Author’s Note: Whoops! The article that follows was written in the days leading up to the wedding of HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. My assumption — and I believed it to be a safe one — was that as in all royal weddings dating back over 450 years, the marriage liturgy of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury would harken throughout Saint George’s Chapel. I was wrong, and delightfully so. Instead, the Duke and Duchess decided to treat their guests and all those celebrating with them throughout the world the traditions of American Episcopalian homily. Although His Grace believed in a uniform liturgy preached universally throughout the Church of England, he also was steadfast in his belief that truth comes through scripture… and that learning is a lifelong, and now a centuries-long process.
Somehow I trust Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury could easily relate to some of the reactions the Most Reverend Michael Curry received from royal family members. (The following video is epic in that regard.) I am sure the evangelical reformer received similar reactions from the Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk; Thomas More, Lord Chancellor; the Lady Mary and other Tudor Era “conservatives”. Is Reverend Curry the modern-day Hugh Latimer? Thorough in his teaching and exceptionally articulate, the Bishop of Worcester also often upstaged His Grace with his passionate oratory.
Enjoy the article just the same. From Cranmer’s revolutionary marriage liturgy introducing the notion that marriage is a union of two people who “love and cherish” one another, Reverend Curry’s beautiful and engaging homily sprang forth.
American Episcopalian Homily — Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America
Video Credit: Maclean’s (YouTube)
“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.” — The Most Reverend Michael Curry quoting Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, 19 May 2018, is a joyous day in Great Britain. All wedding days are special, but today especially so. England’s beloved HRH Prince Henry of Wales and his bride Miss Meghan Markle will marry at Saint George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle — likely already doing so by the time you read this post. The entire United Kingdom and the world will then welcome and celebrate a new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, rightfully titled per command of Her Majesty.
As the handsome ginger marries his dark-eyed, dark chestnut-haired beauty, Tudor History reigns supreme — finally, a joyous occasion marking what until this morning was and still is one of the saddest days in English history. You see, on 19 May 1536, England’s other handsome royal ginger cut down his beautiful dark-eyed chestnut-haired love, all for the want of a son. Thus, there is a special kind of karma that today of all days Prince Harry’s life partner will step squarely upon the grave of King Henry VIII and the usurper Jane Seymour on her way to hear and pledge her vows to the words of His Grace.
Emotionally unable to witness the execution of his beloved friend Queen Anne Boleyn on 19 May 1536, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was instead found walking the gardens at Lambeth Palace by Scottish theologian Alexander Ales. Cranmer broke down into tears, famously telling Ales, “She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen in heaven.”
All Tudorphiles know the quote, often spreading it across the worldwide web on the 19 May anniversary of the unthinkable — tweeted, shared, favorited, and liked in homage to the tragic 1000 days queen, who reformist in mindset, charismatic in personality, petite in stature, and strong of will, bravely faced her “good Christian people” before kneeling upon the straw to face her death.
Today, instead, we are all witness to the joyous words of Queen Anne Boleyn’s beloved Cranmer — words with the depth and quality of composition that leads literary historians to place him alongside William Tyndale and William Shakespeare as the pronounced founding influences of the English language as we know it now to be.
Queen Anne Boleyn would be pleased. After all, only Thomas Cranmer is known to have made any attempt to speak for her. Though thought unfairly by many historians a sycophant, his eminent biographer Diarmaid MacCulloch a notable exception, Cranmer was the only man brave enough to reach out to the reigning bloodthirsty tyrant to advocate for her.
“… I am in such a perplexity, that my mind is clean amazed: for I never had better opinion in woman than I had in her; which maketh me to think that she should not be culpable. And again, I think your highness would not have gone so far, except she had surely been culpable. Now I think that your Grace best knoweth, that, next unto your Grace, I was most bound unto her of all creatures living. Wherefore, I most humbly beseech your Grace, to suffer me in that, which both God’s law, nature, and also her kindness bindeth me unto; that is, that I may with your Grace’s favour, wish and pray for her, that she may declare herself inculpable and innocent…”
How did the Archbishop, long known as a Boleyn ally, survive what for others would be treason? He was cautious. He was loyal. He was lucky. Most wisely, he stayed away from court, his tears unseen, his frets unwitnessed to all by Alexander Ales.
The Marriage Liturgy of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
Video Credit: The Royal Family (YouTube)
Although Thomas Cranmer is often considered by historians to be a cautious reformer, his marriage liturgy composed for the Church of England in the Book of Common Prayer introduced a radical and innovative concept. Beyond the traditional rationals of avoidance of sin and procreation, marriage became for the first time by definition an enjoyable partnership between a man and woman who vowed to “love and cherish” one another.
In our modern era, the thought that God brings people together as kindred spirits is embedded in our very societal norms and cultural identity, but in Cranmer’s world, his theological stance was revolutionary. Just how did he form his scriptural interpretation of marriage? Many would propose his study of the First Epistle of the Corinthians may have influenced Cranmer’s thoughts, but more likely his scriptural studies were personified in his love for two women, a love so profound that he took enormous personal and professional risks uncharacteristic to his highly cautious personality.
Thomas Cranmer certainly was not a priest who kept a mistress as many of his time did. No, this was a man who instead threw to the wayside his vows of clerical celibacy, a practice he came to believe to be a pagan invention, and instead vowed to the women he loved “to love and to cherish, till death us depart”, not literally in those words, but certainly in spirit and practice.
Did Queen Anne Boleyn know about Thomas Cranmer’s marriages? His first wife, pegged “Black Joan of the Dolphin” by Roman Catholic detractors, was certainly no secret. The tragically short marriage ended with her death in childbed before his ordination — but did she know of his hidden German wife Margarete? Sadly, history doesn’t teach us if Cranmer confessed to Anne as she did to him. Let’s face it. To survive, Cranmer needed to be exceptionally clandestine, his secret known to amazingly few. Protective of his wife, and also by 1536 his daughter, Cranmer took no chances. Anne didn’t know. Anne couldn’t know.
Fast forward over 480 years to today’s blessed royal wedding. Though I doubt the beautiful duchess with “Anne Boleyn eyes” will pledge to obey her ginger prince, be sure to listen and enjoy the exquisite wedding liturgy of England’s tragic queen’s friend and greatest defender. As Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh did over 70 years ago and as millions through the centuries the world over pledged before them, the promises HRH Prince Henry of Wales and Miss Meghan Markle make this morning in Saint George’s Chapel are not just any man’s words, they are the words of Thomas Cranmer, England’s first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, who though famously distraught and in tears on 19 May 1536, today instead smiles joyously alongside with his beloved friend and “…Queen in heaven”.
Those that God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
Editor’s Note: As I learned recently from Claire Ridgway, founder of The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society, that no one is certain of Queen Anne Boleyn’s hair color. She shares, “I remember rightly her hair colour is not mentioned in contemporary descriptions. The portraits are all from Elizabeth’s reign and you’d say brown from them, but then the Hoskins miniature, which Ives thought could have been based on the lost contemporary portrait, shows her with chestnut hair.”