Edward VI and Thomas Cranmer
by Kyra Kramer
Thomas Cranmer was not only the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was possibly the most influential figure in King Edward VI’s brief life. Cranmer was the young king’s godfather, and the man who taught the boy king to be a staunch — even hard-line — Protestant. Cranmer was also one of the few men the Edward would continue to trust as he grew older. Where most other men sought some form of fiduciary reward or position of power from the king, Cranmer served Edward without the need or apparent desire for more personal gain. Cranmer and Edward give every indication that they were united in a sincere, disinterested quest to spread the reformist gospel throughout England.
The pinnacle of their joint efforts was the 1552 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Although Thomas Cranmer was the author of the work and should receive all the credit for the haunting lyrical style of the writing, the book would have died aborning without the support and defense of his protege and sovereign. As I explain in my book, King Edward VI in a Nutshell:
The new Book of Common Prayer caused an uproar among the Catholic and less-Protestant subjects of Edward’s realm, who thought it was blasphemously Reformist. Among the hardened Reformists, it wasn’t quite Protestant enough. If the definition of a good compromise is indeed a situation in which no one is really happy, the 1552 Prayer prayer Book was a very good compromise. Edward, however, was king and he was determined that his godfather Cranmer’s liturgical compositions would become the bedrock of the Anglican service. In turn, Cranmer could not have been prouder of the young king, who he regarded as a veritable model of a Christian monarch.
Cranmer saw Edward as nothing less than the “English Josiah”, a child monarch in the mold of the Biblical king who devoted his reign to compelling his Hebrew subjects to worship Yahweh as the sole God of Israel. It was, for the devout and devoted Cranmer, the highest praise he could give the young king.
Thomas Cranmer was also one of the few people who had enough integrity to disagree with the king when there were ethical conundrums. For example, Cranmer was deeply concerned about Edward naming Lady Jane Grey his heir, even though he had to have known allowing the ultra-Catholic Mary Tudor to have the throne would have undone all the religious reform he and Edward had fought for. Nonetheless, Cranmer was genuinely troubled by conscience. He had promised to obey Henry VIII’s will and Mary was next in line by the terms of that document. Was it legal or ethical to set the old king’s will aside? First, the privy council talked to Cranmer and assured him that “the king was fully entitled to override his father’s settlement” (Ives, 2012:130). Not quite easy in his mind, the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to talk to his godson about it personally. The king, who had less than three weeks to live, met with Cranmer and promised him face- to- face that “the judges and his learned council said, that the act of entailing the crown, made by his father, could not be prejudicial to him, but that he, being in possession of the crown, might make his will thereof” (Ives, 2012:131). Still uncertain, Cranmer begged the king to be allowed to talk to the judges and the attorney general, just to make sure. The king consented, and when Cranmer spoke with them they all confirmed “that he might lawfully subscribe to the king’s will by the laws of the realm” (Ives, 2012:131).
Sadly, Cranmer’s loyalty and honesty were rewarded with a horrific death after Edward VI passed away on 6 July 1553. Mary Tudor and her allies quickly usurped the throne from Queen Jane Grey and in spite of their promises of “tolerance” for Protestantism, soon made it clear that a return to Catholicism was in the offing. Thomas Cranmer, an elderly man and venerable scholar who was 67 years old, was burned alive at the stake at Mary’s insistence on 21 March 1556. From her perspective, she was riding her country of veritable sump of heresy. From the perspective of history, she slaughtered one of the best writers and theologians England has ever produced.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Editor’s note: Kyra’s biography is provided by her website, Krya Cornelius Kramer and is provided to us in her own words.
Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an author and freelance medical anthropologist. She holds BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She and her beloved husband live in Bloomington, Indiana, USA with their three young daughters.
Kyra is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Kyra is high-functioning, meaning that most of the time Kyra can pass for “quirky” with a dash of “gauche”. As a function of being an “Aspy”, she has a deep and abiding love for facts, which she stuffs into her writings like chestnuts in a Christmas goose. Seriously, you will knee-deep in facts by the time you are three paragraphs into her work. Moreover, she has a sardonic sense of humor that flavors her writings, no matter how academic they are in nature. Her editors appreciate this, but the review board usually makes her take any humor out before publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. Kyra hopes that the academic reviewers were at least amused before they crossed the sentence out with heavy red pencil marks. She suspects not.
Editor’s note: For more information about the remarkable accomplishments of Kyra Cornelius Kramer, do visit her website linked above.
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