Cranmer, Thomas

views updated Jun 11 2018


CRANMER, THOMAS (14891556), archbishop of Canterbury (15331556), a principal figure in the reformation of the Church of England. Born of a gentry family in Nottinghamshire, Cranmer entered Jesus College, Cambridge, at the age of fourteen. After taking his B.A. (1511) and M.A. (1515), he became a fellow of the college. His marriage to a gentlewoman named Joan cost him the fellowship, but it was restored when Joan, with her baby, died in childbirth.

After his ordination (before 1520), he was appointed one of twelve university preachers and, on obtaining his B.D. (1521) and D.D. (1526), a university examiner in divinity. Cranmer kept aloof from other Cambridge scholars who met frequently to discuss Luther's writings. Instead, he privately tested these writings by his own independent study of the Bible and early church fathers.

Cranmer left Cambridge in 1529 to serve the cause of King Henry VIII's annulment of his marriage to Queen Catherine. During an embassy to Emperor Charles V in 1532 he became acquainted with several Lutheran leaders, among them Andreas Osiander at Nuremberg, whose niece Margaret he secretly married. She bore him a daughter and a son. Few were privy to this marriage until the next reign.

When Archbishop William Warham died in 1532, Henry decided that Cranmer would succeed him at Canterbury. The king was convinced that Cranmer would be dutiful not for any personal convenience, much less ambition, but from his sincere (and somewhat extreme) belief that scripture taught obedience to the divine right of kings and princes. This conviction explains many compromises and vacillations in Cranmer's life. Privately he would advise and admonish Henry and plead for mercy for the king's victims, but he would never openly disobey him.

In January 1533, Henry's secret marriage to Anne Boleyn, already pregnant, made the annulment issue urgent. Although Pope Clement VII suspected Henry's intentions, he consented to Cranmer's consecration, which took place on March 30. Both before and twice during the rite Cranmer read a protestation that his oath of obedience to the pope did not bind him if it was against the law of God, the laws and prerogatives of the Crown, or the reformation of the church.

Within a few weeks, Cranmer pronounced the marriage to Catherine null and that to Anne valid. In July the pope issued but did not publish excommunications of Henry, Anne, and Cranmer. Any hope of reconciliation ended when the Act of Supremacy (1534) declared the king and his successors "the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England."

Cranmer supported but did not initiate the major reforms of Henry's reign: the dissolution of all monastic and religious houses between 1536 and 1539 (carried out more because of the Crown's greed for their vast properties than for the sake of any principle) and the official authorization in 1539 of the English "Great Bible," for which Cranmer wrote a notable preface in 1540.

The stringent Act of Six Articles (1539) closed the door to any reforms in doctrine or practice. Cranmer spoke against it in the House of Lords, but he voted for it because the king willed it. By now Cranmer was commonly believed to be a Lutheran. In 1543 the privy council voted to arrest him as a heretic, but Henry intervened and saved him. Until Henry's death Cranmer worked quietly on projects of liturgical reform, but of these only the English Litany of 1544 was authorized.

Reformers dominated the privy council of King Edward VI (15471553), Henry's precocious young son, who was educated by Protestant tutors. Among the councillors committed to religious reform were the young king's uncle the duke of Somerset and Lord Protector, and Cranmer, his godfather. Cranmer soon published a Book of Homilies, one part to be read every Sunday, and translated a Lutheran catechism by Justus Jonas. Clerical celibacy was abolished. Communion including both bread and wine was ordered, for which Cranmer prepared The Order of the Communion (1548), a vernacular devotion for the people's Communion at Mass.

At Pentecost 1549 The Book of Common Prayer came into use under an act of uniformity. The book's reforming principles were derived from Lutheran sources; but its Catholic heritage was preserved by Cranmer's skillful adaptation and translation of liturgical forms and prayers from Latin service books. The daily offices were reduced to two, matins and evensong, with one chapter from both the Old and New Testaments read at each. The Holy Communion eliminated all sacrificial references except "praise and thanksgiving" and forbade any elevation of the consecrated elements. The prayer book was not popular, however, with either conservatives or radical reformers.

After Somerset's fall from power, the duke of Northumberland became Lord Protector. He was more interested in the church properties he acquired than in the radical reforms he promoted. In 1550 Cranmer published The Form and Manner for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons, based on the Latin Pontifical and a work of Martin Bucer, and also his principal theological work, A Defence of the True and Catholike Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Bloud of Our Saviour Christ.

A revised prayer book was issued in 1552 under an act of uniformity. Most of the old vestments and ceremonies were abolished, and the Communion service was rearranged and conformed to the Swiss reformers' doctrine. All images, crosses, rood screens, and other ornaments were smashed, removed, or sold; and a wooden "holy Table" replaced all altars.

While Edward lay dying, Northumberland plotted to place his cousin Lady Jane Grey (granddaughter of King Henry VII) on the throne. Cranmer strongly opposed this until Edward commanded him to submit. But the coup was short-lived. Mary I, the elder daughter of Henry VIII, was acclaimed queen. Many reformers fled to the continent, and Cranmer sent his family back to Germany.

An ardent Roman Catholic, Mary persuaded Parliament to revoke all reforms of Edward's reign. Cranmer was arrested, tried, and condemned as a traitor; but Mary had other plans. When Cardinal Reginald Pole, papal legate and archbishop-designate of Canterbury, arrived in 1554, he absolved the kingdom and restored papal authority. The burning of heretics then began.

Under pressure, Cranmer wrote several recantations, but to no avail. On the day of his degradation and burning, March 21, 1556, he publicly recanted all his recantations, hastened to the stake, thrust his fist into the fire crying "This hand has offended," and soon collapsed. His monument lives in The Book of Common Prayer, often amended and enriched, which is used in the worship of all churches of the Anglican communion.


The principal collections of Cranmer's writings can be found in The Remains of Thomas Cranmer, D. D., Archbishop of Canterbury, 4 vols., edited by Henry Jenkyns (Oxford, 1833), and the two volumes edited by John Edmund Cox for the Parker Society, Writings and Disputations of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr, 1556, Relative to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (Cambridge, U.K., 1844) and Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr, 1556 (Cambridge, U.K., 1846).

Many other sources and later assessments of Cranmer are evaluated in the biography by Jasper Ridley, Thomas Cranmer (Oxford, 1962), with full bibliography and index of names. On the controversies over Cranmer's doctrine of the Eucharist, with much bibliographical detail, see Peter Brooks's Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist: An Essay in Historical Development (London, 1965). A learned, fair, and readable account of the background of Cranmer's work can be found in W. K. Jordan's Edward VI: The Young King (Cambridge, Mass., 1968) and Edward VI: The Threshold of Power (Cambridge, Mass., 1970).

Massey H. Shepherd, Jr. (1987)

Cranmer, Thomas

views updated May 21 2018


Archbishop of Canterbury, chief architect of the Book of Common Prayer, and Protestant martyr; b. Aslockton, Notting hamshire, England, July 2, 1489; d. Oxford, March 2l, 1556. His family, of Norman origin, had moved from Lincolnshire 60 years before his birth. His father was the squire of Aslockton. Thomas was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow, was ordained (before July 1520, when he was already a university preacher), and proceeded to the B.D. (1521) and D.D. (1526) degrees. His studies had included Erasmus, the Schoolmen, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He took no part in the Lutheran controversy at Cambridge but, characteristically, devoted himself to the study of Scripture and the Fathers to learn what they had to say on the matters in dispute. A chance meeting at Waltham, Essex, in 1529, with his old friends Stephen gardiner and Edward Fox, in which Cranmer suggested forsaking the ecclesiastical courts and referring the matter of the king's divorce to qualified theologians in the universities, led to his rapid promotion. He was sent to Italy to attend the coronation of Charles V and was made ambassador at the emperor's court at Regensburg (1532). In Germany he encountered Lutheranism at first hand. He secretly married Margaret (August 1532), niece of the wife of Andreas osiander, the German Lutheran theologian. He was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster, March 30, 1533, Clement VII having issued the necessary bulls and sent the pallium. Before his consecration he made a declaration that he did not intend any oath to the pope to be binding if it was against the laws of God, of the king, or of the realm of England.

"All Christian princes have committed unto them immediately of God the whole cure of all their subjects, as well concerning the administration of God's word for the cure of souls, as concerning the ministration of things

political and civil governance. And in both these ministrations they must have sundry ministers under them, to supply that which is appointed to their several offices." Thus wrote Cranmer in 1540, and so provided a key to his whole career as archbishop. As papal legate, in 1533 he annulled Catherine's marriage with Henry as contrary to the law of God and therefore invalid, and crowned Anne Boleyn. But in 1535 he pronounced her marriage invalid in turn. He was severe with Anabaptists and rebels, castigating the men of Devon in 1549 with the words, "Is this the fashion of subjects to speak unto their Prince, 'We will have'?" When the duty of obedience to the prince clashed with his conscience and the law of God (as he understood it), he withstood Edward VI's council over the spoliation of episcopal revenues and the publication of the "Black Rubric" to the 1552 Prayer Book, and finally went to the stake for his beliefs under Queen mary tudor.

Cranmer took a leading part in the production of the "Bishops Book" (1537) and the "King's Book" (1543). He strongly supported the translation of the Bible into English; he himself translated the Litany (1544) and began the revision of the Breviary Offices. He was chiefly responsible for bringing to England the foreign reformers Martin bucer, peter martyr vermigli, and Jan laski (a lasco). The 1549 book of common prayer was mainly his work, but there is no authentic record of those who compiled the second Prayer Book (1552). In common with all the English Reformers, Cranmer accepted the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith, but he was never a Lutheran or a Zwinglian in his doctrine of the Eucharist. In 1538 he still held the official Roman doctrine, but in 1546 he ceased to believe in transubstantiation and was persuaded by Nicholas ridley to embrace the doctrine taught by the monk ratramnus of corbie of Christ's spiritual, real presence, without any destruction of the substance of the bread and wine. At his final examination before James Brooks, Bishop of Gloucester (155460), in September 1555, Richard Martin accused him of having "taught in this high sacrament of the altar three contrary doctrines," to which Cranmer replied, "Nay, I taught but two contrary doctrines in the same," viz, transubstantiation and the doctrine that he had taken from Ratramus in 1546 and that was enshrined in his Prayer Book of 1549.

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 lit, 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 Protestanism, 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.

Bibliography: Works. Remains of Thomas Cranmer, ed. h. j. jenkyns, 4 v. (Oxford 1833). The Works of Thomas Cranmer, ed. j. e. cox, 2 v. (Parker Society Pub. 1516; Cambridge, England 184446). Literature. j. ridley, Thomas Cranmer (Oxford 1962), bibliog. c. ratcliff, "The Liturgical Work of Archbishop Cranmer," The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 7 (1956) 189203. c.w. dugmore, The Mass and the English Reformers (New York 1958); "The First Ten Years, 154959," The English Prayer Book 15491662 (London 1963) 630. l. loevenbruck, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 3.2:202631. p. hughes, The Reformation in England, 3 v. in 1 (5th, rev. ed. New York 1963) v. 1 and 2. l. b. smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics, 15361558 (Princeton 1953). f. e. hutchinson, Cranmer and the English Reformation (New York 1951). m. schmidt, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:187879. p. n. brooks, Cranmer in Context (Minneapolis 1989). m. johnson, ed. Thomas Cranmer (1990). d. loades Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation (Gwynedd 1991). d. maculloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven 1996).

[c. w. dugmore]

Thomas Cranmer

views updated Jun 27 2018

Thomas Cranmer

The English ecclesiastic Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury.

Thomas Cranmer was born in Aslacton, Nottinghamshire, on July 2, 1489, the son of a village squire. He went to Cambridge University at the age of 14; though of indifferent scholarship, he received a bachelor's degree in 1511 and a master's degree in 1514. He also received a fellowship at Jesus College and seemed well on the way to an ecclesiastical career when, at 25, he abandoned his fellowship and married Black Joan of the Dolphin Inn at Cambridge. Very little is known of this girl, who died, as did his child by her, within a year of their marriage. Cranmer then returned to his former way of life. His fellowship was restored, and by 1520 he had been ordained a priest and become a university preacher. Five years later he received the degree of doctor of divinity.

A chance meeting in August 1529 with two members of King Henry VIII's administration led to Cranmer's employment in the royal service; he worked toward obtaining the annulment of Henry's marriage with Catherine of Aragon. In January 1532 he was sent as ambassador to the court of Emperor Charles V at Ratisbon and at Nuremberg. At the latter town he made two acquisitions: Lutheran sympathies, if not convictions, and a young German wife, Margaret, a Lutheran and a niece of the prominent Lutheran scholar Andreas Osiander.

Protestant Archbishop

Within a year of his appointment as ambassador, Cranmer was recalled and nominated for the office of archbishop of Canterbury. He knew that this appointment was given him in return for his future annulment of the King's marriage. The bulls of his appointment to the See of Canterbury were obtained, under compulsion and with great speed, from Pope Clement VII by March 1533, and Cranmer was consecrated archbishop on March 30. On May 23 he concluded the trial of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon by declaring the marriage to have been invalid. On May 28 Cranmer publicly adjudged Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn in the previous January to have been lawful; and on June 1, Whitsunday, he anointed and crowned her as queen of England in Westminster Abbey.

For the rest of his life Cranmer was a major instrument in establishing royal supremacy in spiritual matters as in temporal affairs and thus destroying the independence of the English Church. In 1536 he presided over a commission of bishops and divines which met at Lambeth Palace, his London home. This commission published the Ten Articles, a statement of the beliefs of the Henrician Church, which it was hoped could be accepted by Lutherans as well as Catholics.

On May 15, 1536, Anne Boleyn was condemned to death for treason by reason of her adultery. Her execution was postponed for 2 days, however, in order that Cranmer might declare her marriage to Henry invalid and thus bastardize their daughter, Elizabeth. On the day Anne died, Cranmer granted Henry a dispensation to marry Jane Seymour despite their consanguinity.

Disputes and negotiations over religious beliefs and practices filled these years. In 1539 Cranmer opposed the Act of the Six Articles; he believed the act was too Catholic despite the fact that Henry VIII himself had drawn up the final text. He helped, however, to put together the religious work known as the King's Book, although much of its content was contrary to his beliefs. His overwhelming Erastianism stifled his opposition to this book and allowed him to approve its use in his diocese.

Liturgical Plans

In the last years of Henry's reign Cranmer's beliefs gradually became more Protestant, and his enemies at court sought to have him deposed, if not condemned, for heresy. Nevertheless, Henry, apparently well aware of all this, protected him and allowed him to develop the liturgical plans that were to bear such famous fruit. Cranmer published the English Litany in 1544 and the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549 during the reign of King Edward VI. A more Protestant version of the latter work, the Second Book of Common Prayer, was issued in 1552, and it proved to be the foundation of, and the most lasting formative influence in, theChurch of England. A. G. Dickens (1964) calls it "a devotional asset ranking second after the English Bible," and it exerted a most powerful influence on the development of the English language. Finally came the Forty-two Articles of Religion, which received royal approval a month before Edward's death in 1553. Cranmer and others had worked on these articles for many years, and they were the prototypes of the famous Thirty-nine Articles established in Queen Elizabeth's reign.

With the accession of Queen Mary, there remained for Cranmer, who had so injured her and her mother and had been so prominent in promoting the destruction of the Catholic Church, only imprisonment and death for heresy. Despite his recantations of his heretical views he vigorously affirmed his Protestantism as he was burned at the stake on March 21, 1556.

Further Reading

A thorough biography is Jasper Ridley, Thomas Cranmer (1962). See also Francis E. Hutchinson, Cranmer and the English Reformation (1951), and Theodore Maynard, The Life of Thomas Cranmer (1956). For background material A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (1964; rev. ed. 1967), and J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (1968), are useful.

Additional Sources

Gilpin, William, The life of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, London: Printed for R. Blamire …, 1784.

MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cranmer: a life, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

Thomas Cranmer: churchman and scholar, New York: Boydell Press, 1993. □

Cranmer, Thomas

views updated May 17 2018

Cranmer, Thomas (1489–1556). Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer played a greater role than any other single churchman in shaping the Church of England, and above all its liturgy. However, his diffidence in theological controversy has denied him the status of a founding reformer. He was born to a gentry family in Nottinghamshire and studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow and took orders, becoming a DD in 1526. He rose to sudden prominence in 1529 on the strength of his suggestion that the universities of Europe be asked to provide opinions on the legitimacy of Henry VIII's first marriage. On an embassy to Germany in 1532 he met and married the niece of the Lutheran church leader of Nuremberg, Andreas Osiander, whom he later brought secretly back to England. When Archbishop William Warham died in August of that year Cranmer was proposed as his successor; despite the stalled divorce negotiations Clement VII provided the papal documents for his consecration early in 1533. Cranmer then presided over the court which annulled Henry and Catherine's marriage. He was also used, later on, to decree the nullity of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn and to celebrate, and end, the marriage to Anne of Cleves.

During c.1535–8 it is hard to separate Cranmer's role from that of Thomas Cromwell, or from some other bishops such as Hugh Latimer, in the shaping of religious policy and documents such as the ‘Bishops’ Book' of 1537. He was clearly opposed to the Act of Six Articles in 1539 (which forced him to send his wife away) but, unlike Latimer, did not resign his see in protest. After Cromwell's death he emerged as one of the leading reform-minded privy counsellors. Henry VIII's constant support ensured his survival in the ‘Prebendaries' plot’ against him at Canterbury in 1543, and gave him the authority to promote his own English Litany and King's Prymer while suppressing more conservative liturgical projects.

On the accession of Edward VI, Cranmer issued definitively protestant works, above all the first Book of Homilies, a set of official model sermons, which were to be amplified and reissued under Elizabeth. In contrast, his first version of the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 was painfully conservative, to the glee of catholic opponents and the embarrassment of Cranmer's allies. It nevertheless provoked the western rebellion of that year. In 1549 Cranmer welcomed a galaxy of German and Italian protestant stars into England as a refuge from Charles V's campaign against Lutheranism. They helped guide Cranmer into formulating his most explicitly anti-catholic liturgical document, the second version of the Book of Common Prayer (1552) and the Forty-Two Articles of Religion (1553), the basis for the Prayer Book of 1559 and the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 respectively.

Cranmer, like most leading figures in Edward's reign, acquiesced uneasily in the device to divert the succession to Jane Grey, but offered no resistance to Mary I's accession despite her known catholicism. He and other protestant bishops regarded her coming as a divine test or punishment, and disobeyed passively. An attainder for treason was set aside in favour of a show-disputation at Oxford in April 1554, in which Cranmer defended himself less vigorously than Nicholas Ridley. He was kept in prison and eventually persuaded to sign recantations in which he accepted key catholic doctrines. He later withdrew these and was burned for heresy on 21 March 1556.

Cranmer's defining quality seems not to have been timidity (the theme of some accusations by historians) but a curiously biddable humility, intense loyalty to the crown, and a preference for very gradual change. The last two might in other circumstances have made a good Lutheran, but the first was most unusual for any 16th-cent. churchman. He wrote relatively little and ranks much less highly as a theologian than many of those he received in England in 1549–53. However, his exceptional gift for framing a poetic liturgical language, which combined the Latinate with the everyday, created a Prayer Book which was appreciated more and more in the centuries which followed.

Euan Cameron

Cranmer, Thomas

views updated May 11 2018

Cranmer, Thomas (1489–1556). Archbishop of Canterbury, Protestant reformer, scholar, and liturgist. Cranmer played a crucial part in the Henrician Reformation in England and in shaping the English catechism, prayer books and Articles (see THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES). A fellowship at Jesus College, Cambridge, and ordination allowed him to study for his doctorate in Divinity (1526) and to evaluate the work of Biblical scholars, including Fisher, Luther, and both Catholic and other Reformers. Asked by Henry VIII to put his views on the King's proposed divorce into book-form, he was subsequently used by the king to argue for the divorce at Bologna, Rome, and eventually Ratisbon and Nuremberg. There he encountered German Lutherans, and also met and married Margaret, the niece of Andreas Osiander (a Reformation theologian) in 1532. This unusual and uncanonical step was thrown into high relief when he was summoned from these Lutheran circles to become archbishop of Canterbury in 1533.

His belief in the scriptural warrant for the authority of the prince and not the pope as head of the Church guaranteed a measure of protection from Henry VIII and Edward VI, to whom he acted as spiritual guide and tutor. This in turn enabled Cranmer to advance some reformed views, especially on the desirability of vernacular scriptures, the abolition of superfluous saints' days, and the translation of the liturgy and catechism into English. The limits of his loyalty to the Crown were tested by the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, who required his allegiance to the crown to be transferred to the papacy. He wavered and recanted at first, but finally came to the view that loyalty to the monarch had to be subordinate to loyalty to the word of God. He was accordingly burnt as a heretic on 21 Mar. 1556.

Cranmer, Thomas

views updated Jun 27 2018

Cranmer, Thomas (1489–1556) English prelate and religious reformer. Henry VIII appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. Cranmer secured the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, despite opposition from the Pope. A friend of as Cromwell, Cranmer promoted the introduction of Protestantism into England and compiled the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. Following the accession of the Roman Catholic Mary I in 1553, Cranmer's reforms were halted. He was burned at the stake.

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