The Supplycacyon of Soulys Made by syr Thomas More
While serving as one of the undersheriffs of the city of London, Thomas More came to the attention of Henry VIII as an effective and able public servant. He entered the King’s service in 1517, became a privy councilor the next year, was knighted and made undertreasurer in 1521, was elected Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523, and became chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1525. More steadily grew increasingly influential in the government as a personal advisor and confidant to King Henry. He assumed the title of Lord Chancellor on October 25, 1529, after the fall from grace of Cardinal Wolsey. Only a month earlier, More had written The Supplication of Souls.
More prepared this important tract in response to Simon Fish’s Supplication for the Beggars, printed in Antwerp. Fish’s was a biting attack on England’s system of poor relief and Church finance, which depended on tithes, mendicants, and sale of indulgences. This Protestant polemic protests against “the Bisshopes, Abbottes, Priours, Deacons, Archedeacons, Suffragenes, Prestes, Monkes, Chanons, Freres, Pardoners and Somners,” who Fish characterizes as “strong puissant and counterfeit holy, and idle beggars and vacabundes.” In arguing for the dissolution of the monasteries, he claims that the Church has amassed “more than a third part” of the national wealth and that the clergy’s behavior is ruinous to the morals of the nation.
Deeply religious and trained in law, More was fundamentally conservative and against radical change. He immediately responded the tract, gravely concerned that anti-clericalism, heresy, and sedition go hand-in-hand. A fine example of More’s vigorous prose, Supplication of Souls attacks inconsistencies in Fish’s arguments about the rapaciousness of the clergy. He also emphasizes the importance of existing religious establishments, which pray for and conduct good works in behalf of souls in Purgatory to save them from torment. Confiscation of the endowments to monasteries would not only injure the poor and sick who depend on the houses for assistance, it would be cruel to suffering souls waiting to ascend to Heaven.
The present copy is an example of the second of two editions published in 1529.
Chrzanowski 1529m *