Cranmer, Thomas

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Cranmer, Thomas

Thomas Cranmer (krăn´mər), 1489–1556, English churchman under Henry VIII; archbishop of Canterbury. A lecturer at Jesus College, Cambridge, he is said to have come to the attention of the king in 1529 by suggesting that Henry might further his efforts to achieve a divorce from Katharine of Aragón by collecting opinions in his favor from the universities. Cranmer went (1530) to Rome to argue the king's case and was (1532) an ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In 1533, Henry named him archbishop of Canterbury, and as soon as the appointment was confirmed by the pope, Cranmer proclaimed that Henry's marriage to Katharine was invalid. A few days later he crowned Anne Boleyn as Henry's queen. Completely subservient to the king's will, Cranmer declared Anne's marriage invalid in 1536. He promoted Henry's marriage (1540) to Anne of Cleves and the divorce from her, and was later (1542) one of the accusers of Catherine Howard. Cranmer was strongly influenced by the German Reformation. With his friend Thomas Cromwell, he endorsed the translation of the Bible into English and was influential in procuring a royal proclamation (1538) providing for a copy in every parish church. However, as long as Henry VIII lived, the archbishop could promote no significant doctrinal changes. The situation changed with the accession (1547) of the young Edward VI, during whose reign Cranmer shaped the doctrinal and liturgical transformation of the Church of England. He was responsible for much of the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) and compiled the revision of 1552, which contains the most famous examples of his sonorous prose, with the aid of prominent Continental reformers. His Forty-two Articles (1553), though never formally adopted, formed the basis of the Thirty-nine Articles (see creed5). Cranmer supported the claims of Lady Jane Grey after Edward's death. Upon the accession (1553) of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I, he was tried for treason, convicted of heresy, stripped of his preferments, and condemned. A few days before his death he recanted, but when asked to repeat the recantation at the stake, he refused and thrust the hand that had written it into the fire.

See biographies and studies by F. C. Hutchinson (1951, repr. 1966), T. Maynard (1956), J. G. Ridley (1962, repr. 1983), and D. MacCulloch (1996).

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