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

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