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Thomas Cranmer

Excerpts, Part 14: Thomas Cranmer

Matters now moved rapidly. On 16 May 1532 Sir Thomas More resigned the chancellorship. At the request of the king he had discussed the divorce with four learned men including Thomas Cranmer. The weakness of the case that they put to him only served to convince More of the soundness of his conviction that the marriage with Catherine was valid. In his capacity as Lord Chancellor he would be required by the king to act in a manner that he could not reconcile with his conscience. He offered his resignation on the grounds that age and infirmity made it imperative that he should devote the rest of his life to the concerns of his soul. Henry repressed his fury at More's refusal to subordinate his conscience to the royal will, and he accepted More's resignation with professions of esteem and promises of future favour. More was replaced by Sir Thomas Audley, a lawyer upon whom Henry could rely to comply with whatever he required. The king's first requirement was that Audley should pronounce an eulogy on the merits of his predecessor, and to make clear the reluctance with which the king had accepted his resignation.

In June John Fisher preached publicly against the divorce. In August Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, died. This was a stroke of good fortune for Henry as Warham had made it clear that he would accept whatever decision the pope reached concerning the king's marriage. The compliant Thomas Cranmer was nominated to the pope as his successor, and Clement VII endorsed the king's choice rather than exacerbate the rift with Henry. Cranmer is one of the most fascinating characters in English history. Born in 1489, he was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge at the age of l4. He received his BA degree in 1511, and in 1515 he married a girl that he met at the Dolphin Inn in Bridge Street, probably the landlord's daughter. She died in childbirth which made it possible for Cranmer to be ordained. He developed Protestant sympathies soon after his ordination in 1523. Cranmer was brought to the attention of King Henry and taken into his service after taking his part in discussions at Cambridge concerning the King's "privy matter" (the annulment). He also became a close friend of the Boleyn family to whom, to a large extent, he owed his rapid advancement While in Europe on the King's behalf in 1532, Cranmer married secretly the niece of Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran minister. In so doing he not only broke his priestly vows, but was deceiving Henry, to whom he professed absolute loyalty, in a very serious matter. Henry would certainly have had him executed had he learned of the marriage. In January 1533 Henry went through a form of marriage with the pregnant Anne Boleyn. Cranmer's consecration took place on 30 March of that year. He perjured himself by taking the customary oath of loyalty to the pope, but claimed to have purged himself from perjury by taking a prior oath that he would not mean the second one. Reginald Pole, later to become a cardinal, Papal Legate to England, and the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, remarked to Cranmer: "Other perjurers be wont to break their oath after they have sworn; you break it before."
A week after Cranmer's consecration, on 6 April (Palm Sunday), John Fisher was arrested. This was evidently a preventative measure to ensure that he could make no public protest against two impending events that were critical for Henry, the annulment of his marriage with Catherine and the coronation of Anne Boleyn. Anne was already being treated as queen, and she was behaving as if she possessed the title. The king lavished costly gifts upon her, even designing expensive keepsakes for her himself such as the "twenty-one diamonds and twenty-one rubies set upon roses and hearts for Mistress Anne" which he gave her in 1531, or the "nineteen diamonds set in trueloves of crown gold" that he gave her shortly afterwards. Anne even insisted that Henry should give her Catherine's jewels, and to his eternal shame the king complied. Catherine refused at first, insisting that it was against her conscience to give her jewels "to adorn a person who was the scandal of Christendom." She eventually obeyed due to her sincere conviction that it was the duty of a wife to obey her husband in all that was not sin. Anne delighted in flaunting the jewels in public. Catherine confided to a Spanish priest her anguish that the man whom she loved more than herself should wish to abandon her for another. He replied that her torment proved how dear she was to God who tests only those whom he cherishes in order to strengthen their virtue. Anne set up a household with "almost as many ladies as if she were queen". When the king went out to hunt she took Catherine's place at his side. In January 1532 Catherine sent her husband a New Year's gift of a golden cup "with honourable and humble words attached". Henry returned it without explanation, and at the same time bestowed upon his mistress the gift of an entire bedroom, newly decorated with beautiful tapestries and a magnificent bed, furnished in cloth of gold and silver, crimson satin and rich embroideries. The humiliations inflicted upon the queen distressed Princess Mary as much as they did her mother, and she was able to bear them only with the consolation of the profound Catholic faith that motivated her entire life.

Cranmer sought Henry's permission to try the "great cause of matrimony" in his court Henry replied that he was pleased to grant the request of "the principal minister of our spiritual jurisdiction within this realm", and begged him not to be guided by any human
consideration, "not doubting but that ye will have God and the justice of the said cause only before your eyes, and not to regard any earthly or worldly affection therein. For assuredly, the thing which we most covet in this world is so to proceed, in all our acts and doings, as may be most acceptable to the pleasure of Almighty God, our Creator." Catherine was summoned to attend the court on 8 May, but she refused to acknowledge Cranmer's right to judge a case which was then pending before the Roman Curia. (It was mentioned supra that Clement VII had recalled the case to Rome.) Although Henry had not yet formally rejected the jurisdiction of the pope, the fact that he described Cranmer as the principal minister of his own "spiritual jurisdiction", and was prepared to accept his jurisdiction as superior to that of Rome, makes it clear that a de facto state of schism already existed.

On 10 May Cranmer declared Catherine contumacious for refusing to appear in his court, and on 23 May he pronounced the marriage between Henry and Catherine void, and warned the king against further cohabitation with her which would risk the heavy penalties provided for such cases. In a letter to Cranmer, Reginald Pole asked: "How did you manage not to laugh at yourself while with such judicial severity you made these threats to the king?"
Five days later at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer declared the marriage between Henry and Anne to be valid. When, later, Anne, and consequently her family, incurred the King's displeasure, Cranmer immediately turned his back on the Boleyns. He obligingly declared invalid the marriage to Anne, which he had previously declared valid, so that the King could marry Jane Seymour, who was to die giving birth to the future King Edward VI. Cranmer later officiated at the wedding of Henry and Anne of Cleves, but subsequently declared it to be invalid.


Anne was crowned solemnly as queen in Westminster Abbey on Whitsunday 1st June 1533. Her procession through the city on the day before was a magnificent spectacle. First came the great nobles, judges, abbots, and ambassadors. Knights of the Bath in their hooded blue gowns rode together, followed by French merchants wearing doublets of velvet with one sleeve in Anne's colours. Anne rode in a litter covered inside and out with white satin, and drawn by two palfreys in white damask. A canopy over her was borne by the Barons of the Cinque Ports. Henry's new queen wore a dress of crimson brocade and a robe of royal purple. Her dress was encrusted with precious stones, around her neck was a string of large pearls and a large jewel made up of diamonds. Her long black hair hung down her back, like a bride's, and she carried flowers in her hand. Anne was followed by her own ladies and the chief ladies of the court, all magnificently clothed. Pageants greeted her upon the way. The judgement of Paris was depicted, and the golden apple for the fairest of mortals and goddesses was awarded to Anne. At the Comhill, near Leadenhall, was a pageant depicting St. Anne, and the six-month pregnant queen was compared to the mother of the Blessed Virgin while children read poems in her honour. As that Saturday was the vigil of Pentecost a comparison was made between Anne's emblem of a crowned white falcon and the dove representing the Holy Ghost A poem read at this point praised Anne for her virtue:

This gentle bird
As white as curd
In chastity
Excelleth she.

The people of London had not forgotten the procession of their beloved Queen Catherine. Few heads were uncovered as Anne passed by and derisory remarks emerged from the crowds commenting upon her morals. Not ten people along the route called out "God save you!" as everyone had done for the Spanish queen. An eyewitness wrote that instead the people pointed to the royal initials H and A, painted and stitched onto the decorations along the route, and read them as "Ha ha!" St. Thomas More refused to attend the coronation, and Fisher was released within a fortnight of the event with no charge being made against him. Catherine received an order from Henry stating that her title in future would be dowager Princess of Wales, her first husband Arthur having been Prince of Wales when he died. Her only income was now to be the settlement that Arthur had bestowed upon her. The courageous and saintly queen defied Henry. She was the only person in the kingdom who could do so without endangering her life, although this was something of which she could never be completely certain, despite being the Emperor's aunt. Catherine refused to renounce her title of queen, even at the sacrifice of her possessions and her life, and entrusted herself solely to the decision of Christ's Vicar. She always signed herself as "Catherine the Queen", and crossed out the title "Princess Dowager" whenever she saw it written. After three months of this resistance Henry accused her of "arrogance, selfishness, and vainglory" in refusing to abandon a title that was no longer hers. Anne was determined to humiliate her rival in every way. She used her new found authority as Henry's official wife to demand a barge appropriate to her status as queen. She insisted upon being given Catherine's own barge, and had the Spanish queen's arms removed from it, "rather ignominiously torn off and cut to pieces", and replaced with her own.

Father G. Constant writes:

Henry's second marriage, Cranmer's judgement, and Anne's coronation were a bold and flagrant challenge to the Holy See and open contempt for papal authority. The pope could not do less than place the king outside the Church's pale. Accordingly. On 11 July 1533, at the request of the emperor and the queen, Henry was excommunicated and his marriage with Anne declared invalid. Still the final clause shows Clement's forbearance. The penalty was held over until September, and would take effect only if Henry had not separated from Anne by that time. It was a remnant of hope, but that hope was merely an illusion. The contrary decisions of the pope and the English primate were expressions of two adverse jurisdictions. In the face of the old Roman Church from which Henry had received the title of Defender of the Faith there arose a new Church which depended solely upon the king. 59

59. Constant, op. cit., p. 89.


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