The Sir Thomas More Jewels
The British Museum has negotiated the long term loan of the More Jewels from the Society of Jesus. The Jewels comprise five items closely associated with Sir Thomas More, which descended in his family until 1755 when they came to the Society of Jesus.
Since 1794 they have been at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire. Until now, they have only been seen in temporary exhibitions. Their loan to the British Museum ensures that they will now be on public display and fully accessible for the first time.
The jewels form a spectacular assemblage of rare survivals. They include a silver seal-die of Sir Thomas More as Sub Treasurer of England (1521-5) which documents More as a royal official.
There are also two reliquaries: a gold cross with the inscription "This is a relic of Thomas the Apostle", and a fine gold enamelled pendant which was probably made around 1550 to commemorate his martyrdom.
This pendant was mentioned in More family will of 1649, when it was already a family heirloom, and is again recorded in the Notebooks of the antiquary George Vertue in 1728.
These beautiful items not only document More as an historical figure, but demonstrate the way in which he was revered and commemorated from the mid-16th century.
The More Jewels join the outstanding Tudor collections on permanent display in the British Museum, and are to be seen in Room 46, the Europe, 15th-18th Centuries Gallery.
Sir Thomas More (1477/8-1535) was one of the outstanding figures of the Tudor age. His role as royal servant, lawyer and scholar of international renown was vital to the expansionist claims of the Tudors under Henry VIII. A lawyer and MP, he entered Henry's service in 1517 as a diplomat.
His provocative book Utopia, in which he sets up an ideal society as a critique of his own, was printed in 1516. During the 1520s he was appointed Speaker of the House of Commons, Sub-Treasurer of England, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
He fell from royal favour in his opposition to Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which led to Henry's denying papal authority and claiming to be Supreme Head of the Church in England.
Henry's action split England away from the Catholic community of Europe, which was already divided by the rise of Lutheranism. More was unable to consent to Acts of Parliament which negated papal supremacy and, describing himself as "The King's Good Servant, but God's first", he was executed as a traitor in 1535.
Famous for piety and learning in his lifetime, the manner of his life and death ensured him lasting fame. He was canonised in 1935, four hundred years after his execution.