A biography of the powerful Protestant martyr and author of the Book of Common Prayer
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
"And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished."
Cranmer was an enthusiastic scholar, and he found himself in sympathy with the continental movement toward church reform that emphasized the importance of both the Bible and secular authority over papal authority.
Cranmer may have been content to live out his life of study at Cambridge, but the personal life of King Henry VIII was about to bring this obscure churchman to international prominence. When Henry's divorce proceedings against Katherine of Aragon hit legal snags, chance brought Cranmer to Henry's notice.
When an outbreak of the "sweating sickness" struck Cambridge in the summer of 1529, Cranmer left the town to stay in Waltham, Essex. There he met two of Henry's chief advisors, Edward Fox and Stephen Gardiner, who were impressed by his theological arguments in favour of the king's divorce. They presented Cranmer to the king, who immediately had Cranmer write a theological defense of his position, arguing that the Henry's marriage with the widow of his deceased brother was not legal.
Cranmer defended this treatise before theologians at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in the process earning the gratitude of Henry and the enmity of Katherine's supporters, including her daughter, Mary. Thereafter Henry employed Cranmer on several embassies abroad, first to the Pope, and later to make surreptitious contact with Protestant leaders in Europe.
In the meantime Cranmer supported, at least in public, Henry's numerous marital maneuvers. In his role as Archbishop of Canterbury he officially dissolved Henry's marriage with Katherine of Aragon, and later helped preside over the trial of Anne Boleyne, the divorce from Anne of Cleves, and Catherine Howard's trial and execution. In these proceedings Cranmer showed his pliability; he seemed unable to deny Henry any whim.
Though to modern ears these views seem sensible, or at least worthy of reasoned consideration, at the time they were nothing short of revolutionary. Cranmer was castigated by Catholics and occasionally by zealous Protestant reformers who claimed he was not revolutionary enough!
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