Author : John Guy
Sunday Times - In his biography of Thomas and Margaret, John Guy brings Margaret conclusively out of the shadows. On the basis of his meticulous scholarly examination of the documentary record, she steps into the light as a heroine and a guide to our understanding of the turbulent doctrinal and political times through which she and her father lived, offering an arresting reassessment of More's motivation in the months before his death.
|Submitted by: angelosdaughter|
Comments: I have just finished this book. John Guy a noted historian, has written an exhaustively researched, but eminently readable study of Thomas More's relationship with his beloved daughter, Margaret More"Meg" Roper. His thesis is that without the devoted preservation of the memory and writings of More by the efforts of the scholarly and determined Margaret and her support of his position on Henry VIII's divorce and assumption of the tiltle of Head of the Church of England, history would have lost the Thomas More that we know today. Meg's devotion to and understanding of her father were absolute. Her position as a woman and a scholar made her uniquely able to support her father in his resolve to resist to the death Henry's insistence that More sign an Oath of Allegiance which ran contrary to the dictates of his conscience. Early in life, Meg became her father's right hand, helping to make decisions when he was away from home on the King's business, and serving as the conduit thorugh which Thomas kept in touch via letter with his beloved family. Guy produces a balanced portrait of More, not glossing over his vitriol against heretics, but placing it in the context of the times, his over scrupulous conscience and his political blunders. Guy also gives us a portrait of More the family man who loved his intellectually inferior but practical minded, second wife, Alice and directed the educations of his daughters, both foster and blood, and their brother, John. More's pride and love for his children showed itself in his unusual (for that time) affection, involvement in their educations, and pride in their accomplishments. He was a family man, first and foremost, and did his best to keep his public and family lives separate. Knowing that his resistance to Henry's will could end in his death, More set up a trust to protect his beloved family. He was a man who was dependent on the love and support of his family even in the final extremity, but it was only Meg, having the deep understanding of her father's heart and psyche who had the strength and self-sacrifice to supply it. It is a tribute to his fatherly affections for all his children, that his foster daughter, Margaret Giggs, alone of all the family (It is thought that Meg just could not bear to) witnessd his execution, and helped Meg to bury the headless body afterward. Meg ransomed her father's head from London Bridge and afterward was brought in and questioned by Henry's agents on charges that she was trying to create a cult. She was not detained, having been able to convince her interrogators that she was innocent. I had wondered why More's head, said to have been buried with Meg, had ended up in a niche behind a grill in the Roper Family vault. The book tells why. It also narrates an account of Meg's visits to her father in the Tower,(She had sworn to the Oath conditionally "insofar as the law of God allows"), for which she was permitted to visit her father in prison for a time, (which was her reason for swearing to the Oath at all; It was Cromwell's vain hope that Meg would also be able to persuade More to sign the Oath) during which they spent time in conversation and debate, and she assisted him in his composition of his final works such as "The Sadness of Christ" and "A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation" in which both More and his daughter faced his fears of the horrors of dying the savage death of a traitor (which Henry at the last minute commuted to beheading), and his scruples over seeking martyrdom through the unworthy motive of pride, and in the end, overcame them. More did not set out to seek martyrdom, but was aware that his resistance could end that way. Unlike his erstwhile friend Erasmus who admitted that "Mine was never the spirit to risk my life for truth. Not everyone has the strength needed for martyrdom", More found that strength. Margaret's first and forever allegiance was to her father, his memory and her children; her opportunistic and vacillating husband was never able to truly capture her heart and her intellect. She was not a compliant wife of the time, yet William Roper who outlived his wife by some years, never remarried but held her in honor for the rest of his life, requesting to be buried at her side, although her bones would have to be moved to make that possible. Meg, understanding her father best, strengthened him in his resolve, and helped him overcome his fears,knowing that to give in against his conscience would leave More a broken man. In the end, In the end, in obedience to More's wish, Meg surrendered him to God, his conscience, and the King's pleasure, and let him go. More's final letter to Meg, delivered to her with his hair shirt bears eloquent testimony to her father's recognition of just how much he had asked of this, his most beloved daughter, with its ending sentences: "I never liked your manner toward me better than when you kissed me last (Meg had pushed twice through the escort of guards accompanying More back to the Tower after his conviction and sentencing to embrace and kiss him for the last time), for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you, and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost."