Thomas Cranmer would become a central figure of the English Reformation, but that was not something anyone would have predicted for him!
He was born into a family of “modest wealth” – though one which was entitled to use a heraldic badge (theirs was a “chevron between three cranes azure”) so at some point there had been a connection to court. Historians believe Cranmer likely attended a grammar school in his village before enrolling in Jesus College (part of Cambridge) to study logic, classical literature, and philosophy on his path to a Bachelor of Arts degree. After spending eight years pursuing that degree, his focus on the humanists got him his Masters in only three years, followed by a Fellowship to support him while he pursued ordination and a Doctor of Divinity degree.
At this point, you’re probably saying, well, he does seem to be following the path of the churchman he would become…and yet two things would work against this. Two women. Two wives.
He married the first time while he was pursuing ordination, and so abandoned that dream until that wife died in childbirth. At that point, Cranmer returned to his original road and was ordained by 1520. He received his Doctorate in 1526… right around the time he was brought to the attention of Henry VIII and his career really took off. Even his second marriage in 1532 did not derail things…though he did have to keep Margarete secret once Henry made clear that he believed in clerical celibacy (for a while it had seemed that the English king might follow the reformists on allowing priests to take wives…). There are great stories of a large chest in Cranmer’s home, one that he took with him during his travels through his province, that was said to be Margarete’s hiding place (the stories assure us it was ventilated).
After Henry died and the fanatically Protestant Edward VI came to the throne, Cranmer was able to be much more open about his marriage…though after Edward died and the fiercely Catholic Mary acceded, Margarete had to flee the country. Either way, I am going to stop here as Cranmer’s story goes terribly downhill after this. For today, let’s just appreciate the birth of man who gave the world the Book of Common Prayer…
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