Chapuys is the Spanish Ambassador who is trying to prevent the King’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess. He believes he can get Thomas More to help him because he knows More is a loyal Catholic and antagonistic to Henry’s departure from Rome. Chapuys is responsible for fostering a rebellion in the North of England against Henry. He is surprised by More’s unpredictable opinions and his patriotism, despite his disagreement with the King.
The Common Man
The Common Man is an invented character, a narrator who provides links to the scenes and plays many lower class roles in the play, including Matthew, the butler of Thomas More, the boatman, the innkeeper, the jailer, and the executioner. Bolt says he wanted “Common” to mean universal, but “Common” can be seen as being base and vulgar as well. He does not understand a moral man like More. As Matthew the butler he betrays More. He makes ironic comments on the action and characters. He pleads that the only way to survive is to be practical and take on whatever job he is given. His superiors rise and fall, but he goes on because of his cunning. He is meant to show how ordinary people, though not officially in power, are accomplices in the brutality going on around them.
Archbishop Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, comes to Thomas More’s cell in the Tower to get him to swear to the oath that agrees to the King being the head of the Church, and to his second marriage, which More refuses to do but will not say why. Cranmer tries to persuade More that his loyalty as the King’s subject is the most important duty, but More holds that loyalty to the truth is more important. Bolt sees Cranmer as a mere administrator, not really a religious man.
Thomas Cromwell is an unscrupulous lawyer who was Cardinal Wolsey’s secretary and then, after Wolsey’s death, is promoted as counselor to the King. He takes Machiavelli’s advice to use any means to gain his ends. He likes to use blackmail, threats, and fear to run Henry’s court. He uses men like Rich and Norfolk to promote the King’s agenda and elevate his own status. He calls himself the King’s Ear, meaning he is willing to do anything Henry wants. He works hard to trap More in some legal snare when he won’t take the oath to uphold the King’s new marriage. He is the presiding judge at More’s trial.
The King, Henry VIII
Henry Tudor is a Renaissance Man of learning and accomplishment, but his idea of monarchy is to execute whomever he sees as a threat to his plans. He is nervous about the succession of his line and needs a son, so he divorces his first wife and this begins all his complicated moral dance with his friend, Sir Thomas More, trying to get him to support his policy. Henry respects More and wants More to validate his behavior as moral, but he is shown to be an egomaniac who exercises absolute power to get his way.
Alice More is the wife of Thomas More. She is plain spoken and unlearned but practical and reads the situation with the King more accurately than More does. She knows the law will not save him and becomes bitter at their loss of rank and their poverty when their property is seized by the Crown. She sticks by her husband in the Tower when he says he cannot accept his death without her love. She admires his goodness even though she does not understand why he has to risk his family and reputation for the sake of his ideals.
Margaret More (Roper)
Margaret More is a favorite with her father who has educated her in the new humanistic learning. She understands her father’s ideas and ideals better than anyone else. Henry is alarmed because her Latin is better than his. She marries Will Roper. She is used by Cromwell to try to persuade her father to take the oath and support Henry. At his death More pays her the compliment that she knows the secrets of his heart.
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More is the gentle man of reason, a lawyer, judge, and scholar and is promoted to Lord Chancellor of England after Wolsey dies. He is known as an honest and brilliant man and writer, known throughout Europe for his treatises. He is not only a devout Catholic and supporter of the Roman Church; he also believes in the value of English law to protect the state. He is King Henry’s trusted friend and advisor and expected to support Henry’s plans. More tries to please the King as much as he can, but when Henry severs relations with the Roman Church and creates his own Church of England, More cannot agree. More remains a loyal Catholic and is executed for refusing to swear an oath to the Act of Supremacy and Act of Succession. He is shown to be humorous and wise and witty rather than a dogmatic man. He is not trying to be a martyr. Though religious he doesn’t pretend to represent God. He acts to defend his own conscience.
Duke of Norfolk
The Duke is an intimate friend of the Mores and treated as part of the family. He is not intellectual but one of the old English families, conventional, though good and fair at heart. His main diversion is hunting. He is blackmailed by Cromwell into trapping his friend More on charges of treason. He cannot understand why More wants to die and won’t sign the oath like the rest of them. Knowing Norfolk is in danger because of the friendship, More purposely insults Norfolk to send him away.
Richard Rich is a poor scholar who tries to get preferment from More. More will not employ him in a political office because he does not trust him. He tells Rich to find honest employment as a teacher rather than be tempted in the world of politics. Rich works his way up the political ladder, under the tutelage of Cromwell to become Attorney General for Wales in exchange for lying in court to convict More. He is a foil for More in that he has no scruples or principles or loyalties.
William Roper is More’s son-in-law, married to his daughter, Margaret. Roper changes his religion from Catholic to Lutheran and back to Catholic. He is fanatical in whatever church he is adhering to at the moment and thus earns More’s disapproval for being fickle. They argue over religion and ethics, though they are fond of each other. Roper likes to give his opinion about what is right, while More keeps his opinions to himself. More is more human and less rigid than Roper. Roper is the foil that shows More’s religion has been thought through and is held with deep conviction but not outward show.
Cardinal Wolsey is the Churchman who is also the Lord Chancellor of England at the beginning of the play. More feels Wolsey is incapable of wearing both hats for church and state fairly. Wolsey is more politically ambitious than he is religious. He tries to get More to help him secure a divorce for King Henry. Though he argues with More for being an idealist when pragmatism is needed in politics, he is the one who recommends More to succeed him as Lord Chancellor.