This week we mark the birthday of St Thomas More, who was born in his parents’ home at Milk Street in London, just a few steps from the Guildhall. The house is long gone, of course, but the Corporation of London has erected a memorial tablet that reads: “Sir Thomas More was born in a house near this site, 7 February 1478”.
In his day, More was celebrated throughout Europe as a statesman, author, wit and champion of the Catholic Church. Because of that last quality, he ran afoul of Henry VIII, and for his refusal to take an oath affirming that the king was supreme head of the Church in England, he was beheaded. Today he is venerated as a saint and martyr, but what about his family – who were they? And who were his descendants?
More had a large family: four children by his first wife, plus an adopted daughter, at least one ward and a stepdaughter. And as one of six children, he had lots of nieces and nephews.
Margaret was More’s favourite daughter. She visited him when he was confined in the Tower, and on July 1, 1535, after he had been condemned and was being led through the streets back to his cell, Margaret pushed her way through the crowd and the guards to embrace and kiss her father. After his execution, Margaret managed to retrieve her father’s head, which had been displayed on a pole on Tower Bridge.
Margaret, like her father, had refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. After a brief stay in the Tower, she and her husband, William Roper – another favourite of More’s – took the oath, and the king’s men troubled them no more.
Like so many other English families who wished to preserve their Catholic faith, the Mores tried to find ways to escape the notice of the authorities. Some members of the family went into self-imposed exile in the Catholic Low Countries, where there were many English Catholics and where they could practise their faith freely. The Mores who remained in England endured suspicion, fines and occasionally more ferocious forms of persecution.
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