Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
Reformation martyr, 21 March 1556
Born in Aslockton in Nottinghamshire in 1489, Thomas Cranmer, from an unspectacular Cambridge academic career, was recruited for diplomatic service in 1527. Two years later he joined the team working to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533 and duly pronounced the Aragon marriage an’ed. By now a convinced Church reformer, he married in 1532 while clerical marriage was still illegal in England. He worked closely with Thomas Cromwell to further reformation, but survived Henry’s final, unpredictable years to become a chief architect of Edwardian religious change, constructing two editions of The Book of Common Prayer, in 1549 and 1552, the Ordinal in 1550 and the original version of the later Thirty-Nine Articles. Cranmer acquiesced in the unsuccessful attempt to make Lady Jane Grey Queen of England. Queen Mary’s regime convicted him of treason in 1553 and of heresy in 1554. Demoralised by imprisonment, he signed six recantations, but was still condemned to the stake at Oxford. Struggling with his conscience, he made a final, bold statement of Protestant faith. Perhaps too fair-minded and cautious to be a ready-made hero in Reformation disputes, he was an impressively learnèd scholar, and his genius for formal prose has left a lasting mark on Anglican liturgy. He was burnt at the stake on this day in the year 1556.
Text reproduced from Exciting Holiness by kind permission of Brother Tristam Holland SSF.
Picture reproduced by kind permission of his grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.