Thomas Cranmer Burnt at the Stake
Life for political advisers to Tudor monarchs was precarious, for religious advisors doubly so. Thomas Cranmer , Archbishop of Canterbury under both Henry VIII and Edward VI died a martyr's death, his last hours and the determination he showed in them deeply moving even for those of a different faith or none at all.
During Henry VIII 's reign Cranmer, undoubtedly of a reforming mind, was able to do little beyond establish the framework for the Church of England after the monarch's break with Rome. But when Edward VI came to the throne as a mere boy, and one it seems with a Protestant bent from early on, Cranmer was able to change church services from Latin to English; to introduce the Book of Common Prayer (largely written at his Lambeth Palace residence); and replace the altar with a far less grand communion table, among many other measures.
Cranmer supported Henry in his divorce from Catherine of Aragon ; he officiated at Henry's wedding with Anne Boleyn ; and on Edward's death he supported the accession of Lady Jane Grey . Thus when Mary came to the throne Cranmer underwent two trials: the first for treason before the Star Chamber in London ; the second in Oxford, for heresy, in a trial under papal jurisdiction. He was, of course, found guilty in both.
In Oxford Cranmer was held in Boccardo Prison, often denied the company of his fellow detainees. His resolve weakened after being found guilty, and after being forced to observe the burning of his friends Latimer and Ridley in October 1555, Ridley's end coming horrifically slowly, his agony long and unendurable. Cranmer recanted several times, accepting the authority of Rome, denying the validity of the reforms of Zwingli and Martin Luther. But Mary refused to accept these recantations as reasons for keeping Cranmer from the stake.
Thus on March 21 1556, knowing he was to burn that day, at his final service at the University Church Cranmer departed from the public recantation agreed beforehand with his captors. He told the congregation that he would burn the hand that had signed his previous recantations first to punish it; and he called the pope anti-Christ. Cranmer, rather than providing a symbol of defeated reform, by his courage and defiance became instead a martyr in that very cause of reform.
Cranmer was burned outside the city, a cross on the road marking the spot; but a rather grander memorial to him and his fellow martyrs can be seen in St Giles's Street in Oxford.
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