Margaret Roper (1505–1544)
Margaret More Roper was born on July 10, 1505, in England to Sir Thomas More and his first wife, Jane Colt. She was the eldest of Thomas and Jane’s four children and was raised in an atmosphere (mainly attributed to her father’s values) of hard, honest, and useful work. Aside of household chores, her days were spent studying; indeed, her father made sure his daughters had an intellectually rigorous education, which was unsurpassed by women in their country until two decades later when Lady Jane Grey and Mary Cheke were in their prime.
Margaret’s mother, Jane, died when Margaret was only ten years later. Sir Thomas married a rich, older widow, Alice Middleton, soon afterward so that his children might have a mother figure, and so that he would have someone to manage his home while he was away at court. Thomas and Alice had no issue, but Alice did give Thomas a stepdaughter, whom he treated as his own.
Thomas affectionately called Margaret Meg and she was the apple of his doting eye, for their personalities and interests were very similar; both fatherand daughter were accomplished poets. Margaret’s poetry no longer exists, but we know of it through Thomas’s many letters and writings.
The More children were fond of animals and each child, including Margaret, is said to have had a pet. Thomas more went so far as to once say, “No child or servant of mine hath liberty to adopt a pet, which he is too lazy to attend himself”. That candid statement further illustrates the amount of responsibility and self-sufficiency More expected from his children.
Margaret married William Roper when she was twenty-four-years old. Their marriage seems to have been amicable between themselves, and popular with their family; indeed, Thomas More viewed Roper as a son.
With an astounding education and a vast command of the popular languages of the day, Margaret became a successful translator. Translations were, at the time, one of the few academic vocations in which respectable ladies could find employment in without having their reputations tarnished. Her most famous work was her translation of “A Devout Treatise upon the Paternoster” by Erasmus.
The Mores were a very happy family; however, as Thomas more climbed the social latter rung by rung, their unhappy fate was further set in stone.
Initially, Sir Thomas More had a happy relationship with Henry VIII. Disagreements caused the two to become more distant overtime; Anne Boleyn was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sir Thomas was a devout Catholic and staunchly opposed Protestantism. Naturally, when Rome refused to allow Henry VIII to marry Anne Boleyn, More sided with the Church and made several attempts to resign his Lord Chancellorship. Henry finally granted his resignation, but the real trouble came when More didn’t attend Anne’s coronation. Shortly thereafter, he was charged with baseless trumped up accusations, which were the trademark of Henry VIII’s tenure as king.
Things grew worse for the More family when Sir Thomas More was summed before a parliamentary commission on April 13, 1534 with the task that he swear allegiance to an act of succession placing Anne as queen consort of England. More refused on the grounds that the oath had anti-papal wording and was immediately imprisoned.
Margaret was a frequent visitor to her father’s cell at the Tower of London, as was her husband, William. The young couple naturally sympathized with their father and, of course, it was a great strain upon young Margaret, because it was very obvious what was going to happen. Still, knowing didn’t make it any easier.
Sir Thomas more was charged with high treason on July 1, 1535. His initial sentence was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered; however, this was a painful and generally low form of execution. Henry VIII, perhaps out of the memory for their earlier friendship, insisted that his execution means be decapitation, which was considered kinder and nobler.
Margaret was at Westminster when the sentence was delivered and scrambled frantically to catch sight of her father, aged and worn through his year of imprisonment. One can only imagine what she was feeling then and there, knowing in her gut, before it was ever even officially stated, that her father was going to die.
When Margaret finally got hold of her father, she hysterically wrapped her arms around him, longing to spend what little time they had left together. Will Roper later wrote that his wife was so aggrieved that when she finally let go, she only ran back to her father, hugging him and kissing him more in a desperate attempt to cling to him as long as possible. More loved his daughter dearly and, though he was about to die, comforted her as best he could. According to Will Roper, the sight of the distraught, yet loving, father and daughter was so heartbreaking; it brought most in the crowd to tears.
After her father was executed, his head was placed on a pike in London bridge as a mark of the king’s strength and fury. Margaret, as upset as she was, quickly hurried to the site and paid to have the head removed and placed in her care. She kept the head for ten years until her death, where it was buried with her and her husband.
Margaret and William showed their love for her father by writing his first autobiography, from which most of what we know about St. Sir Thomas More is known and gives us our most intimate glimpse into the lives and times of the More family.
Created by Carrie Eckles (July 05, 2009)