Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

More, Thomas

Born: 1478, London
Died: 1535, London
  • Malcolm HebronEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_615-1


Sir Thomas More is one of the luminaries of Tudor England. His fame rests on several pillars: his saintly character, first attested in the letters and biographies of his contemporaries; his best-known work, Utopia; and his imprisonment and eventual martyrdom for refusing to take an oath legitimizing the divorce of Henry VIII from Katharine of Aragon.

More was a lawyer, poet, and humanist. He was pivotal to the revival of Greek studies in England. He belonged to a circle of English humanists including William Grocyn, John Colet, Wiliam Lily, and Thomas Linacre and was also a close friend of Desiderius Erasmus. More was a busy and successful lawyer, and subsequently a statesman, serving as Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII. On a domestic level, More was also a significant educational reformer: his household was run as an academy, balancing piety with humane letters. He believed in women’s capacity for academic education, and his daughter Margaret was celebrated for her intellectual accomplishments.

More stands at the threshold between the medieval and early modern age. His career embraces scholasticism and the new learning, inherited Christendom and the radical break of the Reformation. Intellectually, he belonged to a medieval world shaped by the trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. These disciplines were absorbed at an early age and polished through study, conversation, writing, lectures, and legal argument. More’s own rhetoric is directed to varying ends, from epigrammatic verse in English and Latin, to the sophisticated wit of Utopia, the intensity of his anti-Lutheran polemics and the devotional character of his prison writings in the Tower of London. Underlying this diverse body of work is the conviction that human order rests in the great impersonal structures sanctioned by tradition, chief among them the body of canonical and common law, and the teachings of the Church. It is this conviction that led to More’s downfall. He could not approve Henry’s declaration that his marriage to Katherine of Aragon had been void, since to do so would have admitted division into the Church and put man’s word over God’s law.

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Primary Reading

  1. The bibliography of More is extensive. Details of earlier studies are given in more recent academic works.Google Scholar


  1. More, Thomas. 1963–1997. The complete works of St Thomas More, 15 vols. New Haven/London: Yale UP.Google Scholar
  2. Wegemer, Gerard B., and Stephen W. Smith, eds. 2004. A Thomas More source book. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.Google Scholar

Early Lives

  1. Roper, Willliam and Nicholas Harpsfield. 1963. Lives of Saint Thomas More, ed. E.E. Reynolds. Everyman’s library 19. London: J M Dent.Google Scholar

Editions of Utopia

  1. Utopia. 1904. Ed. J. Churton Collins. Oxford: Clarendon Press. [Ralph Robynson translation, 1551].Google Scholar
  2. Utopia. 1965. Ed. Edward Surtz, S.J. and J.H. Hexter, Complete works vol. 4. New Haven/London: Yale UP.Google Scholar
  3. Utopia. 2012. Translated, edited and introduced by Dominic Baker-Smith. London: Penguin.Google Scholar


  1. Ackroyd, Peter. 1998. The life of Thomas More. London: Chatto and Windus.Google Scholar
  2. Chambers, R.W. 1935. Thomas More. London: Cape.Google Scholar
  3. Cousins, A.D., and Damian Grace, eds. 2009. A companion to Thomas More. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Guy, John. 2000. Thomas More (Reputations). London: Hodder.Google Scholar
  5. Guy, John. 2008. A daughter’s love: Thomas and Margaret More. London: Fourth Estate.Google Scholar
  6. Guy, John. 2017. Thomas More. London: SPCK.Google Scholar
  7. Kenny, Anthony. 1983. Thomas More. Past masters series. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  8. Lewis, C.S. 1954. English literature in the sixteenth century excluding drama. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  9. Logan, George M., ed. 2011. The Cambridge companion to Thomas More. Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  10. Ridley, Jasper. 1982. The statesman and the fanatic: Thomas Wolsey and Thomas More. London: Constable.Google Scholar
  11. Wegemer, Gerard B. 2011. Young Thomas More and the arts of liberty. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Wilde, Lawrence. 2016. Thomas More’s utopia: Arguing for social justice. London: Routledge.Google Scholar


  1. Baumann, Uwe. 2015. The humanistic and religious controversies and rivalries of Thomas More (1477/8–1535): A typology of literary forms and genres? In Forms of conflict and rivalries in renaissance Europe, ed. David A. Lines, Marc Laureys, and Jill Kraye, 79–108. Bonn: Bonn University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Skinner, Quentin. 1987. Sir Thomas More’s utopia and the language of renaissance humanism. In Anthony Pagden, ed., The languages of political theory in early modern Europe, pp 123-157. Cambridge: CUP. Revised and reprinted as ‘Thomas More’s vision of true nobility’. In Skinner, Q., Visions of politics, 3 vols, Cambridge: CUP, 2002, vol. 2, 213–244.Google Scholar
  3. Skinner, Quentin. 1988. Political philosophy. In The Cambridge history of renaissance philosophy, ed. Charles B. Schmitt et al., 389–452. Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar


  1. Association Amici Thomae Mori. http://www.amici-thomae-mori.com/. Accessed 27 Mar 2017.
  2. Baker-Smith, Dominic. 2014. Thomas More. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-more/. Accessed 27 Mar 2017.
  3. House, Seymour Baker. 2004. More, Sir Thomas (1478–1535). In Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford: OUP (online edition accessed 27 Mar 2017).Google Scholar
  4. The Center for Thomas More Studies. https://thomasmorestudies.org/. Accessed 27 Mar 2017.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Winchester CollegeWinchesterUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • David A. Lines
    • 1
  1. 1.Italian Studies, School of Modern Languages and CulturesUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK