Sir Thomas More was summoned to Lambeth Palace on 13th April 1534 to swear the new oath of succession. More was one of Henry VIII’s most trusted friends and advisors during the early days of his reign but More was a devout Catholic and loyal to Queen Katherine so when Henry wanted to put Katherine aside and take a new wife More found it difficult to accept. Henry was desperate to get More on side and agree that the marriage was never legal.
During the inquest into the King’s Great Matter that saw Cardinal Campeggio dispatched from Rome to oversee events More kept himself busy by pursuing heretics and negotiating peace deals with France and Spain abroad. He kept himself away from Blackfriars and the ongoing trial into the King’s marriage.
In 1529 after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More was appointed Lord Chancellor despite Henry being aware of More’s sympathies towards the former Queen. More accepted the role in the hope he could persuade Henry back to church and to Katherine.
As Henry moved further and further away from Rome and Papal Supremacy he began demanding that the Church recognised him as the Supreme Head of the Church. In 1532 Thomas Cromwell created a new bill that limited the Church’s powers. On 15th May 1532 the clergy were forced to accept that Henry was the Head of the Church and that he was superior to the Church and their laws. The following day in the gardens of York Place Thomas More resigned from his role as Lord Chancellor, he returned the great seal to Henry and bowed before leaving never to see Henry again.
In 1533 Thomas Cromwell ordered an investigation into the activities and movement of More. Two events appear to have triggered the investigation the first was More’s lack of attendance at Anne Boleyn’s coronation and the second was More’s involvement with Elizabeth Barton, the nun who claimed to have visions and predicted the King’s death if he went through with his marriage to Anne. More wrote to Cromwell and the King in March 1534 stating that he remained loyal to the King and would remain silent on the matter of his new wife.
While More thought he was safe remaining quiet Cromwell was working behind the scenes on new bills that were to be passed through Parliament. The Act of Annates stated that all bishops were to be selected by the King. Another act was passed at the same time The Act of Succession, the act declared that Henry’s marriage to Katherine was unlawful and void and that their child, Mary, was now illegitimate. It stated that any children the King would have with Anne would be heirs to the throne. It was also required that all citizens were to swear an oath in support of the new act.
On 12th April 1534 Thomas More was exited St. Paul’s Cathedral after a service with his son in law. He was handed a summons that requested him to go to Lambeth Palace the following day in order to take the oath of succession. More having decided not to sign the oath must have known that by not signing it then that was to be his last day as a free man.
On 13th April More set off on a boat for Lambeth, when he was seated and asked to sign the oath More asked to read both the oath and the Act itself. He carefully read each document and told those in the room that his conscience would not allow him to sign the oath. His response was unexpected so the commissioners asked More to leave the room for them to decide what to do with More now that he had refused to sign the oath. More was summoned back and once again refused to sign it despite being threatened with prison. He was eventually given to the Abbot of Westminster for four days before being transferred to a cell within the Tower of London.
Thomas More would remain imprisoned where he would be interrogated and asked to sign the oath again on numerous occasions. In 1535 Cromwell interviewed More on the King’s behalf where he was asked his opinion on the Act of Supremacy an act that would declare Henry the supreme head. More refused to comment on it and was left in the Tower.
The trial of Thomas More was set for 1st July 1535 where he was once again asked to sign the oath. He was also charged and questioned on four points. At each one More gave clear answers but he must have known that a guilty sentence would be handed out in fear of displeasing the King. More was handed a guilty verdict and sentenced to death by means of hung, drawn and quartered. This was later changed to beheading by the King in recognition of the years that More had served him. Sir Thomas More was executed on 6th July 1535.