A Tiny Biography of Thomas Cranmer

Posted by on 10/21/2017 in:


Thomas Cranmer


July 2, 1489


March 21, 1556, age 66


Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England, 131 miles northwest of London


University Fellow, Ambassador, Archbishop of Canterbury


Wife Joan, died in childbirth, second wife Margarete, 2 children Margaret and Thomas


Thomas Cranmer was born to parents of modest wealth and was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge several years after the death of his father. Cranmer received his bachelor and master’s degrees from Cambridge in logic, classical literature and philosophy. He began to study theology, was ordained by 1520 and had a Doctor of Divinity degree by 1526.

Around this same time, the King of England, Henry VIII, wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to produce a male heir for the throne. Henry sent ambassadors to the Pope regarding the annulment, but the Pope failed to grant it. Soon after, Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and declared himself the head of the Church of England. Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, who had read the works of many Reformers, led to the appointment of Thomas Cranmer as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was consecrated as the archbishop on March 30, 1533.

Henry’s motivations for separating from the Catholic Church were political, but Cranmer’s were more theological. Cranmer had met Reformers on the Continent and corresponded with them. As Cranmer became more convinced of Reformed theology, he organized work on a statement of faith that became the Thirty-Nine Articles, a document edited over 30 years that defined the theology of the Church of England in the 16th century. Cranmer also edited the Book of Common Prayer, which contained words for liturgical worship services (such as for baptisms, Communion, morning prayer, etc.), prayers for pastoral care, daily Bible readings, and later, the Thirty-Nine Articles. The Book of Common Prayer has had a tremendous influence on the English language and on liturgical worship for over 400 years.

When Henry VIII died, Edward VI became king in 1547 when he was just nine years old. Edward was raised Protestant, so the Church of England under Cranmer’s leadership flourished. When Edward died at age 15 in 1553, Henry VIII’s oldest child, Mary, became Queen, and she aggressively reinstated Roman Catholicism until her death in 1558. Under Mary’s regime, Cranmer and other English Protestants were tried for treason, found guilty, and were sentenced to death.

Cranmer was held for almost two years while awaiting the verdict from Rome, since the trial was under the Pope’s jurisdiction. When the Pope stripped Cranmer of his archbishopric and approved the death sentence, Cranmer recanted his Protestant beliefs for a time before his execution, but renounced Catholicism permanently before he was burned at the stake. He died in Oxford on March 21, 1556 and is considered a Reformation martyr by the Anglican church.


While writing this biography, we used a couple resources that are available in our store! Our favorite is Reformation Heroes—a short book filled with biographies of the major players of the Reformation. In our store, we also have an Emblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer, if you’d like to learn more!

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