Annoying the Locals

Sir Thomas More is one of the most important figures from Tudor history, but the following makes you wonder about some of his judgements:

The mansion at Melplash, although much modernised, is still worthy of the princely days of the squires. It is said that over the chimney-piece in the hall are the arms of the Paulets, with the motto of the family, “Aimez loyaulte,” and the date 1604. .An heiress of the Melplashes brought the estate, in the fullness of time, to Walter More of Marnhill. Among the descendants of this gentleman was Sir Thomas More, who in the reign of Henry VIII was made Sheriff of Dorset. He was a jovial being, who had an unusual view of his responsibilities. One day, after no doubt a generous use of strong waters, the Sheriff was tickled by the idea that it would be an excellent jest to let all the prisoners loose out of Dorchester gaol. To the gaol then the ruddy-faced gentleman hurried and, to the dismay of confused warders, ordered all the prisoners to be set free. The commands of a ~Sheriff in Tudor days no man could withstand, so locks were sulkily turned and doors thrown back with silent protest. The inhabitants of Dorchester there and then enjoyed the spectacle of a few score of prisoners running for their lives down the streets o the open country, while the hilarious sheriff stood by the gaol gate and cheered them on as if they had been a pack of hounds let loose from a kennel.  That the warders sat in the empty prison that night and talked the matte over with upturned eyes and uplifted hands may well be imagined.

It can hardly be supposed that the greater powers in the land considered the exploit of the Sheriff to be quite as diverting as he found it. Sir Thomas, indeed, had to seek a pardon from the king. This was obtained for him by the Lord Treasurer of the day, who happened to be Lord Paulet. As a suitable recognition of this convenience, the merry Sheriff was required to give his daughter in marriage to Lord Paulet’s second son. Thus it was that the manor came for a while to the family whose motto was “Aimez loyaulte.”

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