Sunday, July 6, 2014

St. Thomas More Faces Death: July 6, 1535

From The Life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper, his son in law (included in the prayer book from CTS at left):

And so upon the next morning, being Tuesday, St. Thomas’ even, and the Octave of St. Peter in the year of our Lord God 1537, according as he in his letter the day before had wished, early in the morning came to him Sir Thomas Pope, his singular friend, on message from the King and his Council, that he should before nine of the clock in the same morning suffer death, and that therefore forthwith he should prepare himself thereto. “Mr. Pope,” saith he, “for your good tidings I most heartily thank you. I have been always bounden much to the King’s Highness for the benefits and honours which he hath still from time to time most bountifully heaped upon me, and yet more bounded I am to his Grace for putting me into this place, where I have had convenient time and space to have remembrance of my end, and so help me God most of all, Mr. Pope, am I bound to his Highness, that it pleased him so shortly to rid me of the miseries of this wretched world. And therefore will I not fail most earnestly to pray for his Grace both here, and also in another world.” ‑ “The King’s pleasure is further,” quoth Mr. Pope, “that at your execution you shall not use many words.” ‑ “Mr. Pope” (quoth he), “you do well that you give me warning of his Grace’s pleasure. For otherwise had I purposed at that time somewhat to have spoken, but of no matter wherewith his Grace, or any other should have had cause to be offended. Nevertheless whatsoever I intend I am ready obediently to conform myself to his Grace’s commandment. And I beseech you, good Mr. Pope, to be a mean unto his Highness, that my daughter Margaret may be present at my burial.” ‑ “The King is well contented already” (quoth Mr. Pope) “that your wife, children, and other friends shall have free liberty to be present thereat.” ‑ “O how much beholden,” then said Sir Thomas More, “am I to his Grace, that unto my poor burial vouchsafeth to have so gracious consideration.” Wherewithal Mr. Pope taking his leave of him could not refrain from weeping, which Sir Thomas More perceiving, comforted him in this wise, “Quiet yourself, good Mr. Pope, and be not discomforted. For I trust that we shall once in heaven see each other full merrily, where we shall be sure to live and love together in joyful bliss eternally.”

Upon whose departure Sir Thomas More, as one that had been invited to a solemn feast, changed himself into his best apparel; which Mr. Lieutenant espying, advised him to put it off, saying, that he that should have it was but a worthless fellow. “What Mr. Lieutenant” (quoth he), “shall I account him a worthless fellow, that will do me this day so singular a benefit? Nay, I assure you, were it cloth of gold I would account it well bestowed on him, as St. Cyprian did, who gave his executioner thirty pieces of gold.” And albeit at length, through Mr. Lieutenant’s persuasions, he altered his apparel, yet, after the example of that holy martyr St. Cyprian, did he of that little money that was left him, send one angel of gold to his executioner. And so was he brought by Mr. Lieutenant out of the Tower, and from thence led towards the place of execution, where going up the scaffold, which was so weak that it was ready to fall, he said to Mr. Lieutenant, “I pray you, I pray you, Mr. Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” Then desired he all the people thereabouts to pray for him, and to bear witness with him, that he should then suffer death in and for the faith of the holy Catholic Church, which done he kneeled down, and after his prayers said, he turned to the executioner, and with a cheerful countenance spake unto him. “Pluck up thy spirits, man, and be not afraid to do thine office, my neck is very short. Take heed therefore thou shoot not awry for saving thine honesty.” So passed Sir Thomas More out of this world to God upon the very same day in which himself had most desired.

Sir Thomas Pope was the founder of Trinity College at the University of Oxford. Sir Thomas Audley was his patron and Pope benefited greatly from his service at the Court of Augmentations, dividing up the goods of the suppressed monasteries. He founded Trinity on the remains of Durham College, founded in 1268 for the education of Benedictine monks from that northern abbey :

Trinity College was founded by Sir Thomas Pope in 1555. A devout catholic with no surviving children, Thomas Pope saw the Foundation of an Oxford college as a means of ensuring that he and his family would always be remembered in the prayers and masses of its members. He came from a family of small landowners in Oxfordshire, trained as a lawyer, and rose rapidly to prominence under Henry VIII. As Treasurer of the Court of Augmentations he handled the estates of the monasteries dissolved at the Reformation, and amassed a considerable personal fortune. Pope was a discreet and trusted privy counsellor of Mary Tudor, and it was from Mary and Philip that he received Letters Patent and royal approval for his new foundation. Pope died in 1559. Although his religious ideals were never fully realised - Elizabeth I had succeeded her sister and England returned to the Protestant faith - nonetheless the memory of his name, like his college, has endured the fluctuating fortunes of over 400 years. His wife, Lady Elizabeth Pope, was a particularly influential figure in Trinity's early years. Pope's foundation was for a President, twelve Fellows and twelve scholars, all supported by the income from his generous endowment of lands, and for up to twenty undergraduates. The Fellows, all men, were required to take Holy Orders and remain unmarried. The College Statutes set out rules for a simple monastic life of religious observance and study. The Garden was an informal grove of trees, mainly elms, amongst which the members of the College could walk and meditate.

Perhaps a jest that St. Thomas More would enjoy: a Pope came to tell More that he would be beheaded that day for defending the Pope as head of the Catholic Church.

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