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University of Oregon

Bill Rockett


I discovered Thomas More’s polemical writings a few years before I retired in 2000 and thus had the good luck to start out on a wholly new research project at the time I departed from teaching and department responsibilities. What I found is that these polemical works are light years from the universe of Utopia, the universe of the Renaissance and Humanism, because, of course, Reformation polemic is much more Scholastic and disputatious than any of the forms of Humanistic discourse. More excelled at both, but my interests settled in the disputatious zone, the zone of Responsio ad Lutherum and A Dialogue concerning Heresies. From these works I was led to the last few months of More’s life, the period of his trial for treason, his incarceration in the Tower of London, and his execution. The writings of these months amount mainly to letters to family and friends, but there were a couple of devotional meditations as well, which More composed to steel himself against the coming ordeal. All these works display a mind made up against change in church and state and unveil the reasons behind the resolve that led More to face the capital penalty when simple compliance with the Crown would have brought freedom and return to his family. These matters have been the subject of journal articles in The Sixteenth Century Journal, Moreana, and the Journal of Church History and Religious Culture, and of conference papers at annual meetings of the Renaissance Society of America, triennial conferences of the Friends of Thomas More (Amici Thomae Mori), and annual meetings of the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference. These conferences have taken me to Florence, Venice, Paris, and Dublin as well as sites in the U.S. and have brought contact with the international community of More scholars.