Jul 3, 2013
In 1535, Cardinal John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were beheaded for refusing to sign an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII the Head of the Church in England. Henry wanted to divorce his legitimate wife, Catherine, and marry his mistress Ann Boleyn, to secure a male heir, among other reasons. She would be the second of his six wives. Henry asked Clement VII to annul the marriage. Clement VII refused his request; the King usurped the authority of the Pope.
Martyred for the sake of their consciences, Fisher and More died for Christendom in England even as all others in the realm, including churchmen, took the mandatory Oath. A new and separate church, the Church of England, was thereby established, founded on “the King’s great matter.”
That “Horrible Moral Squint”
In Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons,” Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s Chancellor, summons Thomas More to ask why the statesman will not take the Oath. More will not say why he will not take the Oath, but the Cardinal surmises. It is “that horrible moral squint” that irks him to the core. He appeals to More’s private conscience but receives a rebuttal that has echoed down the annals of history: “Well,” snaps More, “I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . ., they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”