More was highly intelligent, and is recognised as one of the most influential thinkers of early modern Europe.
More entered royal service in the 1510s, and went on to represent England’s interests on the continent.
He was staunchly Catholic and worked to counter the growth of heresy in England. After Cardinal Wolsey was dismissed, More was chosen to replace him as Lord Chancellor.
More did not support Henry VIII’s divorce, nor the king’s claims to supremacy over the English Church. Although less vocal than Bishop Fisher in his opposition, More’s fate was nonetheless the same.
When he refused to accept the legitimacy of Henry’s new marriage to Anne Boleyn, More was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was found guilty of treason, and beheaded on 6th July 1535.
Like John Fisher, Thomas More was quickly recognised as a Catholic martyr. He was officially canonised in 1935.
It was commissioned by his grandson, Thomas More II, and was based on an earlier, now lost work of Hans Holbein from 1527/8, which showed just the first seven subjects, all of whom were alive at that time.
By adding in the next generations, Thomas II created an imaginative meeting of both living and deceased family members. Many of the sitters are holding prayer books, indicating their Catholic piety. Together the new painting argued that death, and even martyrdom, could not disrupt this family’s unwavering faith.
The portrait hanging on the wall to the right hand side is of Ann Cresacre, who is also represented between Sir John and Sir Thomas More on the left.
The reproduction in the exhibition is about one third of the size of the original.
1. Sir John More (1451-1530), father of Sir Thomas 2. Ann Cresacre (1511-77), wife of John More II 3. Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) 4. John More II (1510-47), son of Thomas 5. Cecily More (b. 1507), daughter of Thomas 6. Elizabeth More (b.1506), daughter of Thomas 7. Margaret More (1505-44), daughter of Thomas 8. John More III (b.1577), son of Thomas More II 9. Thomas More II (1531-1606), son of John More II 10. Christopher Cresacre More (1572-1649), son of Thomas More II 11. Maria Scrope (1535-1607), wife of Thomas More II
The 1530s: divorce, reform, martyrs