Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

MARGARET MORE ROPER
(ca. 1505-1544)

Britain
Humanist and Classical Scholar

The children of Sir Thomas More ( 1478-1535), chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532, and his first wife Jane Colt (d. 1511) received an excellent humanist education, a remarkable event for the time. As a result of her training, More's eldest daughter, Margaret, enjoys a place in the history of women as an accomplished female scholar. Margaret More Roper's status as an English humanist, a classical scholar, and a woman of letters represents a singular accomplishment, one that the humanist Desiderius Erasmus ( 1466-1536) acknowledged by referring to Margaret as the "ornament of Britain."

More's decision to provide training in humanist studies for all his children--Margaret, her sisters Elizabeth and Cecily, her brother John, and others attached to the More household, such as More's adopted daughter Margaret Giggs Clement--was truly unique. The students' classical education included instruction in grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The children learned to master Greek and Latin. Other subjects included theology, philosophy, astronomy, and medicine. To achieve his educational aim, More employed numerous tutors, including John Clement, the Greek scholar and physician, and Nicholas Kratzer, the astronomer, both of whom served at the Tudor court of King Henry VIII of England (ruled 1509-1547).

By the time Juan Luis Vivés ( 1492-1540) published his Instruction of a Christian Woman ( 1523), in which he praised More's daughters for their learning, the girls had already become accomplished scholars. Their fame continued to grow, and even Henry VIII was curious enough about the girls' learning to invite Margaret and at least one of her sisters to dispute before him.

Whether or not women should receive such training was frequently debated at the time More chose to provide his children, irrespective of gender, with a humanist education. In a letter written to William Gonnell, one of his children's tutors, More states his reasons for ex-

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