Me and Thomas Cranmer

Posted By on March 21, 2016

Thomas_Cranmer_by_Gerlach_FlickeIf you have been following this website for a while, you will have gathered that I am a practising Christian. My faith is real and true, but it’s far from perfect. I doubt, I question, I rant and I rave, and I often wonder when I’m writing about martyrs of the 16th century what I would have done if my faith had been challenged or if my very life depended on my faith – could I be a martyr?

I look at Anne Askew. There was a woman who was racked at the Tower of London so badly that she had to be carried to the stake for her execution. She was steadfast. She stuck to her faith and refused to name names even though her bones were popping out of their joints. She is so admirable – what a woman! I’d like to think that I could be that strong, that I could stick to my faith no matter what, but to be very honest I think I would be begging for mercy and giving my torturers anything they wanted. I like to think I’m strong, but I know I’m weak, and that’s why it’s not Anne Askew who gives me hope, it’s people like Thomas Cranmer and the Apostle Peter.

As Beth von Staats points out in her article “Thomas Cranmer: Were his recantations of faith driven by Stockholm Syndrome?”, Cranmer “has a tainted and complicated legacy”. He was an incredible man. He was a theologian and reformer who did so much to further the cause of reform in Henry VIII’s reign but “he didn’t lead the charge” and in Mary I’s reign he recanted his Protestant faith no less than five times in an effort to save his life. Beth von Staats examines his last days in her excellent article and offers a very plausible reason for his behaviour- click here to read it now (it’s in the sample of the November 2014 issue) – but every year I read comments accusing him of being a coward. Perhaps he was a coward, perhaps he can’t be compared to Anne Askew. I’m glad that some people feel able to judge him from their ivory towers and I am in true awe of those who know for sure that they could suffer for their faith. Being burned at the stake was an awful way to go and if the wood was green or piled too high then the suffering could go on for many hours. So, for me Cranmer is a glimmer of hope. Here was a man who recanted five times but then, at the last minute, when he was supposed to recant a sixth and final time, he defied Mary I and renounced his previous recantations:

“And now I come to the great thing which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth, which now here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be; and that is, all such bills or papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire, it shall first be burned.

And as for the Pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy, and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.

And as for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester, which my book teacheth so true a doctrine of the sacrament, that it shall stand in the last day before the judgment of God, where the papistical doctrines contrary thereto shall be ashamed to show their face.”

As he was burned at the stake in Oxford on 21st March 1556 he stretched out his right hand, the hand that had written the recantations, and “held it unshrinkingly in the fire till it was burnt to a cinder, even before his body was injured, frequently exclaiming, “This unworthy right hand!””, and, as John Foxe describes, “He closed a life of high sublunary elevation, of constant uneasiness, and of glorious martyrdom.” Whatever his faults and his sins, that day he died safe and secure in the knowledge that he was justified by faith alone.

Cranmer reminds me of Peter, that not-so-perfect apostle who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant and who, as Christ predicted, following Christ’s arrest denied he knew Christ three times before the cock crowed. Yet, this weak man was also the man of whom Christ said “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”. There is controversy over those words and what Christ really meant by them, but, regardless, Peter went from denying Christ to save himself to being a true fisher of men and bringing many to the Christian faith. He was also crucified for his faith.

Thomas Cranmer and Peter both denied Christ, they both had very human flaws and yet both have gone down in history as doing much to further Christianity. Their stories give me hope. I’m not a theologian or archbishop of Canterbury, I’m not an apostle like Peter or a great preacher, but I can relate to their flaws and I know that I am justified by the same faith that gave them their salvation. It is these men who help me with the faith I have, and today I will raise my glass to Thomas Cranmer and whisper “thank you”.

20 thoughts on “Me and Thomas Cranmer”

  1. Conor says:

    Beautiful article, Claire.

  2. Daniela says:

    It must have been a very brave person indeed to see your own death with your own eyes as such. I believe that as Christ said, ” He who is without sin cast the first stone” makes us reflect about being a Christian and believing that there will be many times when we will do or say something against being what a true Christian is all about, but we are only human with human frailties and of course both Cranmer and St Peter were first and foremost men and human, with all the weaknesses common to us all.

  3. Melissa Krauss says:

    I completely agree with you. This article sets the tone of what it’s really like. The only thing you can accuse Thomas Cramner of being is human. I think I would have done the same thing, and recant despite of how I really feel. Who would want to be burnt alive? At least he had the courage to stand up for his rights at the last moment, and thrust his hand in the fire without flinching or screaming. He was a good man.

  4. Carrie Wolfe says:

    I agree with you, Claire. I don’t think I could withstand torture although I would like to think I would. Cranmer showed courage in the end and that is good enough for me.

  5. Christine says:

    I do admire Cranmer in that he went to his death with dignity although in my eyes it was nothing short of murder, also he was the only one to stick up for Anne Boleyn after she was arrested and wrote Henry a letter telling him he had a good opinion of her character so that he was amazed when he heard of the allegations, he was also with Henry when he took his last breath, I think he was a decent man and certainly did not deserve to die the way he did.

    1. bruno says:

      I rather guess he was named by the Boleyns.
      Logically he had to support his masters.
      I don’t see anything grand or loyal in this character.
      Except, when in “articulo mortis”, when his word became true at last

  6. Globerose says:

    Oh Claire, you so remind me of my mother! She worried about the early christians and the Romans and whether she could withstand that kind of persecution. Fortunately she decided martyrdom might be asked of adults but not of children, for which I was duly thankful!

  7. Tom says:

    Perhaps you’re simply trying to be cute and current but the title of your piece “Me and Thomas Cranmer” grates on the ear and does not inspire confidence. If you don’t know so already, the title should properly have been “Thomas Cranmer and I.”

    1. Claire says:

      I wasn’t trying to be cute or current but, yes, I purposely chose the title because it sounded more appropriate to the feelings I wanted to convey, “Thomas Cranmer and I”, which actually was what the post was originally called in the editing process, just didn’t sound right, perhaps I was too influenced by “Me and My Girl”. Anyway, the focus of the post was the hope his and Peter’s stories offer little old “me”.

      1. Claire says:

        Of course, I am both cute and current.

        1. bruno says:


    2. Claire says:

      From a good friend of mine, an author:
      “Whether one uses “me and Cranmer” or “Cranmer and I” depends on the context of the complete sentence composed. For example, “She gave $50 to both me and Cranmer” (Cramner and me). – OR – “Cranmer and I arrived late to Sunday Services.” Since your phrase is simply a title, you can select whichever you desire based on the message you want to send to the reader. In my mind, “Me and Cranmer” infers a relationship, while “Cranmer and I” infers imposed formality and arrogance. In selecting the title “Me and Cranmer” or “Cranmer and Me”, logic would dictate that which comes first “Me” or “Cranmer” depends on the focus of the article itself. Since your article discusses your feelings about how Cranmer influences your faith, you are the focus (as opposed to Cranmer), and thus “Me” comes first.”

      1. bruno says:

        The point is interesting for a french.
        In France, we’d rather put first the name we consider important
        But in this case, speaking of an historical character (even if personally I don’t find him very attractive, it can be due to my lack of knowledge), it would seem somewhat arrogant to write “Cranmer et moi”, as if politeness only led u to put him first but meaning more or less that both of u share if not a life in common (!) the same renown(which might be true, I hope not to seem rude by knowing nearly nothing about english History OR HISTORIANS… 🙁 ).
        If u write (instead) “moi et Cranmer” means what U personally make of this character (and so why u personally stick to make a tribute to him), it just YOUR way of seeing human frailty and so on .
        It is both modest and risky, u expose urself to any judgments.
        So, even, if at first I don’t share ur feelings towards this man (when very young I was certainly too much influenced by “the six wives of H VIII cast on french tv and laughed a lot at his supposed servility and cowardness when Queen Anne made him ridiculous for these defects), I can clearly see it is nothing arrogant

  8. Kylar Graf says:

    I want to meet you in Heaven for sure on my first day if we dont meet in this earth great article love reading on your site!

  9. Banditqueen says:

    This is a very moving article, Claire. Governments of many faces, have throughout the ages had a problem with anyone who thinks or acts differently to the official line, wants to be free from the mother country which they see as foreign invaders, or religious freedom, political freedom, social reforms, or who are different, which results in them reacting in an oppressive manner. It would have beyond the brains of a sixteenth century King or queen to even think that the worst way to quell heresy, reform, Catholics from hiding and training priests, rebels from declaring independence, people wanting freedom of speech, would be to arrest and execute them. Everytime you execute a martyr, you create several more. This is not important, what is, is the bravery of the list of men and women who gave their lives for faith. It’s a wonderful thing to inspire others. Yes Cranmer may have been guilty of treason, but even that was a statement of faith, he believed Jane Grey would protect his embryonic Protestant faith and succession. For Cranmer, Mary Tudor was a threat to all of this, she saw him in the same light, a threat, both to her personal claim as a queen and to her own religious political agenda. None of this means that Cranmer and others are not people who can inspire, be an example, that we can respect Cranmer, More, Fisher, Anne Askwe, Margaret Clitherow, all of whom stood up for their faith, all of these people inspired others to do the same. Fortunately we have now evolved into common sense, we have learned to accept and allow people to be different, fought to achieve independent freedom and to think and act freely, in the majority of the countries of our modern world. However, there are still a number of governments who fear to allow such freedoms, who still cannot conceive of difference being no threat to them, that you can negotiate with people and come to an understanding without the world imploding. Governments feel the need for control, sadly people have found that the only way to break control is by violence. The answer to this has been state sponsored violence. If only they could have conceived of another way, by letting go of fear. Very brave article, a good witness.

  10. Janice Bone says:

    very moving article Claire…I also like to think that Cranmer was a very brave man to defy Mary at the last. I know that we are 500 years on now ( approx) , and we think and act differently, but I like to appriciate the fact that his words survive still in use. ( as in the Book of Common Prayer) when I can attend services, I always like to get to a Book of common prayer service. (luckily we have a church which holds 1 every week at 8.00am) The language is ”old” but it means so much more than the new prayer book(which I do not enjoy). I feel it as a link to the past, and what the first Protestants did for me…they gave me the way to worship as I want. To all folk who read this, this is my own opinion.

  11. Charles Palmer says:

    I’m an atheist, that said, I admire your convictions. As to the discussions regarding your grammar, it’s your site. Do as you please.

  12. Goetz Kluge says:

    I knew your articles on Thomas Cranmer, but I just found this one. I am an atheist and try to understand Thomas Cranmer (because of my assumption that Lewis Carroll and the illustrator Henry Holiday both refer to Cranmer, to his burning and to Cranmer’s Forty-Two Articles in “The Hunting of the Snark”). Your article is quite helpful to me.

  13. Jim Welch says:

    Hi Claire – After watching your videos on YouTube for a while now, finally clicked on your website here and, wow, what a goldmine! Love your articles and this one on Cranmer was so well done. I am currently finishing Examinations of Anne Askew with Bale’s commentary and it is so inspiring. Yet, I completely agree on your point in this article on relating to Cranmer (as I do too). I believe the Lord gives us his grace when needed to go through trials. Anyway, thanks for your love of Tudor history and excellent presentations! Blessings, Jim -Indiana USA

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