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Writing Faith and Telling Tales

Literature, Politics, and Religion in the Work of Thomas More

Thomas Betteridge

Publication Year: 2013

Thomas More is a complex and controversial figure who has been regarded as both saint and persecutor, leading humanist and a representative of late medieval culture. His religious writings, with their stark and at times violent attacks on what More regarded as heresy, have been hotly debated. In Writing Faith and Telling Tales, Thomas Betteridge sets More's writings in a broad cultural and chronological context, compares them to important works of late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century vernacular theology, and makes a compelling argument for the revision of existing histories of Thomas More and his legacy. Betteridge focuses on four areas of More's writings: politics, philosophy, theology, and devotion. He examines More's History of King Richard III as a work of both history and political theory. He discusses Utopia and the ways in which its treatment of reason reflects More's Christian humanism. By exploring three of More's lesser known works, The Supplication of Souls, The Confutation, and The Apology, Betteridge demonstrates that More positioned his understanding of heresy within and against a long tradition of English anti-heretical writing, as represented in the works of Hoccleve, Lydgate, and Love. Finally, Betteridge focuses on two key concepts for understanding More's late devotional works: prayer and the book of Christ. In both cases, Betteridge claims, More seeks to develop a distinctive position that combines late medieval devotionalism with an Augustinian emphasis on the ethics of writing and reading. Writing Faith and Telling Tales poses important questions concerning periodization and confessionalization and will influence future work on the English Reformation and humanist writing in England.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. vii

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p. ix

Many friends and colleagues have helped me during the course of writing this book. Greg Walker and Eleanor Rycroft have been a joy to work with on all our various and varied productions. Thomas S. Freeman read a draft of this volume and provided me with useful comments. Peter Marshall also gave me invaluable...

Notes on Citations

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p. xi

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pp. 1-37

On September 1, 1523, Thomas More wrote to Cardinal Wolsey from Woking, updating him on the correspondence that Henry VIII had recently received. It may like your good Grace [Wolsey] to be advertised that I have received your Grace’s letters directed to myself dated the last day of August with the letters of my Lord Admiral...

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Chapter 1: Politics

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pp. 39-74

Thomas More first met Desiderius Erasmus, who was in the company of Lord Mountjoy, in the summer of 1499. Mountjoy was a pupil of Erasmus, and it was probably due to this relationship that the meeting with More took place. It was to result in a friendship that would last for the rest of More’s life. Mountjoy...

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Chapter 2: Reason

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pp. 75-110

In May 1515 Thomas More went to Flanders as part of a royal trade commission. The negotiations were protracted, and More did not return to England until the end of October. It was during his time in Flanders that More probably wrote book 2 of Utopia, adding book 1 after he returned...

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Chapter 3: Heresy

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pp. 111-153

Thomas More’s career during the 1520s increasingly involved him in the English church’s struggle against Luther’s teachings and, more generally, the campaign against heresy. In 1521 he helped to edit Henry VIII’s Defence of the Seven Sacraments, and in 1523 he produced his Responsio Ad Lutherum, a detailed assault...

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Chapter 4: Devotion

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pp. 155-194

Reading Thomas More’s final devotional works, The Treatise on the Passion, A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, and De Tristitia Christi, one senses that More does not feel able to directly face the passion. Instead he walks backwards toward it. This sense of deferral is not simply a product of More’s life story. He could have chosen...

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pp. 195-208

In the spring of 1534 More was sent to the Tower of London for refusing to take the oath of succession. Although it is tempting to see this as More’s first step on the path that led to the execution block and martyrdom, this is misleading. It was entirely reasonable for More to hope that Henry VIII might have another...


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pp. 209-245


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pp. 247-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780268075941
E-ISBN-10: 0268075948
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268022396
Print-ISBN-10: 0268022399

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 869434652
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Writing Faith and Telling Tales

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Humanism -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • Philosophy, Medieval.
  • Great Britain -- History -- Henry VIII, 1509-1547.
  • Religious thought -- 16th century.
  • Christian literature, Latin (Medieval and modern) -- England -- History and criticism.
  • Reformation -- England -- Historiography.
  • More, Thomas, Saint, 1478-1535 -- Political and social views.
  • England -- Intellectual life -- 16th century.
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