Sir Thomas More is named to replace the
fallen Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor of England. More's
devotion to the Church and his deeply conscientious nature
immediately bring him into conflict with young King Henry VIII.
While valuing More's integrity, Henry resents More's lack of
cooperation in his efforts to divorce Catherine of Aragon, who has
failed to bear him an heir, and marry Anne Boleyn. Though More
serves the King faithfully, he is bound by the law of the Church as
the law of God.
Faced with the pope's refusal to grant
him a divorce, Henry makes himself the spiritual as well as
political sovereign of England. The bishops of England in
convocation give their consent to the act of Parliament making Henry
head of the Church in England, whereupon More resigns from the
King's service, hoping that he will be left to retire into private
More voices no opinion regarding the
King's actions, but his silence is taken as a personal rebuke.
Henry, prodded by his ambitious advisers, particularly Thomas
Cromwell, demands that More take an oath recognizing the King as
head of both church and state; when More declines, he is imprisoned
in the Tower of London.
In time, Cromwell and his opportunistic
aide, Richard Rich, make false accusations against More, and he is
called to answer the charge of high treason. Found guilty, he
freely avows his belief that the King's actions are repugnant to the
law of God. At peace, he goes to his death on the block.