Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), known to Roman Catholics as Saint Thomas More since 1935, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and was Lord Chancellor from October 1529 to 16 May 1532. He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935 as one of the early martyrs of the schism that separated the Church of England from Rome in the 16th century. In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared him patron of Catholic statesmen and politicians.
More was an opponent of the Protestant Reformation, in particular of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. However, since 1980, he is also commemorated by the Church of England as a reformation martyr.
More coined the word "utopia" – a name he gave to the ideal and imaginary island nation, the political system of which he described in Utopia, published in 1516. He opposed the King's separation from the Roman Catholic Church and refused to accept him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, a title which had been given by parliament through the Act of Supremacy of 1534. He was imprisoned in 1534 for his refusal to take the oath required by the First Succession Act, because the act disparaged Papal Authority and Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In 1535, he was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony, and beheaded.
More also helped to originate the phrase "grasp at straws" to mean "desperately trying even useless things", in his Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation.
Intellectuals and statesmen across Europe were stunned by More's execution. Erasmus saluted him as one "whose soul was more pure than any snow, whose genius was such that England never had and never again will have its like". There was a more controversial side to More's life, because he advocated the persecution and execution of Protestants who refused to recant their faith. However, the judgement of history has been largely willing to forgive this in light of the times he lived in and his martyrdom in the Roman Catholic cause. Two centuries later Jonathan Swift said More was "the person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced", a sentiment with which Samuel Johnson agreed. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper said in 1977 that More was "the first great Englishman whom we feel that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our cool northern renaissance."