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.
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