HST 423: The Tudor Monarchy
Slyvester, Richard S. and Davis P. Harding, eds. Two Tudor Lives: The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey by George Cavendish. The Life of Sir Thomas More by William Roper. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 1990.
Warnicke, Retha M. Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.
While much is known about Sir Thomas More and his accomplishments, less is known pertaining to his wives and their stories. A lot of what is known and accepted has come from various biographers of Sir Thomas More’s life, as well as different letters and writings from More and his various acquaintances. More recent biographies have begun to clean the names of Jane and Alice More. Renaissance biographers like William Roper and Nicholas Harpsfield criticized Alice More in their biographies, while biographers from the early twentieth century like Percy Allen have criticized both Jane and Alice More for being disobedient and shrewish towards Sir Thomas More. Recent historians like Retha Warnicke have sought out to distinguish the facts from these earlier sources in order to clear these two women from their early misconceptions.
William Roper and Nicholas Harpsfield were one of the first biographers of Thomas More and they gave a negative viewpoint on Alice More, Thomas More’s second wife. Roper’s biography portrayed More as a saintly figure, praising him at every opportunity. This in turn gave a negative viewpoint towards Alice More since she disagreed with Thomas on various issues in his political career. One example of this was when More was being held in the Tower of London, where she visited him and told him to agree with the others in order to regain his freedom. Roper looked down upon this action since Alice was trying to convince Thomas to go against his own views in order to please the masses. This distaste towards her is obvious in Roper’s descriptions of her has a “simple, ignorant woman…with this manner of salutation bluntly saluted him” (243).
Harpsfield repeated many of the same stories as Roper since Harpsfield had asked him for his account of More’s life. Harpsfield also included a few of his own stories about Alice More. Harpsfield had the same views towards Thomas More as Roper, therefore having a similar treatment towards Alice in his biography. He uses a letter from Erasmus to Ulrich von Hutten to state that Thomas More had only married Alice to take care of his household and political office, not for personal love and affections. Harpsfield also mentions a conversation between Alice and Thomas where she questions his political motives, wondering why he did not try advancing himself farther as other politicans had. I feel that Roper and Harpsfield had deliberately tried to defame her, since it was known that while she was faithful to her husband, she was against some of his views and actions, which to biographers like Roper and Harpsfield, was against their reverent viewpoitns of Sir Thomas More.
Percy Allen was a biographer from the early twentieth century who gave his own thoughts on Jane and Alice More, where he agreed with the previously mentioned biographers on their viewpoint that these women were shrewish and disobedient. He uses Erasmus’ colloquy, “Marriage,” to describe Jane More. The colloquy describes a “man of good birth and education” who wed a 17 year old girl who was unsophisticated (Warnicke, 140). It mentions how the man tried to educate the younger women in order to get her to enjoy and understand his likes, but she eventually got bored with these lessons and threw a tantrum in order to protest them. It also mentions on how her father told the young woman how she was lucky to have gained a husband of the man’s worth. The details upon this story was based upon led Allen to believe that these two people were Thomas and Jane More, leading to a bad...