Ralph Morice, the younger son of James Morice, was Roydon, Essex, in about 1500. He attended Christ's College, Cambridge, and graduated in 1523. On the recommendation of George Boleyn, he was appointed by Thomas Cranmer as his secretary in 1531. Cranmer became Archbishop of Canterbury two years later. (1)
In November 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. This gave Henry VIII the title of the "Supreme head of the Church of England". A Treason Act was also passed that made it an offence to attempt by any means, including writing and speaking, to accuse the King and his heirs of heresy or tyranny. All subjects were ordered to take an oath accepting this. (2)
Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, refused to take the oath and were imprisoned in the Tower of London. More was summoned before Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell at Lambeth Palace. More was happy to swear that the children of Anne Boleyn could succeed to the throne, but he could not declare on oath that all the previous Acts of Parliament had been valid. He could not deny the authority of the pope "without the jeoparding of my soul to perpetual damnation." (3)
Henry's daughter, Mary I, also refused to take the oath as it would mean renouncing her mother, Catherine of Aragon. On hearing this news, Anne Boleyn apparently said that the "cursed bastard" should be given "a good banging". Henry told Cranmer that he had decided to send her to the Tower of London, and if she refused to take the oath, she would be prosecuted for high treason and executed. According to Ralph Morice it was Cranmer who finally persuaded Henry not to put her to death. Morice claims that when Henry at last agreed to spare Mary's life, he warned Cranmer that he would live to regret it. (4) Henry decided to put her under house arrest and did not allow her to have contact with her mother. He also sent some of her servants who were sent to prison.
Morice's biographer, Ashley Null, has pointed out: "Morice received the lease on the parsonage of Chartham, Kent, and secured the evangelical Richard Turner as his curate... On 2 March 1543 Cranmer made Morice a grant in reversion after the death of Richard Watkins of the office of scribe of the court of arches... Then on 1 October 1543 Cranmer made Morice warden for life, with his own house, of the archbishop's palace at Bekesbourne, a grant approved by the Canterbury chapter on 25 November 1545.... In 1547 Cranmer made Morice a registrar for the ecclesiastical commissioners appointed to visit the dioceses of Rochester, Canterbury, Chichester, and Winchester. On 4 October 1550 he also gave Morice a 21-year lease of Enbroke, Kent." (5)
On 14th February, 1555, Thomas Cranmer was stripped of his church offices, and turned over to the secular authorities. Cranmer was put on trial for heresy on 12th September 1555. Pope Paul IV appointed James Brooks, Bishop of Gloucester, to act as judge, which was held in St Mary's Church in Oxford. Thomas Martin, counsel for the prosecution, subjected Cranmer to what has been described as a "brilliant and merciless cross-examination". Martin questioned him about the oath he gave on 30th March 1533 during the consecration ceremony when he became Archbishop of Canterbury.
According to Jasper Ridley, the author of Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002): "Cranmer gave a piteous exhibition; he was utterly broken by his imprisonment, by the humiliations heaped upon him, and by the defeat of all his hopes; and the fundamental weakness in his character, his hesitations and his doubts were clearly displayed. But he steadfastly refused to recant and to acknowledge Papal Supremacy. He was condemned as a heretic." (6)
On 16th October, Cranmer was forced to watch his friends, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, burnt at the stake for heresy. "It is reported that he fell to his knees in tears. Some of the tears may have been for himself. He had always given his allegiance to the established state; for him it represented the divine rule. Should he not now obey the monarch and the supreme head of the Church even if she wished to bring back the jurisdiction of Rome? In his conscience he denied papal supremacy. In his conscience, too, he was obliged to obey his sovereign." (7)
In November 1555 Cranmer wrote to Queen Mary urging her to assert and defend her royal supremacy over the Church of England and not to submit to the domination of the Bishop of Rome. When Mary received the letter she said that she considered it a sin to read, or even to receive, a letter from a heretic, and handed the letter to Archbishop Reginald Pole for him to reply to Cranmer. "There could have been nothing more painful for Cranmer, after he had appealed to his Queen to assert her royal supremacy against the foreign Pope, than to receive a reply from the Bishop of Rome's Legate informing him that the Queen had asked him to reply to Cranmer's letter to her." (8)
On 21st March, 1556, Thomas Cranmer was brought to St Mary's Church in Oxford, where he stood on a platform as a sermon was directed against him. He was then expected to deliver a short address in which he would repeat his acceptance of the truths of the Catholic Church. Instead he proceeded to recant his recantations and deny the six statements he had previously made and described the Pope as "Christ's enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine." The officials pulled him down from the platform and dragged him towards the scaffold. (9)
Cranmer had said in the Church that he regretted the signing of the recantations and claimed that "since my hand offended, it will be punished... when I come to the fire, it first will be burned." According to John Foxe: "When he came to the place where Hugh Latimer and Ridley had been burned before him, Cranmer knelt down briefly to pray then undressed to his shirt, which hung down to his bare feet. His head, once he took off his caps, was so bare there wasn't a hair on it. His beard was long and thick, covering his face, which was so grave it moved both his friends and enemies. As the fire approached him, Cranmer put his right hand into the flames, keeping it there until everyone could see it burned before his body was touched." Cranmer was heard to cry: "this unworthy right hand!" (10)
Queen Mary was aware of Morice's relationship with Cranmer and during her reign his home was raided three times. Morice was eventually arrested and spent time in prison. He had his freedom by November 1557 because he was able to act as executor of his father's will. It is also known that he supplied John Foxe with stories about Thomas Cranmer and Hugh Latimer. (11)
Ralph Morice died in about 1570.
Morice received the lease on the parsonage of Chartham, Kent, and secured the evangelical Richard Turner as his curate... On 2 March 1543 Cranmer made Morice a grant in reversion after the death of Richard Watkins of the office of scribe of the court of arches... Then on 1 October 1543 Cranmer made Morice warden for life, with his own house, of the archbishop's palace at Bekesbourne, a grant approved by the Canterbury chapter on 25 November 1545.... In 1547 Cranmer made Morice a registrar for the ecclesiastical commissioners appointed to visit the dioceses of Rochester, Canterbury, Chichester, and Winchester. On 4 October 1550 he also gave Morice a 21-year lease of Enbroke, Kent.
(1) Ashley Null, Ralph Morice : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(2) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) pages 43-44
(3) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 82
(4) Jasper Ridley, Henry VIII (1984) page 274
(5) Ashley Null, Ralph Morice : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(6) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 112
(7) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 278
(8) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 127
(9) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 279
(10) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) page 219 of 2014 edition.
(11) Ashley Null, Ralph Morice : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)