A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
SUBJECTS — Biography/Thomas More; World/England & the Renaissance; Religions/Christianity; Drama/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage; Male RoleModel;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
AGE: 12+; MPAA Rating — G;
Drama; 1966; 120 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
This film depicts the events leading to the martyrdom of Sir Thomas More (1478-1525). More was a judge and a royal official, as well as an author and a leading figure of the Renaissance. More was beheaded by King Henry VIII because he opposed Henry’s actions in taking control of the Church in England, thereby separating it from the Catholic Church. In 1935, More was made a saint by the Pope. The screenplay for the film was written by Robert Bolt, who also wrote the play on which the film was based.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1967 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Scofield), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Writing; 1968 British Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Actor (Scofield), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Screenplay; Best Art Direction; 1967 Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Shaw), Best Director, Best Screenplay; 1967 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Shaw) and Best Supporting Actress (Hiller); 1967 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Shaw).
Featured Actors: Paul Scofield, Leo McKern, Susannah York, Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles.
Director: Fred Zinneman.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
SERIOUS. This film presents a limited and uncritical view of Sir Thomas More. Because of its inaccuracies and omissions, the film has been strongly criticized by Richard Marius, author of a respected biography of More. Several years ago, based on Marius’ criticisms, we declined to prepare a Learning Guide for this film. However, many people disagreed with us and felt that the story of a man who gave up everything for a principle could serve as a valuable teaching tool. In addition, we are informed that the film is widely used for this purpose by teachers in England.
After reading several biographies of More and much reflection, we agree with both the proponents and the critics of this film. As a result of its historical inaccuracies “A Man for All Seasons” is not a film to simply show or recommend with the implication that “this is the way it was.” There is too much here that is the way it wasn’t, or at least there is too much that is the subject of controversy among historians. However, the film can become a useful teaching tool if some of the inaccuracies and omissions are brought out and discussed. In addition, the real Thomas More was one of the most interesting and, with the exception of his persecution of heretics, one of the most admirable men who ever lived. Educated people should know of his career, his literary works, and his martyrdom. For a brief description of the more egregious historical inaccuracies in this film see Some of the Substantial Historical Inaccuracies of this Film.
Start with the Quick Discussion Question. Then focus on the following three points. (1) Thomas More was a remarkable man. He was a giant of the Renaissance, having written Utopia, one of its most influential books. In addition, More was an excellent lawyer, a wise judge, an able administrator, a peacemaker, a caring father, a loyal friend, a dutiful and loving son, and a man of charity who shared his wealth with the less fortunate. His only major failing was that he was also a religious bigot who persecuted heretics and, as a judge, ordered them burned at the stake. (2) Thomas More gave up his high position as Chancellor and his life on a matter of conscience, in service of the traditions of Catholic Christendom. (3) Contrary to what the film would have us believe, most people in Britain thought that More was wrong. Before the reign of Henry VIII, England had been ravaged by civil war as two great aristocratic houses fought for the throne. (These were called the “Wars of the Roses”.) If King Henry didn’t have a legitimate male heir, there was a great risk that the country would again be plunged into civil war. Almost every Englishman wanted to avoid this. Catherine had not given Henry a son. The vast majority supported annulment of the king’s marriage and the break with Rome as the best way to prevent civil war. See Helpful Background section relating to this point.
The analysis of this film is fairly academic. Parents who want to enhance a child’s experience in watching the movie will be best prepared if they review the Helpful Background and the Discussion Questions (including the suggested answers).
King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547; reigned 1509-1547) was concerned about a renewal of civil war if he did not leave a male heir. His wife of 16 years, Catherine of Aragon, bore him a healthy daughter, but their sons were either stillborn or died shortly after birth. Entranced by the young and vivacious Anne Boleyn, and convinced that she would bear him a son, the King sought to annul his marriage to Catherine. The Pope was under the political and military domination of Henry’s enemy Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V was also Catherine’s nephew. The Pope refused Henry’s request for an annulment of the marriage. The King’s response was to sever England’s relationship with the Catholic Church and to set up a new Church of England with the King at its head. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest cleric of the Church in England, was now appointed by Henry. The new Archbishop promptly annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine.
All of this occurred against the background of the growing strength of the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe and in England. More was loyal to the Catholic Church and believed that Western European Christianity should remain united. He correctly foresaw that a separate church in England would encourage Protestantism. When More refused to endorse King Henry’s policies, Henry imprisoned him. When More would not relent but instead wrote books and pamphlets opposing Henry’s plan to separate the Church in England from Rome, Henry executed him.
England at the turn of the 16th century was a medieval society in which daily life was bound by custom, tradition, piety, and superstition. The Catholic Church was an integral part of everyday life. However, the church was in need of reform. The abuses of the clergy rankled the populace. Many Englishmen resented the taxes assessed by Rome and the wealth and power of the monasteries. Scholasticism, the effort to give a rational content to faith, had been the dominant philosophical enterprise of the Middle Ages. It was being challenged by the new secular ideas of the Renaissance. One of the proponents of the new thinking in education and literature was Thomas More. More favored the study of the ancient classical texts in their original Greek, one of the reforms of the Renaissance. He was to write one of the most enduring classics of Renaissance literature, Utopia, for which he become famous throughout Europe and later the world.
By 1500 England had found a new political stability provided by the Tudor Dynasty and King Henry VII. The Wars of the Roses, battles of dynastic succession between the houses of Lancaster and York that devastated England from 1455 to 1485, were over. Learning Guide to “Looking for Richard“. Public service meant serving the king whose powers were growing at the expense of the Church and the nobility. In 1509 Henry VII was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII, who was to rule England for 38 years.
Henry VIII was the second Tudor to sit on the English throne. Henry was a tyrant, used to having his way and willing to cut off heads without scruple if he felt it was in his best interests. His most important achievement, separation of the Church of England from Rome, would never have occurred if Henry had not been desperate for a male heir. The schism paved the way for Protestantism in England, a result never intended by Henry who retained Catholic beliefs, except for papal supremacy.
In his youth Henry gave promise of becoming a modern and enlightened monarch. He was accomplished in Latin and in music. He authored a book on theology maintaining, ironically, that the Pope was infallible. However, Henry never lived up to those expectations. His early foreign military adventures caused needless destruction and loss of life while draining the kingdom of funds. Henry was served by several able ministers, Wolsey, More and Cromwell being the chief among them, but each fell from royal favor. More and Cromwell were beheaded and Wolsey saved Henry the trouble by dying of natural causes soon after he was removed from office. Henry’s matrimonial escapades are well known. There was no reason for the beheading of Anne Boleyn and five men on false charges of adultery, except to make life easier for Henry.
The Church of England (Anglican) that was begun by Henry VIII still exists today. The Queen of England is the Supreme Governor of the Church, appointing the archbishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the Prime Minister. The two archbishops and 24 senior bishops sit in the British House of Lords. With the growth of the British Empire the Church of England expanded. It now has branches in 106 countries. In the United States it is called the Episcopal Church.
Anne Boleyn (1502 – 1536) was the second of King Henry’s six wives. She was reputed to have been stylish and vivacious rather than beautiful. She captivated Henry who asked her to be his mistress. But she refused, stating that she would be queen or nothing. Henry was unaccustomed to being denied anything and Anne’s refusal captivated him all the more. Henry also wanted a new queen to bear him a son to solve his succession problems. But it took him six years to gain an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Anne held out until she was assured of becoming queen. In 1533, while Anne was pregnant, she and Henry were married in a private ceremony. Anne’s first child was a healthy girl who was to become Queen Elizabeth I and rule England for 45 years. Anne’s second child, a boy, miscarried and she soon fell from favor. When the King wanted to marry again, he had Anne Boleyn accused of adultery with five innocent men, including her brother. After a trial that was widely described at the time as “judicial murder,” Anne Boleyn was beheaded just eleven months after Sir Thomas More. See, e.g., Tudor England’s Web Page on Anne Boleyn.
Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1540), a commoner who was secretary to Wolsey, was able to distance himself from Wolsey just before the Cardinal fell. Cromwell was an able administrator. He served as the King’s advisor and ultimately Chancellor until 1540 when he fell victim to a plot against him by several nobles. Cromwell was vulnerable because his arrangements for Henry VIII’s fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleves, fell victim to Henry’s distaste for Anne’s appearance. Henry never consummated the marriage and Anne saved her life by gracefully withdrawing her claim to be queen and Henry’s wife, based on a technicality. Cromwell was beheaded on charges of heresy and other infractions. Henry VIII soon bemoaned his loss and then turned on the nobles who had turned him against Cromwell.
Historians doubt that Cromwell played a substantial role in the execution of Thomas More. First, Cromwell was not More’s prosecutor, rather he was one of 18 judges. The More family, for example, invited Cromwell to serve as godfather to a grandchild of Sir Thomas More who was born after More’s execution. For additional information on the life and accomplishments of Thomas Cromwell, see Tudor England’s Biographical Sketch of Thomas Cromwell.
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More was an extraordinary man of many apparently contradictory elements.
He was a man of medieval piety but also a leading figure of the Renaissance, a movement which increased the secularization of society. More wore a hair shirt and prayed extensively each day. More believed the Catholic Church was the visible communion of Christians that was the permanent and living sign of Christ’s presence. Ultimately, he gave his life for this belief. More considered his persecution of heretics to be one of his greatest achievements, requesting that it be specifically mentioned in his epitaph. But More was also a leading humanist, advocating reforms in education and creating a classic of Renaissance literature which envisioned an ideal society that was religiously tolerant and not dominated by Christians.
Thomas More was both a man of literature and a man of practical affairs. He wrote many books and is a world-famous author. His Utopia is still read and studied more than 500 years after it was written. It established a genre of literature in which books describe an ideal society. Among More’s several other books was a biography of King Richard III (on which Shakespeare based his play; see Learning Guide to “Looking for Richard”). While the accuracy of More’s biography has been questioned, it is recognized as a masterpiece of prose, perhaps the best produced during the reign of Henry VIII. It is the beginning of modern historical writing in English. But success as an author was just one of More’s accomplishments. He also served as a respected lawyer, a revered judge, and an official in the royal government. Due to his talent and his indefatigable industry, More served in the positions of under-sheriff of the City of London, ambassador, secretary to the King, Speaker of Parliament, administrator of large portions of the kingdom, and finally Chancellor of England, the highest post that a commoner could attain. At the height of his power, More had more prestige than any member of the nobility. He was one of the few persons who had the courage and moral authority to give advice that the King did not want to hear.
More knew that the Catholic Church was in need of serious reform. Yet he respected priests and was an apologist for the Church. Ultimately More gave his life for the Church. Thomas More seriously considered becoming a priest but his desire to take a wife and have a family were strong. As reported by Erasmus, his friend and correspondent, More resolved to become a good husband rather than a bad priest.
More excoriated heretics and he personally ordered several to be burned at the stake. Yet his Utopia visualizes a religiously tolerant society without a Christian church.
More was a man of great seriousness, but also a wit, a jokester and an entertaining dinner companion.
More was a man who loved life and loved his family but he mastered his fear of death and sacrificed everything for what he considered to be the greater good of his own soul and of Christendom.
As an attorney and later a judge, More was steeped in the English Common Law which held that there were limits to royal power.
More is well known for his piety, his wisdom and incorruptibility as a judge, his talents as an administrator, his ability to write, and the fact that he gave his life for a principal in which he believed. However, Sir Thomas More had many other positive qualities as a man. They include:
Peacemaker: More used his influence to help reign in Henry VIII’s tendency to embark on military adventures.
Man of charity: His reputation for charity was so strong that his home was besieged by the ill and the hungry. He built a separate building in which to house them, administered by his favorite daughter Margaret.
Loyal friend: More inspired great loyalty and friendship and was loyal and a true friend in return.
Witty conversationalist: Because of his entertaining and interesting conversation, More was often required by the King to sit with him at dinner.
Rhetorician: He was an excellent speaker and rhetorician.
Caring father: More was a good and caring father who insisted that his children, especially his daughters, become well educated.
Loving and dutiful son: More’s father, John More, was a Judge of the King’s Bench. More loved his father and showed him great respect.
The only substantial criticism of More relates to his persecution of heretics, which included ordering them burned at the stake. In most European countries during the Middle Ages, persecuting heretics was part of the job description of a pious public administrator. But More himself knew that there was a better way. He wrote, in his Utopia, that “for this is one of their most ancient laws, that no man ought to be punished for his religion.” The tolerance of the Utopian society is a strong theme in the chapter “Of the Religions of the Utopians.” It is very difficult to explain this complete inconsistency in More, but he was a man who straddled the new age and the old.
Some of the Substantial Historical Inaccuracies of this Film
The film presents More as a champion of personal conscience. The character of More says in the play, “I will not give in because I oppose it. Not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do. I ….” But More did not understand conscience in this manner. Gerard B. Wegemer, a biographer of More, tells us that “For More, the ultimate justification of conscience is the truth of its judgment. For More, since an act of conscience is an act of the practical intellect, its true or false judgment depends upon its correct grasp of the universal principles involved as well as its correct application to the concrete circumstances at hand.” More saw himself and his martyrdom as merely a small part of something much larger than himself: the visible communion of Christians that was the permanent and living sign of Christ’s presence and that was embodied in the Catholic Church. When, during More’s trial, his successor as Chancellor asked how More presumed to challenge “all the bishops, universities, and best learned of this realm”, More responded that he saw little cause why that should “make any change in my conscience. For I have no doubt that, though not in this realm, but of all those well learned bishops and virtuous men that are yet alive throughout Christendom, they are not fewer who are of my mind therein. But if I should speak of those who are already dead, of whom many are now holy saints in heaven, I am very sure it is the far greater part of them who, all the while they lived, thought in this case the way that I think now.” [Quoted at Wegemer, Thomas More, A Portrait of Courage p. 216.]
Those who accept martyrdom almost never believe that they are acting primarily in defense of their individuality. Most martyrs relate their sacrifice to struggles of a broader nature: to a cause, to a people, or to a nation. This was true of Sir Thomas More who died for the principles of Catholic Christendom.
The film narrowly focuses on the tyranny of King Henry in causing his country to modify its religion and separate from the Catholic Church so that he could try to sire a male heir through a young and vivacious woman. The film completely omits the fact that Thomas More was on the losing side of a religious revolution that engulfed England and Northern Europe in the sixteenth century. In fact, the unified Christian community in Western Europe under the Catholic Church, a community for which More gave his life, had been falling apart for years before More took his stand in 1533-35. Martin Luther had published his 95 Theses in 1517. By 1534, when More was imprisoned, millions of Germans were Lutheran. For several years, England too had been in religious ferment and one of More’s principal occupations while he was a royal official was to try to suppress the growing heresy. While he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, More wrote books vociferously condemning Protestant heretics and calling upon the King to do his duty, i.e., to burn them. More opposed Henry’s effort at schism because he correctly feared that once the community of living and dead faithful Christians (the Catholic Church) was broken, the faith itself would be placed in severe peril. In this sense, More was not “A Man for All Seasons” since the season of the unified western Christian church had already passed away.
In the early sixteenth century the attraction of many Englishmen to the reforms of Martin Luther was strong. They were soon to overwhelm the Catholic faith. On the whole, except for several local uprisings and brief reigns by Catholic monarchs such as Mary I (1503 – 1508) England was spared the terrible conflicts that characterized the struggle over the Reformation on the Continent. (Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and was called by her subjects “Bloody Mary” because she burned so many Protestants at the stake.) Leaving questions of belief aside, one need only look to the great contributions of Elizabethan England to literature, commerce, navigation, the arts, governance, and science to see that the English people took well to life in a country dominated by a separate and increasingly Protestant Church of England. This important concept is omitted from the film.
The film implies that any right thinking Englishman would have joined More in his opposition to the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine and to the schism from Rome. This is simply incorrect. Many Englishmen did not believe that a woman could hold the country together, fearing that unless there was a male heir, civil war would break out again. Mindful of the destruction caused by the Wars of the Roses, they shared Henry VIII’s burning desire for a male heir and a secure transition of power at Henry’s death. In addition, many Englishmen were strongly anticlerical. Others, still a minority, were followers of Luther or other “heretics.” A strong case can be made that almost all viewers of the film, had they lived in the 1530s, would have wanted the King’s first marriage annulled so that there would be no question about the legitimacy of the succession of Anne Boleyn’s expected male child. They, like virtually every Englishman of the time, would have supported annulment and taken the oath required by Henry and the Parliament.
The incident dealing with son-in-law William Roper’s leanings toward the doctrines of Martin Luther is taken out of context and leaves a misimpression that More had a tolerant, almost avuncular attitude, toward Protestant beliefs. Roper’s flirtation with Lutheranism began before the authorities were seriously alarmed at the spread of Luther’s ideas. As a result he was treated gently. Called before Cardinal Wolsey for heresy, Roper was let go with a friendly warning. More reasoned with Roper and was one of the people who convinced him to return to the Catholic Church. After More’s death Roper endured imprisonment and exile for the Catholic faith. The incident as it is portrayed in the film misleads the viewer into believing that More dealt gently with heretics. That is simply untrue. In the late 1520s and into the 1530s, More’s administrative and judicial posts required him to punish heretics. He fulfilled that duty with gusto, going so far as to order several people who refused to abandon their heretical beliefs burned at the stake. By that time, More saw heresy as such a pernicious evil, that despite his reverence for the common law, he defended the practices of the church courts in denying persons charged with heresy the right to remain silent and permitting conviction of heresy, a capital offense, based on the testimony of one witness. These procedures were repugnant to the common law. In the common law courts, an accused had the right to remain silent and conviction of a capital crime required the testimony of at least two witnesses. Many of More’s writings rail against Martin Luther, Protestants, and other heretics. More felt that his actions in persecuting heretics were one of his most important achievements.
The movie unquestioningly adopts More’s claim that he remained “silent” on the issue of the King’s Great Matter (the annulment). In fact, More’s “silence” was a cover for his writings which voiced opposition to the theoretical foundation for Henry’s actions. The fundamental issue between the King and More was the question of the schism from the Catholic Church. More objected to the King’s attempt to impose himself, a layman, at the head of the Church of England, in the place of the inherited custom and traditional knowledge of the religious hierarchy of the Catholic Church. More acknowledged that Anne Boleyn was queen, because it was a temporal matter governed by Parliament and King. (The film is incorrect when it has More attacking the marriage after he was condemned.) But More’s writings about the unity of the Church and of Christendom, both before and after his imprisonment, questioned the basis of the Act of Supremacy. Through his writings on these issues, More was the King’s active opponent. Some historians believe that it was the success of More’s campaign of writing, challenging Henry and Cromwell at the highest theoretical level, that drove them to the extreme step of execution.
More was an effective administrator and a canny politician. He was willing to participate in the King’s court hoping that his advice would curb the more pernicious tendencies of the King and guide him toward beneficial policies. More was not the moralizing and impractical prig claimed by the Wolsey character in the film, a claim which the film never rebutted but which was grossly inaccurate.
The trial was conducted in private, without public spectators. Cromwell was one of the judges, not the prosecutor. The jury did retire but took only 15 minutes for its verdict. More did not attack the marriage after he was condemned, instead he attacked the Act of Supremacy. He also sought “an arrest of judgment” challenging each judge to consider the old and respected laws of England, including the Magna Carta which, More contended, stated that “the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable.”
Richard Rich was not part of More’s household or a friend, although certainly More was acquainted with him. In the film Rich is placed in proximity to More to stress the fact that people have choices and can, like Rich, make the wrong choice.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
Why couldn’t Henry VIII simply divorce Catherine of Arragon and marry Anne Boleyn?
Divorce was not permitted by the Catholic Church. The only way the King could get himself a new wife without being excommunicated by the Pope was to obtain an annulment of his marriage. The annulment of the marriage of a king had to be approved by the Pope. However, the Pope was under the political and military domination of Henry’s enemy Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V was also Catherine’s nephew and he opposed the annulment. The Pope refused Henry’s request for an annulment of the marriage. In chess they call that checkmate. Henry decided to change the rules of the game by severing England’s association with the Catholic Church, establishing a new Church of England, and making himself the head of that Church. Since he appointed the highest clerical official, the Archbishop of Canterbury, he made sure that he appointed someone who would support the annulment of his marriage to Catherine. However, when he tired of Anne Boleyn, he had another problem. Another annulment risked losing the support of the English people. No one would believe it. So, Henry came up with a new plan. He falsely accused Anne Boleyn of adultery and packed the court with his cronies. Adultery by a queen is treason, a capital offense. Anne Boleyn, like Thomas More, lost her head and Henry was able to marry again.
[No suggested Answers.]
2. What is the difference between the meaning of the term “conscience” as understood by the real Sir Thomas More and the meaning of conscience presented in the movie?
See Helpful Background Section — Some of the Substantial Historical Inaccuracies of This Film.
3. Do most martyrs believe that their sacrifice is primarily for the purpose of establishing their independence of the forces which are opposing them?
Most martyrs relate their sacrifice to struggles beyond themselves: to a cause, to a people, or to a nation. While they certainly want to defy the forces arrayed against them, most martyrs have in mind what they consider to be the greater good. This was true of Sir Thomas More who died for the principles of Catholic Christendom.
4. Is belief in God necessary for a person to become a martyr?
No. A martyr is someone who dies for a cause, whatever it may be.
5. Remember when More asked Roper what would happen if he destroyed all the laws to get at the devil, where would he find protection if the devil turned on him? How does this argument apply to the protection of constitutional rights in the U.S.?
The Constitution of the United States has many provisions which protect individuals from the state. Examples are: (1) the right to due process which provides, for example, a jury trial for criminal cases, the right to confront your accuser, the right to a jury of your peers, the right to an attorney, etc.; (2) freedom of speech; (3) freedom of the press; (4) right to assembly and petition; (5) freedom of religion; (6) freedom to travel etc.
6. Describe how each of the following characters in this film would react to the statement that “the end justifies the means”: Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII, William Roper, and Richard Rich. For each provide an example of his actions in the film that leads you to this belief.
Cromwell, Henry VIII, and Richard Rich were men who believed that the end justified the means. Cromwell, as characterized in the film, would do anything to get ahead politically, such as manufacturing false charges against Sir Thomas More. Henry VIII would do anything to get a male heir, including cutting the heads off women that he had loved. Richard Rich, like Cromwell, would do anything for advancement of his career, and perjured himself at More’s trial. Thomas More would not have sacrificed principle for expediency and proved this by refusing to agree to the King’s policies on the marriage and the Church of England. William Roper was too young to be set in his ways on this. The scene in which More warns him against ignoring the legal protections of the minority to get at the devil indicates that he was leaning towards believing that the end justified the means.
7. Does the end justify the means? Is this a good standard for conduct?
No. Every ethical question must be determined on its merits but the concept that one may commit an unethical action for a good end usually leads to unethical actions. The trick in life is to find a way to achieve the ends that you want by using morally acceptable means. See Standard Ethics Questions.
8. Did Henry VIII and the political powers in England do the right thing by separating from the Catholic church in order to give Henry a wife who would provide him with a male heir? Or were they engaging in an ends justifies the means rationalization. Answer from the standpoint of a religious Catholic who lived during the reign of King Henry VIII and from the standpoint of King Henry.
The decision to allow Henry VIII to take a new wife and to separate the Church of England from Rome was a clear example of using the end to justify the means. The religious Catholic would point to the fact that King Henry had entered sacred marriage vows before God and did not have the power to break those vows. Only the Pope, as God’s representative on earth, could do that. Henry would point to the fact that his primary obligation was to the English people who needed a male heir for stability. (He was wrong, by the way. England achieved stability under his daughter, Elizabeth. But it was a reasonable assumption at the time.) Only if you discount the theory that marriage vows are sacred and can only be released by the Pope and only if you reject papal supremacy, can you find that Henry’s actions were anything other than simply an ends justifies the means argument.
9. Why do some people call Sir Thomas More a “man for all seasons?”
There are two senses for this. First, and most commonly, that he lived his life according to strong and valid principles which did not change because of the way the wind was blowing. He did not change his opinions depending on what was popular or what the King wanted. Another way to look at the description is that More could operate effectively in many environments. He was successful as a writer, a lawyer, a judge, and Chancellor of the country. A third reason More could be described as being for all seasons is that he was a man of the Middle Ages in many things but also a leading figure of the Renaissance. See Helpful Background Section.
10. Thomas More, when he was Chancellor of England, considered all Protestants to be heretics and ordered them burned at the stake. Name one of the founding fathers of our country who also served as President who had a famous egregious blind spot.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, had slaves. Another possibility is George Washington, he too had slaves, although he freed them all when he died and set up a trust fund to provide for them. Jefferson didn’t have enough money to do this. The only slaves that he freed were the Hemings family.
11. Why did so many Englishmen support King Henry’s position? Did he force all of them knuckle under just because he wanted a new wife?
No. There was broad public support for Henry’s position. See Helpful Background Section.
12. What is More’s place in the history of religion in England. Was he in sync with the currents of change in the English church?
More was struggling against the flow of the currents of change in the English church. See Helpful Background section.
13. The movie shows More as tolerant toward Protestant beliefs while he still thought them to be wrong. Is that an accurate portrayal?
No. More railed against Protestant beliefs, while recognizing that many parts and practices of the Catholic Church were corrupt and needed changing. As Chancellor More ordered Protestants burned at the stake for their beliefs in an attempt to stop the spreading heresy. He considered his persecution of heretics to be one of his greatest achievements, requesting that it be specifically mentioned in his epitaph. See Helpful Background section.
14. Why is More an interesting historical figure?
Because he straddles the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He is clearly a man of the Middle Ages, deeply pious, burning Protestants at the stake, and dying for the pan-European community of the Catholic Church. However, he was a great humanist and a man of the Renaissance, writing one of its most influential classics, Utopia. See Helpful Background section.
15. More claimed to be silent on the issue of the King’s divorce. Was this claim true?
No. See Helpful Background section.
16. List two ways in which the movie’s depiction of More’s trial was inaccurate.
Here are several possible facts to be included in the response: (1) The trial was conducted in private, without public spectators; (2) Cromwell was one of the judges, not the prosecutor; (3) the jury did retire but took only 15 minutes for its verdict; (4) More did not attack the marriage after he was condemned, instead he attacked the Act of Supremacy.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
1. Do you think More did the right thing to sacrifice his life for a principle that he believed in?
There is no one right answer to this question. A good response will recognize that there are some principles for which a person would risk or even sacrifice his or her life.
2. What are the principles for which Sir Thomas More gave his life?
More gave his life for the United Christian church, i.e., the Catholic church. Specifically, he rejected the claim by the King of England that he could take over the Church of England and supplant the authority of the Pope.
3. What are the principles for which you would give your life?
There is no one response to this question. The response should reflect sober and reasonable thought.
BRIDGES TO READING
- Utopia by Sir Thomas More.
heretic, schism, annulment, excommunication, oath, perjury, treason, villainous, chaos, dispensation, pious, “hair shirt”.
OTHER LESSON PLANS:
For a lesson plan based on the play, see “The best A Man for All Seasons study site”.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- Integrity and Conscience in the Life and Thought of Sir Thomas More by Professor Gerald Wegemer;
- another Thomas More Website; and
- Tudor History.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, Carnes, Ed., (Henry Holt & Co. 1996) Richard Marius’ critique of the film is at pages 70 – 73;
- Thomas More by Richard Marius, (Knopf, 1984);
- Thomas More, Portrait of Courage by Gerard B. Wegemer (Scepter Publications, 1995;
- The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd (Doubleday, 1998);
- Humanist as Hero by Theodore Maynard (MacMillan 1947); AND
- Reel v. Real: How Hollywood Turns Fact into Fiction by Frank Sanello, Taylor Trade Publishers, 2003, pp. 49 & 50.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Chris Wolfe of Marquette University and Gerard B. Wegemer of the University of Dallas for their encouragement and help with this Learning Guide. They don’t agree with everything that has been written here, but they strongly believe that the film should be used as an educational tool.