Defending St. Thomas More in The National Catholic Register
Just in time for the first episode of Wolf Hall this evening on PBS, my article for The National Catholic Register is on-line:
Catholic bishops and fair-minded historians in England protested against the inaccurate portrayal of Sir Thomas More in the BBC miniseries based on Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall when it made its debut in January this year. Since Thomas Cromwell, one of King Henry VIII’s advisers, is Mantel’s hero, Thomas More must be her villain. Mantel and the BBC portray More as cruel, bigoted, fanatical, misogynistic and sado-masochistical.
Viewers of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, whether the 1963 film or the stage play, won’t recognize the witty, intelligent family man and friend if they watch Wolf Hall during its run on PBS’ Masterpiece starting Easter Sunday, April 5, through the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10.
Mantel writes historical fiction, so she has the artistic license to interpret historical characters in her novels.
What readers and viewers have to remember is that Mantel’s More is not the real Thomas More; her version of his character does not resemble the description contemporaries like Desiderius Erasmus have left us of a humble, loving, humorous and honest man. Bolt didn’t tell the whole story of Thomas More either, when he made him a hero of individual conscience; Bolt did at least get More’s character and personality right.
If Mantel’s More were the real Thomas More, viewers might be horrified that the Catholic Church has honored More by canonizing him (in 1935 — 80 years ago this year), including him on the universal calendar of saints on June 22 (with St. John Fisher, the great bishop of Rochester, who also opposed Henry VIII’s supremacy and was beheaded) and proclaiming him the patron saint of politicians and statesmen (announced by Pope St. John Paul II in 2000).
St. Thomas More faced charges of treason for opposing Henry VIII’s desire to get a divorce in 1535. In 2015 (480 years later), he now faces charges of being “fussily pious, stiff-necked and unnaturally fond of torturing heretics” (according to Charles McGrath in The New York Times), “with a penchant for self-punishment and a misogynist to boot” (according to Vanessa Thorpe in The Guardian). Since he is not here to defend himself, here are some facts to represent the real Thomas More: . . .