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Archbishop Cranmer

Dr. Thomas Cranmer was descended from an ancient family, and was born at
the village of Arselacton, in the county of Northampton. After the usual
school education he was sent to Cambridge, and was chosen fellow of
Jesus College. Here he married a gentleman's daughter, by which he
forfeited his fellowship, and became a reader in Buckingham college,
placing his wife at the Dolphin inn, the landlady of which was a
relation of hers, whence arose the idle report that he was an ostler.
His lady shortly after dying in childbed, to his credit he was re-chosen
a fellow of the college before mentioned. In a few years after, he was
promoted to be Divinity Lecturer, and appointed one of the examiners
over those who were ripe to become Bachelors or Doctors in Divinity. It
was his principle to judge of their qualifications by the knowledge they
possessed of the Scriptures, rather than of the ancient fathers, and
hence many popish priests were rejected, and others rendered much

He was strongly solicited by Dr. Capon to be one of the fellows on the
foundation of Cardinal Wolsey's college, Oxford, of which he hazarded
the refusal. While he continued in Cambridge, the question of Henry
VIII.'s divorce with Catharine was agitated. At that time, on account of
the plague, Dr. Cranmer removed to the house of a Mr. Cressy, at Waltham
Abbey, whose two sons were then educating under him. The affair of
divorce, contrary to the king's approbation, had remained undecided
above two or three years, from the intrigues of the canonists and
civilians, and though the cardinals Campeius and Wolsey were
commissioned from Rome to decide the question, they purposely protracted
the sentence. It happened that Dr. Gardiner (secretary) and Dr. Fox,
defenders of the king in the above suit, came to the house of Mr. Cressy
to lodge, while the king removed to Greenwich. At supper, a conversation
ensued with Dr. Cranmer, who suggested that the question, whether a man
may marry his brother's wife or not, could be easily and speedily
decided by the word of God, and this as well in the English courts as
in those of any foreign nation. The king, uneasy at the delay, sent for
Dr. Gardiner and Dr. Foxe, to consult them, regretting that a new
commission must be sent to Rome, and the suit be endlessly protracted.
Upon relating to the king the conversation which had passed on the
previous evening with Dr. Cranmer, his majesty sent for him, and opened
the tenderness of conscience upon the near affinity of the queen. Dr.
Cranmer advised that the matter should be referred to the most learned
divines of Cambridge and Oxford, as he was unwilling to meddle in an
affair of such weight; but the king enjoined him to deliver his
sentiments in writing, and to repair for that purpose to the Earl of
Wiltshire's, who would accommodate him with books, and every thing
requisite for the occasion. This Dr. Cranmer immediately did, and in his
declaration, not only quoted the authority of the Scriptures, of general
councils and the ancient writers, but maintained that the bishop of Rome
had no authority whatever to dispense with the word of God. The king
asked him if he would stand by this bold declaration; to which replying
in the affirmative, he was deputed ambassador to Rome, in conjunction
with the Earl of Wiltshire, Dr. Stokesley, Dr. Carne, Dr. Bennet, and
others, previous to which, the marriage was discussed in most of the
universities of Christendom and at Rome; when the pope presented his toe
to be kissed, as customary, the Earl of Wiltshire and his party refused.
Indeed, it is affirmed, that a spaniel of the Earl's, attracted by the
glitter of the pope's toe, made a snap at it, whence his holiness drew
in his sacred foot, and kicked at the offender with the other. Upon the
pope demanding the cause of their embassy, the Earl presented Dr.
Cranmer's book, declaring that his learned friends had come to defend
it. The pope treated the embassy honourably, and appointed a day for the
discussion, which he delayed, as if afraid of the issue of the
investigation. The Earl returned, and Dr. Cranmer, by the king's desire,
visited the emperor, and was successful in bringing him over to his
opinion. Upon the Doctor's return to England, Dr. Warham, archbishop of
Canterbury, having quitted this transitory life, Dr. Cranmer was
deservedly, and by Dr. Warham's desire, elevated to that eminent

In this function, it may be said that he followed closely the charge of
St. Paul. Diligent in duty, he rose at five in the morning, and
continued in study and prayer till nine: between then and dinner, he
devoted to temporal affairs. After dinner, if any suitors wanted
hearing, he would determine their business with such an affability, that
even the defaulters were scarcely displeased. Then he would play at
chess for an hour, or see others play, and at five o'clock he heard the
Common Prayer read, and from this till supper he took the recreation of
walking. At supper his conversation was lively and entertaining; again
he walked or amused himself till nine o'clock, and then entered his

He ranked high in favour with king Henry and ever had the purity and the
interest of the English church deeply at heart. His mild and forgiving
disposition is recorded in the following instance--An ignorant priest,
in the country, had called Cranmer an ostler, and spoken very derogatory
of his learning. Lord Cromwell receiving information of it, the man was
sent to the fleet, and his case was told to the archbishop by a Mr.
Chertsey, a grocer, and a relation of the priest's. His grace, having
sent for the offender, reasoned with him, and solicited the priest to
question him on any learned subject. This the man, overcome by the
bishop's good nature, and knowing his own glaring incapacity, declined,
and entreated his forgiveness, which was immediately granted, with a
charge to employ his time better when he returned to his parish.
Cromwell was much vexed at the lenity displayed, but the bishop was ever
more ready to receive injury than to retaliate in any other manner than
by good advice and good offices.

At the time that Cranmer was raised to be archbishop, he was king's
chaplain, and archdeacon of Taunton; he was also constituted by the
pope, penitentiary general of England. It was considered by the king
that Cranmer would be obsequious; hence the latter married the king to
Anne Boleyn, performed her coronation, stood godfather to Elizabeth, the
first child, and divorced the king from Catharine. Though Cranmer
received a confirmation of his dignity from the pope, he always
protested against acknowledging any other authority than the king's, and
he persisted in the same independent sentiments when before Mary's
commissioners in 1555. One of the first steps after the divorce was to
prevent preaching throughout his diocess, but this narrow measure had
rather a political view than a religious one, as there were many who
inveighed against the king's conduct. In his new dignity Cranmer
agitated the question of supremacy, and by his powerful and just
arguments induced the parliament to "render to Caesar the things which
are Caesar's." During Cranmer's residence in Germany, 1531, he became
acquainted with Ossiander, at Nurenburgh, and married his niece, but
left her with him while on his return to England; after a season he sent
for her privately, and she remained with him till the year 1539, when
the Six Articles compelled him to return her to her friends for a time.

It should be remembered that Ossiander, having obtained the approbation
of his friend Cranmer, published the laborious work of the Harmony of
the Gospels in 1537. In 1534 the archbishop completed the dearest wish
of his heart, the removal of every obstacle to the perfection of the
Reformation, by the subscription of the nobles and bishops to the king's
sole supremacy. Only bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More made objection;
and their agreement not to oppose the succession, Cranmer was willing to
consider as sufficient, but the monarch would have no other than an
entire concession. Not long after, Gardiner, in a private interview with
the king, spoke inimically of Cranmer, (whom he maliciously hated) for
assuming the title of Primate of all England, as derogatory to the
supremacy of the king, this created much jealousy against Cranmer, and
his translation of the Bible was strongly opposed by Stokesley, bishop
of London. It is said, upon the demise of queen Catharine, that her
successor Anne Boleyn rejoiced--a lesson this to show how shallow is the
human judgment! since her own execution took place in the spring of the
following year, and the king, on the day following the beheading of this
sacrificed lady, married the beautiful Jane Seymour, a maid of honour to
the late queen. Cranmer was ever the friend of Anne Boleyn, but it was
dangerous to oppose the will of the carnal tyrannical monarch.

In 1538, the holy Scriptures were openly exposed to sale; and the places
of worship overflowed every where to hear its holy doctrines expounded.
Upon the king's passing into a law the famous Six Articles, which went
nearly again to establish the essential tenets of the Romish creed,
Cranmer shone forth with all the lustre of a Christian patriot, in
resisting the doctrines they contained, and in which he was supported by
the bishops of Sarum, Worcester, Ely, and Rochester, the two former of
whom resigned their bishoprics. The king, though now in opposition to
Cranmer, still revered the sincerity that marked his conduct. The death
of Lord Cromwell in the Tower, in 1540, the good friend of Cranmer, was
a severe blow to the wavering protestant cause, but even now Cranmer,
when he saw the tide directly adverse to the truth, boldly waited on the
king in person, and by his manly and heartfelt pleading, caused the book
of Articles to be passed on his side, to the great confusion of his
enemies, who had contemplated his fall as inevitable.

Cranmer now lived in as secluded a manner as possible, till the rancour
of Winchester preferred some articles against him, relative to the
dangerous opinion he taught in his family, joined to other treasonable
charges. These the king delivered himself to Cranmer, and believing
firmly the fidelity and assertions of innocence of the accused prelate,
he caused the matter to be deeply investigated, and Winchester and Dr.
Lenden, with Thornton and Barber, of the bishop's household, were found
by the papers to be the real conspirators. The mild forgiving Cranmer
would have interceded for all remission of punishment, had not Henry,
pleased with the subsidy voted by parliament, let them be discharged;
these nefarious men, however, again renewing their plots against
Cranmer, fell victims to Henry's resentment, and Gardiner forever lost
his confidence. Sir G. Gostwick soon after laid charges against the
archbishop, which Henry quashed, and the primate was willing to forgive.

In 1544, the archbishop's palace at Canterbury was burnt, and his
brother-in-law with others perished in it. These various afflictions may
serve to reconcile us to an humble state; for of what happiness could
this great and good man boast? since his life was constantly harassed
either by political, religious, or natural crosses. Again the inveterate
Gardiner laid high charges against the meek archbishop and would have
sent him to the tower; but the king was his friend, gave him his signet
that he would defend him, and in the council not only declared the
bishop one of the best affected men in his realm, but sharply rebuked
his accusers for their calumny.

A peace having been made, Henry, and the French king Henry the Great,
were unanimous to have the mass abolished in their kingdom, and Cranmer
set about this great work; but the death of the English monarch, in
1546, suspended the procedure, and king Edward his successor continued
Cranmer in the same functions, upon whose coronation he delivered a
charge that will ever honour his memory, for its purity, freedom, and
truth. During this reign he prosecuted the glorious reformation with
unabated zeal, even in the year 1552, when he was seized with a severe
ague, from which it pleased God to restore him that he might testify by
his death the truth of that seed he had diligently sown.

The death of Edward, in 1553, exposed Cranmer to all the rage of his
enemies. Though the archbishop was among those who supported Mary's
accession, he was attainted at the meeting of parliament, and in
November adjudged guilty of high treason at Guildhall, and degraded from
his dignities. He sent an humble letter to Mary, explaining the cause of
his signing the will in favor of Edward, and in 1554 he wrote to the
council, whom he pressed to obtain a pardon from the queen, by a letter
delivered to Dr. Weston, but which the latter opened, and on seeing its
contents, basely returned. Treason was a charge quite inapplicable to
Cranmer, who supported the queen's right; while others, who had favoured
Lady Jane, upon paying a small fine were dismissed. A calumny was now
spread against Cranmer, that he complied with some of the popish
ceremonies to ingratiate himself with the queen, which he dared publicly
to disavow, and justified his articles of faith. The active part which
the prelate had taken in the divorce of Mary's mother had ever rankled
deeply in the heart of the queen, and revenge formed a prominent feature
in the death of Cranmer. We have in this work, noticed the public
disputations at Oxford, in which the talents of Cranmer, Ridley, and
Latimer, shone so conspicuously, and tended to their condemnation.--The
first sentence was illegal, inasmuch as the usurped power of the pope
had not yet been re-established by law. Being kept in prison till this
was effected, a commission was despatched from Rome, appointing Dr.
Brooks to sit as the representative of his Holiness, and Drs. Story and
Martin as those of the queen. Cranmer was willing to bow to the
authority of Drs. Story and Martin, but against that of Dr. Brooks he
protested. Such were the remarks and replies of Cranmer, after a long
examination, that Dr. Brooks observed, "We come to examine you, and
methinks you examine us." Being sent back to confinement, he received a
citation to appear at Rome within eighteen days, but this was
impracticable, as he was imprisoned in England; and as he stated, even
had he been at liberty, he was too poor to employ an advocate. Absurd as
it must appear, Cranmer was condemned at Rome, and February 14, 1556, a
new commission was appointed by which, Thirdly, bishop of Ely, and
Bonner, of London, were deputed to sit in judgment at Christ-church,
Oxford. By virtue of this instrument, Cranmer was gradually degraded, by
putting mere rags on him to represent the dress of an archbishop; then
stripping him of his attire, they took off his own gown, and put an old
worn one upon him instead. This he bore unmoved, and his enemies,
finding that severity only rendered him more determined, tried the
opposite course, and placed him in the house of the dean of
Christ-church, where he was treated with every indulgence. This
presented such a contrast to the three years hard imprisonment he had
received, that it threw him off his guard. His open, generous nature was
more easily to be seduced by a liberal conduct than by threats and
fetters. When satan finds the christian proof against one mode of
attack, he tries another; and what form is so seductive as smiles,
rewards, and power, after a long, painful imprisonment? Thus it was with
Cranmer: his enemies promised him his former greatness if he would but
recant, as well as the queen's favour, and this at the very time they
knew that his death was determined in council. To soften the path to
apostacy, the first paper brought for his signature was conceived in
general terms; this one signed, five others were obtained as explanatory
of the first, till finally he put his hand to the following detestable

"I, Thomas Cranmer, late archbishop of Canterbury, do renounce, abhor,
and detest all manner of heresies and errors of Luther and Zuinglius,
and all other teachings which are contrary to sound and true doctrine.
And I believe most constantly in my heart, and with my mouth I confess
one holy and catholic church visible, without which there is no
salvation; and therefore I acknowledge the bishop of Rome to be supreme
head on earth, whom I acknowledge to be the highest bishop and pope, and
Christ's vicar, unto whom all christian people ought to be subject.

"And as concerning the sacraments, I believe and worship in the
sacrament of the altar the body and blood of Christ, being contained
most truly under the forms of bread and wine; the bread, through the
mighty power of God being turned into the body of our Saviour Jesus
Christ, and the wine into his blood.

"And in the other six sacraments, also, (alike as in this) I believe and
hold as the universal church holdeth, and the church of Rome judgeth and

"Furthermore, I believe that there is a place of purgatory, where souls
departed be punished for a time, for whom the church doth godlily and
wholesomely pray, like as it doth honour saints and make prayers to

"Finally, in all things I profess, that I do not otherwise believe than
the catholic church and the church of Rome holdeth and teacheth.--I am
sorry that I ever held or thought otherwise. And I beseech Almighty God,
that of his mercy he will vouchsafe to forgive me whatsoever I have
offended against God or his church, and also I desire and beseech all
christian people to pray for me.

"And all such as have been deceived either by mine example of doctrine,
I require them by the blood of Jesus Christ that they will return to the
unity of the church, that we may be all of one mind, without schism or

"And to conclude, as I submit myself to the catholic church of Christ,
and to the supreme head thereof, so I submit myself unto the most
excellent majesties of Philip and Mary, king and queen of this realm of
England, &c. and to all other their laws and ordinances, being ready
always as a faithful subject ever to obey them. And God is my witness,
that I have not done this for favour or fear of any person, but
willingly and of mine own conscience, as to the instruction of others."

"Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall!" said the apostle, and
here was a falling off indeed! The papists now triumphed in their turn:
they had acquired all they wanted short of his life. His recantation was
immediately printed and dispersed, that it might have its due effect
upon the astonished protestants; but God counter-worked all the designs
of the catholics by the extent to which they carried the implacable
persecution of their prey. Doubtless, the love of life induced Cranmer
to sign the above declaration; yet death may be said to have been
preferable to life to him who lay under the stings of a goaded
conscience and the contempt of every gospel christian; this principle he
strongly felt in all its force and anguish.

The queen's revenge was only to be satiated in Cranmer's blood, and
therefore she wrote an order to Dr. Cole, to prepare a sermon to be
preached March 21, directly before his martyrdom, at St. Mary's, Oxford;
Dr. Cole visited him the day previous, and was induced to believe that
he would publicly deliver his sentiments in confirmation of the articles
to which he had subscribed. About nine in the morning of the day of
sacrifice, the queen's commissioners, attended by the magistrates,
conducted the amiable unfortunate to St. Mary's church. His torn, dirty
garb, the same in which they habited him upon his degradation, excited
the commisseration of the people. In the church he found a low, mean
stage, erected opposite to the pulpit, on which being placed, he turned
his face, and fervently prayed to God. The church was crowded with
persons of both persuasions, expecting to hear the justification of the
late apostacy: the catholics rejoicing, and the protestants deeply
wounded in spirit at the deceit of the human heart. Dr. Cole, in his
sermon, represented Cranmer as having been guilty of the most atrocious
crimes; encouraged the deluded sufferer not to fear death, not to doubt
the support of God in his torments, nor that masses would be said in all
the churches of Oxford for the repose of his soul. The Doctor then
noticed his conversion, and which he ascribed to the evident working of
Almighty Power, and in order that the people might be convinced of its
reality, asked the prisoner to give them a sign. This Cranmer did, and
begged the congregation to pray for him, for he had committed many and
grievous sins; but, of all, there was one which awfully lay upon his
mind, of which he would speak shortly.

During the sermon Cranmer wept bitter tears: lifting up his hands and
eyes to heaven, and letting them fall, as if unworthy to live: his grief
now found vent in words: before his confession he fell upon his knees,
and, in the following words unveiled the deep contrition and agitation
which harrowed up his soul.

"O Father of heaven! O Son of God, Redeemer of the world! O Holy Ghost,
three persons and one God! have mercy on me, most wretched caitiff and
miserable sinner. I have offended both against heaven and earth, more
than my tongue can express. Whither then may I go, or whither may I
flee? To heaven I may be ashamed to lift up mine eyes, and in earth I
find no place of refuge or succour. To thee, therefore, O Lord, do I
run; to thee do I humble myself, saying, O Lord, my God, my sins be
great, but yet have mercy upon me for thy great mercy. The great mystery
that God became man, was not wrought for little or few offences. Thou
didst not give thy Son, O Heavenly Father, unto death for small sins
only, but for all the greatest sins of the world, so that the sinner
return to thee with his whole heart, as I do at present. Wherefore, have
mercy on me, O God, whose property is always to have mercy, have mercy
upon me, O Lord, for thy great mercy. I crave nothing for my own merits,
but for thy name's sake, that it may be hallowed thereby, and for thy
dear Son Jesus Christ's sake. And now therefore, O Father of Heaven,
hallowed be thy name," &c.

Then rising, he said he was desirous before his death to give them some
pious exhortations by which God might be glorified and themselves
edified. He then descanted upon the danger of a love for the world, the
duty of obedience to their majesties of love to one another and the
necessity of the rich administering to the wants of the poor. He quoted
the three verses of the fifth chapter of James, and then proceeded, "Let
them that be rich ponder well these three sentences: for if they ever
had occasion to show their charity, they have it now at this present,
the poor people being so many, and victual so dear.

"And now forasmuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon
hangeth all my life past, and all my life to come, either to live with
my master Christ for ever in joy, or else to be in pain for ever with
the wicked in hell, and I see before mine eyes presently, either heaven
ready to receive me, or else hell ready to swallow me up; I shall
therefore declare unto you my very faith how I believe, without any
colour of dissimulation: for now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I
have said or written in times past.

"First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
&c. And I believe every article of the Catholic faith, every word and
sentence taught by our Saviour Jesus Christ, his apostles and prophets,
in the New and Old Testament.

"And now I come to the great thing which so much troubleth my
conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole
life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth,
which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand
contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear
of death, and to save my life, if it might be; and that is, all such
bills or papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my
degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as
my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand
shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire, it shall first be

"And as for the Pope, I refuse him as Christ's enemy, and antichrist,
with all his false doctrine.

"And as for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against
the bishop of Winchester, which my book teacheth so true a doctrine of
the sacrament, that it shall stand in the last day before the judgment
of God, where the papistical doctrines contrary thereto shall be ashamed
to show their face."

Upon the conclusion of this unexpected declaration, amazement and
indignation were conspicuous in every part of the church. The catholics
were completely foiled, their object being frustrated; Cranmer, like
Sampson, having completed a greater ruin upon his enemies in the hour of
death, than he did in his life.

Cranmer would have proceeded in the exposure of the popish doctrines,
but the murmurs of the idolaters drowned his voice, and the preacher
gave an order to lead the heretic away! The savage command was directly
obeyed, and the lamb about to suffer was torn from his stand to the
place of slaughter, insulted all the way by the revilings and taunts of
the pestilent monks and friars. With thoughts intent upon a far higher
object than the empty threats of man, he reached the spot dyed with the
blood of Ridley and Latimer. There he knelt for a short time in earnest
devotion, and then arose, that he might undress and prepare for the
fire. Two friars who had been parties in prevailing upon him to abjure,
now endeavoured to draw him off again from the truth, but he was
steadfast and immoveable in what he had just professed, and before
publicly taught. A chain was provided to bind him to the stake, and
after it had tightly encircled him, fire was put to the fuel, and the
flames began soon to ascend. Then were the glorious sentiments of the
martyr made manifest;--then it was, that stretching out his right hand,
he held it unshrinkingly in the fire till it was burnt to a cinder, even
before his body was injured, frequently exclaiming, "This unworthy right
hand!" Apparently insensible of pain, with a countenance of venerable
resignation, and eyes directed to Him for whose cause he suffered, he
continued, like St. Stephen, to say, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit!"
till the fury of the flames terminated his powers of utterance and
existence. He closed a life of high sublunary elevation, of constant
uneasiness, and of glorious martyrdom, on March 21, 1556.

Thus perished the illustrious Cranmer, the man whom king Henry's
capricious soul esteemed for his virtues above all other men. Cranmer's
example is an endless testimony that fraud and cruelty are the leading
characteristics of the catholic hierarchy. They first seduced him to
live by recantation, and then doomed him to perish, using perhaps the
sophistical arguments, that, being brought again within the catholic
pale, he was then most fit to die. His gradual change from darkness to
the light of the truth, proved that he had a mind open to conviction.
Though mild and forgiving in temper, he was severe in church discipline,
and it is only on this ground that one act of cruelty of his can in any
way be excused. A poor woman was in Edward's reign condemned to be burnt
for her religious opinions; the pious young monarch reasoned with the
archbishop upon the impropriety of protestants resorting to the same
cruel means they censured in papists, adding humanely, "What! would you
have me send her quick to the devil in her error?" The prelate however
was not to be softened, and the king signed the death warrant with eyes
steeped in tears. There is however a shade in the greatest characters,
and few characters, whether political or religious, were greater than

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