Thomas Cranmer

1489-1556. Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533. Born in Nottinghamshire, he was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge and became a fellow there. He was influenced by humanist and Lutheran opinions, and became strongly antipapalist. In 1529 Henry VIII heard Cranmer had suggested consulting the theologians at the universities on his “divorce,” and employed him for this purpose as an ambassador in Europe. While in Germany in 1532 Cranmer married Margaret, niece of the Lutheran Reformer Osiander.* On the death of Warham he was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury with papal approval. He pronounced Katherine of Aragon's marriage null and void in the same year. In the years that followed Cranmer was able to bring about a moderate doctrinal reform, mirrored in the Ten Articles* and the Bishops' Book.* He supported Thomas Cromwell in securing an official English translation of the Bible, for which he wrote a preface. While not directly involved in the dissolution of the monasteries, he approved of it, but protested against the financial abuse involved.

A Catholic reaction which led to the fall of Cromwell was opposed by Cranmer with great courage. In the last years of Henry's reign and under his protection, Cranmer began the task of liturgical revision. In 1544 he produced the first of his vernacular services, the English litany. From 1547 onward under Edward VI he had a greater freedom to reform the liturgy.

In 1549 the Communion service of his first Book of Common Prayer* embodied his recently adopted receptionist view in the framework of the Latin Mass. The reactions of English Catholics like Gardiner and of continental Protestants such as Bucer* and Martyr were the occasion for producing a second Book of Common Prayer in 1552. The Communion service in this broke away from the Latin Mass entirely. The climax of the service was now the receiving of the bread and wine, while kneeling around a table. Cranmer defended his new understanding of the Eucharist in his major theological work, The True and Catholic Doctrine of the Lord's Supper. He published a book of Homilies, a confession of faith in forty-two articles, and a revision of canon law, Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum. He fought a losing battle against the increasing inroads on the finances of the church made in the name of reform. He was involved in the plot to make Lady Jane Grey queen only after strong persuasion from the dying Edward VI.

When Mary came to the throne in 1553, Cranmer was condemned to death for treason, but the sentence was not carried out. Under the renewed heresy laws of 1555 he was tried at Oxford and was convicted and degraded. He was forced to watch the burning of Latimer* and Ridley.* After much pressure he signed a number of recantations through fear of suffering and through loyalty to the royal supremacy. On the eve of his execution his courage returned, and he went to the stake on 21 March 1556, denying his recantations and suffering for his faith.

C.H. Smyth, Cranmer and the Reformation Under Edward VI (1926); T.M. Parker, The English Reformation to 1558 (1950); J. Ridley, Thomas Cranmer (1962); G.E. Duffield (ed.), The Work of Thomas Cranmer (1964).