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Article Info:
published: 3/17/04
updated: 8/14/14

Thomas Cranmer

Who was Thomas Cranmer?

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. He was burned at the stake for the heresy of Protestantism under Queen Mary.

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, Thomas 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 a Lutheran theologian in Nuremberg.

On March 30, 1533, Thomas Cranmer 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. Thomas Cranmer also opposed Henry VIII's Six Articles, which reaffirmed clerical celibacy.

Upon 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 extreme Protestant views. During Edward's reign, Thomas Cranmer introduced the Book of Common Prayer, a modernized version of which is still used today, and in general, led the Church of England in a more protestant direction.

Edward died in 1553 and was 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.

Thomas Cranmer was accordingly removed from office, imprisoned and charged with both treason and heresy on February 14, 1556. In an effort to save himself, he recanted, but was nevertheless condemned to be burned at the stake.

When he discovered his fate, Thomas Cranmer withdrew his recantation in church on the day of his death when he was expected by the authorities to re-affirm it. And at the point of execution, he thrust his right hand - the hand that signed the recantation - into the fire to be burned first.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was executed on Broad Street, Oxford, where two other Protestant bishops, Ridley and Latimer, had been burned in 1555. The event is commemorated by the Martyrs' Memorial, which is not on the original site.

Thomas Cranmer was a man of simple and amiable character, a learned theologian, as well as a great patron of learning in others.

Though naturally of a shrinking, sensitive temperament and a somewhat slow and hesitating mind, when once he saw his duty he showed no lack of courage; and if at the last he tried to concede that impossible change of belief which his inquisitors required, he redeemed his fall by a heroism in the hour of death to which history can find few parallels.

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