bounty offered on his head by Henry. Narrowly dodging two assassinations, More caught word that Henry himself was plotting war to capture the treasonous statesman by any means possible. He claimed no fear of the king or for his life, but he feared for bloodshed and sin resulting from war, and so he disappeared, falling in with Alpine monks under an assumed name.

While Henry's rage never ceased, his life did, and his son Edward VI assumed the throne. Moving away from Catholicism, Edward and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, imposed Protestantism and the infamous Book of Common Prayer. Upon his death at only 15, crisis followed with Lady Jane Grey's attempt at the throne, but Edward's half-sister Mary I managed to lay successful claim.

Less than a month after her crowning, an elderly monk presented himself as the septuagenarian Thomas More. With his political craft as well as the advice of Cardinal Pole (replacement for Cranmer, whom Mary had burned at the stake), the queen was able to heal England's separation from Rome, albeit under a fairly reformed condition. Priests retained their right to marriage, but the Book of Common Prayer was destroyed alongside any editions of Tyndale's English Bible. The Marian Persecutions raged, chasing Protestants out of England and executing those who remained.

Mary died in 1558, succumbing to what medical historians would later determine a hormonal disorder brought on by tumors. The aged More lived only a few months more, seeing the succession pass safely to the Catholic Mary, Queen of the Scots, as Mary I's sister Elizabeth had died at Hatfield House in a fire often found suspicious. England continued Catholic, despite the Protestant Rebellion of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s.

However, Henry VIII's short-lived separation from Rome always left its mark on the land and people, so much so that after the revolution of the American colonies led to the United States, the first amendment in their Bill of Rights read in 1789, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While England called for a new Crusade against such unorthodoxy, the Enlightenment had shifted the interests of Europe, and Rome had lost much of its power. Humanism and material philosophy had made moot a question which, only a few centuries before, had nearly torn Europe apart.

In reality, Henry VIII successfully executed Thomas More, who would be canonized by the Catholic Church in 1935. England began its precarious march to Protestantism, which aided in the bloody separation of northern Europe from southern along religious lines, helping to spark altercations such as the Thirty Years War and English Civil War.

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