- CRANMER, Thomas
Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII* and Edward VI, was at the helm of much of the English Reformation, but he was eventually executed during the reign of Mary I.* Cranmer was born in Nottinghamshire and went on to be educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1529 he encountered Henry VIII's secretary and almoner at Waltham Abbey and told them that he thought that the king should take the matter of his divorce before scholars of divinity at the universities to bypass the lengthy process in Rome. The idea pleased Henry, and from then on Cranmer was increasingly drawn into the king's favor. In 1530 he became archdeacon of Taunton and traveled in 1532 on a diplomatic mission to the holy Roman emperor in Germany. He married a woman named Margaret, but kept their marriage secret until 1548, when Parliament voted to legalize clergy marriages. When he returned to England early in 1533, Henry appointed him archbishop of Canterbury, and after taking his vows Cranmer renounced his allegiance to the pope in favor of the Crown. In May he pronounced the king's marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void and declared the marriage between Henry and Anne Boleyn to be valid. Cranmer formed a solid relationship with the new queen and enjoyed her patronage until her death; he remained sympathetic to her family. Throughout Henry's subsequent marital proceedings, Cranmer lent religious authority and legitimacy, although at times he was not averse to questioning the king's reasoning.By and large, Cranmer remained a steadfast and loyal supporter of Henry VIII until the king's death and operated as the highest ecclesiastical authority in the land. He assisted in the publication of the Bishops' Book in 1534, the first printing of the English Bible in 1537, and the catechism A Short Instruction into Christian Religion in 1548 and, in his most lasting contribution, edited the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. After Henry's death, Cranmer continued his role as church primate, but during the reign of Edward VI, sharp differences between religious conservatives and reformers became more contentious. Cran-mer may have been concerned for the future of the evangelical movement; he consistently sought to maintain the integrity of the English church and at the behest of critics revised the Book of Common Prayer for a new edition in 1552.After Edward's death in 1553, Cranmer supported the brief reign of Lady Jane Grey,* but when Mary I ascended to the throne, she had him imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained for two years. The authorities considered charging him with treason, but Cardinal Reginald Pole eventually condemned him for heresy on 14 December 1555, and he was subsequently stripped of his ecclesiastical vestments and authority. As the day of his execution neared, Cranmer seems to have become increasingly desperate and recanted his evangelical beliefs and activities of the past twenty-five years six separate times. On 21 March 1556, in his last words, he disavowed his recent recantations, depriving the Catholics of their joy at having converted him. As fires were set beneath him at the stake, he thrust his right hand, which had written the recantations, into the fire and denounced its treachery. He was known thereafter as a martyr of the Protestant Reformation.BibliographyD. MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, 1996.Jean Akers
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.