Thomas Cranmer Facts - History English Reformation

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Thomas Cranmer was born at Aslacton, Nottinghamshire England on July 2, 1489. He was the second son of Thomas Cranmer and Agnes nee Hatfield. He had an older brother named John and a younger brother named Edmund.

Cranmer attended one of the colleges at Cambridge in 1503. However, he had to leave the college after he married his wife Joan because the clergy were not allowed to marry. Afterwards, he taught at Buckingham college which was later Magdalene College. The year after Cranmer married, his wife Joan died in childbirth. He, then returned to Jesus college in Cambridge in 1520. He was amongst a group of scholars who met regularly at the White Horse Inn for discussions on ecclesiology and theology. Cranmer tended to lean towards Martin Luther's religious views. Others in the group were Thomas Bilney, John Frith, Robert Barns and William Tyndale. All of which were leaders in the English reformation.

Cranmer came into royal favor after he chanced upon a meeting with Edward Foxe and Stephen Gardiner who were councilors to Henry VIII. At this time, the king was seeking a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Cranmer suggested Henry seek the opinions of the European Universities. Henry was intrigued with the idea and Cranmer was interviewed by the King. Henry gave Cranmer the task of writing propaganda in favor of the divorce. Cranmer was appointed archdeacon of Taunton and entered the royal service.

He married secretly in 1532. The same year, William Warham, the archbishop of Canterbury died leaving the position open. Cranmer was chosen to fill the position in March 1533.

In May 1533, Cranmer declared the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void then announced Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn valid. Three years later, he declared the marriage to Ann Boleyn invalid.

In 1540, Cranmer annulled Henry's 4th marriage to Anne of Cleves.

In 1541, Cranmer was the one who started an investigation into Katherine Howard's adultery. He was the one who told Henry and the one who gathered all the evidences against Katherine, Thomas Culpepper and Frances Dereham.

Cranmer pleaded for the lives of Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, Cromwell and many others. He also convinced Henry not to execute his (Henry's) daughter, the future Mary 1.

Cranmer could not acknowledge his wife. Legend says he carried her around in a chest with air holes. However, this has never been documented. In 1548, he was able to publicly acknowledge her.

Together with Thomas Cromwell, Cranmer promoted the publication of the English Bible.

In 1545, he wrote the Litany which is still in use in the English Church.

Henry VIII trusted Cranmer and he also liked him. Henry trusted Cranmer over anyone in the kingdom because Cranmer was not greedy. Cranmer heard Henry's last words and gave him his final rights before he died. When Henry VIII was dying, he would have none other than Cranmer give him holy communion and administer extreme unction. Cranmer arrived just in time to ask Henry to give him a sign that he put his trust in God through Jesus Christ. The king holding Cranmer's hand squeezed hard giving Cranmer proof that Henry trusted the lord.

Cranmer was the driving force in Edward VI's reformation in 1547. Somerset, the Lord Protector wanted to change the English church into a Protestant Church in 1547. Mostly because the lands Henry had confiscated from the Catholic church during his reign would go back to the Catholic Church had the country converted back to Catholicism.

Cranmer published the Book of Homilies which complained about the unreformed clergy.

In 1549, the first Prayer Book was published. In 1552, the second Prayer Book was published. Cranmer wrote most of the book's content but had help from others.

He changed the doctrine, ritual and law of the English church which after Mary I became fundamental to its development.

When Edward VI was dying, Cranmer was forced by Edward to sign the document by Northumberland which named Lady Jane Grey as Edward's successor going against Henry VIII's order of succession. The failure of Northumberland's plot, made Cranmer a traitor. His fate was sealed. However this is not what he was brought to trial for.

Queen Mary I, Bishop Stephen Gardiner who was a prisoner during Edward IV reign and Cardinal Reginald Pole who was a Yorkist heir and had been exiled during Henry VIII and Edward VI's reign, intended to execute Cranmer for heresy. Parliament had the Acts of  Edward VI repealed. Then Parliament reintroduced the Heresy laws in 1554 in order to burn heretics again.

Cranmer, together with Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were removed to Oxford to await trial and execution.

In 1555, Cranmer was put on trial in which he defended himself on February 1556. He was stripped of his church offices and handed over to the state. Cranmer watched Ridley and Hugh Latimer burn at the stake in October 1555.

In 1556, Mary wanted Cranmer to recant before he was executed. He was removed from prison temporarily. He signed six document recanting both religious and political developments. However, this did not save his life as he thought it would have. On March 21, 1556, Cranmer was taken out to be burnt. Prior to his execution, he was required to recant. However, he did not instead he gathered his strength and disavowed his earlier recantations. He held his right hand into the flame to signify the hand that had falsely signed the proclamations and recantation until it was consumed by the fire. His death and recantations were suppose to end the Protestant movement. Instead, his death with dignity inspired the Protestant Movement in England. Cranmer died a martyr.

Cranmer's legacy was that he was the spiritual founding father of the reformed English Church. He did not seek high office. It found him. He used his influence to promote his beliefs. He did not seek to punished those who sought to do him harm. He was known for his clemency. He had the courage to speak up for those who were condemned. He believed in the divine right of kings.

related subject: Medieval Castles in England


Thomas Cranmer Pictures

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Portrait of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) 1546


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Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury from 'Receuil des Estampes
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King Henry VIII King of England 1509-1547 with Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell
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Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's Bible in the North Choir Aisle Canterbury Cathedral Kent England


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Thomas Cranmer Burnt at the Stake in Oxford