Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, March 21st, 1556
A Fellow of Jesus College, Archbishop of Canterbury, and leader of the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer
helped construct the case for King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s annulment which lead to the creation of the Church of England, established the first doctrinal structures of the newly-formed church, published the first Anglican liturgy, wrote the first Book of Common Prayer, compiled the Thirty-Nine Articles, and was burned at the stake by Queen Mary for rejecting the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism.
Born into a family of moderate wealth, Cranmer attended Jesus College at Cambridge where it took him a surprising eight long years to get his Bachelor of Arts degree. After getting his Master of Arts and eventual Doctorate of Divinity, Cranmer became a teacher and preacher, enjoying a quiet life of scholarly pursuits (and a very brief marriage) before being discovered by King Henry.
Henry, lacking a male heir to the throne and convinced his marriage to his older brother’s widow was condemned by God,
was seeking out any assistance he could find.
When the plague broke out near Cambridge, Cranmer headed to the countryside, where he encountered two former Cambridge peers, Stephen Gardiner and Edward Foxe. Gardiner and Foxe lodged with Cranmer for a short time, and during their time together, the king’s dilemma was brought up in conversation. Cranmer proposed the king lay aside the legal case in Rome and instead seek opinions from university theologians throughout Europe. When Gardiner and Foxe returned to the king, they presented
him with Cranmer’s idea. Delighted by the suggestion, Henry sent for the Jesus College Fellow and charged him with constructing the theological case for an annulment of the king’s marriage.
Cranmer was sent to Rome as part of an entourage to present the idea to the Pope. He was then appointed
the resident ambassador in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, allowing him to travel throughout the emperor’s realm before eventually passing through Nuremberg, where he witnessed first-hand the effects of Martin Luther’s reformation. In Nuremberg, Cranmer met and befriended
Andreas Osiander and eventually married Osiander’s niece, keeping his marriage a secret from his friends back in the Isles.
Following the death of Archbishop William Warham, Cranmer was ordered to return to England to take Warham’s place. This came as a surprise to Cranmer, not only because he was married (which was illegal for British clergy) but because he had only previously served as rector of a single church.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer oversaw the trial that successfully annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine. Following the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, Pope Clement III became furious and excommunicated the king, Cranmer, and several other of the king’s advisors, adding fuel to the fire that would eventually lead to the separation of the English church from Rome, the establishing of the reformed Church of England, and the birth of Anglicanism.
Throughout the next two decades, Anglicanism underwent several phases of reform with Archbishop Cranmer serving as the chief architect. He wrote and published the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, writing the first ever English liturgy for the ecclesia anglicana. Inspired by reformers on the Continent (many of whom sought refuge in England) and new English translations of the Bible, Cranmer rejected as heresy the Roman doctrines concerning the Eucharist, icons in places of worship, the veneration of saints, purgatory, the adoration of Mother Mary, Eucharistic adoration, the celibacy of clergy, and the role of Scripture in forming doctrine and practice. Cranmer clarified these Anglican reforms of doctrine and practice in the Prayer Book, the Book of Homilies, and what eventually became the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
As time passed and Anne Boleyn failed to carry a child to term, King
Henry grew tired of their marriage and convinced a reluctant Cranmer and
his fellow advisors to once again annul his marriage. Anne Boleyn was
executed following the annulment, and it is recorded that Cranmer was
the only man among the king’s staff who mourned her death.
Henry grew fond of a woman by the name of Jane Seymour, and in time,
they married. Queen Jane successfully conceived and gave birth to
Henry’s only son, Edward VI, but died less than two weeks later due to
postnatal complications. Following the king’s eventual death, Edward
succeeded his father at the young age of nine. Edward’s youth and
inexperience allowed the Anglican reformers to institute changes opposed
by the relatively moderate King Henry, thus ushering in an era of
vibrant, distinctly Protestant reform within the Church of England.
But when Edward turned 16, he grew ill, and it became clear that his reign would soon end. Following his death by tuberculosis, Catherine of Aragorn’s daughter, Mary, became queen, despite the desperate attempts of Archbishop Cranmer and Edward’s other advisors to avoid her enthronement. Mary was fiercely Roman Catholic, perhaps a quality learned from her mother following the annulment of her marriage to Henry. During Queen Mary’s reign, she sought to undo each and every reform that had occurred since the Church of England’s separation from Rome. She arrested Cranmer and executed many other bishops and clergy. She would be remembered following her death as “Bloody Mary” because of the many executions she ordered.
Now no longer the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer was arrested alongside Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and put on trial for treason and heresy. Though the three men were arrested simultaneously, the queen ordered that Cranmer’s trial be dragged out so that an example might be made of him.
Interrogated, isolated, and forced
to watch the execution of Latimer and
Ridley, Cranmer’s spirit became broken. Five times, he wrote a recantation–but four of those times, he tore the document to shreds before he could sign it, unable to consciously yield to the Roman Catholic authorities and repent of his Anglicanism. He was imprisoned for two years.
When he signed the final recantation, Cranmer was dragged to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford where he was forced to publicly proclaim his penitence. He was chained to the pulpit in the collegiate church, where the chains wore grooves into the wood that can still be viewed today. Cranmer read aloud from his recantation, profusely sweating and trembling. But when he reached the final paragraph, he veered from the script, stunning his captors. He began to proclaim his true beliefs, defending Anglicanism and the reforms he had devised, announcing his profound sorrow for writing words contrary to his heart. He declared the Pope, with his Roman doctrines, an antichrist, and vowed to cast his writing hand first into the fire as punishment for writing his now illegitimate recantation.
Cranmer was forcefully dragged out of the church and through the now enraged crowd that had gathered. He was stripped down to a mere white robe and tied to a stake. As the flames engulfed the kindling at his feet, he reached out with his right hand, fulfilling his promise, and allowed the flames to engulf his arm until the limb was black with charred flesh. He never once cried out in pain, but shouted only once: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God!”
According to legend, Cranmer’s heart was found among his ashes, entirely intact and completely unharmed.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer died that day, four hundred and sixty-one years ago today, a heretic to Roman Catholics and a martyr for the English Reformation, the Church of England, and Anglicanism itself. His death was immortalized in Edward Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and his legacy lives on today through the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Homilies, and the world-wide Anglican Communion–which, over eighty-five million members strong, is the third-largest Christian communion on Earth.
It was not very long after speaking the Goney that another homeward-bound whaleman, the Town-Ho,* was encountered. She was manned almost wholly by Polynesians. In the short gam that ensued she gave us strong news of Moby Dick. To some the general interest in the White Whale was now wildly heightened by a circumstance of the Town-Ho’s story, which seemed obscurely to involve with the whale a certain wondrous, inverted visitation of one of those so called judgments of God which at times are said to overtake some men. This latter circumstance, with its own particular accompaniments, forming what may be called the secret part of the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the ears of Captain Ahab or his mates. For that secret part of the story was unknown to the captain of the Town-Ho himself. It was the private property of three confederate white seamen of that ship, one of whom, it seems, communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of secrecy, but the following night Tashtego rambled in his sleep, and revealed so much of it in that way, that when he was wakened he could not well withhold the rest. Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing have on those seamen in the Pequod who came to the full knowledge of it, and by such a strange delicacy, to call it so, were they governed in this matter, that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never transpired abaft the Pequod’s main-mast. Interweaving in its proper place this darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting record.
*The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head, still used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.