Thomas Cranmer

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Christian History Magazine Report

Christian History Magazine Report


One of the few men in Henry VIII's court to mourn Cromwell's passing was Thomas Cranmer, who became England's first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer had enjoyed the support of the Boleyn family. Yet, after Anne Boleyn's fall in 1536, Cranmer remained one of Henry's favorite clerics. Following the king's death in 1547, Cranmer directed the creation of a truly Protestant English Church during the reign of the boy-king Edward VI (1547-1553). He even wrote several versions of The Book of Common Prayer (Diarmaid, 1996).


Persecution of Protestants

Following Edward's death and the accession of the Catholic Mary I, Cranmer was charged with treason and deprived of his office. After he was accused of heresy, Mary's government tricked Cranmer into believing that if he recanted his Protestant beliefs his life would be spared. When he realized that he was to be burned at the stake anyway, he went to his death a true Protestant martyr, thrusting the hand (see below) that had signed his recantation in the fire first before the flames engulfed his body.

In the course of Cranmer's trial and following his official degradation, he signed a total of six recantations. These did not save him from the stake, and on March 21, he was executed at Oxford. While the fire was being lighted, Cranmer denounced his recantations and placed his hand in the fire first to demonstrate his sorrow for having denied his Protestant faith. His dramatic execution was eventually to elevate him to the status of a martyr for English Protestantism and with the accession of Elizabeth, I in 1559 the restoration of his prayer book enshrined his theology as the dominant teaching of the English Church.

In his magnificent gesture “It is more wonderful that he held his hand in the fire”, ...
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