The biography of Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), written by his son-in-law, William Roper (1496–1578), during the reign of Queen Mary (r. 1553–58), is reputedly the earliest personal biography in the English language. The pages shown here describe More’s trial in 1535 for opposing the religious reforms of Henry VIII. According to Roper, More invoked the first clause of Magna Carta, regarding the freedom of the English Church, in his defence. Quoting the relevant clause, More informed the court that Henry’s reforms were ‘contrary both to the ancient Lawes, & Statutes of our owne Realme, not then repealed, as they might well see in Magna Carta’. Although composed by Roper in the 1550s, this politically sensitive biography was not published until 1626 by the English Jesuits at Saint-Omer, with the deliberately misleading imprint ‘Paris’.
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Dr Alexander Lock discusses Magna Carta’s relationship to parliamentary reform and to radicals fighting oppressive government. Find out how this medieval peace settlement was reinvented as a potent symbol of liberty and justice.