The workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght, sometyme Lorde Chauncellour of England

Chrzanowski 1557mThe Works of Sir Thomas More, the first collected edition of his vernacular writings, was published in 1557 when England had been restored to Catholicism by Queen Mary (to whom the book was dedicated). William Rastell, More’s nephew and printer of his polemic works during More’s lifetime, edited the volume. More’s relationship with Henry VIII grew strained as the King began to question the authority of the pope with the lack of success in his efforts to have his marriage to Catherine annulled. This issue sparked the split with the Church of Rome. More was beheaded in 1535 for high treason after his refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy declaring King Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Featured among the early works is More’s (unfinished) History of King Richard III, considered by many to be his finest work. He wrote versions in both English and Latin; neither was published during his lifetime. This is the first printing of Richard III attributed to More. The text had appeared earlier in corrupted form in John Hardyng’s Chronicle and Edward Halle’s The Vnion of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancaster & Yorke. It would serve as a source for later Tudor chroniclers and Shakespeare’s play. More presents Richard as evil man—perhaps fated to be so—overstating his ugliness and emphasizing his villainous acts for dramatic effect and to teach a moral lesson about tyranny.

The majority of the remaining works are treatises attacking Protestant theology and reformer and scholar William Tyndale in particular. Modern critics find literary value in two of the earliest pieces, Dialogue Concerning Heresies and Supplication of Souls. As for the rest, even More himself admitted that “The brethren cannot beare that my writing is so long.” Considerable merit is also found in his later devotional treatises such as Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, which was written while More was in the Tower of London awaiting execution. Like Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, it deals with the many misfortunes that afflict humankind. More is not abstract; he focuses on the pain and agony of death and gently provides the reader comfort and guidance to cope with fears and prepare to die. Saint Sir Thomas More was canonized in 1935.

The present copy has the bookplate of H. Bradley Martin, whose collection of highly important English literature sold at Sotheby’s, New York, on April 30–May 1, 1990.

Chrzanowski 1557m *

STC 18076

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675