Who Was … Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury?


Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, and briefly under Mary I, and was seen as a leader of the English Reformation. He was responsible for the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and supported many reformers from England and abroad. Cranmer was arrested on the orders of Mary I for heresy, and initially recanted before dismissing his recantation and being burned alive in 1556.

Name: Thomas Cranmer

Title/s: Archbishop of Canterbury

Birth: 2 July 1489 in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England

Death: 21 March 1556 in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Buried: Martyr’s Memorial, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Spouse: None (unofficially, Margarete Hetzel 1511-1576)

Children: Margaret Cranmer 1536-1568 / Thomas Cranmer 1538-1598

Parents: Thomas Cranmer 1467-1501 & Agnes Hatfield 1469-1556

Siblings: Agnes Andrews 1491-1556

Noble Connections: Cranmer was patronised by Anne Boleyn, Queen to Henry VIII. He was close to both Henry VIII and Edward VI and was instrumental in allowing Jane Grey to take the throne in 1553.

Controversy: Cranmer married while in the reforming city of Nuremberg, but it is unknown exactly when – he ignored his vows of clerical celibacy. He recanted his Protestantism under Mary I, but then recanted his recantation.

Works of Fiction:

  • Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)
  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012)
  • Jean Plaidy, The King’s Secret Matter (1962)
  • C.J. Sansom, Revelation (2015)

Portrayals on Screen:

  • Milton Cadman, A Man for All Seasons, 1988, directed by Charlton Heston
  • Will Keen, Wolf Hall, 2015, 5 episodes
  • Hans Matheson, The Tudors, 2008, 10 episodes
  • David Waller, Lady Jane, 1986, directed by Trevor Nunn
  • Bill Wallis, The Other Boleyn Girl, 2008, directed by Justin Chadwick

Further Reading:

  • G.W. Bernard, The King’s Reformation (2005)
  • David Loades, Intrigue and Treason: the Tudor Court 1547-1558 (2004)
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: a Life (1996)
  • Jasper Ridley, Thomas Cranmer (1962)
  • Leslie Williams, Emblem of Faith Untouched: a Short Life of Thomas Cranmer (2017)
  • Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke 1545.
  • Arms of Thomas Cranmer

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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