The Trial of Sir Thomas More: A Chronology

February 7, 1477
Thomas More is born in London to John and Agnes More.
November 1501
Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and the brother of future king Henry Tudor, marries Catherine of Aragon.  Arthur dies four months later.
April 1509
King Henry VII dies and Henry VIII, only eighteen at the time, becomes king.
June 1509
After receiving clearance from the Pope that the marriage would not violate a command in Leviticus about not taking a brother's wife, Henry VIII marries Catherine of Aragon.
More is elected to Parliament.
More marries Alice Middleton.
While serving as Undersheriff of London, More publishes his most famous work, Utopia.
More joins the King's service, taking a job as Master of Requests.
More is knighted; becomes ambassador to Bruges and Calais.
More becomes Speaker of the House of Commons. He moves to Chelsea.
More appointed to the four-member King's Council.  King Henry VIII begins to take an interest in Anne Boleyn.
Early 1527
Henry VIII decides that his marriage to Catherine violates the injunction of Leviticus.  (He might also be concerned that Catherine is past the age of child-bearing and has not given birth to a son.)  He asks Cardinal Wolsey to help secretly secure an annulment of his marriage.  More, meanwhile, negotiates a treaty with France. 
May 1527
A private legatine court investigating the question of annulment of the King's marriage adjourns without taking any action.   The troops of Emperor Charles V wreak havoc in Rome, raping women and killing children and dragging the corpse of Pope Julius II (taken from its tomb) through the streets. 
June 1527
Henry tells Catherine that they have been unlawfully married for the past eighteen years.  More becomes aware of the king's interpretation of Leviticus.
July-Sept. 1527
More travels with Cardinal Wolsey to France to ratify the new treaty with the French king.
Late September 1527
Henry VIII approaches More about his "great matter" (the legality of his marriage).  More tells Henry that he thinks his marriage is lawful; the King asks him to give the matter more thought.  (Later in the year, this time at More's home in Chelsea, the king walks through More's garden, arm around More's neck, discussing his desires concerning the annulment of his marriage.)
Summer of 1528
The Pope dispatches Cardinal Campeggio from Rome to convene a legatine court in London to decide the question of the king's annulment.  England experiences outbreaks of the plague and sweating sickness leading the suspension of the courts at Westminster.  More occupies himself aggressively pursuing heretics, which he views as the primary threat to England's well-being.
May 31, 1529
The legatine court called by the Pope formally opens in the parliament chamber of Blackfriars.
June 21, 1529
Henry and Catherine (along with Cardinal Wolsey) appear before the legatine court.  Catherine kneels before the king and begs for "pity and compassion" and declared that she was a virgin when she married him.  Henry VIII delivers a speech outlining his scruples about his marriage. 
August 1529
More, again on the continent, helps negotiate a general peace between all the major players in Europe.  The peace will hold for fifteen years. 
October 1529
Henry VIII, unhappy that his Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, had failed in his "great matter," has Wolsey arrested for treason.  Henry chooses Thomas More as Wolsey's successor as Lord Chancellor, the highest appointed office in England.  Despite his sympathies for Catherine, More accepts the post because it will allow him to defend his Church.  (During his tenure as Lord Chancellor, More will lead a campaign against heretics that includes banning heretical texts and searching out and prosecuting--and even burning--heretics.)
Spring 1530
Thomas Cranmer, at Henry's request, prepares a lengthy report demonstrating the unlawfulness of the king's marriage.  The report is submitted to England's universities, which declare that the king's scruples are probably justified.
June 1530
Henry convenes a meeting of lords and prelates to sign a letter to Pope Clement asking that he grant the king's request for an annulment of his marriage.  More does not sign the document.
September 1530
Henry issues a proclamation preventing enforcement of any papal bull inconsistent with his own view concerning the unlawfulness of his present marriage.  More openly expresses his disagreement with Henry's action, believing it to be a direct attack on the authority of Rome.
Late 1530
Thomas Cromwell, who will become More's chief nemesis, becomes a member of the King's inner council.  A lawyer named Christopher St. German publishes an influential argument that the law of the realm should preempt ecclesiastical law. 
Early 1531
An angry King Henry summons the clergy to Westminster, where he demands reimbursement for the costs of sending a delegation to Rome after it failed to achieve its goal of securing an annulment of his marriage.  Henry also demands that he be recognized as the "sole protector and supreme head of the English Church and clergy."  In the Parliament, John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, expresses strong disagreement with giving this new title to Henry.
March 1531
More tells the House of Lords that Henry is seeking annulment of his marriage not "out of love for some lady," but for reasons of conscience.
Late May, 1531
A group of royal councilors meets with Catherine and unsuccessfully urges her to drop her opposition to the annulment of her marriage to Henry.
July 11, 1531
Henry separates from Catherine.
February 1532
Through Cromwell, a bill is presented to Parliament that would deny payment to Rome (in the form of "annates" by new bishops) in an attempt to put pressure on the Pope to grant the annulment.
March 1532
Cromwell, acting on behalf of the king, moves to limit the authority of the Church (and More) to punish heretics.
Early May 1532
Cromwell prepares a bill to transfer powers of the Church to Parliament.  Cromwell also asks that the bishops be denied their longstanding authority to arrest heretics--an action that More cannot stomach.
May 15, 1532
In accord with king's demands, the clergy submits, thus accepting that all ecclesiastical law required royal consent.  The submission effectively makes Henry the head of the Church of England.
May 16, 1532
More returns to Henry a pouch containing the Great Seal of England, thereby resigning from his position as Lord Chancellor of England.  Henry tells More, "For your service you have done me, you will find me a good and gracious lord..."
Summer 1532
Thomas Cranmer is chosen to be the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
Winter 1533
Henry secretly marries a pregnant Anne Boleyn. 
March 1533
Cromwell presents to Parliament a proposed bill that declares England owes no allegiance to "foreign princes or potentates" (including the Pope).
April 1533
The Parliament declares Henry's marriage to Catherine to have been invalid.  On April 12, Anne Boleyn is officially proclaimed "Queene at Greenewych." The new queen is coronated at Westminster Abbey.  Thomas More, still serving as king's councilor, does not attend the festivities, angering Henry.  Bishop John Fisher, an opponent of the king's marriage and his new role as head of the Church of England, is arrested for unlawful preaching.
Summer 1533
Thomas Cromwell begins an investigation into the activities of Thomas More.
November 1533
Elizabeth Barton, a nun accused of treason who claimed to have visions about a dire future for England because of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, confesses on the scaffold that her revelations were fraudulent.  More had visited Barton and the king's men were aware of their association.
January 15, 1534
Parliament reconvenes.  Almost immediately it takes up a number of bills proposed by Cromwell for the king. 
February 1534
Parliament enacts the Act of Annates, which provides that bishops in England will be selected by the king.  Parliament also indicts Elizabeth Barton for treason by a Bill of Attainder.  A bill drafted by Cromwell identifies Bishop Fisher and Thomas More as among her accomplices.  Cromwell requests More visit him for an informal meeting on the issues of the king's marriage annulment and papal supremacy.  More reaffirms his belief in papal supremacy based, he claims, on a writing of Henry himself.  He adheres to a policy of silence on the matter of the king's marriage.
March 5, 1534
More writes letters to Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell stating his loyalty to the king, denying any conspiracy with Barton, and expressing his desire to see the king's interests furthered.
March 1534
More is called to appear before the king's commissioners.  The commissioners threaten More, and call him a "villainous" servant, but depart without taking action against him.
March 30, 1534
Henry gives assent to an act of Parliament called the Act of Succession.  The Act declares the marriage of Henry and Catherine void, and establishes a line of succession through the children of Queen Anne.  The Act also specifies various offenses, such as "derogating" the royal family, to be treasonous.  Most significantly for More, the Act also requires all of the king's subjects to take an oath promising to maintain "the whole effects and contents of the present Act."
April 12, 1534
While leaving church, More is handed a summons to appear before the king's commissioners at Lambeth Palace and take the oath of succession.
April 13, 1534
More leaves Chelsea for Lambeth after telling his family he will likely be imprisoned.  At Lambeth, More, when asked to take the oath, requests to see both it and the Act of Succession.  More tells the commissioners that although he will deny nothing contained in the oath, he would not swear to it.  Asked a second time to take the oath after being threatened with imprisonment, More again refuses to do so--and also refuses to explain why he refuses to take the oath.  More is turned over to the Abbot of Westminster, who keeps him for four days.
April 17, 1534
Thomas More is imprisoned in the Tower of London.
While imprisoned in the Tower, More writes a lengthy book entitled A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation.  He also writes letters to his daughter, Margaret Roper, explaining his decision to not take the oath. 
Nov. 1534- Early 1535
A bill is introduced, and later enacted, called the Act of Supremacy, which declares Henry to be the supreme head of the Church of England.  Also, Parliament considers, and eventually enacts, the Treason Act which makes it a capital offense to "maliciously wish, will, or desire, by words or writing" to deny to members of the royal family their "dignity, title, or name of their royal estates."  Parliament also targets More with an Act of Attainder for "intending to sow sedition" by his refusal to take the oath.
May 2, 1535
More meets with Cromwell and four others in a room at the Tower.  He was told that Henry VIII demanded his opinion on the recently enacted Act of Supremacy.  More said that he refused to "meddle" in such affairs.  Although told that the king would be merciful if he consented to the Act, More says that his whole concern now is for his living the best possible Christian life. 
Late May 1535
Henry is angered to learn that the Pope has made Bishop Fisher, an outspoken opponent of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, a cardinal. 
June 3, 1535
More appears for a third interrogation before Cromwell and other councilors of the king.  He is asked to give an oath to the supremacy of Henry as head of the Church of England, but he remains silent.
June 1535
Solicitor-General Richard Rich visits More's cell and takes away his books and writing materials.  Rich later will testify that during the course of his visit, More, in responding to a hypothetical question, suggested that Parliament had no more power to enact the Act of Supremacy than it did to pass a law declaring God not to be God.  More's statement, if actually made, would violate the Treason Act because it denied the king's title as the supreme head of the Church.  (More later denies ever making any such statement to Rich.)  Two days later, More is questioned by official investigators--a sort of preliminary hearing for his trial.
June 22, 1535
Five days after being convicted of treason, John Fisher is beheaded on Tower Hill.
June 26, 1535
A special commission is established to hear the case of Thomas More
June 28, 1535
A 2000-word indictment accusing More of treason is presented to the special commission.
July 1, 1535
Thomas More is tried for treason in Westminster Hall.  More pleads "not guilty," and argues that he has never shown malice to the king or violated the terms of the Treason Act.  The king's attorney contends that More's silence is evidence of  "a corrupt and perverse nature" and itself a violation of the Act.  More replies that under the law, silence should be taken as consent, not disagreement.  He also denies violating the Treason Act in letters to Fisher or in his conversation with Richard Rich, who he calls a liar.  Rich testifies, however, that More in a conversation did deny that Henry was the supreme head of the Church of England.  Two other witnesses present in the cell testify that they heard nothing of the conversation in question.  After one hour of deliberation, the jury of twelve men finds More guilty.  He is sentenced to be hanged until "half dead," disemboweled, and burned.
July 5, 1535
More's wife, Alice, visits her husband in the Tower.  He gives her a letter composed in charcoal for his daughter Margaret.  By this time, he also knows that his sentence had been commuted by Henry from disembowelment to beheading.
July 6, 1535
A bit before 9:00 a.m., More is led from his cell on the 200-yard trip to Tower Hill.  A large crowd is waiting at the execution site.  More asks the crowd to pray for him in this world, and he would pray for them in the next.  He says he was "the King's good servant, but God's first."  He knelt down on the block, then rose to kiss his executioner.  He knelt down again, his face was covered with a cloth and his neck on the block, and was killed with a single stroke of the axe.  His head was boiled and impaled on a pole by London Bridge.

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