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201007_ear890_transThe phrase "a man for all seasons" comes from an assessment by Robert Whittington of his friend Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Chancellor of England, author of Utopia, and perhaps the most famous hardhead in history. Whittington said, "More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons."  

Appointed to the highest position of juridical authority in England, More, because of conscience, refused to sanction King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce his first wife, the aging Catherine of Aragon, who in 24 years of marriage had borne him a single daughter and no sons, so that Henry could marry Anne Boleyn, the sister of his former mistress and, presumably, as fertile as she was fetching. More would not change his mind despite the counsel of his peers; like him, they were churchmen, but unlike him, they valued life over principle, and urged More to bow to political pressure, both popular and kingly. But More remained steadfast, held out for principle, and, in the end, Henry VIII had him beheaded. British writer Robert Bolt heroicized More in his 1960 play A Man for All Seasons, and the phrase entered popular American speech after the release of the film version in 1966, which won that year’s Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Costumes. So when we use the phrase to compliment an individual’s well-rounded qualities, or adapt it to praise a product’s myriad capabilities, do we forget the expression’s origin in describing a man of principle?