History: A Man for More Seasons

In a new book, the martyr is less hallowed but just as poignant

In an essay on Mohandas Gandhi, George Orwell declared that saints must be presumed guilty until proved innocent. The earthly life of Thomas More, saint though he be, makes such presumption easy. More was a consummate political insider, upwardly mobile in a Machiavellian age and seemingly indispensable at the volatile court of England's tyrannical Henry VIII. With crafty language and veiled speech, he was master of the legalistic surmise and the affidavit of denial. He was the pre-eminent lawyer of the realm. At the same time, More could spit scatology with the foulest pamphleteers in that feverish dawn of the printing...

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