Happy July, Tudor Enthusiasts! I'm glad to be back in the USA, settling back into summer, and getting back to my beloved website and blog! What better way to get back into blogging than with a birthday? Today's birthday boy is none other than Thomas Cranmer - who, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting (and good hearted, I think) men of the sixteenth century. Of course, all men had their faults in Tudor times, and while some seemed overly ambitious (to a fault), I like to recognize them for the good they did for their King and the court, within the context of the 1500s, which was a very different world than the one we live in today. By all accounts, Thomas Cranmer was a dutiful servant to King Henry VIII. Coming from humble origins, he never would have expected to be named Archbishop of Canterbury, and we can assume that he'd never anticipated having to make some of the decisions that he did - like deeming Henry VIII's first marriage to Katherine of Aragon invalid and granting the king his much needed and sought-after annulment. Surely he never could have predicted falling in with one of the most powerful families (for a time) in England - the Boleyns, along with their ambitious faction and the rising star, Thomas Cromwell. We can assume that becoming one of the King's most prized, trusted, and respected right-hand men was an honor that Cranmer could not have imagined in his wildest dreams, but he did just that. Through the glistening, star-studded Henrican court, Cranmer witnessed some of the bloodiest, most scandalous events in English history, and he lived through them! Even when his luck ran out during the reign of Henry VIII's daughter, Queen Mary I, Cranmer died at the stake as one of the most repected men in the country. His final act of thrusting his right hand into the flames before allowing them to engulf his body showed an enormous amount of courage and conviction, as he repented his previous act of recanting his Protestant beliefs in an attempt to appease the Catholic queen. Cranmer died a martyr for the Protestant faith, but he lived as a man convicted in his beliefs and devoted to his king and country. His is definitely a birthday that we should celebrate!
He was born on this day in 1489, two years before Henry VIII's birth. His birthplace was Aslockton in Nottinghamshire, England, and his parents were humble members of society, Thomas and Agnes Cranmer. They were of little wealth and no significant social standing, and they had two other sons - John, the eldest, and Edmund. While John inherited the estate and family fortune, the other two sons went along the path to a clerical career (hence Thomas's future!). Thomas entered Jesus College, Cambridge two years after his father's death, and pursued a path of intense theological education until 1515, when he graduated and was elected to a Fellowship at Jesus College. Soon after, he married a woman named Joan, lost his fellowship, then lost his wife in childbirth, and was re-elected to the fellowship. By 1520 he was an ordained priest and received his doctorate of divinity in 1526. It's easy to understand how Cranmer's thoughts about religion would have been influenced because of the time period in which he was ordained and began his ministry. During the 1520s, Lutheran ideas began circulating throughout Europe, and they definitely would have crossed Cranmer's path - even though he was a fervent devotee of Erasmus, as records indicate. In any case, a young priest in England would have certainly seen and heard all sides to the religious debate that was just starting to heat up, and although he may have begun his clerical path as a die-hard Catholic, he would certainly end up as a Protestant martyr. The rest of his story I've briefly mentioned above, but I think it's interesting to take into account his humble beginnings, and the way he was brought into the world on this day 524 years ago, with absolutely no indication that he would (or ever could be) the Archbishop of Canterbury! This is definitely a story of a self-made Tudor man, and I think Thomas Cranmer deserves a great big HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Keep him in your thoughts today, and remember the great work he did while on earth, as well as the heroic and tragic way that he died for his beliefs.
Today I accomplished my first Tudor location visit since arriving in Oxford. This one was actually quite convenient, since the spot I was looking for is only about a ten minute walk from my house in the south of Oxford. I read in Suzannah Lipscomb's newest book "A Visitor's Companion to Tudor England" that a Protestant martyr memorial was located on Broad Street outside of Balliol College, one of the many colleges that makes up the University of Oxford. It was very easy to find, and the main attraction at this site is a small, understated cobblestone cross in the middle of the street, right between Balliol and the Buttery hotel. Any unsuspecting person walking by would probably think nothing of this small memorial - but it is actually quite a significant spot in Oxford. This cross marks the area in which three important leaders of the Protestant Reformation were burnt at the stake by order of the very Catholic Queen Mary I. These men were Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester; Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London; and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. These men were known as the "Oxford Martyrs" and they were burnt in the years 1555 and 1556. Of course, as I've blogged about before, Archbishop Cranmer was a man that had crossed Mary Tudor before - by legally annulling the marriage of her parents, King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and paving the way for Anne Boleyn's rise and the break between England and the Catholic Church of Rome.
So when Mary Tudor ascended the throne, Archbishop Cranmer was understandably on her hit list. Because he had supported Mary's rival, Lady Jane Grey, he was technically a traitor to the Crown, legally. But that wasn't enough for Mary - she was determined to have him convicted and executed as a heretic. Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were all imprisoned together at the Tower of London before being moved to Oxford, where they were separated. They were cross-examined separately in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (the official church of the University today), in April 1554 - and of course they were all found guilty when they refused to accept that the bread and wine in church truly became the body and blood of Christ during the process of Transubstantiation. On 16 October 1555, Ridley and Latimer were burnt on what is now Broad Street, where the cross lays in the street. Latimer's last words were: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." Although Latimer apparently died quickly, Ridley suffered for quite a long time, and poor Cranmer was forced to watch. One can only imagine that seeing such suffering, as well as anticipating his own impending execution, would have terrified him.
Because of his fear, Cranmer made several official recantations of his Protestant faith over the next several months, but Queen Mary still insisted that he would be burnt at the stake. On the day he was to be executed, he was brought to the University Church to pray aloud and announce his belief in the Catholic faith instead of the heretical Protestant faith. Although he began praying the way he was expected to, halfway through he changed the direction of his speech entirely, exclaiming "As for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy, an antichrist with all his false doctrine!" Of course, he was immediately pulled from the pulpit and dragged through the streets of Oxford to the same spot where his friends had been burnt to death months prior. Obviously distressed with himself for lying about his faith, he stretched his hand into the flames before him and repeated "This hand hath offended!" (referring to the hand which had signed the recantation). As he burnt at the stake on the very spot where the cobblestone cross now so unceremoniously lays, he cried out "Jesus, receive my spirit... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God!"
I know I've blogged about Thomas Cranmer's execution before, but it seems so much more vital to think about and remember it now that I've visited the exact place that he died. It was so moving and surreal to stand just feet away from a spot that holds such bloody memories of some of the most influential and important men of the Protestant Reformation.
When I took a left off of Broad Street, just before reaching the cobblestone cross, I encountered a very tall, ornate monument on St. Giles Street - completely devoted to these three martyred men. The writing on the memorial reads:
"To the Glory of God and in grateful commemoration of His servants: Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake."
What an interesting and exciting day for me, though of course it's very thought-provoking and emotional. I sincerely hope that Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer are resting in peace, and that the people of Oxford might spare them all a thought as they walk past these memorials every day.
One of Anne Boleyn's biggest supporters in her life was the Archbishop of Canterbury and co-leader of the Protestant Reformation, Thomas Cranmer. He especially loved Anne because he saw her as a key figure in the reformation against the Catholic church, and he gained status and power when Katherine of Aragon fell and the Boleyns rose.
As her supporter, he was absolutely shocked and horrified on 3 May, 1536 to hear of her arrest and the accusations made against her. He was at Lambeth Castle when he was told of the news, and although there were undoubtedly many powerful men who questioned the legitimacy of the adulterous claims against the Queen, it was only Cranmer who risked the King's anger by sending a letter about it.
I won't copy/paste the entire letter here, because it is really quite long - and a lot of it seems unnecessary and tedious. But there are a few great lines that he uses to show his utter disbelief in the Queen's guilt. No doubt, if Anne had been able to see this letter and know the support and love Cranmer had for her at this point, she would have been very grateful and perhaps would not have felt so alone at the Tower.
'If it be true that is openly reported of the Queen's Grace...I am in such perplexity that my mind is clean amazed; for I never had better opinion in woman than I had in her; which maketh me to think that she should not be culpable... Next to Your Grace, I was most bound to her of all creatures living... I wish and pray for her that she may declare herself inculpable and innocent... I loved her not a little for the love which I judged her to bear towards God and His Gospel.'
I will certainly write more about Thomas Cranmer's opinions of Anne Boleyn after her execution, because it is true that he was extremely troubled by her downfall and saw it as, not only the loss of a great and innocent woman, but a mistake for the reformation in England. Clearly, although he was friends and allies with Thomas Cromwell, his opinions differed concerning the success of the Protestants and the destruction of Catholicism - which were the main issues that he and Cromwell concerned themselves with. While Cromwell was focused on destroying Anne Boleyn (who had become his enemy), Cranmer was particularly saddened and bothered by it.
This letter from Cranmer to the King is one of the greatest letters saved from Tudor times, in my opinion, because it shows the great support that at least one person gave Anne in a time when her life was so near its end, and when she must have been feeling completely helpless. Unfortunately, it seemed to have no effect on Henry or his sympathy towards his wife - whom he believed to be a traitorous, adulterous witch by this time. Despite the heartfelt letter and concern, Anne's fate was sealed.
Although I am, yet again, a day late on this blog post, I think this is a particularly interesting and tragic event in Tudor history - the execution of King Henry VIII's well-known and trusted archbishop, Thomas Cranmer. Actually, I did not know until just a few days ago that Cranmer suffered this fate - I assumed that he lived in peace after his time at court serving the king, and that he was simply remembered as a key figure in the protestant reformation under Henry VIII's reign. How wrong I was! It turns out, quite understandably, that Queen Mary I was not Thomas Cranmer's biggest fan. This really does make sense, when we remember that Cranmer is the one who pleased King Henry VIII in successfully finding a way to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The annulment of her parents' marriage occurred when she was about 17 years old, so it can be assumed that she knew Cranmer was one of the men responsible for her mother's unhappiness.
Mary was known throughout her life to think of her mother very fondly, and it is clear that she looked up to her and always resented the pain that her father and those who worked for him brought upon her. Really, the divorce of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII is what led to the very lowest points in Mary's life. At that point, she was no longer known as "Princess Mary" - now she was simply "Lady Mary." She rarely saw her father, and they went years without speaking. Once Anne Boleyn gave birth to the Princess Elizabeth, Mary was forced to care for her and regard her as royalty - (I can only imagine how painful that must have been for her, when her own titles had been stripped away).
In truth, Mary had many reasons to dislike Cranmer, though I obviously don't think Cranmer's intentions were ever to hurt or anger Mary. He was simply doing what his king wanted, and he did his job so well that he was regarded quite highly by members of the court. Another thing that separates him from Mary in those days, was his deep sympathy and affection for Anne Boleyn, whom Mary absolutely despised. While Mary saw Anne as the reason for her mother's banishment and death, as well as her own unhappiness, Cranmer saw her as the key figure in turning England from the Catholic faith and recognizing the "new" religion - which would become the Church of England. He and Anne were allies, while Mary and Anne were enemies.
The religious divide between Cranmer and Mary is really what sealed his fate. While he served King Henry, and later King Edward VI, he remained an invaluable Archbishop of Canterbury - because those two kings were (or became, in Henry's case) openly protestant (or Anglican). Mary, on the other hand, was devoutly Catholic, as we all know. Her beliefs in her faith were so strong that she thought anyone who was not Catholic was a heretic and deserved death. I would think that, when Edward VI died, Cranmer must have felt a bit uneasy knowing that Mary I would take the crown (of course, after the whole Lady Jane Grey mess).
As one would expect, Cranmer was brought to trial for heresy shortly after Mary took the throne. She undoubtedly knew that Cranmer had been in support of her rival, Lady Jane Grey, who was also imprisoned and would be executed for treason. Cranmer was put on trial along with two other religious leaders, Ridley and Latimer - both of whom were burnt at the stake in October 1555. Cranmer, however, was thrown in the Tower and condemned to death, but given a chance to recant and recognize the Catholic faith. He did so, and made confession, recognizing the Pope as head of the church. However, this was simply not good enough, and the date for his execution was set. In desperation, Cranmer claimed to completely dismiss the ideas of Lutheran theology, and announced his "joy" in returning to the Catholic faith - in one last attempt to save his life. Interestingly, under normal canon law, he should have been absolved and forgiven, but this was not Queen Mary's plan. After a 14-day execution postponement, Mary decided that Cranmer truly deserved death, and was scheduled to be burnt at the stake on March 21st, 1556.
This is where it gets truly interesting! Cranmer was given one final opportunity to recant - this time in public during a religious service. He wrote a speech that was published after his death, and began speaking at the pulpit about his submission to Queen Mary and the Catholic faith. However, he ended the speech completely unexpectedly, ignoring what he had written. He officially renounced the recantations and said that he would punish his hand for writing those untrue statements by burning it first at his execution. He referred to the Pope as "the anti-Christ" and publicly refused him. He was then pulled down from the pulpit and dragged to the stake - keeping true to his word as he placed his right hand into the flames as they swirled around him. When his right hand had burnt completely and the flames were rising up around his body, he reportedly looked up at the sky and yelled "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God!"
So, it's a bit difficult to sort out my feelings about this event. On one hand, I can understand why Mary had such an intense hatred towards the man who, as she saw it, ruined her family and her life. She saw him as one of her sworn enemies, and must have relished the opportunity to bring him down when she was Queen. However, I obviously feel extreme sympathy and sadness for Thomas Cranmer, who served his kings well and ultimately followed his heart in religious matters. Although he recanted in order to try to save his life, he ultimately died a true martyr for the protestant reformation, leaving no one to wonder what his true opinions about religion were. So, in conclusion, I must take Cranmer's side on this. From what I've read about him, he seemed like a truly good person, who certainly did not deserve the cruel fate he received.
Rest in peace, Thomas Cranmer!!!
I'm the Tudor Enthusiast... Offering information and opinions, answering your questions and asking some of my own! Thanks for reading!