Holbein’s painting of Sir Thomas More and his family

I didn’t get round to posting this yesterday, which was the memorial of Saint Thomas More. More’s last encounter with his beloved daughter Margaret, just after he has been condemned to death, is surely one of the most moving moments in English history. It’s beautifully captured in John Guy’s brilliant book, A Daughter’s Love:

A phalanx of armed guards stepped forward from the sides of the hall to escort the condemned man back to the Tower. Swiftly placed in a waiting barge, More was rowed downstream to the Old Swan Wharf, half a mile short of his destination, so that he could finish his journey on foot. Now following an executioner, the blade of an axe pointing towards him, he walked along Thames Street until he reached the curtain wall of the Tower, where he turned right into Tower Wharf, making for a narrow drawbridge used solely by important prisoners and already lowered into position. When almost there, he suddenly caught sight of Margaret, who’d been waiting, patiently, anxiously, for hours, knowing he must pass that way. Seeing him, she rushed forward, forcing her way through the soldiers, oblivious to her own safety. Throwing her arms around her father’s neck, she kissed him again and again, so overcome by emotion she could hardly speak.

‘Margaret’, he said, ‘have patience, do not torment yourself any more. This is God’s will. You alone have long known the secrets of my heart.’ 

Ordered to step aside and let the men pass, she reluctantly withdraw, but scarcely had her father set a foot upon the drawbridge than she ran back to kiss him again for the very last time. Holding her tight and fighting back his tears, he begged her to pray to God for the salvation of his soul. Then, his face impassive, he released her and walked into the fortress. He didn’t look back.

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