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Thomas More’s Trial by Jury

A Procedural and Legal Review with a Collection of Documents


Edited by Henry Ansgar Kelly, Louis J. Karlin & Gerard B. Wegemer


Woodbridge: Boydell, 2013*

Paperback. xix+240 p. ISBN 978-1843838739. £19.99


Reviewed by Isabelle Bore

Université de Picardie–Jules Verne



Thomas More’s Trial by Jury is the casebook from a well-attended conference that took place at the Thomas More Center in Dallas (Texas) in 2008. This conference dealt with law and conscience in More’s last letters and trial accounts, and its purpose was to answer the following question: was Thomas More’s trial fair given the principles in practice in the 1530s? Actually, it was an invitation to analyse the discrepancies between the available accounts of the trial and to reopen the interpretation of the trial.

Indeed, it had been generally assumed that this trial was a typical miscarriage of justice until the 1960s when a lawyer, Duncan Derrett, argued, on the one hand, that the trial was a carefully prepared and executed judicial process and, on the other hand, that Thomas More was found guilty on just one charge: that he denied Parliament’s right to declare Henry VIII Supreme Head of the English Church.

In this perspective, the conference explored the process from a variety of angles developed in the five chapters of the casebook. In the first chapter, Henry Ansgar Kelly provides an exhaustive procedural review challenging the 1960s consensus that the trial was a fair one. In the second chapter, R. H. Helmholz analyses Thomas More’s trial in the light of natural law as the 16th century understood it and concludes that the trial was fair from that point of view. In the third chapter, two lawyers, Louis W. Karlin and David R. Oakley, present a guide to Thomas More’s trial for modern lawyers, a helpful clarification of issues raised by the trial. In the fourth chapter, Elizabeth McCutcheon discusses Thomas More’s three prison letters reporting on his interrogations. The last chapter of the book provides a judicial commentary on Thomas More’s trial and includes a round-table discussion between four experienced judges. It concludes with a docudrama reconstructing the course of the trial based on the reinterpretation of the available evidence.

This casebook is, therefore, a valuable reference tool—all the more so as it includes twenty major documents, many otherwise not easily available and all translated into English, and a comprehensive bibliography. And, as it includes very technical legal analyses, it is an essential reading for anyone interested in Thomas More’s trial about which much remains controversial.


*Reissue of hardcover edition, 2011.


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