Milk Street was where Londoners could buy their milk from as early as the 1200s. By the 1600s the street was described as having “many fair houses for wealthy merchants”, but it was here that Thomas More was born in 1478.
More was a lawyer, a writer, a poet and scholar, later even becoming a Member of Parliament. After Cardinal Wolsey was unable to secure the divorce of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, he was replaced with Thomas More. More became the king’s Lord Chancellor, his advisor and confidante. He was the most trusted and efficient of Henry’s inner circle.
But, More refused to support and sign the Act of Supremacy which was Henry’s way of divorcing Catherine and breaking ties with Rome and the Catholic church. More was close to Rome and other radical Catholics. He was also anti Martin Luther’s views, which were spreading protests against the Catholic Church (thus the Protestant movement). He respected marriage vows and would not support Henry’s divorce, even though he said of marriage:
“Romantic love is an illusion. Most of us discover this truth at the end of a love affair or else when the sweet emotions of love lead us into marriage and then turn down their flames.”
It infuriated Henry that More would not support his divorce and so he was tried, found guilty and was sentenced to be ‘hung, drawn and quartered’ on Tower Hill. But the king ordered he be beheaded. One of the accounts of his death says that he refused to have his put his beard on the execution block, as it had not committed a crime.
It was on Milk Street that More wrote “Utopia”. It was a description of an imaginary ideal society. More created the word “Utopia” from two Greek words: ‘eutopia’ which means ‘good place’ and ‘outopia’ which means ‘no place’. Today we still use the word ‘utopia’ to describe something unrealistic or unattainable.The serious side of Thomas More played an important role in 2000 when he was made patron saint of politicians, statesmen and lawyers. But, he did have a playful side too:
“Ask a woman’s advice, and whatever she advises, do the very reverse and you’re sure to be wise”.
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