Literal interpretation and political expediency the case of Thomas More

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In July 1535, the trial of Sir Thomas More took place, in which the ex-Lord Chancellor was accused, and found guilty, of high treason for not expressing support for two statutes passed in 1534, which formed the basis of Henry VIII's constitutional and religious changes: the Act of Succession and the Act of Supremacy. One of the stipulations was the requirement for people to take an oath in support of these changes. More refused to take the oath, arguing that according to the literal interpretation of the statutes he could be found guilty of misprision [concealment] of treason only, and not of treason itself. However, it will be argued, More misunderstood-or refused to understand-the ultimate purpose of the statutes, which may stem from his being a lawyer: he gave the statute a literal interpretation and ignored extralinguistic information, since such information does not play a role in interpretation, unless a literal interpretation would not make sense in the context (a possible precursor of Heydon's Case of 1584).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLegal Pragmatics
EditorsBarbara Kryk-Kastovsky, Dennis Kurzon
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9789027200716
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NamePragmatics and Beyond New Series
ISSN (Print)0922-842X

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 John Benjamins Publishing Company.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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