The death of the old king in 1509 restored More to the public career for which his abilities specially fitted him. From this time there was scarce a cause of importance in which he was not engaged. His professional income amounted to £400 a year, equal to 4,000 in present money, and, "considering the relative profits of the law and the value of money, probably indicated as high a station as L io,000 at the present day" (Campbell). In 1509 he was elected a bencher of Lincoln's inn, and in 1510 was ap pointed under-sheriff of London. He soon attracted the atten tion of the young king and of Wolsey. It was during a residence in Antwerp that he met Peter Giles (Aegidius), a friend of Erasmus, and sketched out the idea of Utopia. He was repeatedly employed on embassies to the Low Countries, and was for a long time stationed at Calais as agent in the shifty negotiations carried on by Wolsey with the court of France. The spirit with which he pleaded before the Star Chamber in a case of The Crown v. The Pope marked him out for employment. More obtained in this case judgment against the Crown. Henry, who was present in person at the trial, had the good sense not to resent the defeat, but took the counsel to whose advocacy it was due into his service. In 1518 More was made master of requests, and sworn a member of the privy council. He was now compelled to resign his post of under-sheriff to the city and his private practice at the bar. In 1521 he was knighted and appointed sub-treasurer to the king, and was again sent on mission to Calais and the Low Countries. In the parliament of 1523 he was elected Speaker on Wolsey's nomination. The choice of this officer rested nominally with the house itself, but in practice was always dictated by the court. Many apocryphal stories have grown round More's speakership. In fact the records of the House do not justify Roper's account of his independent attitude.
In 1525 More was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lan caster, and no pains were spared to attach him to the court. The king frequently sent for him into his closet, and discoursed with him on astronomy, geometry and points of divinity. This grow ing favour, by which many men would have been carried away, did not impose upon More, who understood the fickleness of royal favour. Then the king began to come himself to More's house at Chelsea (he had bought his house there in 1523) and would dine with him without previous notice. William Roper, husband of More's eldest daughter, mentions one of these visits, when the king after dinner walked in the garden by the space of an hour holding his arm round More's neck. Roper afterwards congratu lated his father-in-law on the distinguished honour which had been shown him. "I thank our Lord," was the reply, "I find his grace my very good lord indeed ; and I believe he doth as singu larly favour me as any subject within this realm. Howbeit, son Roper, I may tell thee I have no cause to be proud thereof, for if my head would win him a castle in France it should not fail to go." As a last resource More tried the expedient of silence,
dissembling his wit and affecting to be dull. This had the desired effect so far that he was less often sent for.
But it did not alter the royal policy, and in 1529, when a suc cessor had to be found for Wolsey, More was raised to the chancellorship. He was the first layman to hold the office. The selection was justified by More's high reputation, but it was also significant of the modification which the policy of the court was then undergoing. It was a concession to the rising popular party, to which it was supposed that More's politics inclined him. The public favour with which his appointment had been received was justified by his conduct as judge in the court of chancery. Having heard causes in the forenoon between eight and eleven, after dinner he sat again to receive petitions. The meaner the sup pliant was the more affably he would speak to him and the more speedily he would despatch his case. Business was despatched with unprecedented regularity. One morning being told by the officer that there was not another cause before the court, he ordered the fact to be entered on record, as it had never happened before. He usually, but not always, refused all the customary gifts, and did not permit his connections to interfere with the course of justice. One of his sons-in-law, Heron, having a suit in the chancellor's court, and refusing to agree to any reasonable accommodation, because the judge "was the most affectionate father to his children that ever was in the world," More thereupon made a decree against him. On the other hand he appears to have been merciless in his treatment of heretics. In the epitaph which he wrote, he described himself as hereticis molestus, and, although the accusations of Protestants may be discounted, his own words and unimpeachable documents bespeak his severity.
But in raising More to the chancellorship, the king had counted upon his support in his desired divorce from Queen Catherine and in the church policy to which he was driven by that desire. More signed the articles of Wolsey's impeachment, but he had no share in the proclamation which ordered the clergy (Feb. i 1, 1531) to acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the church, "so far as the law of Christ will allow." As Henry's policy de veloped further, More found himself increasingly at variance with it. The divorce was a point upon which he would not yield. And, as he saw that the marriage with Anne Boleyn was deter mined upon, he petitioned the king to be allowed to resign the Great Seal, alleging failing health. The resignation was accepted, on May io, 1532. More left office, as he had entered it, a poor man. His necessitous condition was so notorious that the clergy in convocation voted him a present of £5,000. This he peremp torily refused, either for himself or for his family, declaring that he "had rather see it all cast into the Thames." Yet the whole of his income after resigning office did not exceed too a year.