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Thomas Cranmer

1489 - 1556

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 to 1555, was a leading Protestant Reformer whose success seems in large part attributable to his vision for gradual reform and ability to make compromises between the more radical Reformers and conservative clergy. He was born on 2 July 1489 in Nottinghamshire to a family of the gentry, and sent to Cambridge to prepare for ordination. He received a Doctor of Divinity in 1526. Cranmer’s adoption of Reformed doctrines came slowly over the course of his career as he travelled Europe and corresponded with Contintental Reformers. King Henry VIII employed his service to obtain an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and Cranmer’s loyalty to Henry resulted in an appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. During the reigns of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI, Cranmer effected more and more reform in the English church. The Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles both originate from him. When Mary Tudor ascended the throne in 1553, Cranmer’s success and security were dissolved. He was imprisoned along with Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, but unlike them, he succumbed to pressure and recanted his doctrines, hoping to avoid the death sentence. Mary, however, was set on making him an example anyway. He was directed to give a final recantation before his death, but instead, he used the opportunity to recant his recantation, again publicly confessing the doctrines of grace and repudiating the papacy and his own earlier apostasy. He was burnt at the stake on that day, 21 March 1556, famously holding his right hand, with which he had signed the documents of his recantations, to the fire first, saying, ‘that unworthy hand’.

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