THE JOY OF BEING MRS. THOMAS MORE.
Or should that be “Mrs. Saint Thomas More” since More was canonized in 1935 for standing up to that bully, King Henry VIII. More refused to recognize the King as head of the Church and suffered martyrdom. He was a saintly man. When he mounted the scaffold to have his head cut off, he didn’t think of himself. He thought only of the executioner. My neck is very short, he said. For the sake of your reputation, make sure you don’t miss it. He didn’t want the man to become a laughing stock. No doubt Thomas More was a man of high principles, but I wonder if his wives thought of him as a saint.
As a young man he contemplated a career in the Catholic Church. Trouble was, he couldn’t do without sex and so, as his friend Erasmus tells us, he chose to be a good husband rather than a bad priest. John Colt, an acquaintance who was blessed with several daughters, gave young More free hand to choose among them. He liked the second one best, but realized that her older sister might be offended if the girls weren’t married off in order. Out of a kind of compassion, he directed his fancy toward the eldest, Jane, and hoped for the best. His intention was to educate her and reshape her character in his own image. As it turned out, Jane was not easily reshaped and wept copiously when asked to do her homework. Old Mr. Colt, who was the traditional type, advised his son-in-law to give Jane a good beating to straighten her out. In the end no drastic measures were needed, however, because she died in childbirth.
Soon after Jane’s death, Thomas remarried -- so hastily that he had to obtain a dispensation from the bishop. Was he desperately in love? Not at all. He just needed someone to look after his household. The new Mrs. More – Alice – was neither beautiful nor in her first youth, as More used to remark in jest. Not sure that Alice found the remark funny. But that was More for you: always joking. He seemed to be born for it, but he never went as far as buffoonery. Well, that depends on what you call buffoonery.
He once presented Jane with a set of precious gems. She was ecstatic and showed them around to neighbours and friends. More couldn’t understand her disappointment when he told her a few days later that they were fake. The price of gems was arbitrarily set by merchants after all. They were just stones, and if she couldn’t tell the difference between a gem and a piece of coloured glass, why pay an outrageous price for the real thing? As far as More was concerned, it was a teaching moment. And another instance of his merry humour.
(The quotes are from Erasmus, Nicholas Harpsfield in modernized English, and Cresacre More).