Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kelly on the Trial of Thomas More

On Tuesday, February 23, Henry Ansgar Kelly, Emerit Distinguished Professor, Department of English, University of California at Los Angeles, delivered the paper Thomas More's Trial by Jury as part of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Thomas More Seminar Series. The paper is not available, but video of the event is here. Professor Kelly’s abstract follows:
Duncan Derrett's 1964 analysis of Thomas More's trial has generally been accepted by historians, specifically in agreeing that the judges accepted More's objections against the first parts of the Indictment against him, alleging malicious silence and malicious conspiracy with Fisher, and dismissed those charges, leaving in place only the accusation by Richard Rich; this was the only charge argued before the Jury, upon which he was convicted. Derrett also construed More's final statement, against the validity of the statutory title of Supreme Head of the English Church, as a motion to invalidate the Jury's verdict.

I argue that the Indictment as a whole was presented to the Jury, and that More was found guilty of the whole; and that More's final statement was an explanation of his true mind concerning the King's churchly title, asserted with no expectation that the verdict could be reversed. The Judges should not be faulted for failing to declare the Supremacy Statutes "unconstitutional," as beyond Parliament's powers; but they should be found guilty of bowing to political pressure and convicting More against the clear intention of Parliament. Parliament insisted that malice must be established before any resistance to the King's titles could be judged to be high treason, but the Justices on More's Commission had dismissed this requirement as irrelevant, or as self-evident.
Holbein's portrait of More is from Douglas Linder's website on the case, part of Professor Linder's wonderful on-line exhibit on famous trials.