On this day in history : 21st March 1556 – Thomas Cranmer, England’s first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury is burnt at the stake as a heretic under the orders of Queen Mary I….

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Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke – Public domain

Thomas Cranmer served as Archbishop of Canterbury between 1533 and 1556 and was a leader of the English Reformation…. It was he who dissolved the first marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, allowing him to marry Anne Boleyn….

It was also he (along with Thomas Cromwell) who supported the translation of the Bible into the English language…. And in 1549 he helped to complete the Book of Common Prayer….

After King Henry died his only son, Edward VI came to the throne….but was to die at the  age of 15-years-old…. Before his death he made it known that his wish was for his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, to succeed him – even though he had a half-sister, Mary – but who was a Catholic…. Thomas Cranmer supported this decision….

Lady Jane Grey was to reign for just nine days before she and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, were executed…. Mary took her place as Queen, determined to restore the Catholic Church….she also had an intense dislike for Cranmer, holding him responsible for the annulment of her parent’s marriage and effectively making her illegitimate….

On the 13th of November 1553 Cranmer was tried and found guilty of treason….he was condemned to die…. He was imprisoned in Bocardo Prison, Oxford – held alongside him were two others, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley…. On the 12th of September 1555 all three men went on trial for heresy….Ridley and Latimer were found guilty at the trial and were burned at the stake on the 16th of October…. Cranmer’s case had to be referred to Rome – and their decision was delivered in the December of 1555…. Cranmer had been stripped of his position as Archbishop and the authorities had permission to decide his fate….

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The Trial of Thomas Cranmer – Public domain

Although Cranmer made a total of five recantations renouncing his Protestant theology and declaring that he was returning to the Catholic Church, Mary – wanting revenge – set a date for his execution….

On the day of the execution Cranmer was forced to make one last public recantation…. It was a wet day and it was decided to use the church of St. Mary’s in Oxford…. From high in the pulpit, for all to hear, he gave the prayer and swore to obey the Crown…. It was then in a last act of defiance – he no longer had anything to lose – that he renounced all of his previous recantations….

“And for as much 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 burned”….

“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 judgement of God, where the papistical doctrines contrary thereto shall be ashamed to show their face”….

True to his word, once at the stake, as the fire ignited and the flames took hold, Cranmer thrust his right hand into them – holding it there as it charred – it was a long time before the fire engulfed the rest of his body….

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Cranmer’s Martyrdom, from John Foxe’s book (1563) – Public domain

Today Cranmer is remembered, along with Ridley and Latimer, as a Protestant martyr…. A memorial stands in Oxford – the inscription reads….

“To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLIimg_2606

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