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THE INTEGRITY OF VIRTUE, DYED BY ITS OWN BLOOD
The Englishman Thomas More, second in dignity only his sovereign, was easily comparable to the greatest men of his age for the singular integrity of his life and the fine sweetness of his learning and nature, which was (as Erasmus attested) very like that of the angels of heaven. In the thirty-fifth year of the last century King Henry VIII of England (of whom he was a favorite) resorted to every contrivance in an attempt to induce him to give his approval to the divorce of Catherine of Spain he was at that time planning. At length the king, realizing that he was entirely wasting his effort, came to hate rather than love him, and decided to overthrow him by means of the agents of his criminality, and to do away with him as soon as was possible. So that bloodthirsty law was passed which deprived the Pope of his authority as God’s vicar and transferred it to the King of England within the boundaries of his realm. When More refused to swear his allegiance to that law, as they claimed, they accused him of treason, condemned him, and punished him with death. Thus Stapleton in Book III, Thomas Sanders in On the English Schism, and others.
HENRY VIII the king
BRANDON Duke of Suffolk
AUDLEY More’s successor
CROMWELL the chief agent for the overthrow of religion
THE KING’S ADVOCATE
KINGSTON Lieutenant of the Tower of London
ENGLAND’S GUARDIAN ANGEL
FISHER Bishop of Rochester
EDWARD, MARY, ELIZABETH Henry’s children
In a private interview the king, hanging on More’s neck in his usual way, deals with him about granting his approval to the divorce of Catherine, but to no avail. More persuades the king to grant him freedom from public affairs.
KING How happily content we are with that mouth of yours and your entire countenance, a repository of uprightness and most devoted loyalty! How carefree I am, my darling More, hanging on your neck, which bears the weight of my government and majesty, just as heaven is supported by Atlas!
MORE Most noble king, I acknowledge these distinguished marks of your love of me, undeserving thought I be, and yet I readily understand that these feeble shoulders, weakened by old age, are unequal to supporting the load. I am a most happy servant of the realm, England has never produced one who has flourished with so much favor of his most bounteous sovereign.
KING Quite to the contrary, More, the world does not have, nor has it ever had, a sovereign more blessed than I, while I employ and have the benefit of you as my counselor.
MORE Kings owe their happiness to God alone, and to the virtue of their forebears.
KING Kings cannot maintain God’s gifts or the virtue bequeathed them by their forebears, unless they themselves heed the wise admonitions of their friends.
MORE It is the task of kings to command, and that of their subjects to obey, and their particular happiness on this earth is to be given a kindly hearing by their king when they offer wholesome advice.
KING A king cannot long be happy, or be happy at all, if he has scorned a friend giving loyal and prudent advice. Government is an immense weight, no kings’ shoulders can sustain it unless loyal counselors appear to share the burden. More, would that I could sometimes have you as a helper. in my private and domestic business, just as I do, to my great satisfaction, in matters of state! You have already heard of my great religious scruple. To be sure, the wife I have taken (if she is to be called my wife) is a very choice and well-approved woman, distinguished by all the marks of sanctity. But (as has scarcely escaped your notice) she was first joined in marriage to my legitimate brother, so men affirm with every assertion that on that score I have sinned, and say that divine law itself, as preserved in the records of holy books, declares this with no mean certainty. Hence stings of concern have arisen for me, hence I have been visited by bitter scruples which vex and creep into my mind day and night, to the point that I can have no rest until I am freed of them. So in regard to this matter I have been awaiting your opinion with eager ears. For, relying on your authority and supported by the awareness of doing my duty, I fear no criticism by the ill-disposed, and I prefer to divorce my wife, who is most unsuitable for the most powerful monarch in Christendom, or rather to annul the marriage, rather than to have this scruple stick in my mind for one second.
MORE (Aside.) What a sweet seductress is nature, as if she were her own bawd! (Aloud.) But I tell you, noble king, I am the least suitable authority for you to heed in such a great matter. For ever since I was a young man the scheme of my life has been very different than for me to trust myself to solve problems of this kind, which pertain to a different court. But as far as I can conjecture, there is nothing in this business of such significance that you should think yourself impeded by religious scruples or be behindhand in rightfully enjoying a marriage which has been sanctified by the authority of the Pope, which is that of the Son of God, and furthermore has been confirmed by the passage and experience of a long series of years and the birth of a very noble daughter. So, regarding it as fixed, settled, and confirmed, you may sail in safety, as long as you are riding in a ship steered by Peter.
KING But the very weighty authority of learned prelates protests that it is invalid and nullified, since it is contrary to the laws of nature and of God Himself, and such is the unanimous opinion of flourishing universities throughout all Europe. Do you, being one man, set yourself in opposition to them all?
MORE But if you heed me, most wise king, you will adhere to the view of those learned men who do not let themselves be begged or bribed into turning aside from their faith and religion. If you wish, I shall summon from heaven those bright lights of the world, Jerome and Augustine, as abundant religions, and you may easily prefer them to a thousand contrivers of novel doctrines. But why am I citing Augustines and Jeromes when you have an ever-unmoving pillar, I mean the oracle of the orthodox Church, whose pronouncements can never be tainted by error? And I would not have you believe I am speaking rashly. For, since you command it thus, I shall tell you how the matter stands. Several times, by your command and at my invitation, men consummately learned in both Canon and Civil Law met at my house. Very diligently we put our heads together and carefully pored through tomes of sacred writings. We went through the writings of the ancient Fathers, we examined laws both old and new, and in short we very keenly hunted through all things with our eyes and minds most intent on one single thing, to see if we might chance to dig out some point of law which might support your case, and we strove most zealously. But we accomplished nothing: very many authorities clearly stated that the marriage into which you have entered is enduring in accordance with both divine and human law, and no single one of the ancient writers I have seen denies this. And so in the name of the everlasting God, most merciful king, relieve me of this very difficult office, in the performance of which I bear a load heavier than Aetna, since I cannot do the will of my excellent prince. who has benefited me so greatly.
KING But, More, are you bound by no gratitude towards me? Are you unmoved by such a great heap of honors, by enjoying a near-royal dignity? Are you not mindful of, not to mention grasping for, the things I have freely granted you, so that for my sake you will bend just a little from the severity of your verdict? I am just asking for a single supportive word from you which, I swear by heaven itself, will be worth an entire kingdom to me.
MORE Indeed this will be a very fine gift, which I would rather have you bestow on me than all the rest, that you allow the integrity of my conscience, which I won’t say will be worth a single kingdom or even the whole world for me, but rather will be worth my blessed immortality, to remain pious, incorrupt and undamaged. For what, your majesty, will it profit me to have flourished in excellent authority with you for a brief moment of glory, if I should fall out of favor with the Almighty and lose my immortal glory forever? And that this might not happen, behold, I fall at your feet and with all my prayers beg and entreat you, grant me freedom from my public service. Grant me permission to resign my supreme magistracy. Grant it to my advanced and almost used-up old age that at leisure I might devote what time of life remains to God alone, to the final trial of death, to that moment on which hangs the eternity to follow.
KING (Aside.) Ah, this heart fenced in which impregnable adamant! This man’s candor and constancy have sunk their roots deeper in his inviolate mind than that it can be shaken by any contrivances of mine. Although my mind is afire with the bitterness of wrath, nevertheless I cannot openly spew forth the indignation stored up in my heart, I am overcome and checked by such great reverence for the man. (Aloud.) Arise, More. Although unwillingly, we grant your request. Surrender the gold ring that is the badge of the Lord Chancellor. In other matters we shall henceforth rely on your loyal assistance, as is our custom.
MORE Let God, Who alone can do so, repay you due thanks for your kindness. I have resigned, I have revived. Now I am wholly Yours, Jesus, King of Kings, my soul’s single delight. (Exit More.)
Indignant over the rebuff he has suffered at More’s hands, the king complains in the presence of Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, Cromwell,a nd Audley. Cromwell suggests a way by which More may be caught in a snare. Audley is created Lord Chancellor of England in More’s stead.
KING Away with your old woman’s religious doubts and scruples, which will quickly contrive a plague for you! You ungrateful person! Is this the thanks you give me for so many and such great benefits, all of which royal magnificence is worth a threepenny nail in your estimation? (Enter Brandon, Cromwell and Audley.) I’ll make him fully understand what a savage crime and insolent offence it is to have mocked his sovereign’s humble pleas. Quickly fetch back the traitor, let him die here, cut down at my feet. (Brandon hastens to go.). Stop, where are you rushing so quickly? I’ll not suffer the sight of the man’s most wearisome face. Every word he utters is a sign that his highly pious mind is free of all deceit and blemish, and they will cast just as many iron shackles on my anger. I have it, I’ve made up mind. I’ll look no more at the man with these eyes. Some toadies who have gained many a victory, shameless and bold in their audacity, true rascals who have never seen anything bad in wrongdoing, must be set against this gentleman of old-time virtue, who might act rightly or wrongly to enmesh him in the inextricable toils of investigations and courtroom trials. Once I have him entangled in these, I can destroy the fellow for my sport and amusement without any trouble or risk. So come, my lords, avenge your king with your advice and help, now that he has been wounded by a strange and novel form of insult.
BRAND. So the old man persists in opposing royal commands?
KING Clinging to his fooleries he has displayed the thick skin of stubbornness to our prayers and promises. He piles crime atop crime and, disdaining my rule, tenaciously adheres to my mortal enemy the Pope of Rome. Nor is this the end of his misdeeds. Brazenly rejected my ring during an audience, he inflicted a supreme insult on my majesty by resigning the great dignity I had freely bestowed on him.
BRAND. What gallows, what torture can match the severity of so great a crime?
KING Therefore you must devise a ways and means by which he can be brought down to his ruin as soon as possible. I’m determined to inflict the supreme punishment on him. But I need a shrewd and capable fellow. What do you think, Cromwell? The clock is not accustomed to come to stop ticking for you, when it’s necessary to devise tricks, schemes and devices to deceive someone.
CROM. At least as I see it, there is no need for any lengthy beating about the bush for the old man to be caught in quite inextricable snares and done in, thanks to his own stubbornness. I know for sure, your majesty, that nothing is more important to you than entirely banishing the cruel tyranny of the Bishop of Rome from the borders of your realm.
KING You understand this rightly. My most fixed intention is to do this, and I swear by all the Saints no power, no authority or entreaties will ever deter me from this project. What then?
CROM. Let a law be passed immediately which will make your secret marriage with Anne Boleyn sanctioned and legitimate. And let there be added (as a spear which can be hurled against any critic the king chooses) an artful document in which the king is proclaimed the supreme and unique moderator and head of the Church of England, second only to the everlasting God. And then let there be formulated an oath of consent to this proclamation, which all the Peerage and Commons are bound to take. And let the punishment for those who fail to comply be that which is traditional for those convicted of treason. Then let them be hailed before judges chosen by the king for this business, particularly those whom the king suspects will take the lead in objecting to his divorce of the Spanish Catherine, and let More, the choir-director of all the rest, be among the first. If he swears this very fine oath, we will triumph and as a victorious king you will celebrate a very splendid triumph over a stubborn foe. But if he obstinately refuses, then he has placed his head in the noose of the law, and is left to be pierced by the weaponry of his judges, at the king’s pleasure.
KING A crafty and cunning scheme, by the Styx, (Aside.) and most worthy of this whelp of Cerberus! (Aloud.) Congratulations on your shrewd wit, Cromwell. In exchange for this plan I shall add ten thousand piece of gold to your annual income, taken from the goods of the monks.
CROM. My right bounteous sovereign’s largesse is too liberal. It would be sufficient reward to have pleased my king. (Aside.) And yet, to tell the truth, I don’t think a higher salary is ever to be scorned.
KING Come, my lords, you see that the first beginning of this tapestry is woven most elegantly. It remains to bring it to its hoped-for ending with all speed. Take this ring from my hand, Audley, and be the first Lord of my Privy Council. Let this be the first evidence of your canniness and likewise proof of your gratitude towards us. Use the court to enmesh and destroy More. Wherever he turns himself, however he shuffles, let this be the chief thing: unless he permits himself to be bound by oath, let him be condemned and die.
AUD. Have no fear, prince. I stake my life on this business. If he isn’t caught up, oppressed and ruined by my arts, let Audley pay the forfeits to the king in More’s place. (Aside, while the rest exit.). It’s a small thing he’s asking. He could have purchased a much more daring crime from me for a smaller price.
While More congratulates himself on enjoying his long-sought leisure, free for God alone, Brandon, Audley and Cromwell, sent by the king, confront him with the impious oath, and when he is overwhelmed by their evil deceit and lying they command him to be taken off to bondage.
MORE (Holding a crucifix.) You have conquered at last, sweetest Jesus. After a long time You, a pious shepherd, have recalled this straying sheep to Your bosom. Thanks to Your guidance and prompting, I have at last emerged from the flood-waters of perilous servitude, and (so late, alas!) having been buffeted by the gravest calamities and a great storm, I am borne into the longed-for harbor, towards which I have earnestly aimed since my earliest days. It is with You, King of Heaven and Restorer of Man’s security, that I singl-mindedly and wholeheartedly take refuge, by all the weight of my affection I am swept into Your most sweet embrace. Just as I previously devoted myself to You in large part, now I give You myself entirely. And in truth one day, one single small hour spent with You and lived according to Your teachings is in countless ways to be preferred to a sinful immortality. Thus, thus it pleases me to have discarded the empty titles of dignities and glittering trash, and to have baffled the shifting mockeries of fortune. Amidst this most blessed leisure, in which my mind is free for Jesus alone, it is very most clear to me anything which might in any way serve as an interruption must be sent on vacation. (Loud noise of knocking at the door.) But what’s this strange uproar? My door is not accustomed to be stricken with such a troublesome assault. (A second loud noise. Enter a servant.)
SERV. The Duke of Suffolk, Audley and Cromwell are standing in front of your house, surrounded by an armed band of soldiers, threatening some violence and resort to arms if they aren’t let in at once.
MORE Brandon, Audley and Cromwell? Really? These are indeed honorable men, particularly dear to the king. Let the door be opened immediately, let them be admitted with all kindness. (Exit servant.) But what’s the meaning of these henchmen? Why break into a very peaceful household with such an assault? What do these things mean? My mind foresees a storm. I easily perceived the king’s furrowed and cloudy brow when I took my leave just now. But however the business turns out, Christ, You must be my heart’s helmsman, and as for the rest, let it go according to Your will, not mine. (He kisses the crucifix and hides it under his gown on the left side. Enter Audley, Brandon, Cromwell, the Governor of the Tower of London, and the henchmen.) Good health to you, my lords, persons most dear to the king.
BRAND. And so, More, we shall wish good health to you, when we determine that the king’s good health is to your liking.
MORE Well enough, my noble sirs. Therefore an old man may be permitted one more dance, for all my affairs are on a good footing. For the Saints above are my witnesses, and the king himself is my best witness, nothing in all my life could be more sacred or important to me than the king’s good health.
AUD. Words, mere words. The king won’t allow you to deceive him any more. So let’s come to the point, which we put in a few words, thus: are you prepared to take a solemn oath that the king’s marriage with Boleyn is legal and legitimate? Is the king to be styled and deemed to be the sole and supreme moderator of the English Church? Answer these things clearly, with no deceit and deception.
MORE (Aside.) May God avert this hateful omen! (Aloud.) So the king has married Boleyn?
AUD. He indeed has.
MORE (Aside.) Unhappy England! (Aloud.) Indeed, you press an old man too hard. The gravity of the matter requires more careful consideration. I ask for a few days’ truce.
AUD. The king’s mandate prevents all means of hesitation. A response must be given immediately.
MORE My heavens, you impose hard conditions on me, if you ask me about matter of which I am wholly ignorant and unaware. I must first consult the interpreters of papal law, lest I appear to have misrepresented God’s will rashly and and inconsiderately.
CROM. There’s need to trouble the interpreters, when you yourself are a deeply learned jurist. But pray tell the truth, More, and be so kind as to resolve this little question in my mind. Imagine that by the great authority of both orders I were to be proclaimed King of England. Would you say I was the king?
MORE Undoubtedly I would. What then?
CROM. Then imagine that a law was passed by these same orders, and with royal assent, declaring that I was to be called the Pontifex Maximus. Would you not also revere me as the Pope?
MORE (Aside.) God grant us better! A wolf, as they say, makes an excellent guardian for the sheep! (Aloud.) Cromwell, why this sudden transition from profane things to sacred, from the human to the the divine? Come now, in your imagination suppose that those same orders of the realm you have mentioned have decreed that the God we worship is non-existent and that only Cromwell is to be worshipped by everyone in God’s stead. Could you persuade yourself that you were suddenly endowed with divinity? I doubt you will make that claim.
CROM. And so you won’t acknowledge that supreme power over the Church of England is vested in the king, and that this is ordained by all the orders of the realm? The business is done, my lords. The little fox is caught in his own trap.
BRAND. The man’s clever wickedness stands manifestly revealed.
MORE Indeed, a clever dialectic shift! He manufactures and invents whatever comes to hand. Cromwell, pray allege only that which is established: that’s not my consequence, it’s your invention.
AUD. You twist and turn in vain, More. In vain you strive to support your treachery by your usual arts. You are clearly caught out in your guilt by very honest witnesses. Kingston, lay hands on the accused, and hold him in confinement until the king can be informed and decides what he wants to be done. (Exeunt Audley, Brandon and Cromwell.)
MORE How merrily I’m sported with! How wittily I’m being imposed upon by men not so much clever in argument as free in exercising the license to manufacture what they will! Oh England, beloved to me, how I pity you! These gentlemen, to whom the sanctity of religion and the blood of innocent men are so cheap, alas, what a deadly axe they are preparing to wield against their nation! But royal servants must be obeyed. Let me go to the guest-home which God’s providence has appointed for me from all all eternity.
KINGST. You will be a most welcome guest for me, More. But I deeply regret that I am going to escort you to a very cheeseparing guest-home. I swear by heaven, nothing more bitter could befall me.
MORE Why so, Kingston? Why do you regard imprisonment as such a great evil, when I think it is to be counted among my good things? For this entire world customarily strikes me as nothing other than a prison, from which we are all haled forth to plead our cause, each at his own time. And the fact that my prison is fated to be smaller than other men’s I account as an advantage. For we must always choose the lesser evil.
KINGST. Both pious and witty, as is your way! But this prison will be harsh for you, for I am instructed to thrust you into a narrow cell and furnish you with mean fare in small amounts. I hope you will forgive me, More.
MORE Gladly. Come now, Kingston, let’s shake hands. If I’m imprisoned by you for a long time and complain even a little bit about the smallness of my lodging, or the poor quality of my fare, I don’t care if you throw me out of your house and send me home for being an ungrateful guest.
KINGST. Oh, the man deserves a better guest-house! How he jokes even at the prison door, as if he were at a banquet!
In prison, More gathers his strength for his final contest. He is summoned to his trial by the Governor of the Tower.
MORE (Kneeling before a crucifix.) It goes well for me, divine Jesus. You are the world’s fairest salvation. You are most blessed, oh pledge of eternal blessedness, delight of the English, life of my soul. How how well it goes for me, keeping company with You! Oh how evil it would be for me to be separated from you for a minute! Should I be intimidated by any man’s incriminations, any invented form of torture, into deviating by so much as the width of a fingernail from my upright conscience and from championing Your cause, while I have breath in my body? A mad mass of insults, the stings of envy, storms of slanders, axes, racks, death by a thousand exquisite punishments, these are light things, if you cast into the other pan of the scales that love which I owe you in countless ways. These are delights, if they be compared to the most bitter force of the monstrous tortures You endured to atone for my most atrocious sins, burning with love for me. These things are to be sought with all my prayers, if only I gain You thus. Oh empty threats of kings, pointless thunderbolts! With what a blunt edge you strike my breast, defended by fear of the ever-living God! Oh the strivings of earthly sovereigns, their wheedlings and favors are sordid, when with my intent mind’s eye I behold the very bright rays of the glory of Jesus Christ, Lord of and earth! (Enter Kingston.)
KINGST. There’s need for haste, More. The judges have gone ahead to the court. (More continues to pray).
MORE How slowly the hours pass for me! Each minute diminishes me, until my mind, separated from this dense mass of mortality, can fly straight upward to that heavenly place where in Your presence,I may be able to have uninterrupted sweet converse with You, never to be interrupted, like a friend talking to his friend.
KINGST. It is almost a sin against religion to call this pious man away from his excellent pursuits.
MORE By You Yourself, God’s glory, by those wounds of Yours which are more powerful than all lightning’s fire for wounding men’s minds with the fires of love of You, do not let this noble victory-palm elude my grasp, this most noble triumph I have so long desired, so beloved by my mind’s ardor.
KINGST. Our times! Our times! What a man you are destroying! He is a model of innocence, the image of justice, a paragon of piety. But we are pressed by the shortness of time. Hey, More, the judges have taken their places. Now you are called to the bench.
MORE Really? Has the longed-for day dawned on which I am destined to exchange this dark light for the brightness of everlasting glory?
KINGST. It’s now nine o’clock, the court’s waiting for you. I’ll be severely punished if you don’t make your appearance on time.
MORE I’m hastening to go, Kingston. Just give me enough time to change my clothes. For today I’ll make my public appearance dressed in finery.
KINGSTI strongly urge you to change your mind rather than your clothes. For it will assuredly be held you against you that this costume is an arrogant insult leveled against both the Privy Council and the king himself.
MORE That’s indeed prudent and loving of you. Therefore let me heed the advice of a well-wising friend.
More appears at the bar, is accused of treason, condemned, and beheaded.
Enter Audley and the King’s Advocate, conversing in low tones, with Brandon, Cromwell, and officials.
AUD. You understand the point excellently, for the case hinges upon it. Unless I’m very much deceiving myself, we’ll do a fine job of trampling on the man.
BRAND. We must remember the mandate of our supreme and most serene sovereign, namely that, unless he takes the oath publicly, there is no room for pardon for the accused.
CROM. But it’s fair for you not to forget this. If you hope to gain any favor from the new queen, whether he assents to the oath or refuses, no hope of pardon must be given More.
AUD. A timely caution. We will do our best to oblige the right noble queen. So let the accused be produced. Meanwhile we’ll take our seats in the courtroom, let each of you take his place on the bench. (More is brought in by the Governor and henchmen. With his gravity of speech, the King’s Advocate summarizes the essence of the accusation.)
ADV. For my part, I shall plead my case as best I can, judges, steadfastly, freely, and, relying on your intelligence, I shall speak more briefly than this case requires. More, raise your hand higher. (He looks at his documents.) Thomas More, lately the glory of our knightly order, who enjoyed the special favor of the king and a most lofty grade of dignity, second in rank to no man in the realm, today stands accused before you judges, in the name of the aforesaid king and the entire realm, on the charge of high treason. For, inspired and inflated by a kind of Hellish obstinacy, he has treasonably and feloniously denied, disdained, and rejected the supreme power and jurisdiction of our most serene sovereign over men and religious affairs within the confines of his realm. He is shown to be guilty by the clearest evidence. Then too, by his very own stubbornness, as he clings to this same view down to this very hour, it is clearer than daylight that he stands convicted. And (to omit everything else), the indignity of this pernicious crime is manifestly established by the consideration that, should there be no sacred association or faith within this realm, it necessarily follows that he who has schemed to place a second sun in the same sky must, to the best of his ability, plunge the other one into everlasting darkness. And he who has set the illegitimate yoke of most arrogant government on his own neck can have no other aim than to cast his legitimate sovereign down from his throne, to devastate his nation by the sword and fire of civil war, and to throw all human and divine laws into an utter state of confusion. It is your task, judges, that this catalogue of woes does not overwhelm and destroy our common fatherland, employing your counsel to prevent it by an exercise of that prudence with which you abound and your well-known loyalty towards the king, and, as I urgently demand from you in the name and by the command of the king, that you use your weapons to do away with the accused, the standard-bearer of the other traitors, as soon as possible.
AUD. The King’s Advocate argues his case with energy, precision and gravity, as is his wont. More, you have heard the counts of the indictment. State the reasons why you should not be condemned, if you have anything to say.
MORE (Aside,) Although I am most eager to expend my soul for the sake of justice, since I know that martyrdom is a gift belonging to God alone, and have not yet sufficiently determined whether our most merciful God will bestow such excellent glory or not, I think I must employ every caution in marking my answer. (Aloud.) To your accusations, judges, I offer a response which is short, but which ought to resolve the case alleged against me in a minute. For I maintain that I have never denied that this right and jurisdiction pertain to the royal dignity, as I am accused.
AUD. More, you are indeed a sweet-tongued man, and you have no hesitation of openly accusing sworn men of most well-attested credit of perjury. But you won’t get off that way. Do you assent to this lawfully-appointed oath or do you not?
MORE I am quite unaware that a law of this kind has been passed.
AUD. But we are telling you that it has been passed and entirely approved by votes.
MORE Perhaps because of ignorance of the law.
AUD. So you say it is contrary to law?
MORE I affirm nothing about this.
AUD. We’re wasting our time to no point. Cast your votes in open court, most noble judges.
BRAND. His guilt is manifest, he dares not deny it.
CROM. It’s beyond controversy that he is to be condemned of treason.
AUD. Therefore we shall pronounce the death-sentence against this traitor.
MORE (Aside.) I grasp the victory-palm in my hand, now I can deal a little more frankly and openly. (Aloud.) Grant me your permission, judges, and hear the final statement of an old man at the point of death.
AUD. Speak, but strictly to the point and in few words.
MORE Such is God’s kindness towards me, judges, that I still and always have been a son of the orthodox Church, and I acknowledge, openly admit, and most honorably boast that I have never departed by a finger’s breath from the communion of the pontiff of Rome, Christ’s supreme vicar on earth. In the past I had accepted that the Pope’s power and jurisdiction is legitimate and praiseworthy, yet introduced into God’s Church by human law, rather than being founded and established by divine prescription. And so, when by my conjecture I forecast that England’s affairs would come to the pass that it would be necessary for me to have anticipated and studied the question of the source of this papal authority, for seven years I devoted myself wholly to the careful investigation of this controversy, and I discovered, ascertained, and clearly understood that the power and jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff, which you rashly (to state it is gently as I can) have proclaimed obsolete, not only to be legitimate, praiseworthy, and necessary, but also to pertain to divine right and prescription. These, judges, are my mind’s most sincere beliefs, this is its most firm opinion, this is my sacred and inviolate faith, for which I stand as champion, and regarding which and for the defense of which I am most ready to expend my blood, my life, my soul.
BRAND. Intolerable contumacy!
CROM. Judge, why hesitate to hurl the thunderbolt of your sentence against this traitor? On behalf of the king I demand that the accused receive his punishment.
AUD. A reasonable and honorable demand. And so from the bench I pronounce this capital sentence against the guilty man. Thomas More, guilty of treason, will straightway be taken to the place appointed for execution, and there he will be quickly stricken by the axe. His head, cut off from his neck, will be set atop London Bridge on a pole, visible to all men. And so may God have mercy on your soul.
MORE Amen. I give you my supreme, immense, undying thanks, most kind Jesus. Let all mortals of every age, together with the immortal spirits, honor Your divinity, venerable in heaven and on earth, with eternal praises.
AUD. Headsman, fetch your axe and bear it before the condemned to the place of execution. It will be your responsibility, Brandon, to see to it that there is no delay in it.
BRAND. I gladly accept your charge. For I know full well I am doing the work of our most noble new queen. (Exeunt Audley, Cromwell, and the Advocate.) Now you see More, the place where your stubborn obstinacy has landed you.
MORE Why reproach me for obstinacy, Brandon, when just now I have changed my mind at the behest of the Governor of the Tower, a man who is very friendly to me?
BRAND. You are mocking me, More.
MORE I’m telling you how the matter stands.
BRAND. Wait for me a little while, Governor, I’ll take this most welcome news to the king. More approves the oath.
MORE I beg your pardon, Brandon, you heard nothing of the kind from my mouth.
BRAND. Why this game, More? Didn’t you just tell me you changed your opinion?
MORE I indeed said so. It was my idea to make my appearance today dressed in my elegant finery, but I was persuaded by this friendly man to change my plan, and I went forth dressed none otherwise than you see.
BRAND. Really? Do you still mock us while at the point of death? Go, headsman, immediately take this traitor to his punishment. And, More, you should be ;aware that by the king’s interdict you are forbidden to forestall the time of your punishment by a lengthy public harangue. If it enters your head to make some pronouncement before your death, you must say it in a word.
MORE I shall punctually obey the king’s command. (As he mounts the scaffold.) Pray lend me a hand as I go up, Kingston. As for my coming down, let me shift for myself. (Removing his clothes and holding a crucifix.) Since the king’s command forbids me to expend many words in stating my mind’s state and condition, the rationale of my life and my death, I do not think that, especially at this time, there is any saying more apt or more illuminating for the equity of my cause than that we are told was uttered by another Thomas, him of Canterbury, once a prelate and my noblest fellow-countryman, when he saw the assassin’s swords drawn against him, by either the bidding or the permission of another King Henry of England, and perceived he must defend pretty much the same most noble cause: I am prepared to die for my God and to maintain justice and the liberty of the Church, and I charge you, as many as are present, to be witnesses to this my final utterance. (He kneels). By You, Jesus Christ, hung on the cross for my sake, by, I say, that cruel manner of torment, I pray You have mercy on my soul, so fettered by wicked sins. Have mercy on England, standing on the brink of a grievous downfall if You do not bring said. Let my blood, about to be shed for the love of You, joined and commingled with Your most precious and truly divine blood ,serve as a prompt and wholesome remedy for my ills and those of my nation. Headsman, I await your blow. (As the headsman is lowering his axe let the curtains be drawn. Let darkness fall, and let there follow thunder and lightning.)
As the king is deploring More’s death, England’s guardian nature shows him the glory of More and his fellow martyrs for the same cause, and announces that divine vengeance will be wreaked on Henry and his children for his crimes.
KING (Alone.) What evil do these fearful lightning-strikes and unusually frequent thunderclaps portend for us, these very sure signs of an angry God? My mind, conscious of its monstrous sins, has an ill foreboding that these weapons are being hurled against my person. (Enter messenger.)
MESS. Long live the king in safety and happiness! The stiff-necked old man has paid the price for his stubbornness. More’s life is over.
KING So More had his mouth stopped and submitted his neck to the headsman?
MESS. He did, and at the first blow his body was laid low, shortened by a head.
KING. Unhappy news! Be quick and get out of my sight. (Exit messenger.) So that venerable head lies, cut off from its neck, by the advice of which the dignity of my government so often remained unharmed? The world does not have his equal. Have you died, Thomas, England’s brightest star, the darling of kings, the repository of the most candid sincerity, the home of all the graces and refinements? Oh this is a crime no tears of mine can wash away! Oh this is a wrong which can never be expiated by my blood or that of my kinsmen! (The thunder and lightning are repeated.) Are the world’s pivots creaking? Is all the machinery of heaven collapsing on my head? (Enter the angel.) With his sword drawn, an angel has alighted from heaven. Who are you, and where are you from? What audacity do you rely on when you threaten a king with drawn sword?
ANGEL Restrain your swollen pride, you savage tyrant. I am the guardian angel under whose protection lies England, unhappy because of you. I am come down from the homes of the blessed to announce that the beings of heaven have declared war against you, to tell you of the threats, terrors, punishments, and all the scourges of an angry God are aimed against you, you person damned to Hell. (The curtains are drawn and Christ appears in heaven. On His one side is More, on the other Rochester, then two other martyrs, with angels holding palms and crowns above their heads.) Do you see these men whom you recently held in contempt and disdain, whose innocent blood you spilled as sport for your impudence, by means of the most savage torments? Do you see how now they have been gathered into the ranks of the blessed spirits and are enjoying perpetual peace, the sweetest security, and a superabundant affluence of all good things? And how, in the presence of a Judge well-disposed to them but vehemently angry against your evildoing cohorts, they are demanding speedy retribution? (Two angels sing the praises of martyrs.)
1. Live, you fighters, you brave hearts. Live, the greatest glory of the nation. Continue to live, destined not to die.
Let the ancient ages hold their tongues about their soldiers, let the Trojan keep still about his Hectors, and ancient Rome about its old heroes.
BOTH For you, you holy sons of heaven, for you are the proper ornaments on your heads, the due rewards for your merits.
1. You are the sole hindrance for cruel heretics, a mighty hammer for impious enemies, you are the lights of peace and the lightning of war.
2. You are the brave saviors of your nation, the mainstays of holy religion, stars of the world and delights of heaven.
1. And now on silver wings glory flies around your consecrated heads, and around your blessed hands.
2. And now at full flood undying rivers of nectar make generous restitution for the loss of your spilt blood.
2. Live, you fighters, far removed from cares, while blessed eternity ebbs and flows, crowding centuries upon centuries.
2. Live by your virtue, destined never to die, while blessed eternity flows and endures, renewing joys with joys.
MARTYRS Avenge the blood of Your servants, our God. (Christ gives More lightning and Rochester a sword. The angel continues.)
ANG. Lo, he equips More with lightning and Rochester with a sword, so that, armed with these weapons they may extract the most severe penalties for their sacred blood from all your posterity. (Another alcove is opened and Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth appear, as if they were statues.) Come now, direct your sight here and in this fatal theater learn the fate of your children. At length you will sire this son, whom you so greatly desire to acquire by means of all your crimes, all your lusts let loose in every form of wantonness. But a son of this kind, dug out of his mother’s guts by cruel steel, will kill the mother who gave him his life before he sees the light of day. He is a son never destined to rule in his own right. Rather, he is fated to be done in by a poisoned cup given him by the selfsame vipers you are nursing at your bosom, and he is to be the last child you father, male or female. Coming in the second place after yourself, Mary will rule the British government with excellent laws, a daughter deserving of a better father. Though Hell will rail against her in vain, she will restore God’s pure worship, sacred things, and ancient rites, and will restore a limb, cut off and all but dead, to its head, its rights of citizenship restored. She would be a woman deserving of the years of a Methuselah, if (oh the pity!) her fathers impiety, which cannot be expiated, would not put a swift end to her career of glory and good deeds. In the third place after her father the tyranny will be obtained by the last child of your criminal stock, a girl who will be born from that abominable whore thanks to an incestuous amour. This will be a daughter who will embody her whole father, her whole mother, who will be sent by an angry God against the people of England in revenge for the crimes and acts of turpitude committed by her parents: she will be a fire for her time, a freak of nature, and an infamous disgrace to her sex. Inflamed by her father’s savagery, she will rage with fire and steel against the the small remains of ancient piety, she will strive to demolish, consume, and wholly eradicate them by every severity of torment. Nor will she cease to exercise her frenzy until, as much as she can, she finishes and completes the murder and extermination of all good men. And let this be the end of your unspeakable line. You mad, crazed, crime-defiled person, consider for a moment what will become of your awareness of your crimes, when, as disease weighs heavier on you and that fearful last moment of your life approaches, you see before your eyes the most holy rights of the prince of apostles violated by yourself, and the earthly authority of the Son of God and supreme Judge usurped by your unheard-of impudence. Add to that the spilt blood of quite innocent men, and of monks, and the virgin-brides of Christ who have been harried, stripped of all their goods, and offered up as prey for the most dire enemy of the human race. All those churches and monasteries rifled, ruined, and leveled to the ground, and the patrimony of paupers, purchased with the blood of Christ by pious worshippers of the true God, diverted to profane and hateful uses. And finally, see all the thousands of unhappy men who by your example and by the guidance, persuasion and compulsion of your agents have been torn from the bosom of their noble orthodox Church and hurled into the undying flames of the Underworld. What horror! What despair! How many Furies with their torches blazing with hellfire will trouble, rend and tear apart your guilt-ridden heart, alas, alas, the heart of the most wretched of men, most undeserving of any pity? If you had as many bodies and as many souls as the stars in heaven, the drops of water flowing in the great sea, they would scarcely suffice for the punishment of your crimes.
MARTYRS Avenge the blood of Your servants, our God. (Exit the angel. The curtains are drawn.)
KING If I had as many bodies and as many souls as the stars in heaven, the drops of water flowing in the great sea, they would scarcely suffice for the punishment of my crimes? I confess it, my sins would require great pardon. I feel it, ah, I feel it. My lust, arrogance, and wrath are leading me captive in iron change. Oh the harsh and inexpiable slavery of sin, when the mind has grown accustomed and habituated to sinning! My rage has never spared any man, nor my lust any woman, and God is no small avenger of my crime. The verdict has been handed down, the law has been passed, the statute has been engraved on a plate of brass. I am ruined, I am ruined forever. Conscious and aware, I am borne down headlong to the everlasting fires of Hell.