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Execution of Thomas More at the Behest of Henry VIII, 1535


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"At nine o’clock the procession quitted the Tower. More was calm, his face pale, his beard long and curly; he carried a crucifix in his hand, and his eyes were often turned towards heaven. A numerous and sympathizing crowd watched him pass along — a man one time so honored, lord chancellor, lord chief-justice, president of the house of Lords whom armed men were now leading to the scaffold. Just as he was passing in front of a house of mean appearance, a poor woman standing at the door, went up to him and offered him a cup of wine to strengthen him: ‘Thank you,’ he said gently, ‘thank you; Christ drank vinegar only.’ On arriving at the place of execution: ‘Give me your hand to help me up,’ he said to Kingston, adding: ‘As for my coming down, you may let me shift for myself.’  He mounted the scaffold. Sir Thomas Pope, at the king’s request, had begged him to make no speech, fearing the effect this illustrious man might produce upon the people, More desired however to say a few words, but the sheriff stopped him. ‘I die,’ he was content to say, ‘in the faith of the catholic Church, and a faithful servant of God and the king.’ He then knelt down and repeated the fifty-first Psalm: 

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness, according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions."

"When he rose up, the executioner begged his forgiveness: ‘Why do you talk of forgiveness?’ replied More; ‘you are doing me the greatest kindness I ever received from man.’ He desired the man not to be afraid to do his office, and remarked that his neck was very short. With his own hands he fastened a bandage over his eyes, and then laid his head on the block. The executioner, holding the axe, was preparing to strike, when More stopped him, and putting his beard carefully on one side, said: ‘This at least has not committed treason.’ Such words, almost jesting, no doubt, startle us at such a moment; but strong men have often been observed to manifest the calmness of their souls in such a manner. More probably feared that his long beard would embarrass the executioner, and deaden the blow. At length that head fell, through which so many noble thoughts had passed; that keen clear eye was closed; those eloquent lips were the lips of a corpse. The head was exposed on London bridge, and Margaret discharged the painful duty her father had bequeathed her, by piously burying his body."

D'Augigne, Merle, History of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin, bk 8, ch. 6.

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