Friday, May 15, 2009

A Daughter's Love

Author Stephanie Mann reviews John Guy's study of the relationship between St. Thomas More and his daughter Meg. According to Mrs. Mann:
There have been attempts to besmirch the reputation of Sir (Saint) Thomas More--unsubstantiated and denied rumors of torture, inflated numbers of executions for heresy under this administration as Chancellor, and emphasis on the more colorful language in his polemics against Luther and Tyndale. All are cited as unworthy of a canonized saint, either reflecting confusion about historical accuracy or what it means to be a saint.

In this book, John Guy describes the relationship between Thomas More and his dearest daughter, Margaret Roper. It is a loving relationship, demonstrating the richness of character and integrity of both father and daughter. Guy highlights Thomas More's progressive educational program for all his children, including his daughters, uncommon at the time, with the highest standards of contemporary humanism. Erasmus of Rotterdam found in Margaret More Roper a critical and discerning reader who could appreciate his efforts and correct his Latin.

Crucially, John Guy emphasizes that Thomas More had completely integrated the sacred and the secular in his way of life and yet steadfastly kept the public and the private aspects of his life separate. When he was with his family, or when he wrote to them when he was away from them, he did not discuss the efforts, burdens or issues of his working life, as lawyer, member of Parliament, ambassador, or Chancellor. It was only when he knew that public life was going to intrude violently and with deadly force on his private life that he gave his family a sign of what was to come: a brutal knock at the door, interrupting the family gathered at meal and a preemptory summons to answer charges of treason.

Also crucially, Guy highlights the ferocious will to power of Henry VIII once he knew what he wanted and experienced the satisfaction of obtaining it. Henry was then insatiable and only those who bowed utterly to his desire could hope to survive, and even they faced the danger of his changing mood and will. Thomas More tried to warn Thomas Cromwell (as depicted in the film Anne of the Thousand Days) never to let the king focus on what he could do, but only on what he should do. More followed his own advice and was executed; Cromwell did not follow that advice and was still executed.

Margaret was one of the few who knew her father wore a hair shirt; she would thus be the only one who knew how to sustain him during his imprisonment in the Tower, engaging him with both intellectual diversion and prayer. She would be his champion after his execution, rescuing his head from its place in the row of traitors and preserving all his works, including the letters and treatises he wrote in the Tower, so that they could be published during the reign of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon's surviving child and the first Queen Regnant of England, Ireland and Wales.

A sad and final irony I gained from the story of this relationship was an inkling of what might have been: if Henry VIII could have had the same respect and love for his daughter Mary, he could have fulfilled his early promise as a Renaissance prince. If Henry had seen Mary as the gift she was, with her intellect, her musical talent, and the same desire that Margaret had to please her father, what might have been? But then, we might not have the works Thomas More wrote in the Tower, when he put polemics aside and contemplated Jesus in His Passion, the soul facing comfort and tribulation, and that loving last letter to Margaret, praising her for her demonstration of love as he returned to the Tower of London after his trial.

John Guy has given us the great gift of this book, clarifying many aspects of Thomas More's life, including his relationships with his second wife Alice and his great friend Erasmus, who both sadly abandoned him when he faced the trials of the Tower. The supporting materials (illustrations, family trees, and bibliography) are great.


May said...

Very moving, thank you for posting this!

I especially liked the part about what might have been had Henry VIII and Mary had a similar relationship.

elena maria vidal said...

I thought that was an excellent point, too. Stephanie writes fabulous reviews.

Lucy said...

Hi Elena:) she really writes a wonderful review- the book sounds like it gives a true depiction of the great Thomas More.

If you're interested, Jean Plaidy also writes a very good book on his life: St. Thomas's Eve (the reprint is now The King's Confidante). Here too I find that she keeps true to the facts, the history and the faith. The love between Meg and her father is constant. I loved the book.

(If you'd like to read my review:
Have na great day,

elena maria vidal said...

That's a great blog of yours, Lucy, and what a great review of Plaidy's novel. I grew up reading Jane Plaidy and am glad that she still has such a following!

Lucy said...

Thanks so much Elena:) I really love her work too.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

Ms. Lucy and Elena: I recently saw the Plaidy book you discuss. It did seem to reflect the relationship between father and daughter very well. Random House is certainly preparing a very nice uniform paperback edition of Eleanor Hibbert's works as Jean Plaidy.