Saturday, August 22, 2015
In Defense of Alice More
This isn't an in-depth analysis, or anything, just a subjective reaction to chapter XIV ("A Jolly Master-Woman") in Peter Ackroyd's Life of Thomas More, which reminded me of an aspect of More's character that has always set my teeth on edge: He was consistently quite nasty about his second wife, Alice Middelton, making sure that all his circle of friends perceived her as a shrew; as Ackroyd puts it "Certainly [More] himself seems to have encouraged the impression that he had married a woman whose temperament lay somewhere between the Wife of Bath and Noah's Wife in the guild pageants."
Now, that's not just in Ackroyd; pretty much every account of More's life, from "Son Roper's" account to Robert Bolt's hagiographic play, A Man for All Seasons, agree on this unpleasant aspect of More. (In fairness, I should note that one revisionist effort, by Ruth Norrington exists, but it's pretty much an outlier.) Richard Marius quotes a contemporary (Nicholas Harpsfield) who describes More chiding Alice for vanity: "Forsooth, Madame, give you not hell,if God he shall do you great wrong, for it must needs be your very own of right, for you buy it very dear, and you take great pain therefore." (The fact that Alice was eight years older than her husband and mocked by his friends for her age is noted by Ackroyd, and may explain her efforts to be attractive; Marius takes Alice at More's measure.)
Alice came of a higher social status than did More--she was distantly related to the King--and brought him her fortune from her first marriage, aiding him both socially and financially. She was loyal to him to the death. Her return was to be reduced to a comic caricature by the man she stuck to with courage and pertinacity.
Frankly, I think she was worth ten of him.