On this day in 1556 – Archbishop Cranmer was burned at the stake

On 21st March 1556 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake for treason and being a heretic on orders of Queen Mary I.

Cranmer’s problems began on the death of King Edward VI in 1553. In the months leading up to his death the council were working hard to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne and secure the Reformation. Edward VI’s will was signed on 17th June 1553 and contradicted the Third Act of Succession which would see the Catholic Mary placed on the throne.

Upon Edward’s death Lady Jane Grey took the throne for a mere nine days before Mary was proclaimed the true queen of England. Many supporters of Lady Jane were imprisoned but for now Cranmer was safe and so he led the funeral for the late King. Cranmer advised many other Reformers to flee England and Mary’s persecution of any Protestants.

Cranmer was ordered to stand in front of the council on 14th September 1553 where he was sent straight to the Tower of London to join others who had been arrested. On 13th November 1553 Cranmer and four others stood on trial and found guilty of treason, they were all condemned to death. However, death would not come quickly for Cranmer as on 8th March 1554 the Privy Council Cranmer and others were transferred to an Oxford prison to awaiting another trial on the grounds on heresy. The trial finally began over a year later on 12th September 1555 where the final judgement fell to the Pope and Rome. Although Cranmer denied all the charges he faced and was taken to the Tower to await his fate whilst his co-accused was instantly executed.

Cranmer was stripped of his archbishopric by Rome as his punishment. Cranmer began to recant and was sent to the Dean of Christ Church. Free from prison Cranmer found himself within an academic community and was able to debate freely. He recognised the Pope as the head of church and submitted himself to the rule of Queen Mary I. After just two months of freedom Cranmer was sent back to Oxford and on 24th February a writ was issued to the mayor of Oxford to set the date for Cranmer’s execution on 7th March. Just two days later Cranmer recanted again, for a fifth time, where he repudiated all Lutheran theology and fully accepted Catholic theology and Papal supremacy. Under normal circumstances Cranmer would have been absolved and pardoned, however Mary I was unwilling to absolve Cranmer and set about making an example of him.

Cranmer was informed he could make one final recantation at a service at the University Church, Oxford. He never got to say it in public as it was published after his death. This was because at the service he held he opened with a prayer and exhortation to obey the king and queen but then went with a sermon that was not his prepared recantation. Cranmer renounced his previous recantations and that he would be punished by being burnt. He also refused Papal supremacy. Cranmer was dragged from the pulpit and taken straight to be burnt.

Cranmer’s vision for a religion free from Rome and the Pope was finally recognised after his death with the ascension of Elizabeth I when she restored the Church of England and became independent from Rome.

Why did Mary I make such a public exhibition of Cranmer was it to exert her authority on the Protestant religion or did she simply have a personal vendetta against Cranmer for being the man responsible for declaring her parent’s marriage null and void and therefore making her illegitimate?

Cranmer burnt at the stake

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