St. Thomas More was a confidant of Henry VIII, and at one point he was Lord Chancellor. But he eventually fell out of favor with the King when he refused to acknowledge Henry as the head of the Church of England and would not support his separation from the Catholic Church. Henry wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon in order to marry the younger, Anne Bolyen. Thomas would not support this nor would he pledge allegiance to Henry’s new self-appointed position running the Church of England.
After a short stay in the Tower, Henry had Thomas beheaded for the crime of treason.
The interesting trivia about More is that he is the first to coin the word “Utopia.” It was from his work of fiction that is commonly known now as Utopia, although the original title is more elaborate and has several versions. Utopia in Greek means “no place.” But depending on the spelling and pronunciation, it can also mean “good land” which is what More actually had in mind when he wrote this piece of fiction.
Utopia was an island where land was owned by no one, it was all communal. Men and women were educated equally, just as More practiced in his personal life: his daughters were all educated as well or better than most men in England at the time. Religious tolerance was practiced except in the case of the non-believers. Atheists were not tolerated because, as the main character in his book, Hythlodeaus noted: a man who does not believe in a Supreme Creator, can never be trusted because he will never respect authority or any thing higher than himself.
The idea of the greatness and liberty of the individual seemed to be in conflict for More. On the one hand, he believed, encouraged and provided a first class education for his daughters while at the same time, he wrote a novel that promoted the “perfect” order and discipline of the community as one group, basically forsaking the greatness of the individual man – or woman.