As Thomas More's political power increased, he began to show a side of his character which had been hidden under his supposed wit and penchant for teasing.
On 14th May 1529 he summoned the influential London merchant, Humphrey Monmouth, to appear before him. Privy Councillor More interrogated Monmouth thoroughly. What books and letters had he received from Europe? What support did he give to William Tyndale, who had translated the Greek New Testament into English? What books did he own? Monmouth gave More clear answers to these questions, but the heretic-hunter had Monmouth's London home searched from top to bottom, just in case. No compromising material was found, but that did not prevent More, th lawyer, from imprisoning Monmouth in the Tower of London.
At his next grilling More accused Monmouth of:
having bought Martin Luther's tracts, maintaining those who are translating the Scriptures into English, subscribing to set the New Testament printed in English, having imparted it into the kingdom and finally having said that faith alone is sufficient to save a man.
page 355 of The Reformation in England, Volume 1 by D'Aubigné
Each charge carried the maximum penalty of being burnt alive.
In May 1529 Cardinal Wolsey was still Lord Chancellor and More's superior in the Privy Council. Monmouth escaped from More's clutches by appealing to Wolsey's commercial good sense.
However, Wolsey fell from office in October 1529 to be replaced by Sir Thomas More, as lord chancellor. From 26th October More was able to cloak his acts of violence with a veneer of legality.
As 1529 drew to a close the English bishops decided on an aggressive course of action to destroy the growth of Protestantism. They drew up a list of books for banning.
These clerics shared with More the fear of having the Bible in English. They claimed it was impossible to translate, as the Moslems do the Koran, so the Bible was marked down for the ban.
More put these petitions before Henry VIII, who gave carte blanche to the bishops and ordered More and the judiciary to "assist" them by burning alive offenders. More had already gone into print on this matter. His book Dialogue Concerning Heresies declared that burning men and women to death was just and neessary. (page 456 in Volume 1 of D'Aubigné).
In November 1530 More seized a consignment of New Testaments which were being smuggled into England through Colchester.
Not being able to arrest William Tyndale who lived and worked on the Continent, More turned his attention to his brother John.
John had sent his brother the modest sum of 5 marks (about £1.67) and received letters from him. He had also distributed some of William's New Testaments. Falling into the hands of Lord Chancellor More, John was not only fined £100 but put on horseback facing the tail, with the New Testaments tied to him like baubles he was paraded through the streets of London.
In 1530 John Petit MP received an unexpected visitor. Petit was learned in history and latin literature. Independently minded, he served the city for 20 years, openly befriending the reformers, Bilney and Tyndale. When his wife opened the street door, she found More on the doorstep. Hurrying inside she found John Petit at prayer in his chamber. Not waiting for an invitation More entered the house and followed her to her husband's room. His eyes scanned the shelves of books for any incriminating evidence. There was none.
More had grown accustomed to accompanying the Lieutenant of the Tower on such raiding parties. He had Petit taken to the Tower leaving his wife and daughters in tears. The M.P. was consigned to a dank dungeon with only straw on the floor. Petit fell dangerously ill, and the cruel treatment meeted out by More led to his untimely death.
At last More found a victim worthy of his ire. Thomas Bilney was the true father of the English Reformation. He had been among the first converts of the Greek New Testament.
Yet Bilney, having been confronted with being burnt alive, had recanted his trust in Christ Jesus and his perfect righteousness. For some time he was a broken man. He had betrayed his Lord and Master and knew no rest.
But by 1531 Bilney had regained his sense of God's lovingkindness and determined to make amends for his cowardice journeyed to Norfolk preaching the Gospel of God's grace openly in the fields to a great crowd of folk.
To one of his converts, a pious "anachoress", he gave a copy of Tyndale's English New Testament. His generosity cost Bilney his life. This lady lent her New Testament to others, and it came to the attention of the vindictive Bishop of Norwich, who reported the matter to More. Lord Chancellor More had Bilney arrested and imprisoned in the Tower, where he was tried, pronounced guilty and condemned as a "lapsed heretic". The prudent Bishop hearing that Bilney was to be burnt alive in Norwich, asked More for a written order to do so. More replied:
Burn him first and then ask me for a bill of indemnity.
page 74 of The Reformation in England, Volume 2 by D'Aubigné
At the end of 1531 a respected London merchant, John Tewkesbury whom the bishops had twice put on the rack, breaking his bones, was arrested for his conviction that Christ alone saved sinners, not the Church.
He was taken to More's house in Chelsea, locked up in the porter's lodge, hands, feet and head in the stocks, to encourage him to see the error of his ways.
Next they took him into More's haren where they bound him so tightly to a tree that blood issued from his eyes. Thomas More called this "the tree of truth".
Then they flogged him.
Tewkesbury was burnt alive on 20th December 1531 at Smithfield.
A distinguishe lawyer James Bainham
was an earnest reader of Scripture and mightily addicted to prayer
page 97 of The Reformation in England, Volume 2 by D'Aubigné
In 1531 he was arrested by order of More and taken like a criminal to the "intellectuals" house in Chelsea. Bainham would not be swayed by More's "eloquence" and so he too was tied to the Tree of Truth and whipped by Lord Chancellor.
Apologists for More suggest he did not get his own hands dirty. Be it so! He simply watched an innocent man be brutall beaten in his private garden of his domestic "haven".
More wanted the names of other lawyers who thought as did Bainham. Failing to flog the names out of him More took him to the Tower and had him racked. (O, be assured he only watched! Doctor Mengele had his precursors in the sixteenth century.)
Bainham's limbs were dislocated and he left the torture-chamber a cripple.
Such was the Utopia created by the feral dog, Thomas More. Fantaticism and violence are close bed-fellows in the humanist heart. It merely requires the circumstances to fan them into flame.
Yet More is the revered author of his History of King Richard III. He was a coarse, lying and cruel man, quite prepared to commit violence to defend the Church and destroy the English Bible.
Why does any one listen to a word he says?
Why does Yale publish (at great expense, about £50 per volume) his scribblings?
Because Yale see in him a fellow-traveller, a humanist, who despises God's written word.
We are told More died under the axe of Henry VIII because he clung to his god, the Papal Supremacy.
Not so, God struck down Thomas More through the hand of the upstart Tudor, because More had shed the blood of good Christians.
And maybe also for destroying the reputation of the last brave Christian king.
In the end it is not Richard but Thomas More, who proves a villain.