Margaret More

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Margaret More

Also Known As: "Margaret Roper"
Birthplace: Bucklersbury, London, England
Death: Died
Place of Burial: Canterbury, Kent, England
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England and Saint and Johanna / Joan Colt
Wife of William Roper, MP, of Well Hall
Mother of Elizabeth Bray; Margaret Dawtry; Mary Bassett; Thomas Roper, Eltham and Anthony Roper
Sister of Margaret Clement, , adopted; Elizabeth More; Cecily More and Sir John More, Il

Managed by: Private User
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About Margaret More

'Margaret More was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and Jane Colte (1488-1511). She is best known for having been given an unusually fine education. Her scholarship was praised by contemporaries and successive generations alike. She is also known for having rescued her father's head when it was removed from the spikes at London Bridge. She is said to have kept it until her death and passed it on to one of her daughters. Her father is the subject of numerous biographies, most of which say little about his daughters beyond praising their scholarship. 


  1. William Roper (1498-1578) 


  1. Elizabeth (1523-1560)
  2. Mary (d. March 20,1572)
  3. Margaret (1526-1578)
  4. Thomas (1533-1598)
  5. Anthony (1544-1597) 


  1. Biography: E. E. Reynolds, Margaret Roper; John Guy, A Daughter's Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg (2009); Oxford DNB entry under "Roper [née More], Margaret." 
  2. Portraits: miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger; the original 1527 Hans Holbein painting of the More family is lost, but a preliminary drawing still exists, as does a copy made by Rowland Lockey c.1592. Lockey also painted two versions of the descendants of Sir Thomas More, adding successive generations. 
  3. Wood, Martin. The Family and Descendants of St. Thomas More. Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing, 2008. Print.
  4. Guy, J A. A Daughter's Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Print.


Margaret Roper (née More) (1505–1544) was an English writer and translator, probably the most learned woman of sixteenth century England. She was the daughter of Thomas More and Jane Colt, who probably died of childbirth. Margaret, "Meg" as her father used to call her, married William Roper. During More's imprisonment in the Tower of London, she was a frequent visitor to his cell.

Margarte married William Roper in 1521 in Eltham, Kent. They had five children together: Thomas (1533-98), Margaret (1526-88), Mary (d. 1572), Elizabeth (1523-60) and Anthony (1544-1597).

After Thomas More was beheaded in 1535 for refusing to accept the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Succession (1534) of Henry VIII of England and swear to Henry as head of the English Church, his head was displayed on a pike at London Bridge for a month. At the end of that period, Roper bribed the man whose business it was to throw the head into the river, to give it to her instead. She preserved it by pickling it in spices until her own death at the age of 39 in 1544. After her death, her husband William Roper took charge of the head, and it is buried with him.

William Roper ("son Roper," as he is referred to by Thomas More) produced the first biography of the statesman/martyr, but his homage to his father-in-law is not remembered as well as his wife's efforts at comforting and honoring More. In Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Dream of Fair Women, he invokes Margaret Roper ("who clasped in her last trance/ Her murdered father's head") as a paragon of loyalty and familial love.

Roper was the first non-royal woman to publish a book she had translated into English.[1] This was a translation of a Latin work Precatio Dominica by Erasmus, as A Devout Treatise upon the Paternoster. In a letter her father mentions her poems, but none is extant.

In Robert Bolt's famous play A Man for All Seasons, both Ropers were major characters. In the 1966 film, she was portrayed by Susannah York.


1.^ "WWR Magazine". Margaret Roper and Erasmus: The Relationship of Translator and Source. CRC Humanities Computing Studio, located at the University of Alberta. Retrieved 15 August 2011.


Margaret More (1505-1544): Married William Roper on 2 July 1521. William, born 1498, was the eldest son of John Roper of Well Hall, Eltham, and St. Dunstan‟s, Canterbury and his wife Jane, daughter of Sir John Fineux of Faversham and Herne in Kent. Margaret died on 25th December 1544 and William on 4th January 1578. Margaret and William had five children: 1. Elizabeth (1523-1560): Married (1) John Stephenson (no issue). Married (2) Sir Edward Bray of Shere. His second wife. One Child: Reginald. 2. Margaret (c.1526-1578): Married William Dawtrey Esq. (d.1591). Children: William, John, Anthony and Jane. 3. Mary (b.betw.1527&1532; d.1572): Married (1) Stephen Clark (d.1554). No issue. Married (2) James Bassett (1526-1558), third son of Sir John Bassett of Umberleigh, Devon and his wife Honor Grenville. Mary and James had only two children: i. Philip; ii. Charles (b.1558/9-1584). Charles became a Jesuit. 4. Thomas (1533-1598): Married Lucy Browne (d.1607), daughter of Sir Anthony Browne of Battle Abbey and Cowdray Park. Thomas and Lucy had twelve children: William, Henry, Francis, Charles, Thomas, Philip, Mary, Frances, Elizabeth Martha, Catherine (married Edward Bently), Mabel. William, eldest son and heir, 1555-1628, became Sir William Roper. He married Katherine Browne, Daughter of Sir Anthony Browne of Ridley Hall, Essex. Katherine died 1616. They had three children: 1. Anthony (1583-1643): Married (1) Mary Gerard in 1612. Mary was the daughter of William Gerard of Trent, Somerset. Mary died in 1622. They had one daughter, Mary. Married (2) Dorothy Holte, daughter of Sir Thomas Holte of Ashton, Warwickshire. No issue. Married (3) a daughter of Sir Henry Compton of Brambletye House, Sussex. They had two children: i. Anne, born 1640; died unmarried. ii. Edward, born 1641: Married (1666) Katherine Butler, daughter of James Butler Esq., of Amberley Castle, Sussex. Edward and Katherine had five children: Katherine, Margaret and Leonard all died young. Edward, born 1672. Died unmarried on 25 April 1707 from wounds received during the Battle of Almansa. He was the last male descendant of this Roper line. His sister, Elizabeth, inherited the family estates at Eltham and Canterbury, taking them into her marriage with Edward Henshaw of Canterbury. Edward and Elizabeth‟s daughter, Susanna, married (1729) Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Baronet of Nostell, who began the building of Nostell Priory, near Wakefield. Although the mansion is now owned by the National Trust, their descendants still live there. 2. Thomas (1585-1647): Married (1621) Susan Winchcombe, daughter of John Winchcombe of Henwick Manor, Berkshire, and his wife Mary Verrey. Thomas and Susan had seven children: William, Mary, Francis,Thomas, Margaret, George and Frances. 3. Anne (1587-1648): Married Sir Philip Constable of Everingham (1595-1664). Their children include: Barbara, Philip and Thomas (became Benedictines), Catherine (married Edward Sheldon of Steeple Barton), Elizabeth (married William Langdale).The eldest son and heir was Sir Marmaduke Constable (b.1619). He married Anne Sherburn. The family name later became Haggerston-Constable and then Constable-Maxwell. 5. Anthony (1544-1597): Married Anne Cotton, daughter of Sir John Cotton of Landwade and his wife Isabel Spencer. Anthony and Anne had five children: i. Anthony: Became Sir Anthony Roper; ii. John; iii. Henry; iv. Isabel (d.1622) married Sir Thomas Wiseman of Rivenhall, Essex; v. Jane.


In “A Daughter’s Love,” the Cambridge historian John Guy (whose previous book was “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart”) has had the good idea of considering More and his remarkable eldest daughter, Margaret, as a pair, and examining the bond between them. It was not a simple one. More was married at 26 to a wife of 15. Margaret was their first child. Her father saw the family as a place in which to educate children to a high standard, and she showed early intellectual promise. The death of her mother when Margaret was just 6, followed by the arrival of an unbookish stepmother, led to her position as the most important female in her father’s life.

She became fluent in Latin and Greek, an excellent letter writer and translator; and his pride in her was great. But although he believed that boys and girls were entitled to equal education, More thought it wrong for women to publish books or to make any show of their learning. So when Margaret, brought up to excel and encouraged by a good tutor, expressed a hope that she might one day publish something, her father warned her off. She must avoid pride, remain modest and accept that men might show off, but not women. “Renown for learning,” he advised, “if you take away moral probity, brings nothing else but notorious and noteworthy infamy, especially in a woman.” Suddenly he sounds more like a medieval churchman than a Renaissance man.

She was not the only girl he educated to aim high: there were younger sisters and, strikingly, a foster child, Margaret Giggs, the daughter of his own Margaret’s nurse, adopted by the Mores when her mother died. The two Margarets were educated together, with similar results. Both had force of character as well as brains. When More was ill in 1521 and his physicians failed to diagnose what was wrong, it was Meg Giggs who pointed to a description of his symptoms in Galen, the classical writer of medical treatises. Meg Giggs was the only “family” member to be present at More’s execution.

In 1524, Meg More contrived to publish her translation of Erasmus’s meditations on the Lord’s Prayer — anonymously and after she was married to William Roper, and thus answerable to him. Erasmus (a friend of her father’s) was so impressed by her that he wrote a humorous colloquy between a learned young woman, clearly based on her, and a foolish abbot who believed that women should stick to spinning and weaving: she gets all the good lines. Erasmus was a freer thinker than More. And he was no hero, preferring a quiet life. As the Reformation stirred up passions, he decided to keep his head down, while More attended and approved a ceremonial burning of books by Luther.

Books were not the only things More wanted to burn. He sought out English heretics and sent them to prison and the stake with words of abuse: “The devil’s stinking martyr” is to go through “the short fire to the fire everlasting.” Guy says that Margaret accepted her father’s view of heretics, and of the fires of hell. If so, she risked hell herself by taking the oath of allegiance to Henry VIII, against her own conscience, in order to help her father. Perhaps she was less convinced of hellfire, even while she gave More her support in his refusal to save his own life by any compromise.

So, on the one hand, More was a “merciless bigot” — the 19th-century historian J. Anthony Froude’s description — and on the other a man who cared for domestic life and made a perfect home and garden on the river at Chelsea; who relished jokes and even a bit of bawdy; who was ambitious; who enjoyed travel and the rewards of power while remaining a good friend, husband and father. He had won the king’s admiration by his brilliance and liked what it gave him, but didn’t flinch when admiration turned to murderous hatred. He feared pain and death yet showed steady courage when, imprisoned in the Tower, he knew he must face them.

In the climactic chapter of Guy’s book, the reader is taken through More’s verbal battle with Henry’s henchmen at Lambeth Palace, his arrival at the Tower, Margaret’s visits, their talks and their ingenious way of making a record of what was said — in the form of a letter, ostensibly a personal note to her stepsister, in fact a political testament. “Handwritten copies would be made,” Guy writes, “and circulated like samizdat literature: the ‘letter’ is . . . the most persuasive defense of her father’s cause that could possibly be imagined, and yet, in every possible sense, Margaret is its co-author.” This part of the Mores’ story is brilliantly observed and told.

After her father’s execution, Meg not only asked for, fetched and kept his severed head, she also set about making sure his letters and papers were preserved until the day they could be published. And when she died, at only 39, she had assembled a group of like-minded people to complete her work, her foster sister among them. In 1557, the first edition of his writings was published.

Biographies of More were privately circulated in Tudor times. And, although we rarely hear of it, More was celebrated by Shakespeare in the single surviving manuscript of his dramatic writing, three pages contributed to a play by Anthony Munday called “Sir Thomas More,” in which he faces a crowd of angry Londoners protesting about foreign workers and talks them into calm and sense. Shakespeare shows us the liberal politician. In “A Daughter’s Love,” Guy reminds us that More was also a man who heard hellfire crackling. His absorbing, thoroughly researched book does justice to two exemplary women — and reminds us that history is full of ironies.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 5, 2009, on page BR15 of the New York edition.

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Margaret More's Timeline

London, England
Age 18
Kent, UK
Age 21
Age 27
Kent, England
Age 28
December 25, 1544
Age 40
December 1544
Age 39
Canterbury, Kent, England
Age 39