Cranmer's Confession & Death; This Unworthy Right Hand
Cranmer's Last Address to the People
When the day came, Lord Williams, Sir Thomas Bridges, Sir John Brown, and other justices, and noble men of the queen's council, went to Oxford with a train of followers. A great crowd of people from the surrounding country had also assembled there. Some expected to hear Cranmer confess himself a humble convert to Rome, while others, among whom were many of his former friends, hoped that the archbishop, who had spent a long life in study, and in preaching the gospel of Christ, would not now desert them, as the last act of his career.
The excitement was at its height when Cranmer was seen, being led between two friars, from his prison to St. Mary's church. Before him walked the mayor of Oxford, and next came the aldermen of the city. When they had come into the church, Cranmer was told to mount upon a platform which had been built near the pulpit. As he stood there in full view of the curious multitude which filled the church, he presented a sorrowful spectacle to every eye not blinded by passion or prejudice. For he who had lately been archbishop, metropolitan, and primate of all England, and the king's privy councilor, was now in a threadbare and ragged gown, with an old square cap on his head, a mark for the contempt of all men. Few there were who did not pity him, or scarce one who might not fear his own future fate, to see so eminent a prelate, so grave a counselor, one who had been so long honored, thus deprived in his old age of his estate, and condemned to die so painful a death.
Standing there in his ragged gown the poor prisoner turned his face toward a stone pillar, and lifting up his hands to heaven, prayed earnestly to God. The priest who had been appointed to preach the sermon upon this occasion was certain Dr. Cole, who how went up into the pulpit and commenced his discourse. He soon began to reproach Cranmer, with many bitter words, as "one who had fallen into pernicious error, and who had not only defended the same by his writings, and all his powers, but also allured other men to do the like."
The sermon continued at some length. At its close the speaker urged the prisoner, Cranmer, to go to his death in a humble and contrite spirit; and gave thanks to God that, although his repentance had been slow, it had been sincere, and that he had at last shown, by signing the recantation, that he had turned from his abominable errors and become a penitent convert to the true faith. All this time Cranmer stood upon the platform, now lifting up his hands and eyes to heaven, and then again, as if ashamed, letting them down toward the earth. Several times the tears were seen to fall from his eyes and his whole expression betokened shame and grief.
After Cole had finished speaking, the people began to go out, but he stopped them, by calling out: "Brethren, lest any man should doubt the prisoner's conversion and repentance, you shall hear him speak for himself. Now I pray you, Master Cranmer, do that which you promised, and publicly acknowledge the true profession of your faith, that you may take away all suspicion, and that every person here present may know you are a Catholic indeed."
"I will do it," said the archbishop," and that with a right good will." Then putting off his cap, he spoke, in part, as follows: "Good people, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters in Christ, I beseech you most heartily to pray for me to Almighty God, that he will forgive all my sins and offences, which be many without number, and great above measure. But yet one thing grieveth my conscience more than all the rest, whereof, God willing, I intend to speak more hereafter. But how great and how many soever my sins be, I beseech you to pray to God of his mercy to pardon and forgive them all."
And here kneeling down, Cranmer prayed for a while, and then rising said: "And now as I am come to the last end of my life on earth, and am near to beginning the life to come, either to live with my master Christ for ever in joy, or else to be in pain for ever in hell, I shall therefore declare unto you my true faith without any deception; for this is not the time to deceive, no matter what I may have said or written in times past."
"First, believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And I believe every article of the Christian faith, every word and sentence taught by our Savior Christ; his apostles; and the prophets, in the New and Old Testament."
"And now I come to the great thing which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the scattering abroad of a writing contrary to the truth; which I now here renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life. and I renounce as false and untrue all such papers signed with my hand since my degradation, wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand hath offended, writing contrary to my heart, therefore this my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire, it shall first be burned."
"And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine. And as for the sacrament, I believe as I have taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester, which book teacheth so true a doctrine of the sacrament, that I believe it shall stand even to the last day."
Disappointment of Cranmer's Enemies
On hearing this bold declaration of faith, the greater part of the people were amazed and looked upon one another in astonishment. But if the common people were surprised, the priests and doctors whose plans had so notably failed, were doubly so--and infuriated as well. For they had confidently expected to triumph over the reformers by being able to point forever after to the public recantation of their leader. But instead of a humble plea for forgiveness, he had boldly withdrawn all his former denials and avowed himself unshaken in his faith.
The Cranmer's foes began to storm and rage against him; some plucked him by the gown before he could finish his address, and called him "Traitor!" reminding him of his former recantation. but this was useless, as they very well knew. No threats could harm a man already condemned to be burned--he could die but once. For all that, they never ceased to cry out against him, for what they termed his falsehood and deceit.
To these accusations, Cranmer replied: "Ah, my masters, do not take it so. Always have I been a hater of falsehood, and a lover of truth, and never, but for dread of the stake, would I have dissembled;" and when he said this, the tears showed in his eyes. Then he began to speak more of the sacrament and of the pope, but some of them began to cry out, "Stop the heretic's mouth, and take him away."
Then was Cranmer pulled down from the platform, and led to the fire, accompanied by two Spanish friars. "What madness," said they, "hath brought thee again into this error, by which thou wilt draw many souls with thee into hell?" To them he answered nothing, but addressed all his talk to the people. In a little while he came tot he stake; it was the place where the martyrs, Latimer and Ridley, had been burned, and there kneeling down he prayed to God. But not tarrying long at his prayers, he arose, and taking off his garments to his shirt, he prepared himself for death. His shirt was made long, down to his feet, which were bare. His face, haggard from long imprisonment, was covered by a beard, and his reverend countenance moved the hearts of both his friends and enemies.
Then the Spanish friars, of whom mention has been made before, began to urge him again to recant, but Cranmer with steadfast purpose refused to listen, turning from them and giving his hand to certain old men, and others that stood by, bidding them farewell. But when he offered his hand to one of these men, whose name was Ely, Ely drew back his hand, saying "it was not lawful to take the hand of a heretic, and especially such a one as falsely returned unto the opinions that he had forsworn." This Ely was a student of divinity in the college at Oxford.
Soon an iron chain was brought, and put around Cranmer, fastening him to the stake. Then when the fagots had been piled up the sheriff ordered fore to be brought. And when the wood was kindled, and the fire began to burn near him, he was seen by all who stood there, to stretch forth his right hand, with which he had signed his recantations, and to hold it in the flames. There he held it so unflinchingly that all the people saw it burned, before his body was touched by the fire. So patient and steadfast was he in the midst of this extreme torment, that he uttered no cry, and seemed to move no more than the stake to which he was bound. His eyes were lifted up to heaven, and often he repeated, "This was the hand that wrote it,"---"this unworthy right hand," so long as his voice would suffer him; and as often using the words of the martyred St. Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" till the fury of the flames putting him to silence, he gave up the ghost.
Thus died Thomas Cranmer, in the sixty-seventh year of his age. That he was a man of unusual abilities is shown by the high station he attained. The changes in the forms of worship in the reign of Edward VI were chiefly due to him. It was his voice that men heard, and still hear, in the words of the English liturgy, which he compiled at Oxford. At the last the moral weakness which he had shown in signing his recantations was atoned for by one of the most strikingly heroic acts recorded of the martyrs.
An eminent historian had, therefore, truly said, "Cranmer's very weakness proved a means of moving thousands who had been less affected by the sufferings of more heroic spirits. I is a fellow feeling that draws men's sympathies, and for one man who felt within him the joy of Rowland Taylor at the prospect of the stake, there were thousands who felt the shuddering dread of Cranmer. The triumphant cry of Latimer could reach hearts only as bold as his own; but the sad scene of Cranmer's humiliation and repentance brought pity to the hearts of all."
This page and its design are copyright
© 2002 by Kevin W. Michael.
All rights reserved.