Introduced by Diarmaid MacCulloch
The life of Thomas More was one marked by political intrigue, religious unrest and a great shifting of ideologies. In this masterful biography, Peter Ackroyd not only reveals the truth behind history’s great ‘man for all seasons’, but also paints a fascinating portrait of an age that saw cataclysmic change.
Thomas More was a key player in the political games that were at the heart of Henry VIII’s reign. Humanist, lawyer and Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532, More remains an intriguing figure. After years of faithful service, he refused to acknowledge Henry as the head of the Church of England, ultimately condemning himself to imprisonment in the Tower and a traitor’s death.
More, often caricatured as an overly pious burner of heretics, is revealed in Ackroyd’s masterful biography to be both more human and more complex than such a simplistic portrait would suggest. Through close examination of More’s writings, his correspondence with confidants such as his life-long friend Erasmus, and a wealth of contemporary material, Ackroyd gets under the skin of a complex man. We witness More’s privileged boyhood, his early preoccupation with faith, his glittering law career and his rise to power within the volatile court of Henry VIII. More emerges as a man with a deep sense of irony and an often scatological sense of humour, a man dedicated to his family – particularly his daughter Margaret, whose education he oversaw – and with convictions of faith so deep he habitually wore a hair shirt under his robes. Ackroyd also brings to this book his extensive knowledge of, and passion for, London – the medieval city is as vividly conjured as the man whose life was so closely interwoven with it.
‘Full of brilliant insight, and one stands in awe of Ackroyd’s learning, confident that this is the life of Thomas More for our times’
Ackroyd’s More is a man betrayed by the march of time. Standing for the ideals of the late medieval period, a time of spectacle and holy wonder, he is swept away by the changes wrought by a zealous king; the book’s final chapters, focusing on More’s isolation in the Tower, show a man ultimately glad to step away from a world that he no longer recognises. In his introduction, author Diarmaid MacCulloch places the events of Ackroyd’s ‘richly enjoyable book’ in the wider context of the Reformation. The endpapers of this edition feature details from one of the earliest maps of London, while the 32 pages of colour plates include many of Holbein’s remarkable portraits from the period.
Peter Ackroyd is a novelist, biographer and poet. A graduate of both Cambridge and Yale, he began his career as literary editor for the Spectator magazine in London. In 1983 he won the Somerset Maugham Award for his writing of Oscar Wilde’s ‘autobiography’, The Last Temptation of Oscar Wilde. Continuing his biographical work, Ackroyd was awarded the Whitbread Biography Award, as well as the Heinemann Award, for his biography of T. S. Eliot (T. S. Eliot, 1984). Drawing inspiration from London, the city of his birth, he wrote its own biography (London: A Biography, 2000). In 2003 Ackroyd was awarded a CBE for services to literature.
Diarmaid MacCulloch is a historian, writer and broadcaster and ordained Anglican deacon. A Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, and Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, MacCulloch is also a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London. His works include Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996), Tudor Church Militant: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (1999), Reformation: Europe’s House Divided (1993; The Folio Society, 2013), A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (2009), Silence: A Christian History (2013) and All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation (2016). He was knighted in 2013.
Please sign in to your account to leave a review for The Life of Thomas More.