We know that his interest in the humanists grew and helped to develop his own religious thought, and Cranmer is thought to have had a deep-seated dislike for Martin Luther at this time, who was already spreading his own religious ideas throughout Europe. Cranmer appears to have been fairly traditional in his doctrine during the 1520s, and was even selected by Cardinal Wolsey - along with a few other Cambridge men - to serve as ambassadors on religious missions across the Continent.
Given this honor, the pressure was on. Cranmer devoted himself to pursuing the king's challenging annulment and sought to make a second marriage with Anne Boleyn legal. The following January, Henry and Anne were wed in a secret ceremony (though Cranmer wouldn't learn of the marriage for two weeks), by the end of May he had ruled that Henry's marriage to Catherine was invalid, and on 1 June, he himself crowned the new Queen Anne at Westminster Abbey. Pope Clement VII was enraged, and he excommunicated Henry VIII, along with Cranmer.
Mary would view him as the man who caused her mother, Catherine of Aragon, to lose her husband, her status, and her very life. After all, because of Cranmer's involvement in Henry VIII's 'Great Matter' during the late 1520s and early 1530s, Mary's life had been forever changed, and her mother's life ruined. For decades, Mary had resented and hated the man, and so upon her accession it would become one of her chieftest goals to bring him down. Indeed, by the end of 1553 he would be arrested and tried for treason and heresy. He would be condemned to death and subsequently transferred from prison to prison for the next few years - given ample opportunity to recant his heretical beliefs, before finally being put to death by burning at the stake in Oxford on 21 March 1556.
Today, Cranmer is remembered as a martyr of the Reformation. Biographers from both Catholic and Protestant perspectives disagree on certain aspects of his character, arguing over his obsession with royal supremacy and pleasing a 'tyrannical' king, vs. his true religious convictions. Nevertheless, he was an integral figure of the period and deeply important to the religious climate in England during the sixteenth century. Though he would be gone by the time Elizabeth I would take the throne in 1558, his ideals, published works, and principles would rise again under her Protestant rule. His words, beliefs, and teachings would have a lasting effect on England, and are present even to this day.
This was certainly a brief overview of Thomas Cranmer's life. There is so much more to be said - particularly about his work during Edward's reign - but this blog post would end up being far too long! In lieu of writing extensively about every detail of his life, I encourage readers to dive further into his story by exploring some of these books:
- Thomas Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch
- Emblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer by Leslie Winfield Williams
- Signs of God's Promise: Thomas Cranmer's Sacramental Theology and the Book of Common Prayer by Gordon P. Jeanes