Burned at the Stake: Dying for Religion

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Portrait of Thomas Cranmer By Gerlach Flicke (National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1556, the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake.

Here are some things you may not have known about Cranmer and his time as archbishop.

Cranmer was born in 1489 and educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1520.

In 1532, Henry VIII appointed Cranmer ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. The job required Cranmer to follow the emperor throughout his realm attempting to convince the emperor to support the annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who was the emperor’s aunt. While on this journey across Europe, Cranmer came into contact with Lutherans. He was unable to convince Charles V to support the annulment. Later that year, at the recommendation of the family of Anne Boleyn, Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. His first order of business was determining how to allow the king to end his marriage to Catherine, so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

His first act was to pronounce the marriage against the law of God. To further gild the lily, he threatened Henry with excommunication if he stayed with the woman he wanted no part of. Five days later Cranmer validated the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn, and another three days later crowned Anne as queen. These actions led Pope Clement VII to excommunicate Henry and his advisers.

Along with vicegerent Thomas Cromwell, Cranmer was in charge of writing the Ten Articles, which was the first attempt at defining the tenets of the new church. The articles ended up being an exercise in compromise as both conservatives and reformers were not happy with the final product. A year later he was part of the group that wrote “The Institution of a Christian Man,” which was an extension of the Ten Articles.

Over the course of the next several years, reformers and conservatives went in and out of favor. In 1543, Cranmer came under attack before the Privy Council. However, Cranmer retained the trust of the king and his accuser was executed. A year later, Cranmer wrote the basis of what would go on to be known as “The Book of Common Prayer,” which is still in use today in Anglican Churches.

He was among the executors of Henry’s will which saw Edward Seymour named Lord Protector and Edward VI ascend to the throne at the age of nine.

Under Edward, England made a clean break from the Catholic Church, abolishing clerical celibacy and requiring services to be conducted in English. Just before Edward died of tuberculosis at the age of 15, he named his protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as his heir over his half-sisters Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, who remained Catholic, and Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Jane ruled for 13 days before Mary came to the throne and reversed all of the protestant reforms.

This, obviously, was not good news for Thomas Cranmer. He was accused of allowing mass in Canterbury Cathedral, in an attempt to curry favor with the new monarch. He responded by vehemently denying this, saying, “ all the doctrine and religion, by your said sovereign lord king Edward VI is more pure and according to God’s word, than any that has been used in England these thousand years.” This was viewed as seditious.

Cranmer spent more than two years in prison before being executed in Oxford.

Mary reigned two more years, before dying childless of influenza. Elizabeth inherited the throne and reinstated the prior protestant reforms.

Our question: Who succeeded Elizabeth as monarch?

Today is International Day of Forests, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, International Color Day and World Down Syndrome Day.

It’s World Poetry Day, World Puppetry Day and National Teenager Day.

It’s the birthday of Mexican president Benito Juarez, musician Solomon Burke, and actor Gary Oldman.

Because our main topic happened before 1960, we’ll pick a random year to feature and it is … 1968.

This week in 1968, the top song in the U.S. was “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding.

The No. 1 movie was “Stay Away, Joe,” while the novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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