TRIAL OF SIR THOMAS MORE: Letter to Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell
(March 5, 1534)


After my most hearty recommendation, it may please you to under­stand that I have perceived by the relation of my son Roper (for which I beseech almighty God reward you) your most charitable labor taken for me toward the King's gracious Highness, in the procuring at his most gra­cious hand, the relief and comfort of this woeful heaviness in which mine heart standeth, neither for the loss of goods, lands, or liberty, nor for any respect either, of this kind of honesty that standeth in the opinion of peo­ple and worldly reputation, all which manner things (I thank our Lord) I so little esteem for any affection therein toward myself that I can well be content to jeopard, lose, and forgo them all and my life therewith, without any further respite than even this same present day, either for the pleasure of God or of my prince.


But surely, good Master Cromwell, as I by mouth declared unto you, some part (for all could I neither then say nor now write) it thoroughly pierceth my poor heart, that the King's Highness (whose gracious favor to­ward me far above all the things of this world I have evermore desired, and whereof both for the conscience of mine own true faithful heart and de­votion toward him, and for the manifold benefits of his high goodness continually bestowed upon me, I thought myself always sure), should con­ceive any such mind or opinion of me, as to think that in my communica­tion either with the nun or the friars, or in my letter written unto the nun, I had any other manner mind, than might well stand with the duty of a tender loving subject toward his natural prince, or that his Grace should reckon in me any manner of obstinate heart against his pleasure in anything that ever I said or did concerning his great matter of his mar­riage or concerning the primacy of the Pope. Never would I wish other thing in this world more lief, than that his Highness in these things all three, as perfectly knew my dealing, and as thoroughly saw my mind, as I do myself, or as God doth himself, whose sight pierceth deeper into my heart than mine own.


For, Sir, as for the first matter, that is to wit my letter or communica­tion with the nun (the whole discourse whereof in my former letter I have as plainly declared unto you as I possibly can), so pray I God to withdraw that scruple and doubt of my good mind, out of the King's noble breast and none otherwise, but as I not only thought none harm, but also purposed good, and in that thing most, in which (as I perceive) his Grace conceiveth most grief and suspicion, that is to wit in my letter which I wrote unto her. And therefore Sir, sith I have by my writing declared the truth of my deed, and am ready by mine oath to declare the truth of mine intent, I can devise no further thing by me to be done in that matter, but only beseech almighty God to put into the King's gracious mind, that as God knoweth the thing is indeed, so his noble Grace may take it. Now touching the second point con­cerning his Grace's great matter of his marriage, to the intent that you may see cause with the better conscience to make suit unto his highness for me, I shall as plainly declare you my demeanor in that matter as I have already de­clared you in the other, for more plainly can I not.


Sir, upon a time at my coming from beyond the sea, where I had been in the King's business, I repaired as my duty was unto the King's Grace being at that time at Hampton Court. At which time suddenly his Highness walking in the gallery, brake with me of his great matter, and showed me that it was now perceived, that his marriage was not only against the positive laws of the Church and the written law of God, but also in such wise against the law of nature, that it could in no wise by the Church be dispensable. Now so was it that before my going over the sea, I had heard certain things moved against the bull of the dispensation' con­cerning the words of the Law Levitical and the Law Deuteronomical to prove the prohibition to be de iure divino, but yet perceived I not at that time but that the greater hope of the matter stood in certain faults that were founden in the bull, whereby r the bull should by the law not be sufficient. And such comfort was there in that point, as far as I perceived a good season, that the Council on the other part were fain to bring forth a brief, by which they pretended those defaults to be supplied, the truth of which brief was by the King's Council suspected, and much dili­gence was thereafter done for the trial of that point, wherein what was fi­nally founden, either I never knew, or else I not remember.


But I rehearse you this to the intent you shall know that the first time that ever I heard that point moved, that it should be in such high de­gree against the law of nature, was the time in which, as I began to tell you, the King's Grace showed it me himself, and laid the Bible open before me, and there read me the words that moved his Highness and divers other er­udite persons so to think, and asked me further what myself thought thereon. At which time not presuming to look that his Highness should anything take that point for the more proved or unproved for my poor mind in so great a matter, I showed nevertheless as my duty was at his commandment what thing I thought upon the words which I there read. Whereupon his Highness accepting benignly my sudden unadvised answer commanded me to commune further with Master Foxe, now his Grace's Almoner, and to read r a book with him that then was in making for that matter. After which book read, and my poor opinion eftsoons de­clared unto his Highness thereupon, his Highness, like a prudent and a virtuous prince, assembled at another time at Hampton Court a good number of very well learned men; at which time as far as ever I heard there were (as was in so great a matter most likely to be) diverse opinions among them. Howbeit I never heard but that they agreed at that time upon a cer­tain form in which the book should be made, which book was afterward at York Palace in my Lord Cardinal's chamber read in the presence of divers bishops and many learned men. And they all thought that there appeared in the book good and reasonable causes that might well move the King's Highness, being so virtuous a prince, to conceive in his mind a scruple against his marriage, which, while he could not otherwise avoid, he did well and virtuously for the acquieting of his conscience to sue and procure to have his doubt decided by judgment of the Church.


After this the suit began " and the Legates sat upon the matter, dur­ing all which time I never meddled therein, nor was a man meet to do, for the matter was in hand by an ordinary process of the spiritual law, whereof I could little skill. And yet while the Legates were sitting upon the matter, it pleased the King's Highness to send me in the company of my Lord of London, now of Durham, in embassiate about the peace that at our being there was concluded at Cambrai, between his Highness and the Emperor and the French King. And after my coming home his Highness of his only goodness (as far unworthy as I was thereto) made me, as you well know, his Chancellor of this realm soon after which time his Grace moved me again yet eftsoons, to look and consider his great matter, and well and indifferent to ponder such things as I should find therein. And if it so were that thereupon it should hap me to see such things as should persuade me to that part, he would gladly use me among other of his councilors in that matter, and nevertheless he graciously de­clared unto me that he would in no wise that I should other thing do or say therein, than upon that that I should perceive mine own conscience should serve me, and that I should first look unto God and after God unto him, which most gracious words was the first lesson also that ever his Grace gave me at my first coming into his noble service. This motion was to me very comfortable and much I longed, beside anything that my­self either had seen or by further search should hap to find for the one part or the other, yet specially to have some conference in the matter with some such of his Grace's learned Council as most for his part had labored and most have found in the matter.


Whereupon his Highness assigned unto me the now most reverend fathers Archbishops of Canterbury and York with Master Doctor Foxe, now his Grace's Almoner and Master Doctor Nicholas' the Italian friar. Whereupon I not only sought and read, and as far forth as my poor wit and learning served me, well weighed and considered every such thing as I could find myself, or read in any other man's labor that I could get, which anything had written therein, but had also diligent conference with his Grace's councilors aforesaid, whose honors and worships I nothing mis­trust in this point, but that they both have and will report unto his High­ness that they never found obstinate manner or fashion in me, but a mind as toward and as conformable as reason could in a matter disputable re­quire.


Whereupon the King's Highness being further advertised both by them and myself of my poor opinion in the matter (wherein to have been able and meet to do him service I would as I then shewed his Highness have been more glad than of all such worldly commodities as I either then had or ever should come to) his Highness, graciously taking in gre my good mind in that behalf, used of his blessed disposition in the prose­cuting of his great matter only those (of whom his Grace had good num­ber) whose conscience his Grace perceived well and fully persuaded upon that part. And as well myself as any other to whom his Highness thought the thing to seem otherwise, he used in his other business abiding (of his abundant goodness) nevertheless gracious lord unto any man, nor never was willing to put any man in ruffle or trouble of his conscience.


After this did I never nothing more therein, nor never any word wrote I therein to the impairing of his Grace's part, neither before nor af­ter, nor any man else by my procurement, but settling my mind in quiet to serve his Grace in other things, I would not so much as look nor wit­tingly let lie by me any book of the other part, albeit that I gladly read af­terward divers books that were made on his part yet, nor never would I read the book that Master Abell made on the other side, nor other book which were as I heard say made in Latin beyond the sea, nor never give ear to the Pope's proceedings in the matter.


Moreover, whereas I had founden in my study a book that I had before borrowed of my Lord of Bath which book he had made of the matter at such time as the Legates sat here thereupon, which book had been by me merely gently cast aside, and that I shewed him I would send him home his book again, he told me that in good faith he had long time before dis­charged his mind of that matter, and having forgotten that copy to remain in my hands, had burned his own copy that he had thereof at home, and be­cause he no more minded to meddle anything in the matter, he desired me to burn the same book too. And upon my faith so did I.


Besides this, divers other ways have I so used myself that if I re­hearsed them all, it should well appear that I never have had against his Grace's marriage any manner demeanor whereby his Highness might have any manner cause or occasion of displeasure toward me. For likewise as I am not he which either can, or whom it could become, to take upon him the determination or decision of such a weighty matter, nor boldly to affirm this thing or that therein, whereof diverse points a great way pass my learning, so am I he that among other his Grace's faithful subjects, his Highness being in possession of his marriage rand this noble woman re­ally anointed Queen', neither murmur at it, nor dispute upon it, nor never did nor will, but without any other manner meddling of the matter among his other faithful subjects faithfully pray to God for his Grace and hers both, long to live and well and their noble issue too, in such wise as may be to the pleasure of God, honor and surety to themself, rest, peace, wealth, and profit unto this noble realm.


As touching the third point, the primacy of the Pope, I nothing med­dle in the matter. Truth it is, that as I told you, when you desired me to shew you what I thought therein, I was myself sometime not of the mind that the primacy of that see should be begun by the institution of God, until that I read in that matter those things that the King's Highness had written in his most famous book against the heresies of Martin Luther, at the first reading whereof I moved the King's Highness either to leave out that point, or else to touch it more slenderly for doubt of such things as after might hap to fall in question between his Highness and some pope as between princes and popes divers times have done. Whereunto his Highness answered me that he would in no wise anything minish of that matter, of which thing his Highness shewed me a secret cause whereof I never had anything heard before. But surely after that I had read his Grace's book therein, and so many other things as I have seen in that point by this continuance of these ten years since and more have found in effect the substance of all r the holy doctors' from Saint Ignatius " disciple to Saint John the Evangelist, unto our own days both Latins and Greeks so consonant and agreeing in that point, and the thing by such general councils so confirmed also, that in good faith I never nei­ther read nor heard anything of such effect on the other side, that ever could lead me to think that my conscience were well discharged, but rather in right great peril if! should follow the other side and deny the pri­macy to be provided by God; which if we did, yet can I nothing (as I shewed you) perceive any commodity that ever could come by that de­nial, for that primacy is at the leastwise instituted by the corps of Chris­tendom and for a great urgent cause in avoiding of schisms and corroborate by continual succession more than the space of a thousand year at the least, for there are passed almost a thousand years sith the time of holy Saint Gregory.


And therefore sith all Christendom is one corps, I cannot perceive how any member thereof may without the common assent of the body de­part from the common head. And then, if we may not lawfully leave it by ourself, I cannot perceive (but if the thing were a treating in a general council) what the question could avail whether the primacy were insti­tuted by God or ordained by the Church. As for the general councils as­sembled lawfully, I never could perceive but that in the declaration of the truths it is to be believed and to be standen to; the authority thereof ought to be taken for undoubtable, or else were there in nothing no cer­tainty, but through Christendom upon every man's affectionate reason, all things might be brought from day to day to continual ruffle and con­fusion, from which by the general councils, the spirit of God assisting, ev­ery such council well assembled keepeth and ever shall keep r the corps of his Catholic Church.


And verily sith the King's Highness hath (as by the book of his hon­orable Council appeareth) appealed to the general council from the Pope, in which council I beseech our Lord send his Grace comfortable speed, methinketh in my poor mind it could be no furtherance there unto his Grace's cause if his Highness should in his own realm before, either by laws making, or books putting forth, seem to derogate and deny not only the primacy of the See apostolic, but also the authority of the general councils too, which I verily trust his Highness intendeth not, for in the next general council it may well happen that this Pope may be deposed and another substituted in his room with whom the King's Highness may be very well content. For albeit that I have for mine own part such opinion of the pope's primacy as I have shewed you, yet never thought I the Pope above the general council' nor never have in any book of mine put forth among the King's subjects in our vulgar tongue, advanced greatly the Pope's authority. For albeit that a man may peradventure somewhat find therein that after the common manner of all Christian realms I speak of him as primate, yet never do I stick thereon with reasoning and proving of that point. And in my book against the Masker', I wrote not I wot well five lines, and yet of no more but only Saint Peter himself, from whose person many take not the primacy, even of those that grant it none of his successors, and yet was that book made, printed, and put forth of very truth before that any of the books of the Council was either printed or spoken of. But whereas I had written thereof at length in my confutation before and for the proof thereof had compiled together all that I could find therefor, at such time as I little looked that there should fall be­tween the King's Highness and the Pope such a breach as is fallen since, when I after saw the thing likely to draw towards such displeasure between them, I suppressed it utterly and never put word thereof into my book but put out the remnant without it, which thing well declareth that I never in­tended anything to meddle in that matter against the King's gracious pleasure, whatsoever mine own opinion were therein.


And thus have I, good Master Cromwell, long troubled your Master­ship with a long process of these matters, with which I neither durst nor it could become me to encumber the King's noble Grace, but I beseech you, for our Lord's love, that you be not so weary of my most cumbrous suit but that it may like you at such opportune time or times as your wis­dom may find to help that his Highness may by your goodness be fully in­formed of my true faithful mind, and that in the matter of that wicked woman there never was on my part any other mind than good; nor yet in any other thing else never was there nor never shall there be any further fault found in me, than that I cannot in everything think the same way that some other men of more wisdom and deeper learning do; nor can find in mine heart otherwise to say than as mine own conscience giveth me, which condition hath never grown in anything that ever might touch his gracious pleasure of any obstinate mind or misaffectionate appetite, but of a timorous conscience rising haply for lack of better perceiving, and yet not without tender respect unto my most bounden duty toward his noble Grace, whose only favor I so much esteem that I nothing have of mine own in all this world, except only my soul, but that I will with better will forgo it than abide of his Highness one heavy displeasant look. And thus I make an end of my long troublous process, beseeching the blessed Trinity for the great goodness ye shew me, and the great comfort ye do me, both bodily and ghostly to prosper you, and in heaven to reward you. At Chelsea, the fifth day of March by

Your deeply bounden,

Tho. More. Kg.

  (From The Last Letters of Thomas More, edited by Alvaro De Silva (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), pp 48-56.)


Trial of Sir Thomas More