"Please Sir Thomas do sit down"
"I d´rather stand Master Cromwell"
Cromwell looked at the other men in the room but said nothing. He then started to talk with a touch of kindness in his voice, something that More did not fail to notice. Cromwell told him that the King would be willing to show mercy and be benevolent to him if only him, More, would be a little more flexible.
He looked at them. There was a piece of glass across the room and he saw himself there. His hair was long, very long, it passed his shoulders. He wore also a beard, an equally long bear. He was thinner. He was utterly unrecongizable. Alice had seen him a few weeks ago and she had not known him. She no longer identified herself with him.
And More did not blame her.
He was different and he knew it. But these men in front of him did not. They didn't understand that he was no longer interested in freedom of the body, but yes in freedom of the soul. And for that he had to die.
"My holy study" Thomas started "shall be upon the Passion of Christ"
Cromwell had to make an effort not to roll his eyes and asked him to go outside for a moment he and the others deliberated about him. Thomas left and waited outside. He could not lie and say he wasn't nervous. He was. But he not did fear death. He feared the torture and pain and what they would do to his body especially at the expense of his soul.
But More did not fear death and there were times when he actually longed for it.
Therefore, he tried to remain calm and quiet without wondering what they were saying inside of the room he had just left.
Almost an hour after, he was called back again. Cromwell expression was now angrier, more annoyed. He didn't start with the same kind tone he had before. He was rather harsh this time something that More had predicted in the moment he entered the room again.
He was asked if he should not submitted himself to parliamentary statutes just like any other men.
"I will not say the contrary" He answered as always
Cromwell then went out to say that his behaviour had influenced other men who were to stiff therin as they are. More knew perfectly well to whom Cromwell was referring to. Three carthusians priests had been interrogated and had also denied to swear the Oath giving reasons similar to More´s.
And now Cromwell was implying that More might be held responsible for the cruel deaths those men would suffer. This infuriated More. He took several steps forward and never taking his eyes off Cromwell he told him
"I do nobody harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith, I long not to live. And I am dying already and have since I came here been divers times in the case that I thought to die within one hour and I thank the Lord that I was never sorry for it but rather sorry when I saw the pang past. And therefore, my body is at the King´s pleasure would God my death do him any good"
Cromwell visibly impressed calmed down and returned to the kind tone. After a few more questions he gave the interrogation as finished and Thomas was finally allowed to return to his cell.
There he was in his trial. Looking at his judges in Westminster Palace more precisely in Westminster Hall. He knew that place very well. He used to work there, he was a judge there, not to mention his times as speaker of the House of Commons. He remembered when he was still Lord Chancellor and his father had been alive, he would see his father in the same place where he was now, close to the centre of the Hall. He would go to his father, no matter how high he had risen, and kneel before him, and ask his blessing.
It was always a sight everyone stopped to look. The Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More knelling before his father to ask his blessing. Now, few years after, his father was gone and he was being trial for high treason.
"Sir Thomas More you are charged with attempting to deprive the King as head of the Supreme Church in England, which is treason…."
He stopped hearing for a moment and focus on the place around him. He exhaled his breath discretely. In that moment, Thomas More forgot everything. His family, his daughter Meg, the King. It was him now, he was again that young barrister at the Inns that was about to put his case. It was about to start.
The Duke of Norfolk was the one who started directing to him. He said that if Thomas repented it his actions, if he stopped being obstinate and stubborn then he would be pardoned for the King in his endless mercy would do so.
More started to talk. He first claimed that his bad health and poor memory no longer allowed him to discuss this matters as before. A chair was then brought to him. After sitting down in front of his Lords, he continued to talk.
"Touching the first article, wherein is proposed that I to utter and sheer my malice against the King and his late marriage, I can say nothing but this: that of malice I never spoke anything against it, and that whatsoever I have spoken in that matter I have none otherwise spoken but according to my very mind, opinion and conscience"
He swallowed trying to clear his throat.
"Touching I say, this challenge and accusation I answer that for this my taciturnity and silence, neither you law nor any law in the world is able justly and rightly to punish me, unless you may besides lay to my charge either some word or some fact or deed"
The King´s attorney then accused his silence of being malicious. More was against the statute and his silence was the proof of it otherwise why would More refuse to swear the Oath and the Supremacy if he had nothing against it?
"Truly" More said "The rule and Maxim of the Civil Law be good, allowable and sufficient, then Qui tacet consentire videtur. This, my silence imply rather a ratification and confirmation than a condemnation of your Statute. For I assure that I have not hitherto to this hour and disclosed and opened my conscience and mind to any person living in all the world."
After more interrogation, Richard Rich was called. To Thomas More amazement, he committed perjury against him, since the words exchanged between them in the cell and the circumstance they were exchanged was not the one Rich bothered to explain.
In his defence, More answered to this a bit more forcefully than he should
"And yet if I had done so indeed my Lords, as master Rich hath sworn being it was spoken but in familiar talk, nothing affirmative, and only in putting of cases without any other displeasing circumstances it cannot justly be taken to be spoken maliciously"
In that moment, Thomas More recalled his time at Lincoln´s Inn when he was a young man, fresh from Oxford, and his masters and professors at the Inn asked him to "put a case". That was the way it was done. Junior barristers were asked to "put a case" or "ask your case" after being given a subject to debate. The feelings or private convictions of the young lawyer were in no way involved. It was a purely theoretical or at the very least dramatic activity used to train barristers.
That was what Richard Rich and him did, both of them being lawyers something that to More was corroborated by the manner in which Rich approached the questions and began the conversation. Rich had also been trained as a lawyer in the Inns of Court, he knew perfectly well.
Only then Thomas realised his naivety. For him it was still perjury and Rich knew that but he had fallen in that trap, a trap laid by an obviously malicious man. Or men.
Staring deeply at Rich he uttered with a dismayed look
"In good faith, Master Rich I am sorrier for your perjury rather than my own peril" More took another deep breath here. "And you shall understand that neither I, nor no man else to my knowledge, ever took you to be a man of such credit as in any matter of importance I, or any other, would at any time vouchsafe to communicate with you. And I, as you know, of no small while have been acquainted with you and your conversation who have known you from your youth hitherto. For we long dwelled both in one parish together where as yourself can say (I am sorry you compel me so to say) you were esteemed very lightly of your tongue, a great dicer, and of no commendable fame."
Thomas took a deep breath to regain composure. Richard Rich eyes widened and hearing this and he seemed positively furious. But More continued impassible
"Can it therefore seem likely unto your honourable Lordships that I would, in a so weighty cause, so unadvisable overshoot myself as to trust Master Rich, a man of me always reputed for one of so little truth, as your lordships have heard, so far above my sovereign Lord the King, or any of his noble counsellors that I would unto him utter the secrets of my conscience touching the King supremacy, the special point and only mark at my hands so long sought for: A thing which I never would, after the statute thereof made, reveal either to the King himself or to any of his honourable counsellors, as it is not unknown to your honours at sundry several times sent from his graces own person unto the Tower unto me for none other propose? Can this in your judgements my Lords, seem likely to be true?"
It was silent after this speech, his speech of defence.
Richard Rich took several steps forward and red with anger, he was allowed to answer. He asked the Court then to call for Master Palmer and Master Southwell who accompanied him to the Tower where he stripped More off his books and other personal belongings.
These two men entered the Court room without even looking at Thomas. They were both thin and lean and pale and Thomas thought that their appearance was almost as bad as his. He made no comment not even when the two men said that they had heard nothing of their conversation for they were too busy in taking and packing his books and other belongings.
Therefore, the only testimony of the conversation belonged solely to Sir Richard Rich.
Sir Thomas Audley after hearing the two men turned to the jury and said
"Then I will charge this jury to return a true verdict. I ask you, good sirs, to determine whether Sir Thomas More did converse with Sir Richard Rich in the manner alleged?"
The jury retired for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes Thomas spent in silence. It was cold in there as it was always. Westminster Hall together with the Abby was one of the oldest buildings in England. He looked up, above the staircase, to the stained glass. The figures of Kings across the room surrender him.
It was ironic that the trial that is deciding his life was happening in that specific place. He always loved going there, even when he was performing his duties. Then he realised that he was here again, performing another duty. Not to his King but to God. And for the first time since he had stepped foot in that place again, he felt in peace.
When the Jury returned and More looked at them, it took him merely a fraction of a second to know, he knew, what the verdict was. With one last look to the strained glass, he put his hand on his pocket. Inside, there were several lines of paper. He had copied passages of the Bible to a parchment and when Rich retrieved his books and papers he rip them and kept small compilations in his pocket. The passages were about the sadness of Christ, what Christ endured, the importance of forgiving and especially the importance of enduring the most terrible of pains, something that More was especially afraid of.
His fingers played with the small pieces of parchment inside of his pocket. He felt strength coming from them, from the holy words. His eyes closed for a second. He knew that one of the compilations he had inside his pocket was John 8:32.
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." He whispered to himself.
"You do so find him guilty? Then I will proceed in judgment against the prisoner"
More already knew he had lost by then. He turned his head to Sir Thomas Audley.
"My Lord when I was towards the Law the manner in such case was to ask the prisoner before Judgment, why Judgement should not be given against him"
Audley frowned his eyes passing through More´s face which was serious and attentive.
"What, then, are you able to say to the contrary?"
The whole Hall was silent. Nothing could be heard. Everyone was almost holding on his breath waiting for him to speak. Thomas More raised his head, wet his lips with his tongue, and with his hand pulled his hair back in a failed attempt of preventing it of falling to his eyes.
"Seeing that I see ye are determined to condemn me, (God knoweth how) I will now in discharge of my conscience speak my mind plainly and freely touching my Indictment and your Statute withal. Forasmuch as my Lord, this Indictment is grounded upon an act of Parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and His Holy Church, the supreme government of which, or of any part whereof may no temporal prince presume by any Law to take upon him as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome…"
The noises around him increased, people were whispering loudly, others were talking without care for place or time and others were actually screaming at him but he didn't back off and continued to speak completely oblivious to this, his tone also rising, before the incredulity of the Lords before him
"…a spiritual preheminence by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present upon the Earth, only to St. Peter and his successors, Bishops of the same See, by special prerogative granted;"
While saying this, his hand grabbed with force the compilation of the bible, one of those he had copied, where it is said, he knew it from Matthew 16:18:
"And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
"It is therefore, in Law amongst Christian men insufficient to charge any Christian men. This Realm being but one member and small part of the Church might not make a particular law disagreeable with the general law of Christ´s Universal Catholic Church. No more than the city of London, being but one poor member in respect of the whole Realm, might make a law against an act of parliament to bind the whole realm. No more might this realm of England refuse obedience to the See of Rome then might a child refuse obedience to his own natural father"
The noise didn't vanish but diminishing a bit when he stopped talking. The Duke of Norfolk stood and with a pointing and accusing finger to More exclaimed
"We now plainly see that you are maliciously bent!"
"Nay, nay" Thomas More rebuked his Grace, the Duke "very and pure necessity for the discharge of my conscience enforced me speak so much. Wherein I call and appeal to God whose only sight pierce into the very depth of mans heart, to be my witness. Howbeit, it is not this supremacy so much that ye seek my blood, as for that I would not condescend to the marriage"
This only provoked more noise and some grimaces of despise for More. After a few moments, silence was made in the Courtroom. Everyone knew the sentence was coming when Thomas Audley turned to Lord Fitzjames and asked how did he find the case. After a declaration from this man Thomas Audley diverted his eyes to Sir Thomas and then to the whole of the Hall to hear he raised his voice to say
"Look my Lords, look, you heard what my lord chief Justice said." His eyes meet More´s "You are judged to be guilty, Sir Thomas More. Do you have anything to allege in your defence?"
More was defeated or so they thought. He knew he was going to die, he knew was going to be found guilty. If he hadn't known he wouldn't have spoken his "poore mind" as he liked to say. He then spoke for the last time in Westminster Hall
"More have I not to say My Lords, but that like the blessed apostle St. Paul as we read in the thactes of the Apostles, was present and consented to the death of St. Stephen and kept their clothes and stoned him to death and yet be they now both twain holy Saints in Heaven and shall continue their friendship forever. So I verily trust and shall therefore heartily pray that though your Lordships have now here in Earth been Judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in Heaven merrily meet together…" Here Thomas smiled slightly as if this specific thought amused him greatly "to our everlasting salutation and thus I desire almighty God to preserve and defend the King´s Majesty and to send him good counsel"
Here his eyes flicked through the men in front of him, sending this message to each one of them, his blue-grey eyes penetrating theirs.
A few moments after he heard his sentence and his smile disappeared, his expression became serious, never fearful though inside fear started to building up. To the outside he merely looked tired and weary.
He, however, knew it was coming but the torture was what he most dreaded and there it was being spoken in front of him what was about to happen to him in mere five days.
"Sir Thomas More you are to be drawn on a hurdle through the city of London to Tyburn, there to be hanged, till you are half dead, after that cut down yet alive, your bowels out of your body and burned before you, your privy parts cut off, your head cut off, your body to be divided in four parts and your head and your body to be set at such places as the King shall assign"
When he was taken again to the Tower of London, in the moment he left Westminster Hall, he gave one last look to the Hall itself and whispered to himself another of the compilations in his pocket from the same Apostle he had mentioned, St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans
"Tribulation produces perserverance, and perserverance, character, and character, hope."
More´s only hope was that death came fast so he can finally go to Heaven and finally achieve his deepest desire: To be away from all the tribulations and earthly preoccupations that now meant absolutely nothing for him.
Conscience was not for him simply or necessarily an individual matter, More mused. As Lord Chancellor he had been charged with the application of conscience to law, but upon general and traditional principals. At his trial he affirmed the primacy of the Law itself as it has always been understood. He asserted the laws of God and of reason, as they had been inherited, and he simply did not believe that the English Parliament could repeal the ordinances of a thousand years. At the trial itself he was also convicted for maintaining the traditional law. He embodied the Law all his life and he was going to die for it.
He was in peace with himself. They didn't understand, no one did, maybe the only person who did was Meg, but even her did not fully comprehend. What happened in that trial was the best outcome to him. It was what he wanted. He did not see it as something tragic or sad, perhaps to his family, certainly to his family, but not to him.
He rose above them. Above them all. He rose above by remaining true to his divinely ordained conscience.
Even his fear of torture was almost gone since he left the trial.
When Thomas More returned to the Tower, Master William Kingston began to cry but More quickly comforted him, a hand placed on the man´s shoulder
"Good master Kingston trouble not yourself but be of good cheer, for I will pray for you and my good Lady your wife that we may meet in Heaven together, where we shall be merry for ever and ever"
In that moment, Thomas found ironic the fact that even though he was the one was going to die, he was also the one who was comforting the ones who were mourning him.
The problem for More was when he arrived to the Tower. His children were there. Something he ought to have deduced but he didn't. John More, his only son, knelt before him and asked his blessing. Margaret Roper, her daughter did the same. He blessed them but when he was again being taken by the guards, he heard Margaret calling him and turning, she hastily ran to his arms and in the sight of them all, embraced him, placing her arms around his neck, kissing him.
More had to make a great effort to smile at his daughter and comforted her again, promising they would meet together in Heaven and be together forever.
He was taken once again away from her to the Tower but this was not enough for his daughter. Once more, even with the guards surrounding her father, she repeated her actions not being able to control herself. She suddenly turned back again, ran to him as before, took him by the neck and divers times kissed him lovingly.
Many people were around them observing the prisoner and before this display of affection between father and daughter, plus seeing such a famous man in that situation, many of them began to weep.
The next five days he spent praying. When a barber appeared to cut his beard Thomas More kept his humour and told him that, "The King has taken out a suit on my head and until the matter is resolved I shall spend no further cost upon it"
As the days passed he prayed and as he prayed he was surprise to see his own fear of torture and the pains of death diminishing. His only problem now was of a transcendental calibre. He wondered often if God would forgive his sins.
Dame Alice visited him. She ended up crying something he hoped he would never see her do, and once more Thomas More comforted her. After that, he gave her a letter to his family and to Meg especially whom he knew, her heart was broken because of him, and one of his actions in this Earth, he thought, was to offer some comfort to his daughter.
Thomas More wished to die on a Tuesday for it was the day of the translation of the relics of St. Thomas Beckett. He was granted that. And Thomas Pope came from the King´s grace to tell him that he was to die at nine o ´clock and that the sentence was commuted to simply beheading and that he should not use many words in his last moments. More nodded at this conformed and willing to obey to his King. After all, he was still his subject and More knew that he was a servant to his King.
Despite the fear of a violent death had somehow stopped mattering for him he could not avoid but feel relief at this. Now he would merrily run to death, to use his favourite word.
For Thomas everything had fallen just perfectly.
In the morning of his execution he dressed with his finest gown but was forced to change for one more plain. He agreed but even so insisted on giving a golden coin to his executioner.
He left his cell, a little before nine o´clock and made the short journey to Tower Hill. His face was now gaunt with debility and illness though not as bad as Bishop Fisher was when he was executed. He held before him a cross. A red cross.
In his short walk, he realised that he was about to die close, very close to the same place where he was born, in Milk Street. He could have smiled at that. Around him many people were watching. They would taunt him or cry at him some supporting some mocking.
A woman cried at him that he had been unjust for her when he was Lord Chancellor.
"Woman" He replied, stopping for a moment and turning to her "I remember well the whole matter. If now I were to give sentence again, I assure thee I would not alter it"
A few steps ahead other person offered him wine. He declined saying that his master was given vinegar and not wine.
He then met the Sheriff of London Humphrey Monmouth who More recognized immediately as one of the "new man" he had once interrogated when he was Lord Chancellor.
The Lord indeed make our life a great irony, More thought. How is the world upside down, this new man, is the one who is going to take me to the scaffold.
He was feeling weak. The sun shined in the sky it was too hot, but his steps were secure Unfortunately, the steps of the scaffold were not firm and one of the officers present helped him to climbed the steps.
Thomas then turned to him and said
"When I come down again, let me shift for myself as well as I can"
On the scaffold it was only him and his executioner. He turned to the crowd and reminded himself to be brief. His family had not been allowed to attend the execution. For that he was grateful. But he was also alone.
He then asked the crowd to pray for him in this world for he would pray for them elsewhere. He then earnestly asked them to pray for the King. More also said that he died for the Good Catholic Church and finally that he died as the King´s good servant but God´s first.
As he knelt down he professed the words of the Psalms:
"Have mercy upon me O God, according to thy loving kindness"
He then stood again, and his executioner asked him for forgiveness. He kissed him, and gave him the golden coin. He then said to the man who was going to kill him to not be afraid of performing his duty well for he would give him a greater benefit than every other man on Earth could be able to give him.
More knelt down and the executioner offered to bind his eyes. More refused and covered his face with a linen cloth. Then he lay down with his neck upon the block his arms were stretched before him.
Thomas More closed his eyes, the image of them all meeting merrily in Heaven was the last thing that passed through his mind.
This one shot is written in memory of Sir Thomas More who died at 6 of July of 1535. It was written with the help of Peter Ackroyd´s book which contains the original extracts of Sir Thomas trial, which are here represented as you have certainly guessed by the language. The description of Westminster Hall is based on my memory and on some photographs I took when I was there a year ago.
I would also like to add that this Thomas More knight here depicted is not the showline´s version of Sir Thomas. I have endeavoured to make him look like and behave like the real Sir Thomas More though I still think that's one of the most impossible tasks ever to perform.