Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer was born in Nottinghamshire in 1489. Educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, he took holy orders in 1523. When Henry VIII was discussing the possibility of divorcing Catherine of Aragon, Cranmer suggested an appeal to the universities of Christendom. This advice gained him the favour of the king and he was appointed as archdeacon of Taunton.

Cranmer also became a royal chaplain and was attached to the household of Thomas Boleyn, the father of Anne Boleyn. In 1530 he was sent on a mission to Italy and this was followed by a trip to Germany to meet Charles V. In 1532 he went on a diplomatic mission to Nuremberg where he met and married the niece of the German Lutheran theologian, Andreas Osiander.

In 1533 Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer pronounced the Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void. He followed this by arguing that the king marriage to Anne Boleyn was valid. Cranmer was also godfather to the king's daughter Elizabeth.

In 1536 Cranmer annulled Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and divorced him from Anne of Cleves. Cranmer also played an important role in discovering details about the premarital affairs of Catherine Howard.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, Edward was too young to rule, so his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, took over the running of the country. Cranmer supported Seymour's move towards Protestantism and promoted the translation of the Bible into English. In 1548 he converted the Mass into Communion, constructed two new Prayer Books (1549 and 1552) and composed the 42 articles of religion in 1553.

When Edward Seymour fell from power Cranmer supported the new regent, John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. By this time Edward was suffering from tuberculosis and as his health deteriorated, Dudley, persuaded the king to alter the succession in favour of his own daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. She was declared queen three days after Edward's death. However, she was forced to abdicate nine days later in favour of Edward's half-sister, Mary Tudor.

On 14th September, 1553, the new queen sent Cranmer to the Tower of London. Convicted of treason he was condemned to die. In an effort to save his life he signed seven submissive recantations. However, he publicly repudiated his recantations just before he was burnt at the stake on 21st March, 1556.

Primary Sources

(1) On 21 March 1556, Thomas Cranmer was executed for heresy. An eyewitness in the crowd described his death.

Coming to the stake... he put off his garments with haste, and stood upright in his shirt The fire was lit... he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there before the flame came to any other part of the body... As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.