thomas cranmer beard (456x575)


Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

— Book of John 20:27, King James Bible —


“I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Over twenty years ago, Sir Thomas More spoke those words for all to hear just before the executioner swung the ax, just before his head rolled from his shoulders onto the straw, just before his self-serving martyrdom. For months beyond a year holed up in The Tower, he stoically embraced his fate, faithfully hung to his God, stubbornly held firm in his convictions, and refused to see the truth, no matter how hard dearest Cromwell, Audley and I tried to convince him, no matter how much his wife and children begged he compromise his self-righteous scruples. In scripture, there is no Pope. There is no purgatory. There are no idols, relics, or indulgences. Mary is the mother of Jesus, not a saint interceding on behalf of all who pray to her. It’s really that simple. What is not written in God’s word is not truth. Why could More not see the obvious? Was he blind? Was he daft? Was he of Satan? And why after 20 years does More’s sorry fate still weigh my conscience down like a stone?

thomas more statue

“More was not satisfied to be Lord Chancellor, Your Grace. His heresy burnings of those of the new religion were not enough to fill his soul. More yearned for a higher calling than service to the realm and His Majesty. He yearned to be a martyred saint. He yearned for pilgrims to travel long journeys to touch his hair shirt and gaze upon his pickled head.”

Dearest Cromwell, I hear him ringing through my mind as if he were sitting in this dank horrid cell right beside me. The Earl always found a way to rationalize quandaries, bless his soul. All we asked, all His Majesty wanted, all that was required to save his very life, was for Sir Thomas More to take the oath, say the words out loud publicly, and do what he wanted in private. More could worship his Latin Mass, give confession, fondle his rosary, collect his idols, venerate his relics, wear his hair shirt, and whip his back to his heart’s content. “Just take the damn oath, and then do what you will,” said Cromwell. “No and I will speak nothing of it,” replied misguided More. Again, again, again, the Earl pleaded for this simple sign of obedience to the King. Again, again, again, the same reply. My God in heaven, the Pope is the Anti-Christ. To this day, I am still dumbfounded. The man was brilliant, scholarly, eloquent. So why was he such a fool?

After hours of mulling over my fate, I look down at the parchment. My couched recantations, written to baffle His Eminence and the Queen without sully to my conscience, baffled them not, so Cardinal Pole took a quill and wrote out a third, and then a fouth, one that clearly says to all in the far more eloquent words of the papal whore, “The last twenty years of my life were heresy. The liturgy of the Church of England is heresy. The lyrical Evensong at Friday service is heresy. The Collects said in worship all through the year are heresy. The Book of Common Prayer is heresy. Holy Communion as a commemoration to the Lord’s Last Supper is heresy. I recant. I recant it all. The Eucharist correctly turns wine to Christ’s blood, turns bread to Christ’s body. The holy church in England and it’s clergy are led by His Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome. Unless you purchase an indulgence, your mother will remain rotting in purgatory. There I said it. Now, you know my truth.”

If I want to live another day, die in my own bed, not burn pitifully as my beloved friends Ridley and Latimer, I must copy this in mine own hand, and sign my name to it. And, no, this is not the same challenge More faced. No, it is not. More was never forced to endure a trial for treason, found guilty, and yet a second trial for heresy, found guilty again. More did not have to debate at Oxford, over and over, day after day, week after week, month after month with multitudes of religious scholars wearing him down, chiding his every word. More did not have to watch his friends burn at the stake, poor Ridley lingering for hours due to a poor man’s misguided attempt to help. More did not have the entire Church of England and it’s future laying squarely on his shoulders. No, it is not the same challenge More faced. No, it is not. If I say it enough, I might believe it.

Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein

I confess Sir Thomas More’s writings so authored while imprisoned give me strength. A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation is just brilliant in all truth. Though they believed pushing More down my throat would wear me down, instead his writings give me hope, nourish my soul. As More so correctly alludes through his story telling, persecution for one’s faith is a hazardous quandary indeed, because it brings upon us at the same time both the lure and comfort resulting from recantation, and the dread of torture and a painful death if we remain steadfast and true. I look at the parchment yet again. No, I will not copy it in mine own hand. No, I will not sign it. More concedes, and I agree, that it is not acceptable to escape persecution by compromising some of God’s truths, while keeping true to the rest. His err laid in not knowing what God’s truths truly are, by placing his faith and belief as defined by a papal authority instead of God’s word in scripture. I look to the flickering candle, the only light in this stench laid cell, and hold the parchment near. I will burn this parchment, and then I will burn. God, give me strength.

As I lean the parchment towards the flame, I am started upright by the slamming of the cell door and that damned Spaniard friar, Juan de Valligarcia bellowing at me yet again. “The recantation, is it ready Dr. Cranmer?!”

I look to the man wearily and hold out the parchment. He snatches it from me. “No, I refuse to write it.”

This friar, I swear he is paid handsomely just to torment my soul. He saunters to the front of me and glares me down. He is evil incarnate, I do swear. “I have word from Her Majesty. She desires I give you a message and one last chance to comply. Do you wish to hear it?”

I remain silent, mulling over how best to respond. As the man drums his fingers impatiently on the table, I finally ask, “Am I commanded to hear it? If not, I choose you leave with her words unsaid.”

“Yes, you are so commanded,” the man barks.

I say flatly, “Carry on then.”

“As you so professed these many years, a monarch is supreme and heads the clergy is this realm. His Majesty King Henry chose to delegate to you and the heretic Emissary of Satan, Cromwell, while Her Majesty chooses to delegate to His Holy Father,” the friar scowls. He then holds out a parchment, it’s wax seal of the Queen made evident for mine benefit.

“Dr. Cranmer, as your monarch I command that you recant in writing as so drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and sign your name in full. I further command that you attend Latin Mass, and recant publicly through a sermon approved in advance by His Eminence. From this day forward, you will attend Mass, celebrate the Eucharist, and worship the Roman Catholic faith with all humility.”

That bastard friar begins pacing to and fro. I say nothing. What be there to add to that?

“Will you abide Her Majesty’s command?”, he finally asks. “If not, I need not remind that you will burn as you so witnessed Latimer and Ridley.”

My gout raging in my legs, I find my courage, steady myself by the table, and stand strong. “No, I will not abide the command. Leave me to rot and be gone.”

Thomas Cranmer Jesus College

“But Dr. Cranmer, Her Majesty is supremely your head as you personally define by scripture, eh? Are you not by your own interpretation of God’s Holy Word sinning through your treason?”

The man, he is of the devil and chides me mockingly, finding my greatest weakness yet again. This very issue, this very dilemma, has me confused and conflicted once more. This pitiful servant of the Anti-Christ is right, but in my heart to recant is a larger sin, an unforgivable sin. “I said, NO, I will not abide by the command.” Unsteady of feet, I sit back down.

“Dr. Cranmer, Her Majesty in her great benevolence wishes to extend this offer. Queen Mary, Regina remains steadfast in her vision to route this realm of all heresy, and will burn it all wherever it lays. Her Majesty desires to reassure you that should you recant, your illegal Lutheran wife and bastard children will sleep safe. If not, they will burn as the heretics they are before you.”

Did mine heart just stop? Frozen in fear, I look at the Spanish friar, my blood frozen cold, just like that. Satan speaks through him as sure as Christ died for his sins. Mary, Regina — no one could be this evil, no one, especially a woman. de Villagarcia is trying to trick me. He must be. Margarete, my children, they fled to Nuremburg. They must have. Aye, but Satan reached Tyndale. Why not them? My mind, ’tis cloudy, worn thin. I can’t concentrate. Think, Thomas – think. Would she really command my Margarete burned? Thomas and Marge? Would she really kill them before mine very eyes? Or is this man baffling me? Are they safe on the Continent or did Pole’s spies find them?

I gaze just beyond the Spaniard, and dearest Bishops Latimer and Ridley stand before me, burning pitifully, screaming in agony. Yes, the friar speaks truth. The Queen of England, Satan’s mistress, seeks revenge. This is hopeless. Either way I go, I be damned. Broken, yes, after two long years, I am finally broken in shards. I am sorry, Sir Thomas More. For this tribulation, there is no comfort. To route out this tribulation, I am willing to burn in hell so they don’t burn. Am I selfish? Or is that God’s will? Your writing, your gentle and humble wisdom, they tell me not.

I hold out my trembling hand, and the Spaniard hands back the parchment. My voice quivering, I say in complete surrender, “Come back in the ‘morrow. It shall be done.”

The friar sits down on the table before him, and holds out a fresh quill.”Now, Dr. Cranmer, or Her Majesty’s offer is not guaranteed.”

I swallow hard, tears welling. O Lord forgive me.  I take the quill in my hand, and though shaking,  dip the quill in ink and seal my fate.

—– fade to black —–


The Burning of Cranmer




In the Church of St. Mary’s, I stand close beside her;

She weeps as her our blessed Archbishop speaks his mind;

His recantations coerced, the lies said then are laid bare now;

Her prayers, her love, her pride, her fears, her sorrow multiplied.

Justified. The wise man of common prayers, uncommon. 


Confidences kept close, he risked all for the cherished Earl’s beloved;

Promises kept always, he stepped forward, and loved with all;

Gentle and reluctant, he made his way through life committed;

Pious and steadfast, he shared the scripture as his God defined;

Justified. The wise man of common prayers, uncommon.


True to his dearest friendships, he pleaded for the King’s mercy;

While the Lords and papists cruelly undermined for the kill.

Godfather to the departed boy King and soon Virgin Regina;

He faithfully mentored us all with his gentle wisdom and mirth;

Justified. The wise man of common prayers, uncommon. 


Stunned, the poor woman  follows him, dragged pitifully to the fire;

“to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”, his words, her heart;

For my father, I watch horrified to lay witness as the torches light;

True to his vow, his right hand is thrust to be burned, charred and melting;

Justified. The wise man of common prayers, uncommon. 


The stench of his burning flesh churns inside me, death unfolding;

Tears flowing as I place my hand upon her shaking shoulder;

His spirit rises to the heavens, my God’s and his God’s arms awaiting;

While the bloody Queen lays barren, now cursed to hell we made sure;

Justified. The wise man of common prayers, uncommon. 



Composed in English by Thomas Tallis During the Reign of King Edward VI
Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Ecumenical Celebration at Westminster Abbey, 17 September 2010

Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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