Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

R is for Margaret Roper

Margaret Roper (née More) (1505–1544) was an English writer and translator, as well as one of the most learned women of sixteenth-century England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas More and Jane Colt. Margaret, or “Meg” as her father called her, was a frequent visitor during More’s imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Margaret married William Roper in 1521 and had five children: Elizabeth (1523–60), Margaret (1526–88), Thomas (1533–98), Mary (d. 1572), and Anthony (1544–1597).

Margaret’s father, Thomas More, was Chancellor of England for Henry VIII. A devout Roman Catholic, More refused to accept Henry VIII as head of the English Church, and would not sign the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Succession (1534). For his refusal, More was beheaded and his head was displayed on a pike at London Bridge for a month. Afterwards, Margaret bribed the man who was charged to take the head down and throw it in the Thames, to give it to her instead. She preserved it by pickling it in spices until her own death at the age of 39 in 1544. After her death, her husband, William Roper took charge of the head, and it is buried with him.

William Roper produced the first biography of his father-in-law, but his homage is not remembered as well as his wife’s efforts. Alfred, Lord Tennyson invoked Margaret Roper, “who clasped in her last trance/ Her murdered father’s head” in his Dream of Fair Women as a paragon of loyalty and familial love.

Roper was the first non-royal woman to publish a book she had translated into English, Precatio Dominica by Erasmus, as A Devout Treatise upon the Paternoster. In a letter Roper mentions her poems, but none are extant.

Erasmus, Desiderius, died 1536. A devout treatise upon the pater noster made fyrst in latyn by the moost famous doctour mayster Erasmus Roterdamus and tourned into englishhe by a yong vertuous and well lerned gentylwoman of xix yere of age. Copied by L. W. Longstaff from a copy made by Mr. T. Raworth in 1949 from the British Museum copy.


4 thoughts on “R is for Margaret Roper”

  1. Hello, fellow A-to-Zer! First female translator, eh? And a pickler of heads?! Fabulous. Excellent choice, and I am glad to have learned about her. I’d heard of her father, obviously, but somehow missed out on his fab. daughter and her head-pickling ways. Thanks!

    1. First non-royal published female translator. Sorry, my inner nerd has to point out that Elizabeth I translated French and Latin works slightly earlier than Margaret Roper, but then, Elizabeth didn’t pickle her mother’s head, so Meg won that one.

      1. Don’t worry, I’m a pedant, too. Actually, I noticed that little inaccuracy, but… I blush to admit this… I did not correct it. I can’t recall exactly why I didn’t. Anyway, good catch, and I will be less lazy in my comments here in the future, now I know you’ll know I’m being sloppy. 🙂

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