A history of Thomas Cranmer
|Thomas Cranmer was born in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire on 2nd July 1489. His father, Thomas, was the grandson of Edmund Cranmer, the first Cranmer to hold the manor of Aslockton, which came into the family in 1460 through Edmund’s marriage to Isabelle d’Aslacton.
Thomas spent his first fourteen years in Aslockton and worshipped at the Parish Church of St. John of Beverley, Whatton-in-the-Vale. Little is known of his early life but it is believed that he may have attended the Collegiate Grammar School at Southwell.
Thomas Cranmer senior died in 1501 and was buried in Whatton Church. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 14, Thomas was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge. He became a Fellow of the College in 1511, but his fellowship was suspended in 1515, when he married Joan, daughter of the proprietor of the Dolphin Inn. Joan died within a year of the marriage and, after her death, Thomas resumed his fellowship. By 1520, he was ordained, and he received his Doctorate of Divinity in 1526.
It is possible that Thomas would have continued his life of quiet scholarship had it not been for a chance meeting in 1529 in Waltham Abbey, Essex, with Stephen Gardiner and Edward Foxe. Both Gardiner and Foxe knew Thomas in Cambridge and were now counsellors to Henry VIII. Over dinner, the discussion moved to ‘The King’s Great Matter’, the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer’s oratory on the subject impressed both Gardiner and Foxe and they reported their conversations to the King.
Henry appeared equally impressed and shortly afterwards Thomas was appointed Chaplain to the King and then Archdeacon of Taunton. In 1532, Henry sent Thomas on an Embassy to Europe, in an attempt to gather support for the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine. Whilst in Germany, Thomas met Margaret, the niece of Andreas Osiander, a prominent Lutheran theologian. As a priest, Cranmer had taken a vow of celibacy, but his reading of the Scriptures convinced him that ‘God’s Word’ permitted marriage and he and Margaret were married in secret.
Henry appointed Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. Cranmer immediately pronounced Henry’s marriage to Catherine to be null and void. Despite his commitment to Henry and to the reformation of the Church, Thomas pleaded clemency, albeit in vain, for John Fisher and Thomas More, who continued to recognise the Pope’s authority and were unable to accept Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. By 1536, the Church of England had been severed from Rome; Cranmer’s theology was largely Lutheran, whilst Henry continued to insist on a form of non-papal Catholicism, and this difference caused a rift between the King and his Archbishop. Nevertheless, Henry called on Thomas to minister to him at his death.
The Church of England became more Protestant after Edward VI came to the Throne in 1547. It was in this freer climate that Cranmer wrote the Book of Homilies, the Forty-Two Articles (influenced by Calvinism and the basis of the Church of England’s current Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion) and the Book of Common Prayer (still used in the Church of England to this day). Cranmer was persuaded to sign a document, by the King, designating the Protestant Lady Jane Grey as heir to the Throne. The attempt to ensure the Protestant succession failed however, and Mary became Queen, returning the English Church to Rome.
Thomas was arrested and charged with treason and sedition, charges for which he was pardoned, but he was immediately rearrested and charged with heresy for his Protestantism. Thomas recanted his beliefs, but when called upon to do so in public he refused and withdrew his recantation.
Thomas Cranmer was burnt at the stake in Oxford on an overcast and stormy 21st March 1556. He held the hand that had signed the recantation in the flames until it was consumed.