On this day in 1555 – Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer stood trial

On 12th September 1555 the trial of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer began, he was charged with two offences – repudiating papal authority and denying transubstantiation. His trial was held in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford.

At the east of the church a ten foot scaffold was built where James Brooks, bishop of Gloucester and representative of the Pope sat and below him sat Dr Martin and Dr Storey who were acting as Queen Mary I’s commissioners.

Archbishop Cranmer was then brought into the make shift courtroom he was described by John Foxe as being ‘clothed in a fair black gown, with his hood on both shoulders, such as doctors of divinity in the university use to wear and in his hand a white staff.’

Cranmers arrest Foxes book of martyrsCranmer’s arrest as shown in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

Cranmer was called forward by one of the commissioners who called ‘Thomas archbishop of Canterbury! Appear here, and make answer to that shall be laid to thy charge; that is to say, for blasphemy, incontinency and heresy; and make answer to the bishop of Gloucester, representing the pope’s person.’ Cranmer proceeded to the dock where he bowed to Dr Martin and Dr Storey but not the bishop of Gloucester. Upon questioning Cramer revealed ‘that he had one taken a solemn oath, never to consent to the admitting of the bishop of Rome’s authority into this realm of England again; that he had done it advisedly and meant by God’s grace to keep it; and therefore would commit nothing else by sign or token which might argue his consent to the receiving of the same; and so he desired the said bishop to judge of him.’

Cranmer went on to say that he did not recognise the court he spoke;

“My lord, I do not acknowledge this session of yours, nor yet you, my mislawful judge; neither would I have appeared this day before you, but that I was brought hither as a prisoner. And therefore I openly here renounce you as my judge, protesting that my meaning is not to make any answer, as in a lawful judgment, but only for that I am bound in conscience to answer every man of that hope which I have in Jesus Christ, by the counsel of St. Peter; and lest by my silence many of those who are weak, here present, might be offended. And so I desire that my answers may be accepted as extra judicialia.”

After Cranmer spoke his mind regarding the authenticity of the court he knelt and recited the Lord’s Prayer after his prayer Dr Martin asked Cranmer who he believed was in charge of the Church of England. Cranmer responded ‘Christ is head of this member, as he is of the whole body of the universal church’. When pushed further regarding the appointment of King Henry VIII as the head of the church Cranmer elaborated further by saying ‘Yea, of all the people of England, as well ecclesiastical as temporal… for Christ only is the head of his church, and of the faith and religion of the same. The king is head and governor of his people, which are the visible church’.

With Cranmer had been able to speak the commission ordered him to appear at Rome to answer to the Pope and returned to his cell. The commission never took the Archbishop to Rome but on 4th December the Pope stripped Cranmer of his office and gave the relevant authorities to pass sentence on him. With Cranmer being told of the Popes decision he began to recant and by February 1556 he had recanted four times and recognised the Pope as the head of the church.

Cranmer’s execution date was set for 7th March 1556 which prompted him to fully submit to the Catholic Church and should have been enough for Cranmer to be pardoned however, his execution was instead just postponed for 21st March 1556. You can read more about Cranmer’s execution here: https://thetudorchronicles.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/on-this-day-in-1556-archbishop-cranmer-was-burned-at-the-stake/

Cranmer burnt at the stakeAn artist depicting Thomas Cranmer’s execution

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