Cutting Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face

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Thomas Jefferson Moore

The following is an excerpt from a devotional that The Pink Flamingo has been writing for nearly a year. It may not be used in any form without written permission of SJ Reidhead.  It is also copyright 2012.

It is not everyone who can claim direct descendent from someone who is a saint.  The Pink Flamingo can.  Sir Thomas Moore was canonized in 1935.  Today, he is being used as this bright and shining light for religious freedom. Coming from his family, from our view of things, just the opposite is true.  Instead of religious freedom, he brought treason, dishonor and ruination upon his children and their offspring.  Everything was stripped from him because of his pig-headedness, that had little to do with religion and everything to do with the fact that he was terminally pig-headed.  It runs in the family.  The most pig-headed person the world has ever known was my late cousin, Rodney.  We have another member of the family who is right up there in lights, but I won’t mention her name, to protect the guilty – and – it is not present company!

Sir Thomas Moore = Jane Colt
Thomas Moore = Mary Scrope
Edward Moore = Mary More
John Moore = Elizabeth Barnard
Augustine Moore = Elizabeth Todd
Augustine Moore = Mary Wooley
William Moore = Angelina French
Jesse Moore = Nancy Haven
John R. Moore = Martha Baines
John R. Moore – Elizabeth Godbey
Thomas Jefferson Moore = Mary Corella Bohannon
Sarah Frances Moore = Edwin F. Froehlich
Sarah Jane Froehlich = Albert P. Reidhead
(and) moi, The Pink Flamingo

It’s not everyone who can claim actual direct descent from an actual saint.  Sir Thomas Moore was canonized in 1935.  His life,

“…Four hundred years later, in 1935, Thomas More was canonized a saint of God. Few saints are more relevant to our time. The supreme diplomat and counselor, he did not compromise his own moral values in order to please the king, knowing that true allegiance to authority is not blind acceptance of everything that authority wants. King Henry himself realized this and tried desperately to win his chancellor to his side because he knew More was a man whose approval counted, a man whose personal integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas resigned as chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, the king had to get rid of Thomas More…”[1]

 It’s strange how people look at things.  I’ve never seen a clearer example than this.  My grandmother always said we were direct decedents of Sir Thomas Moore, but there was never any pride in it.  Looking back on the twenty some years it took to prove the Moore link to Sir Thomas, it is obvious the family did absolutely nothing to maintain even a family tree going back to him.

Instead, the legacy was one passed down with one of Nana’s favorite sayings, “Don’t cut your nose off in spite of your face.”

“…The phrase is known to have been used in the 12th century. It may be associated with the numerous legends of pious women disfiguring themselves in order to protect their virginity. These cases include Saint Eusebia, Saint Ebba, Saint Oda of Hainault and Saint Margaret of Hungary.

The most famous of these cases was that of Æbbe the Younger, the Mother Superior of the monastery of Coldingham. In 867 AD, Viking pirates from Zealand and Uppsala landed in Scotland. When news of the raid reached Saint Ebba, she gathered her nuns together and urged them to disfigure themselves, so that they might be unappealing to the Vikings. In this way, they hoped to protect their chastity. She demonstrated this by cutting off her nose and upper lip, and the nuns proceeded to do the same. The Viking raiders were so disgusted that they burned the entire building to the ground.

The expression has since become a blanket term for (often unwise) self-destructive actions motivated purely by anger or desire for revenge. For example, if a man was angered by his wife, he might burn down their house to punish her; however, burning down her house would also mean burning down his, along with all their combustible personal possessions.

In the 1796 edition of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, “He cut off his nose to be revenged of his face.” is defined as “one who, to be revenged on his neighbour, has materially injured himself.” The word “spite” is used in the sense of revenge and “face” is used in the sense of honor….”[2]

This is how Sir Thomas was portrayed in our family.  Instead of considering Moore an example of a great and Godly Christian, the family looks to the legacy of William Godbey, a Quaker minister and very good friend of the first GW.  In fact, William Godbey is the one who castigated Washington and Jefferson about slavery.  The Godbey family was famous for their ministers, but there was never ever a mention of Sir Thomas.

In this country, the Moore family, while not directly involved in all the “action”, were very good friends with the participants of Independence.  Madison was the executor of my 5th great grandfather’s estate.  William Moore was one of GW’s neighbors and friends.  His wife’s family owned Woodlawn Plantation, next to Mount Vernon. The Moore plantation was known as Quantico.  What fascinates me, is, after twenty years of genealogical research, instead of celebrating Sir Thomas, everything possible has been done to shut him out of the family legacy.

It is interesting how things are portrayed in the world. I’m the only one in the family in generations to even discuss Moore’s legacy. In our family, he was basically consigned to the back burner of history because of the destruction he brought upon his family.

Strange how we look at things, isn’t it. I’ve always considered him a remarkable writer and thinker, but never thought he was all that admirable a defender of religious freedom. Then again, according to the family history, there was a strain of craziness that runs through the Moore line!

Just a different perspective. The Moore family was always much prouder of Jeremiah Moore (William’s son – the worthy one) who wrote Patrick Henry’s immortal speech “Give me liberty or give me death”.

This brings me back to the holy virgin martyrs, who chose to subject themselves to horrible pain and suffering rather than the Viking marauders.  To me, it’s just a little over the top.  Then again, I’ve always wondered about the sanity of people who do things like this.  There have been some fascinating recent studies linking anorexia and female saints.

In 2004, Hilary Mantel wrote a fascinating piece for the Guardian.

“…Rudolph Bell’s 1985 book Holy Anorexia, on Italian saints, is especially rewarding for connoisseurs of the spiritually lurid. St Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi lay naked on thorns. Catherine of Siena drank pus from a cancerous sore. One confessor ordered Veronica Giuliani to kneel while a novice of the order kicked her in the mouth. Another ordered her to clean the walls and floor of her cell with her tongue; but even he thought it was going too far when she swallowed the spiders and their webs.

Scourges, chains and hair-shirts were the must-have accessories in these women’s lives. St Margaret of Cortona bought herself a razor and was narrowly dissuaded from slicing through her nostrils and upper lip. St Angela of Foligno drank water contaminated by the putrefying flesh of a leper. And what St Francesca Romana did, I find I am not able to write down.

Starvation was a constant for these women. It melted their flesh away, so that the beating of their hearts could be seen behind the racks of their ribs. It made them one with the poor and destitute, and united them with the image of Christ on the cross. What does this holy anorexia mean? Can we find any imaginative connection with a woman such as Galgani? Like her medieval predecessors, she received the stigmata, the mark of Christ’s wounds. Like them, she was beaten up by devils. Like them, she performed miracles of healing after her death.

To talk about female masochism seems reductive and unhelpful. You have to look the saints in the face; say how the facts of their lives revolt and frighten you, but when you have got over being satirical and atheistical, and saying how silly it all is, the only productive way is the one the psychologist Pierre Janet recommended, early in the 20th century: first, you must respect the beliefs that underlie the phenomena.

Galgani and her fellow female saints believed that suffering had an effect that was not limited in time or space. They could, just for a while, share the pain of crucifixion. Their suffering could be an expiation for the sins of others; it could be a restitution, a substitution. Margaret of Cortona said: “I want to die of starvation to satiate the poor.”

Therese of Lisieux died of TB in 1897, just short of her 25th birthday. As she lay dying, bleeding from her intestines and unable to keep down water, she was tormented by the thought of banquets. Galgani, too, dreamed of food; would it be all right, she asked her confessor, to ask Jesus to take away her sense of taste? Permission was granted. She arranged with Jesus that she should begin to expiate, through her own suffering, all the sins committed by priests: after this bargain was struck, for the next 60 days she vomited whenever she tried to eat.

Within the church, pain can become productive, suffering can be put to work. But outside the church, suffering loses its meaning, degenerates into physical squalor. It has only the meaning we ascribe to it; but now we lack a context in which to understand the consent to suffering that the saints gave….”[3]

What fascinates me is the conclusion.

“…In Holy Anorexia, Bell remarks how often, once recovered, notorious starvers became leaders of their communities, serene young mothers superior, who were noticeably wise and moderate in setting the rules for their own convents. Such career opportunities are not available these days. I do not think holy anorexia is very different from secular anorexia. I wish it were. It ought to be possible to live and thrive, without conforming, complying, giving in, but also without imitating a man, even Christ…”[4]

In other words, what Nana always said about cutting your nose to spite your face is quite true.  There is more to this story.  It is about control.  From the 12th to the 17th Centuries, there was almost a tradition of young women in religious orders doing things to themselves that, today, would put them in a straight jacket heading for the Shady Hills Sanitarium. When one investigates the world these women faced, it is obviously about control.  The only women who truly had control over their lives were the ones who took Holy Orders.  Unless they were confined to a convent, women were the pawns of men.  They had no rights.  They were chattel.  When viewed this way, you can understand why the women of Clodingham did what they did. Disfiguring themselves was the only way they could control who did and did not do what to their bodies.

“…One such saint, Catherine of Siena, led a life of extraordinary asceticism. Catherine abused herself from a young age by wearing a hair shirt and chains, and through self-flagellation. However, the most prominent feature of her asceticism was her self-starvation. Catherine took a vow of virginity in her youth, began her fasting at home, and later moved to a monastery where she became a nun. Catherine regarded her inability to eat both as a punishment from God for her sins, and the means for their expiation. Although her body was emaciated, Catherine frequently displayed the hyperactivity that is commonly displayed by anorexics.

Holy anorexics were never far from persecution in the late medieval period. They were suspected of possession by demons or consorting with the devil and had to utilize all their charisma and even personal connections in order to deflate the growing skepticism of their contemporaries. One ‘validity test’ for the holiness of a given case of anorexia regarded the consumption of the consecrated Host: if the women refused to eat or expelled the host, her anorexia was deemed a result of an unholy union. More worldly factors in the disapproval of the clergy may lie in the fact that holy anorexics claimed a personal relationship with God, undermining the position of the Church as a necessary intermediary….”[5]

It is obvious, even then, women were not in control of their own fate.  St. Augustine took a dim view of women who chose suicide or disfigurement in order to prevent rape.  While he also thought that there may have been times when they were not only ‘asking for it’ but might enjoy it, he thought that suicide was far too drastic a solution.

“..Augustine turns to the question of extreme solutions adopted by women in the past in response to sexual assault.  He notes that some women committed suicide in order to avoid being subjected rape; this action should be excused but not totally condoned.  He reiterates that when a women has been violated with out her consent, and forced by another’s sin, she has no reason to punish herself by voluntary death; still less, he contends, before the event (in anticipation of rape), in case she should commit murder while the offense, and another’s offence at that, still remains uncertain.  He maintains that in these cases, guilt is attached only to the rapist and not at all to the woman forcibly raped.

Augustine contrasts the behavior of contemporary Christian women with that of the famous pagan heroine, Lucretia, who, unable to bear the same and disgrace of having been raped, as well as to show her innocence, had committed suicide.  He notes approvingly that when these women were raped, they did not kill themselves for another’s crime, rather, they bore this crime with Christian patience and resignation.  “They would not add crime to crime by committing murder on themselves in shame because the enemy had committed rape on them in lust.  They have the glory of chastity within them, the testimony of their conscience.  They have this in the sight of God, and they ask for nothing more.  In fact, there is nothing else for them to do that is right for them to do.  For they will not deviate from the authority of God’s law by taking unlawful steps to avoid the suspicions of men…”[6]

All of this goes back to my great great whatever, Sir. Thomas Moore.  What good did it do for him to lose his life, destroy his family, and bring treasonous ruin on them, just to prove a point?  Like the nuns at Clodingham and the Holy Anorexics, it had very little to do with his faith and conscience and everything to do with pig-headed control.

“…Beheaded on Tower Hill, London, July 6, 1535, he steadfastly refused to approve Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage and establishment of the Church of England.

Described as “a man for all seasons,” More was a literary scholar, eminent lawyer, gentleman, father of four children and chancellor of England. An intensely spiritual man, he would not support the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Nor would he acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church in England, breaking with Rome and denying the pope as head.

More was committed to the Tower of London to await trial for treason: not swearing to the Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy. Upon conviction, More declared he had all the councils of Christendom and not just the council of one realm to support him in the decision of his conscience….”[7]

The whole thing reminds me of suicide by cop. Maybe I’m just exhibiting some of that Moore pig-headedness when I say that I just don’t get it.  Sir Thomas is now a saint.  That means his life is one we should admire and emulate.  Sure, I admire him a tremendous amount, but what good did it do him?  It’s not like he didn’t know that Henry VIII was an out of control despot.

He knew exactly who Henry was and what he was doing.  He also knew that a man obsessed was beyond reason. Is there a lesson in this for us today?  I sure think there is.  Looking back, it is rather obvious Sir Thomas was all about MY will not THY will.  He was on the losing side of history, opposing the Reformation.  It wasn’t about what does Jesus Want, but What did Sir Thomas want Him to want?

I don’t see anything saintly all all about that.  I also don’t see any shining example of religious liberty.  The fact is, Sir Thomas was opposing the dream of religious liberty.  The real legacy of Sir Thomas was in the fact that he was a man who loved learning.  His love of learning was passed down through the generations to my great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Moore.  Poppy was as much of a Renaissance man as was his illustrious ancestor.  He loved astronomy, the arts, science, reading, literature, geology, poetry, and was compulsively curious about the world around him. He was a diarist, an artist, and a student of nature. He was also a life-long Democrat.  He loved politics.

This is the real legacy of Sir Thomas Moore.  It’s too bad a bunch of misguided individuals who know nothing about the family and what we became, are manipulating his legacy into something it never was. As his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, I find it rather offensive.


[1] http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1422.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutting_off_the_nose_to_spite_the_face.

[3] Mantel, Hilary, Holy Disorders, The Guardian, Wednesday, March 3, 2004.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/mar/04/mentalhealth.health.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v57/n1/full/1601511a.html

[6] Schulenburg, Jane Tibbetts, Forgetful of their Sex;  Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998, p. 132.

[7] http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1422.

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6 thoughts on “Cutting Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face

  1. In our church we just celebrated the feast day of Thomas More along with John Fisher. Too bad your family did not appreciate him. But I understand that his daughter Margaret Roper reverenced his head. It is said that she kept his head all of her life preserving it in spices. Europe was stunned by his execution. Those civilized Englishmen (fee-fi-fo-fum) cooked his head before impaling it on London Bridge. It is said to have stayed on display for a month (until it was replaced by other heads). His daughter is said to have bribed a man to give her the head instead of throwing it into the Thames. Some say the head is still around and that relatives still have it. Who has the head today?

  2. Re: Cutting Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face:
    I though you should know that, as any life written about him will tell, Sir Thomas’ second name was written ‘More’ (with the one ‘o’) and not ‘Moore’.
    The ancestry of Pink Flamingo is also in error.
    Thomas More and Jane Colt had four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily, and John.
    The Thomas More (usually called Thomas More II to distinguish him from his grandfather) who married Mary Scrope was the eldest son of John More and his wife Anne Cresacre.
    Thomas More II and Mary Scrope had thirteen children, only eleven of whom survived birth/infancy. They DID NOT have a son Edward More (or Moore).
    They DID have a daughter Mary More (b.1553) who married an Edward More (often wrongly written with the double ‘o’) of Lower Haddon in the Parish of Bampton, Oxfordshire.
    Mary and Edward had five daughters and two sons. The sons, Henry and Thomas, both became Jesuit Priests.
    It follows that they DID NOT have a son John.
    It was shown in the early 1900s that the claim that Augustine Moore who married Elizabeth Todd was a descendants of Sir Thomas More was based on spurious papers invented by an unscrupulous lawyer.
    The invention of fanciful pedigrees by or for some early families in Colonial America was not uncommon.
    This Augustine Moore (Col. Augustine Moore) is said to have been born in England c.1685. His English ancestry is unknown.
    There is no known connection between Col. Augustine Moore and The Augustine Moore of Elizabeth City County, Virginia, who married Mary Woolley.
    This Augustine Moore was the son of John Moore who emigrated to Virginia in 1620, followed two years later by his wife, said to be Elizabeth Merritt.
    The English ancestry of this John More is also unknown.
    As for Pink Flamingo’s statement that Sir Thomas More’s death destroyed his family and brought treasonous ruin on them: This is just not true, and shows a complete lack of proper knowledge of the family. Through his son John, the line survived, in spite of the persecution of Catholics in England down to the mid 1800s, until the last of the line, Fr. Thomas More, a Jesuit Priest who died in 1795. He left what remained of the family’s estates to his sister.
    I hope this will be of interest and help to dispel the family myth. I will gladly communicate directly with Pink Flamingo about this and provide all the necessary documentation.
    I researched the family and descendants of Thomas More for ten years before my book on the subject was published in 2008.
    Martin Wood
    (Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England)
    [Author: “The Family and Descendants of St Thomas More”. Published in the UK by Gracewing. April 2008.]
    P.S. I am, on my mother’s side, the 14 x great-grandson of Sir/St. Thomas More.
    One of my great-aunts was present as a descendants at his canonisation in Rome in 1935.

  3. I guess I’m just lying then. According to my family’s version, he destroyed the family. But, then I’m just lying, right. I can’t even spell the family name right. I’ve been doing genealogy for 26 years, working on that line. Sorry if I just stupid. I have had a very rough day and refuse to be bullied by another man.

  4. I am sure that you are neither lying, nor that are you stupid, but your claim to be descended from Sir Thomas More is most certainly mistaken and I have all the evidence written up in a document to show it. I will happily share my information with you if you contact me directly.
    Obviously I don’t know the sources of your information, but I do know that there are many errors on some of the main internet genealogy sites about the ‘More’ line – some of which give them a high star rating for accuracy!
    What I have said has nothing to do with my or your gender, or with whether you, or I, have had a rough day, and I am certainly not trying to bully you.

  5. Then I’m sure you are aware that new information on Augustine Moore has surfaced in the past couple years. I don’t do slip-shod work. I also am so busy I don’t even have time to go near my genealogy. Thanks for the offer. Good luck with your research.

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