Rousseau: Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey Essay

Submitted By savannakoop
Words: 765
Pages: 4

Ross Koop
Essay #4

Sir Thomas More, a scholar and statesman, objects to King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce and remarry in order to father a male heir. But More, ever the diplomat, keeps quiet about his feelings in the hopes that Henry will not bother him about the matter. At a meeting with Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, More reviews the letter to Rome that requests the pope’s approval of Henry’s divorce. More points out that the pope provided a dispensation, or exemption, in order for Henry to get married in the first place, since Catherine, the woman Henry married, was the widow of Henry’s brother. More doubts that the pope will agree to overturn his first dispensation. Wolsey accuses More of being too moralistic and recommends that he be more practical. Privately, More disapproves of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage. Publicly, he would prefer to have nothing to do with the matter. But when Henry, through his agent Cromwell, forces More to speak out, More must either publicly assent to the divorce or die. After Cardinal Wolsey dies, and More is appointed as his replacement; Henry and, later, Cromwell press More to take a public stance on the issue of King Henry’s marriage; More’s family and friends also encourage him to relent. More says "Well . . . I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . . they lead their country by a short route to chaos." Wolsey believed a person should take the most convenient and advantageous option in political matters, but More believes a statesman’s duty is to weigh his “own private conscience” because doing so will ultimately lead to the common good. (Quietly) I neither could nor would rule my King. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . . . little, area . . . where I must rule myself. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court. More speaks these words to his wife, Alice, following King Henry’s visit to their home. Alice urges More either to rule or be ruled, but More argues that he will allow himself to be ruled, except in matters pertaining to his conscience. We often find More desperately searching for a loophole in some act or oath, and at such times we may wonder whether this moral man is trying to skirt the issue. This statement of More’s reveals that he is not really an idealist. Unlike Roper, More does not do things just because he believes in them but because, as he says, his conscience believes in them. He does not try to prove a point or to be a hero, but there are certain points he feels he cannot concede without sacrificing his own self. Mores concience ultimatley leads to his death for he would not swear the oath to the king. Why does More refuse to agree to the oath? What is the difference between More’s understanding of what he’s doing and typical expectations of morality and martyrdom? we know