Thomas More and Henry VIII: “moste enemyes” and “best frendys”* (The register of a renaissance relationship)

Written by Benedek Péter Tóta


1. Relationships

Thomas More’s forms of address and ways of referring to Henry VIII in his writings may offer us an outline of More’s complex attitude towards the King. These direct and indirect expressions may characterise Henry VIII through More’s perception of the Ruler. The formal and informal means of establishing their positions can reflect humanism in operation at the court of the monarch and in the cell of an individual. Through these public and private patterns worked out by More as a prayer-bound bond-politician we can learn the richness and dynamism of their never-ending relationship.


2. Anointment and Atonement

As an early document of the relationship between Thomas More and Henry VIII, first I quote from Thomas More’s 1509 “Coronation Ode” (in translation): “this day anoints a young man who is the everlasting glory of our time and makes him your king […] such a king as will wipe the tears from every eye”[1] (cf., CW3/2 E 101/12-16[2]). The allusions imply messianic effulgence: “[T]he Lord God shall wipe away tears from every face”[3] (DR Is 25:8). Isaiah’s prophecy of the messianic banquet resounds in the eschatology of the Apocalypse:God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (DR Apoc 21:4a). Such a presentation of Henry VIII reflects the image of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, who is the Christ. Thus, More’s closure of the ode naturally turns into adoration “bring[ing] incense, and an offering more potent than all incense—loyal hearts and innocent hands” (CW3/2 E 111/26-27; cf., Mt 2:11b).[4] However, one may be puzzled by the political-philological-theological-ideological fact that the enthronement is contextualised by the feature of the end of the times, and that one of the temporality is figured by the supreme spiritual faculty, a human being by divine quality.

Surprisingly enough, this unsurpassable ritual attitude of 1509 loses its altitude in Thomas More’s letter to Germanus Brixius eleven years later in 1520. Brixius attacked More for the alleged shortcomings of his Latin poems. However,

[t]he most damaging attack of all was on a passage in More’s coronation ode (no. 19), where More praises Henry VIII for repealing unjust ordinances enforced under Henry VII. Brixius even added a side-note to point out “More’s impudence in slandering the father while praising the son.”[5] More repeatedly stressed his impression that this thrust was aimed at his “perdition” […] The worst injury that anyone could do to a man’s reputation in More’s day was to make his king start to resent him: Indignatio principis mors est.[6]

“The wrath of a king is death.” More had to defend himself against such a suspicion. In a situation like this, we can come to a belated understanding why More left out the extension of the apocalyptic and messianic vision in the “Coronation Ode,” namely that “death shall be no more” (LV Apoc 21:4b; mors ultra non erit). In the shadow of death, due to the possible high treason, More has to work out a down-to-earth realistic image of and relationship with the “unvanquished prince” (princes noster inuictus; CW3/2 L 600/9, E 601/8) or quite simply with the “prince” or “king” (CW3/2 638-645). This hoped for atonement takes place in a circumspect, periphrastic, verbose rationalisation by More through four or five pages (CW3/2 L 638/4-646/8, E 639/5-647/10) out of his 32-page-long “Letter to Brixius” (CW3/2 L 594-658, E 595-659) The shadow of death clarifies the change from the altitude of the ritual admiration (1509) to the reality of a down-to-earth relationship (1520).


3. Orator More’s litany to Henry VIII

As the King’s good servant on earth, More was satisfied with the accepted norms of the court. Comparing letters of about the same length in Thomas More’s correspondence,[7] we can witness the official framework of this courtly relationship. In a letter by More to Cardinal Wolsey on 26 August 1523, one can find 24 references of 4 variants to Henry VIII: “his Grace” 10 times, “his Highness” 3 times, “the King’s Grace” 9 times, and “the King’s Highness” twice (C275-278, 115). The 4 variants can be seen as 2 radical types: “Grace” 19 times, “Highness” 5 times. In another letter by Tunstall, More, and Hacket to Henry VIII dated from Cambray early in August 1529, we can find 25 instances of the 2 radical types addressing the Ruler: “your Grace” 22 times and “your Highness” 3 times (C415-418, 171).

This respectful but stereotyped relationship is dramatically contrasted by Thomas More’s letter to Henry VIII dated from Chelsea on 5 March 1534 (C488-491, 198). There are 29 instances of addressing the King, and the previous maximum of 2 radical types of address is surmounted by 13 types of qualified address: “your Highness” (198/1; 11 times), “your Grace” (198/10; 7 times), “good and gracious Lord” (198/16), “gracious Sovereign” (198/17), “your excellent Highness” (198/22), “your noble Grace” (198/25), “most gracious Sovereign” (198/38), “your Majesty” (198/41), “your gracious Highness” (198/45), “your good Grace” (198/48), “your royal Majesty” (198/65), “your most noble Grace” (198/66), and “most dread and most dear sovereign Lord” (198/91). These 13 types of address are completed with 17 graded qualities characterising the Ruler. He has got “gracious remembrance” (198/1), “incomparable goodness” (198/5), “gracious favour” (198/7), “goodness” (198/12), “accustomed goodness” (198/24), “high prudence” (198/41), “virtuous mind” (198/43), “manifold excellent goodness” (198/44), “gracious hand” (198/49), “high wisdom” (198/61), “gracious goodness” (198/62), “true gracious persuasion” (198/66), “great goodness” (198/72), “abundant goodness” (198/77), and “accustomed benignity” (198/82), because he is “good and gracious” (198/6). Anticipating the shadow of death in 1534, this lively and dramatic letter—like a litany—manifests Thomas More’s loyalty to and reliance on Henry VIII. Renouncing all interests on earth and longing for the bliss in heaven, More completes the concluding imperative of the “Coronation Ode” composed 25 years earlier “bring[ing] incense, and an offering more potent than all incense—[his own] loyal heart[…] and innocent hands” (cf., CW3/2 E 111/26-27). More reforms the idea of atonement and directly communicates it to His Royal Highness disclosing his hopeful wish that “I shold onys mete with your Grace agayn in hevyn, and there be mery with you, where […] your Grace shold surely se […], that […] I am your trew bedeman now and ever have bene, and will be till I dye, how so ever your pleasure be to do by [him]” (C490, 198/55-60). This prayer-like formula expresses that More accepts the history of their relationship within the framework of salvation history.


4. Model Monarch—egregius princeps—Model Shepherd

Prior to this spiritual turn, however, this renaissance relationship goes through other stages. In the opening lines of the first book of Utopia (1516), More introduces “[t]he most invincible King of England, Henry, the eighth of that name, who is distinguished by all the accomplishments of a model monarch”[8] (CW4 E 47/8-10). Although Utopia is supposed to be about “the best state of a commonwealth” (CW4 47/1), the headword of the opening introduction—“model monarch” or in Latin, egregius princeps, the head of the flock of sheep—can indicate that Utopia may include the best model of a monarch and have an aspect of the mirror of princes (speculum principum). At a later stage, the first book of Utopia elaborates this aspect. “[I]t is the king’s duty to take more care of his people’s welfare than of his own, just as it is the duty of a shepherd who cares about his job to feed the sheep rather than himself” (cf., LAM 91-93, CW4 L 94/13-16, E 95/16-19). On the one hand, More relies indirectly on the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel (cf., CW4 367n.): “Doom for the shepherds […] who have not taken care of [the flock].”[9] (cf., JB Jer 23:1-2) “Trouble for the shepherds […] who feed themselves! Shepherds ought to feed their flock, yet you have […] failed to feed the flock […] my shepherds feed themselves rather than my flock […]” (JB Ezk 34:2b-8). On the other hand, More directly alludes to The Gospel according to Saint John[10] in which Jesus tells the parable of the model shepherd (RB Jn 10:1-18, cf., JB Ezk 34:11-31): “I am the model shepherd; I know my own and mine know me” (RB Jn 10:14). In the Bible ‘knowledge’ is not merely a conclusion of an intellectual process, but also the fruit of an ‘experience’ (cf., JB Lk 15:5), a personal contact, relationship (cf., RB Jn 10:3b-4, 14:20, 17:21-22). The model shepherd of this mirror of princes is noble because he is willing to protect his sheep even if he has to risk his own life for them (cf., RB Jn 10:11b, 15c, 17b) which is an expression of absolute dedication. This makes only Jesus worthy to become the Anointed One, the Christ.

Re-considering Utopia, it turns out, that More was privately dedicated to this model. The source of his dedication can be recognized right after the conventions of dedication and the outlines of the circumstances of the discourse. In such a constellation, the lines of conventional dedication are in a peculiarly tight relationship with the narrator’s private dedication. Narrator More’s following words illuminate the point in question: “One day I had been at divine service in Notre Dame […] mass being over, I was about to return to my lodgings […]”[11] (cf., LAM 43, CW4 E 49/17-19). More’s private dedication takes its origin from the Eucharist commemorating the Last Supper when Jesus taught his disciples through a discourse during the meal that anticipated the sacrifice of Christ. He is the “Lamb” and also the “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (DR Rev 17:14) who as a shepherd “lays down his life” for his sheep (cf., RB Jn 10:11b, 15c, 17b, 18b) “that they may have life and have it to the full” (RB Jn 10:10d-e). In Utopia, More tries assimilating the king’s service but he does God’s first. It is in this polarity that More longs for the ideal relationship with the King. However, it is a situation which he does not expect for a great many years to come. (cf., CW4 101/3-4) It is easier for More to wish for it than to have any hope of seeing it realised (cf., CW4 247/2-3). Reading Utopia, one might have the sense that the idea of the model of a monarch can hardly come true, and if it came true, one would not be certain about how to relate to it.


5. Parody and critical loyalty

More does not give up looking forward to the appearance of the model monarch, and to maintain the relationship with the person to assume the model, he goes on evoking him in his works of religious controversy. Answering Luther’s attack on the Ruler’s assertion of the seven sacraments for which the King earned the title of the Defender of Faith, in 1523 More refers to Henry VIII as “invincible”[12] (CW5 1/4). In this respect, Henry VIII is supposed to be seen invincible because he is “a king most distinguished by all the noble qualities of a most exalted prince” (CW5 3/11-12), and because he is “the king, who is as shrewd as he is learned” (CW5 11/6-7). This intellectual quality is further emphasised in 1529 in More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies:[13] Henry is “our souerayne lord the kynge […] a moost faythfull virtuous & moost erudite prynce” (CW6 362/3-4). The triumph of this Prince is depicted in connection with the so called Hunne affair. “In 1514 Richard Hunne, who had refused to pay the mortuary fee demanded by a priest for the burial of his infant child, was found hanging by his belt on a spike in the wall of the bishop’s prison in the Lollards’ Tower at Lambeth” (CW6 692). It was early in 1515 in Baynard’s Castle that

Henry VIII […] presided over the ‘great gathering’ that considered the Hunne case […]. The issue debated at this meeting was whether the English monarchy had jurisdiction over Dr. [William] Horsey—[the chancellor of the bishop of London], [who was accused of contriving Hunne’s death, CW6 692]—[…] or whether Horsey was subject only to the ecclesiastical courts. Wolsey claimed that the English church would not be violating Praemunire if it assumed jurisdiction over Horsey. Henry finally pardoned Horsey, thus assuming jurisdiction […]. (CW6 693)

In addition, the Monarch “refused to permit more reference to Rome than had been permitted in the past”[14] (CW9 235). This can be regarded

[t]he first step to the emasculation of [English] canon law […]. The reformation Parliament deliberately and by stages cut England off from the source of revitalization and deprived her of the character of unity with the Continent which she might have needed more than was realized. Appeals to Rome were prevented. […] English canon law turned in upon itself, and accepted by degrees the notion that it could be tampered with by secular or mixed secular and clerical bodies. This was a radical change in its character. […] so far as Thomas More was concerned the change was momentous. (CW9 236-237)

As the conclusion of the Hunne affair’s representation in More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529), King Henry VIII is characterised as “a prynce of […] benygne nature [and] […] of merciful mynde” whose “harte” was

freely to forgyue and forget offencys done and commytted vnto hym selfe / yet hathe hys hyghnesse […] a feruent affeccyon to right and iustyce in other mennys causys / and […] a tender zele to the conseruacyon of hys subgectys (of whose lyuys hys hyghe wysedome consydereth many to stande in parell by the gyuynge of pardon to a few wylfull murderers). (CW6 325/26-34)

The act of forgiving freely almost outlines the apotheosis of the King as the Redeemer, the Anointed Saviour. At the end of the account of the Hunne case as a satirical parody[15] of three acts in More’s Dialogue, this unbelievable royal apotheosis fits the parody. As the three witnesses turned into caricatures because “mysse vnderstandynge maketh mysse reportynge” (CW6 324/33-34), so is the royal character exposed to become a pseudo-authority because he makes his decision according to the “reporte” (CW6 326/7) of other people and being “enformed of the trouth” (CW6 326/18) by agents. Coming to a decision of life or death in this way is disturbing, especially in the case of Henry VIII, whose “Coronation Ode” rang out delight in that it praised him for ignoring informers (cf., CW3/2 19/44, 103/11) and having former informers fettered and confined (cf., CW3/2 19/98, 107/2-3). Thus, “the kynges hyghe prudence” (CW6 326/7-8)—relying on external secondary sources of information—“perceth […] depe in to the botome of [this] doubtefull matter” (CW6 326/8-9) of seemingly material nature imitating in a distorted way the Lord of Hosts who probes with justice, who scrutinises the loins and heart (cf., JB Jer 20:12). On the textual surface directly and in the depth of the text indirectly, this almost blasphemous and sacrilegious parody of the King displays More’s loyal but critical relationship to him.


6. The allegories of a relationship: historic, Biblical and Aesopian

More’s direct and indirect, loyal and critical attitude towards the relationship between him and the King turns into allegoric representations in his works composed in the Tower that has become “a tower of strength against the face of the enemy.”[16]

6.1 The Great Turk

The title-page of Mores’s Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulations[17] (1534-1535) tells us that it was “made by an hungaryen in laten, & translatyd out of laten into French, & out of French into Englysh” (CW12 5/2-6). The fictitious Dialogue of Comfort takes place in Buda, the capital city of the realm of Hungary, after the Battle of Mohács when the Turks defeated Hungary on 29 August 1526, but before the final occupation of Hungary in 1529. Uncle Anthony and his cousin, Vincent discuss the tribulations they are about to face. Their situation is existentially shaken. The threat imposed upon the faithful Hungarian Christians by the Turks can be represented by the embodiment of the Great Turk. The historic source of the figure of the Great Turk can be Suleiman the Magnificent, and the Great Turk’s allegoric association on contemporary domestic grounds could be Henry VIII within the fictitious framework of the Dialogue. “[T]he greate Turke preparith a mervelouse mighty army” (CW12 188/9-10) to destroy the faithful. Uncle Anthony—who “had bene taken prisoner in Turkey ij tymes” (CW12 5/25)—“wold little fere all the preparacions that the great Turke could make” (CW12 193/25-26). Thus, Anthony shares his comforting disposition with his cousin, Vincent, saying that even the Great Turk’s whole empire can “be lost into christen mens handes […] whan christen peple shalbe mendid & grow in goddess favour agayne” (CW12 206/23-25). Talking “Of Imprisonment & [the] comfort theragaynst” (CW12 255/9), Vincent and Anthony can “se no prince that semeth to be out of prison / for yff the lakke of libertie to go where a man will be ymprisonment / […] / than is the great Turke by whome we so feare to be put in prison / in prison all redy hymselfe / for he may not go where he will” (CW12 259/23-27). With this meditative turn, the Great Turk, the so far invincible Ruler has been overcome and defeated spiritually. The “invincible” and “defeated” relations—physical and/or spiritual—establish a well defined but commutable relationship between the two parties involved.

6.2 Herod

When Anthony and Vincent consider that “many men endure imprisonment willingly” (CW12 279 headline), one of their examples is Saint John the Baptist.

S Iohn the Baptist was […] in prison while herode & herodias sat full mery at the fest, & the daughter of herodias delytid them with her daunsyng / till with her daunsyng / she daunsid of S. Iohns hed / & now sittith he with great fest in hevyn at goddess bord / while herode & herodias full hevely sytt in hell burning both twayne / & to make them sport withall, the devill with the damysell daunce in the fire afore them. (CW12 279/18-25; cf., Mk 6:17-29)

The Yale Edition of Thomas More’s works notes that

[t]he analogy between Herod’s feast and Henry VIII’s enchantment by Anne Boleyn was commonly noted. [Thomas] Stapleton [writes that] ‘[t]he marriage of Anne Boleyn took place after […] [More’s] resignation […] A friend of his was one day telling him that she was leading a life of continual pleasure at Court, with dances […] More replied: ‘These dances of Anne Boleyn are bringing with them another game of quite a different kind. Her dances are playing with our heads like footballs […]’ The event very soon showed the truth of this prediction. […] by Anne’s instigation many good men were beheaded […] (for Henry VIII, like another Herod, was enchanted by her dancing).’ (CW12 432)

The implied Biblical antitype—“Herod feared John, knowing him to be a just and holy man […] and when he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him” (cf., DR and JB Mk 6:20)—, this antitype was resembled by the relationship between Henry VIII and Thomas More.

6.3 A great worldly prince—a mouse

For the sake of a telling contrast, when (c. 1534-1535) discussing how “to receaue the blessed body of our lorde, sacramentally and virtually bothe”[18] (CW13 1911-2), Thomas More considers,

if there were a great worldly prince, which for speciall fauour that he bare vs, woulde come visite vs in our owne house, what a businesse we woulde then make, and what a woorke it woulde be for vs, to see that our house were trimmed vp in euery point, to the best of our possible power, and euery thing so prouyded and ordered, that he shoulde by his honourable receiuing, perceiue what affection we beare him, and in what high estimacion we haue hym, we shoulde soone by the comparing of that worldly prynce, and this heauenlye prince together […] enfourme and teache oure selfe with howe lowely mynde, howe tender louing hert, how reurent humble maner we should endeuour our selfe to receiue this glorious heauenly kyng, the kyng of all kinges, almightye God hymselfe, that so louingly doothe vouchsafe to entre, not onely into our house (to whiche the noble man Centurio, knowledged himselfe vnwoorthye) but hys precious bodie into oure vyle wretched carkas, and his holye spirite into our poore soule. (CW13 197/12-28)

The distinction More makes here between the heavenly prince (Christ, the King of Kings) and the great worldly prince (Henry VIII, one of the kings on earth) is further demonstrated by the account of King Henry’s visit to More’s house at Chelsea. William Roper, More’s son-in-law gives us a brief summary of that visit (c. 1524):

for the pleasure [the King] took in [More’s] company, would his Grace suddenly sometimes come home to his house at Chelsea, to be merry with him; whither on a time, unlooked for, [the King] came to dinner to [More], and after dinner, in a fair garden of [More’s], walked with him by the space of an hour, holding his arm about his neck.”[19]

As a background, this famous visit makes the contrast even more telling. In the context of these two passages a parenthetically inserted remark amplifies the contrast between the heavenly prince and the great worldly prince, “(betwene which twayne is farre lesse comparison, then is betwene a man and a mouse)” (CW13 197/20-21). The illustrious relationship of Thomas More and the king is disfigured owing to the introduction of the Aesopian style of animal fables into this sacramental meditation. In spite of the disfigured proportions of the parties involved, the relationship still exists by virtue of alliteration. We can see “a man and a mouse.” Deciding who is which and which is who is conferred on the audience. It is perhaps a lesson of humanism and that of New Learning on More and the monarch.

6.4 The lion—an ass

The veins of the Bible and Aesop are united when the lion—the king among animals—comes to the foreground. “In the medieval-renaissance system of correspondences the lion and king were regarded as analogous since both were the prime representatives of their respective species. Symbolic transfers from one to the other were therefore commonplace” (CW12 380). Thus, Thomas More—again in his Dialogue of Comfort—quotes Saint Peter:

“Stand against the devil, & he shall flye fro you / for he neuer runneth apon a man to seas on hym with his clawes, tyll he see hym down on the grownd willingly fallyn hym selfe / for his fashion ys to set his seruauntes agynst vs, & by them to make vs for feare or for Impacyence to fall / And hym selfe in the meane while compasseth vs, runnyng & roryng like a rampyng lyon abowt vs, lokyng who will fall, that he than may devoure hym / […] your adversary the devil lyke a roryng lyon, runnyth about in circuite, sekyng whome he may devoure / The devill it is therfor, that yf we for fere of men will fall, is redy to rone vppon vs & devoure vs. […] Therfor whan he roreth out vppon vs by the threttes of mortal men / let vs tell hym that with our inward yie, we see hym well ynough, & intend to stand & fight with hym evyn hand to hand. Iff he thretten vs that we be to weyke / let vs tell hym that our capten Christ is with vs, & that we shall fight with his strength that hath vainquyshid hym all redy.” (CW12 317/28-318/17; 1 Pt 5:8)[20]

If someone stands against the tribulations of the devil comforted—cum forte—armoured with Christ’s strength, then “not only the lions whelps, but ouer that all the bestes of the wode beside / the beest that we here rore in the dark night of tribulation, & fere it for a lyon, we sometyme fynd well afterward in the day, that it was no lyon at all / but a sely rude roryng asse” (CW12 110/30-111/3). “More combines Psalm 103:20-21[21] with Aesop’s fable of the Ass in the Lion’s Skin. […] In the fable the ass put on a lion’s skin and frightened all the beasts in the forest but gave himself away at last with his braying” (CW12 381). When the use of the image of “the lion throughout A Dialogue of Comfort as an oblique allusion to the king” (CW12 380) deforms as an ass, the invincible Majesty has become figuratively overcome. Or as the Prayer Book would put it in a verse that More marked with a flag-like figure of note: “Super aspidem & basiliscum ambulabis: & conculcabis leonem et draconem.” (PB151) That is: “Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.” (DR Ps 90:13)[22] The basilisk may also have the connotation of kinglet,[23] a petty king. The relationship between Thomas More and Henry VIII starts resembling the nature of antagonistic enmity.

6.5 The strongest and most savage of men—a Maltese lapdog

The image of the lion takes another turn in Thomas More’s Valencia Manuscript (c. 1535).[24]

Your adversary the devil goes about like a raging lion, seeking someone to devour. [1 Pt 5:8] This lion is the prince of this world, nor is there any power on earth like him. The strongest and most savage of men, compared with this lion, would be like a Maltese lapdog. A roaring and rapacious lion [Psalm 21:14] is attacking me, seeking to devour me, and do I have to give even a thought to the bite of a little dog?” (CW14 641/1-7)

“The prince of this world” is Satan (CW14 523/9; cf., RB Jn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Compared to Satan, the strongest of men—be he a king—and the most savage would be but a Maltese lapdog. According to the Latin description of John Caius in 1570, the melitensis caniculus was “a very little dog indeed.” “The smaller, the more endearing,” it satisfied “women’s desire for amusement and pleasure” and they liked “having them in their laps in their bedrooms.”[25] As Abraham Fleming’s extended explanatory English interpretation of Dr. Caius’s description says, the Maltese lapdogs are

sought for to satisfie the delicatenesse of daintie dames, and wanton womens wills, instruments of folly for them to play and dally withall, to trifle away the treasure of time, to withdraw their mindes from more commendable exercises, and to content their corrupted concupiscences with vaine disport (A selly shift to shunne yrksome ydlnesse.) These puppies the smaller they be, the more pleasure they prouoke, as more meete play fellowes for minsing mistresses to beare in their bosoms, to keep company withal in their chambers, to succour with sleepe in bed, and nourishe with meate at bourde, to lay in their lappes, and licke their lippes as they ryde in their wagons, and good reason it should be so, for coursnesse with fynenesse hath no fellowship, but featnesse with neatnesse hath neighbourhood enough. That plausible prouerbe verified upon a Tyrant, namely that he loued his sowe better then his sonne, may well be applyed to these kinde of people who delight more in dogges that are depriued of all possibility of reason, then they doe in children that be capeable of wisedome and iudgement. But this abuse peraduenture raigneth where there hath bene long lacke of issue, or else where barrenness is the best blossome of bewty.[26]

Maltese dogs are traditionally thought to appear in England during the reign of Henry VIII.[27] They were also known as Maltese Lion Dog or Little Lion Dog.[28]

Thomas More also liked animals. Rowland Lockey includes two dogs in More’s family portrait painted after Hans Holbein, Jr.[29] One of the dogs in the painting resembles a Maltese lapdog at the feet of Thomas More. In this meditation by More the dominant male is deprived of his princely title, and as a commoner—figuratively turned into a tiny little dog—is metonymically—through physical relationship—associated with female body parts—lip, bosom, lap—and their ordinary occasional physical environment—bed. The superior Sovereign has become an inferior servitor, the god-like ruler—subjected to the power of women (and after Anne Boley there were more to come)—a domestic under-dog.

6.6 Enemies and martyrs

As this short meditative passage proceeds, a special humane relationship is restored.

If a person could see even one of these demons who are waiting for us in great numbers to torture us eternally, he would consider the combined threats of all mortals a mere trifle by comparison with the fear inspired by that one devil. And how much less would he think of these threats if he could see the heavens opened and Jesus standing there as blessed Stephen saw Him? [Acts 7:55-56] (CW14 641/7-643/2)

This contemplative sight takes us to the comforting—cum forte—restored humane relationship whose essence is summarised by the first Christian martyr’s last utterance: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (DR Acts 7:60). This utterance echoes Christ’s cry on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (DR Lk 23:34). Forgiveness—that is as strong and resourceful as the love of enemies—can restore genuine human relationships. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (JB Mt 5:44).


7. Love and prayer

Thomas More obeys this extreme command of love and balances the sense of antagonistic enmity. The marginal glosses in his Prayer Book More used in the Tower in 1534-1535 also reveal his hopeful attitude toward his ruler. When searching the nature of the relationship between Thomas More and Henry VIII, a series of five pro rege notes engages one’s attention.[30] “Lord, save the king.” (DR Ps 19:9; PB47, LV “Domine salvum fac regem […]”) “In thy strength, O Lord, the king shall joy.” (DR Ps 20:2; PB48, LV “Domine in virtute tua laetabitur rex […]”) “Thou wilt add days to the days of the king.” (DR Ps 60:7; PB104, LV “Dies super dies regis adijcies […]”) “Give to the king thy judgment, O God: and to the king's son thy justice: To judge thy people with justice, and thy poor with judgment. Let the mountains receive peace for the people: and the hills justice. He shall judge the poor of the people, and he shall save the children of the poor: and he shall humble the oppressor.” (DR Ps 71:2-4; PB119, LV “Deus iudicium tuum regi da: & iustitiam tuam filio Regis. / Iudicare populum tuum in iustitia: & pauperes tuos in iudicio. / Suscipiant montes pacem populo: & colles iustitiam. / Iudicabit pauperes populi / & salvos faciet filios pauperum et humiliabit calumniatorem.”) “The enemy shall have no advantage over him: nor the son of iniquity have power to hurt him. And I will cut down his enemies before his face; and them that hate him I will put to flight. And my truth and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn [of power and might] be exalted.” (DR Ps 88:23-25; PB147, LV “Nichil proficiet inimicus in eo: & filius iniquitatis non adponet nocere ei. / Et concidam a facie ipsius inimicos eius: & odientes eum in fugam convertam. / Et veritas mea et misericordia mea cum ipso: & in nomine meo exaltabitur cornu eius.”)

According to the monastic—repetitive, that is ruminative—practice of praying the psalms whose experience Thomas More acquired or rather appropriated during his frequenting the Charterhouse in London (c. 1501-1504 [WR19]), the verses of the psalms may resonate with each other. In this sense, especially in the case of a solitary, a recluse in a cell, it may be important what other lines or thoughts may resonate in psalms that are made memorable by the added emphasis of glosses. The first of the Psalms marked pro rege also includes this line at the top of the page: “now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed” (DR Ps 19:7; PB47, LV “nunc cognovi quoniam salvum fecit Dominus christum suum;” emphasis added); the second contains the line: “thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones” (DR Ps 20:4; PD48 LV “posuisti in capite eius coronam de lapide pretioso;” emphasis added); and the last one states: “I have found David my servant [a boy]:[31] with my holy oil I have anointed him” (DR Ps 88:21; PB147 LV “Inveni david servum meum: in oleo sancto meo unxi eum;” emphasis added)—as if echoing the altitude and attitude of the Coronation Ode and evoking days of old. This is the way Thomas More ultimately reaches the stage in his “Godly Meditation” where he can think that one of his “most enemies” is actually one of his “best friends,” and that is the King (PB20 upper margin, 186).


8. Intimates: “moste enemyes” and “best frendys”

The development of Thomas More’s disposition and affection towards the King reaches its destination and pre-destination in the marginalia of his Prayer Book. The history of their relationship arrives at the haven within the context of salvation history. Implicitly, More prays for the king, and he intimates an act of association and assimilation in a ruminative way as if praying together with the king—as “moste enemyes” and “best frendys” on earth and after life, as it was, is now and ever shall be, world without end—in the presence of the King of Kings so that God save the King. The register of a well-tempered range of moods like that of Thomas More can be considered as the pledge of a never-ending relationship.


* This paper has been completed during the research supported by the Hungarian National Research Fund (OTKA K-62008).

Some sections of this paper were read as a part of a conference dedicated to “Henry VIII and the Tudor Court 1509-2009” at Hampton Court Palace on 14 July 2009.

[1] Louis L. Martz, et al., eds., The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Volumes 1-15, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963-Haven: Yale UP, 1963-1997. Hereafter: CW volume/part (year) if not indicated otherwise. CW 3/2 (1984): Clarence H. Miller, Leicester Bradner, Charles A. Lynch and Revilo P. Oliver, eds., Latin Poem. Hereafter: CW3/2 L(atin) poem/line, E(nglish) page/line. “Nam iuuenem secli decus O memorabile nostril / Vngit, et in regem praeficit ista tuum. // [] // Regem qui cuctis lachrymas detergat ocellis []” (CW3/2 L 19/14-18). Emphases are mine if not indicated otherwise—B.P.T.

[2] The translation of More’s Latin poems in CW3/2 “is basically that of Leicester Bradner and Charles Lynch in their edition of 1953, but it has been completely revised by Clarence Miller, with many helpful suggestions from James Hutton” (CW3/2 ix).

[3] Douay-Rheims Bible, Hereafter: DR. Latin Vugate Bible, Hereafter: LV. “absterget Deus omnem lacrimam ab oculis eorum” (LV Apoc 21:4a) “auferet Dominus Deus lacrimam ab omni facie” (LV Is 25:8) Last accessed 30 June 2009.

[4] “[] thura feras, sacrumque potentius omni / Thure, bonas mentes innocuasque manus” (CW3/2 L 19/192-194).

[5] See: CW3/2 L 492/192n, E 493; cf., E 107/15-17. A note added by B.P.T.

[6] Cf., Proverb 16:14. Daniel Kinney on More’s Letter to Brixius (CW3/2 557-558).

[7] Elizabeth Frances Rogers, ed., The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More, Princeton: PUP, 1947. Hereafter: C page[es] letter-number/line.

[8] CW 4 (1965): Edward Surtz and J. H. Hexter, eds., Utopia. Hereafter: CW4 L page/line, E page/line. Thomas More, Utopia, ed. George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams and Clarence H. Miller, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Hereafter: LAM. “[] inuictissimus Angliae Rex Henricus eius nominis octauus, omnibus egregij principis artibus ornatissimus” (CW4 46/8-10).

[9] Alexander Jones, ed., The Jerusalem Bible, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1966. Hereafter: JB.

[10] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John. Vol. 1, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1971, rpt. 1978, 383-400. Hereafter: RB.

[11] “Hunc quum die quadam in templo divae Mariae […]rei divinae interfuissem, atque peracto sacro pararem inde in hospitium redire […]” (LAM 42).

[12] CW 5 (1969): John M. Headley, ed., Responsio ad Lutherum. Cf., CW 5 1/4 inuictissimus; 2/11-12 regem, omnibus summi principis ornamentis illustrissimum; 10/4-5 rege prudentissimo simul atque eruditissimo. See also: CW 7 (1990): Frank Manley, Germain Marc’hadour, Richard Marius and Clarence H. Miller, eds., Letter to Bugenhagen. CW 7 26/12-13, E 27/14-15 non magis iuictus, quam pius, quum sit inuictissimus / he is as devout as he is invincible—completely invincible. CW 15 (1986): Daniel Kinney, ed., In Defense of Humanism. CW 15 L 4/4, E 5/5 inuictissiomo / invincible; L 100/26, E 101/30 illustrissimi / illustrious; L 122/15, E 123/18 princeps / prince; L 134/5, E 135/6 inuictissimum / invincible; L 146/13-14, E 147/16 christianissimus princes noster […] cuius sacra Maiestas / our most Christian Prince […] His Sacred majesty.

[13] CW 6 (1981): Thomas M. C. Lawler, Germain Marc’hadour and Richard C. Marius, eds., A Dialogue Concerning Heresies.

[14] J. Duncan M. Derrett, “The Affairs of Richard Hunne and Friar Standish” in CW 9 (1979): J. B. Trapp, ed., The Apology.

[15] Cf.: “More’s satirical account of the witnesses […] ridicules the flimsy grounds of gossip […]” (Louis L Martz, Thomas More: The Search for the Inner Man, New Haven: Yale UP, 1990, 106, note 21.)

[16] See the marked lines in the Psalter More used in the Tower. Thomas More’s Prayer Book: A Facsimile Reproduction of the Annotated Pages, transcription and translation with an introduction by Louis L Martz and Richard S Sylvester, New Haven: Yale UP, 1969. 103-104. Hereafter: PB page. (DR; LV Psalm 60:4: “turris fortitudinis a facie inimici”).

[17] CW 12 (1976): Louis L Martz and Frank Manley, eds., A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation.

[18] CW 13 (1976): Garry E. Haupt, ed., Treatise on the Passion, Treatise on the Blessed Body, Instructions and Prayers.

[19] William Roper, “The Life of Sir Thomas More, Knight” in Gerard B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith, eds., A Thomas More Source Book, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004, 27. Hereafter: WR page.

[20] See also: CW12 108/1-6; 149/22-24 and Thomas More’s Prayer Book: A Facsimile Reproduction of the Annotated Pages, transcription and translation with an introduction by Louis L Martz and Richard S Sylvester, New Haven: Yale UP, 1969. Hereafter: PB page. In his Prayer Book, among the verses Thomas More marks with a gloss and/or a line down the margin, there are some that make use of the image of the lion. In Psalm 7, a faithful person prays for God’s help against his enemies: “Domine Deus meus in te speravi: salvum me fac ex omnibus persequentibus me et libera me. / Nequando rapiat ut leo animam meam: dum non est qui redimat neque qui salvum faciat.” (PB31; LV Ps 7:2-3; DR: “Lord my God, in thee have I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me. Lest at any time he seize upon my soul like a lion, while there is no one to redeem me, nor to save.”) The opposition between the person praying and the lion preying seems antagonistic. In Psalm 9, the person asks God’s protection against his enemy (PB36) that “lieth in wait in secret like a lion in his den.” (DR Ps 9:30; LV: “insidiatur in abscondito quasi leo in spelunca sua.”) In Psalm 21, sharing his sufferings and hope with his spiritual congregation, the virtuous man describes his enemy “as a lion ravening and roaring” (PB49; DR Ps 21:14; LV: “sicut leo rapiens et rugiens”) and asks God to save him “from the lion’s mouth.” (PB50; DR Ps 21:22; LV: “[s]alva me ex ore leonis.”) In an unmarked verse of Psalm 16, a just man’s prayer in tribulation, his enemy appears “as a lion prepared for the prey; and as a young lion dwelling in secret places.” (PB44; DR Ps 16:12; LV: “[s]usceperunt me sicut leo paratus ad praedam: et sicut catulus leonis habitans in abditis.”) There are other marked places in the Prayer Book where the noun leo is in the plural: PB68 (Ps 34:17), PB99 (Ps 56:5), PB100 (Ps 57:7).

[21] DR: “Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night: in it shall all the beasts of the woods go about: The young lions roaring after their prey […].” (Ps 103:20-21)

[22] Cf., “Behold, I have given you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall hurt you.” (DR Lk 10:19).

[23] H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, eds., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English of Current English, Oxford: Clarendon, 1956.

[24] CW 14 (1976): Clarence H. Miller, ed., De Tristitia Christi.

[25] Perexiguum id est plane, & foeminarum lusibus ac delitijs tantum expetitum, quibus quo minus est, eo gratius est, ut sinu gestent in cubiculis, & manu in pilentis, genus sane ad omnia inutile [] (Ioannis Caii De canibus Britannicis, Londini per Gulielmum Seresium typographum, Anno 1570, 6.

[26] Iohannes Caius, Of Englishe Dogges, newly drawne into Englishe by Abraham Fleming, Imprinted at London by Rychard Johnes, 1576, 20-21.

[27] Virginia T. Leitch and Dennis Carno, The Maltese Dog: A History of the Breed, New York: International Institute of Veterinary Science, 1970, 47. Nicholas Cutillo, The Complete Maltese, New York: Howell Book House, 1986, 19. See also: Portrait of a lady with a lapdog (c.1500-05), oil on panel, by Lorenzo Costa (c.1460-1535) in the Royal Collection of Pictures and Works of Art, London (RCIN 405762). The sitter is believed to be Isabella d’Este. “An unattributed portrait of Isabella, thought to be by Costa and probably a version, was given to the English ambassador in 1514, although it does not appear in any subsequent Royal Collection inventories (the present work was not recorded until the reign of Charles II).” (From the catalogue entry adapted from The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, London, 2007. Internet: Royal Collection Home > e-Gallery > Portrait of a lady with a lapdog: object.asp?searchText=Portrait+of+a+lady+with+a+lapdog&x=14&y=15&object=405762&row=0&detail=about Last accessed on 30 June 2009.

[28] See the reproduction of an engraving by Conrad Gessner (1516-1565) from page 15 of his Icones animalium published in 1553. (Cutillo, 22 and 24-25. And also: ) Last accessed on 30 June 2009.

[29] Plate 2 in Lesley Lewis, The Thomas More Family Group Portraits After Holbein, Leominster: Gracewing, 1998.

[30] PB47, Ps 19:10; PB48, Ps 20:2; PB104, Ps 60:7; PB119, Ps 71:2-4; PB147, Ps 88:23-25.

[31] See David as a boy: JB 1 Samuel 16:12; 17:33, 42; Ecclesiasticus 47:4. cf., David as a young boy and Henry as a young man just under 18 at his coronation.

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