Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer (July 2, 1489 - March 21, 1556) was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of the English kings Henry VIII and Edward VI.

Biographical sketch

Born in 1489 at Nottingham, Cranmer was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge and became a priest following the death of his first wife. By the time of the controversy over the divorce of King Henry from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, Cranmer had risen to an influential position, and his willingness to pursue the matter on the King's behalf won him further advancement, despite the fact that he had secretly married the niece of Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran theologian, in Nuremberg. On March 30, 1533, he became Archbishop of Canterbury, and was able to push through the reforms that led gradually to the reform of the Church of England. In 1538 he condemned the views of John Lambert when he denied the real presence of Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the eucharist. Lambert was burnt at the stake, but Cranmer later came to adopt his views. Cranmer also opposed Henry VIII's 6 Articles, which reaffirmed clerical celibacy and transubstantiation.

On Henry's death in 1547, Cranmer became an indispensable advisor to his son and successor, Edward, who, though still a child, had been brought up with Protestant views. Cranmer promoted the Reformation theologically, supporting the English Bible translation of 1537-40. During Edward's reign, Cranmer introduced the Book of Common Prayer (1549), a modernized version of which is still used today, and in general, led the Church of England in a more Protestant direction. He also produced the confession of 1553 called the Forty-two Articles (the basis of the Thirty-nine Articles), which taught justification by faith.

Edward died in 1553, to be succeeded by his half-sister, Mary I of England, who had been brought up a Catholic and wished to return the country to its former faith. Added to that she had personal reason to dislike Cranmer as, by annulling her parents marriage, he lead to her being declared illegitimate. Under pressure, he had also signed in favor of proclaiming Lady Jane Grey Queen. Convicted of treason and heresy 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. At the point of execution, he thrust his right hand into the fire, this being the hand which had signed the document. He was executed in Oxford where two other bishops, Ridley and Latimer, had been burned in 1555. The event is commemorated by the so-called Martyrs' Memorial, a Victorian construction not far from the original site, which is marked by a cross on the road.

Further reading

  • Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996)