More, Alice (c. 1472–1545)
More, Alice (c. 1472–1545)
English gentlewoman who was the second wife of Thomas More. Name variations: Alice Middleton; Lady Alice More. Born around 1472; died in 1545; married a man named Middleton (died 1509); became second wife of Thomas More (1478–1535, English scholar and statesman who was slain for his opposition to detaching England from the spiritual authority of the Roman Catholic Church), in 1511; children: (first marriage) one daughter, Alice; four stepchildren.
Thomas More's first wife Jane Colt More died in 1511, age 23, leaving him with four young children. Within a month, Thomas had married Alice Middleton, six years his senior and the widow of a London merchant, who had a ten-year-old daughter and considerable property. Erasmus and early biographers maintain that Thomas remarried to provide a mother for his children, but Ruth Norrington disagrees, claiming that Dame Alice was "the much-loved wife who always made him laugh, even in the last terrible days in the Tower." The marriage lasted 24 years, until Thomas More was executed for treason for denying Henry VIII supreme authority over the church. Norrington feels that Alice has been maligned and misunderstood because of the popular prejudice against stepmothers. She is often depicted as petty, quarrelsome, ignorant, and stupid, and Thomas made her the brunt of many unkind jokes throughout his writings, though he praised her in his epitaph. (In a Latin epigram referring to both his wives, he also wrote: "O, how happily we could have lived all three together if fate and religion permitted.")
A practical, no-nonsense woman, with a sharp eye for accounts, Dame Alice presided with famous (or infamous, depending on the chronicler) efficiency over one of the most illustrious households in 16th-century England. During a grain shortage in 1528, Thomas More told the royal council that he was feeding 100 people daily at his house. "Dame Alice," writes Richard Marius, "must have been in charge of this operation." "She was obviously a strong woman," continues Marius, "with a sense of herself, but not well educated, lacking the words to refute her husband's sallies. So she made herself stubborn, the immemorial defense of those who feel themselves pushed to understand things beyond their grasp, and because of the stories told about her bad temper and her apparent foolishness, she comes down to us as an intellectual burden to her spouse and her main role in most accounts of [Thomas] More's life has been to demonstrate his meekness and goodness." Hans Holbein painted Dame Alice around 1527 or 1528.
Marius, Richard. Thomas More. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
Norrington, Ruth. In the Shadow of a Saint: Lady Alice More. London: Kylin Press, 1985.