March 21, 1556 – Execution of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer’s execution, from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the sad anniversary of the burning of Thomas Cranmer. His execution involved a surprise dramatic twist at the end that sealed him as an important Protestant martyr.

Anyone interested in the Tudor times knows Cranmer well. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533; he established the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England – and pronounced the invalidity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He stayed close to Henry for the rest of that king’s life, helped steer the country towards further reforms under the Protestant Edward VI – but then was quickly jailed for treason and heresy once Catherine’s daughter, the staunchly Catholic Mary I, ascended to the throne.

He spent two years in prison, and was sentenced to death. This is where it gets tricky. On December 11, Cranmer was placed into the house of the Dean of Christ Church – and treated as an honored guest. A Dominican friar debated issues of papal supremacy and purgatory…and somehow persuaded Cranmer to recant. The recantations (there were four) were not strong enough to stay his sentence: on February 24, his execution was set for March 7. Two days after that writ was issued, Cranmer issued a full recantation – he repudiated all Lutheran theology, fully accepted papal supremacy and transubstantiation, and agreed that there was no salvation outside the Catholic church. He received absolution, and participated in the mass. Under Canon law, he should have been reprieved, but Mary decided she wanted to make an example of him and gave orders that the execution would proceed.

Then the Marian government got greedy. They asked him to recant one last time before his death – and brought him for this purpose to the University Church to make a public speech. He started with a prayer, then deviated from the script… and recanted his recantation (!). Here’s that part of it:

“Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their deaths, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified.

First, it is a heavy case to see, that many folks be so much doted upon the love of this false world, and so careful for it, that of the love of God, or the love of the world to come, they seem to care very little or nothing therefore. This shall be my first exhortation: That you set not overmuch by this false glosing world, but upon God and the world to come. And learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St John teacheth, that the love of this world is hatred against God.

The second exhortation is, that next unto God, you obey your king and queen, willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging. And not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God: Knowing, that they be God’s ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God’s ordinance.

The third exhortation is, that you love all together like brethren and sisters. For alas, pity it is to see, what contention and hatred one Christian man hath to another; not taking each other, as sisters and brothers; but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt him, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with that man, although he think himself never so much in God’s favour.

The fourth exhortation shall be to them that have great substance and riches of this world, that they will well consider and weigh those sayings of the Scripture. One is of our Saviour Christ himself, who saith, It is hard for a rich man to enter into heaven; a sore saying, and yet spoke by him, that knew the truth. The second is of St John, whose saying is this, He that hath the substance of this world, and seeth his brother in necessity, and shutteth up his mercy from him, how can he say, he loveth God?  Much more might I speak of every part; but time sufficeth not. I do but put you in remembrance of things. Let all them that be rich, ponder well those sentences; for if ever they had any occasion to shew their charity, they have now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victuals so dear. For though I have been long in prison, yet I have heard of the great penury of the poor. Consider, that that which is given to the poor, is given to God; whom we have not otherwise present corporally with us, but in the poor.

And now forsomuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed, and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven, in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without colour or dissimulation. For now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.

First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, &c. and every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Christ, his Apostles and Prophets, in the Old and New Testament.

And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand, since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.

[Here they interrupted him to remind him of his recantation. He responded:]

“Alas, my lord I have been a man, that all my life loved plainness, and never dissembled till now against the truth; which I am most sorry for. For the sacrament, I believe as I had taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester.”

At this point, he was pushed off the stage (“And here he was suffered to speak no more”) and carried away to the stake…where he doubled down:

And [Cranmer] answered (shewing his hand) ‘This is the hand that wrote it, and therefore it shall suffer first punishment.’ Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice, ‘This hand hath offended.‘  As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.

Rest in peace.

SOURCE:  Todd, Henry John. The Life of Archbishop Cranmer, Vol II.

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November 2, 1541…Henry Learns of Catherine’s “Dissolute Living”

Catherine Howard - Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein

Catherine Howard – Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This was the beginning of the end for Catherine Howard. All Souls’ Day, the day that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer left a letter on Henry’s seat in Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal detailing information he “had not the heart” to tell him directly.

Let’s back up. About two weeks ago, a man named John Lascelles came to Cranmer with explosive information. John had a sister, Mary Lascelles Hall, who was in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at the same time as Catherine. John had decided that Mary should use her old connection to secure a post at court as so many others seemed to be doing. Mary refused. John pushed the matter – after all, this was quite an opportunity, not one to pass up. Mary explained that Catherine was “light, both in living and conditions” and gave some of the details. Lascelles, coincidentally, was a noted reformer – one who had formerly worked in Thomas Cromwell’s household. Lascelles understood that this could crush the more conservative faction at court, and went right to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer, aided by Edward Seymour, interviewed Mary Hall and confirmed that Catherine had sexual relations with two men before her marriage: her music teacher Henry Mannox and the Dowager Duchess’ secretary Francis Dereham. The affair with Dereham was the more serious –it was a clear precontract that invalidated her marriage to the King (indeed, it was more of a precontract than existed to support any of the King’s three previous annulments).

Had the matter stopped there, it would have ended Catherine Howard’s reign – but would not have killed her (as the Dowager Duchess put it when she heard what had happened while Catherine had been in her charge, “If there be no offence since the marriage, she cannot die for what was done before”). Unfortunately for Catherine, she had appointed Dereham as her personal secretary, which led to the suspicion that she was planning to resume the affair. This prompted Cranmer to look for signs of adultery – which he found all too quickly. Rumors of an affair between Catherine and one of the King’s favorite gentlemen, Thomas Culpeper, were supported by a letter in Catherine’s own hand. Two quotes sealed her fate: “Come to me when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment” and “Yours as long as life endures.”

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September 25, 1534 – Death of Pope Clement VII

Pope Clement VII, by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531

Pope Clement VII, by Sebastiano del Piombo, c. 1531

Pope Clement VII was born Giulio di Giuliano de’Medici. He was Pope from 1523 until his death in 1534, the key years of Henry VIII’s Great Matter. Arguably, he caused the schism that created the Church of England given the vacillating and contradictory signals he sent.

Normally, Henry VIII should have been able to count on an annulment – Popes had done no less for every other ruler in need of an heir, based on facts that were far less persuasive than those that Henry put forth. That was one of the reasons that Thomas Cardinal Wolsey was so confident at the start of the ordeal – of course, at the time he was making arrangements for Henry to marry a French princess. When it became clear that the King intended to marry a subject, Anne Boleyn, everything changed. Suddenly Henry’s motives looked suspicious, and his determination questionable – which explains a lot of Clement’s dilatory tactics: he assumed (as most people did) that Henry would soon tire of his affair and the storm would blow over. Clement was wrong.

Clement was also wrong about the lengths to which the English monarch would be willing to go in this matter. Of course, the ever-artful Anne Boleyn timed her surrender perfectly: when she found herself pregnant in January 1533, the final important steps to implement the breach with Rome were all taken in rapid succession. The pregnancy was kept quiet until the papal bulls arrived to allow Thomas Cranmer to be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury (Clement had, incredibly, provided them despite the Emperor’s warnings – it was one of the only concessions he could make to England and he thought this would help appease Henry). From there, the bill forbidding appeals to Rome, at which point Cranmer could invalidate the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and confirm his union with Anne Boleyn. Thus Anne was anointed and crowned on June 1, the final step needed to assure legitimacy of the son she was surely carrying.

Of course, Clement deeply resented the way he’d been duped. He finally ordered Henry to return to Catherine, issuing a bull of excommunication to show ow serious he was (though the sentence was still stayed….). But this was too late. Did it give the King pause? Yes. The news came days before Anne was scheduled to take to her chamber, and he kept the news from her to avoid upsetting her. But even after a daughter was born instead of the son he needed, he remained resolute. Of course, this issue had gained a financial element: the King was now keeping for himself the taxes on ecclesiastical income rather than paying them to Rome. Then Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534, and the Church of England was complete.

Would things have been different if Clement had acted earlier? Catherine of Aragon believed so, she constantly warned that an immediate decision was imperative. I have to agree with her. Henry was profoundly religious, and the seven years he spent fighting created a mounting justification of the rightness of his cause. What would Henry have become if he had been forced to stay with Catherine? Would he have avoided the descent into suspicion and madness that marked his later years? Or would it have started earlier, with an order to have Catherine poisoned? We will never know.

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August 22, 1532 – A Key Development in The King’s Great Matter: the Death of Archbishop Warham

On August 22, 1532, William Warham Archbishop of Canterbury died. This was a pivotal moment in Henry VIII's Great Matter, opening the path for reform....Read about it on www.janetwertman.com

Archbishop William Warham, by Hans Holbein. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The death of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a pivotal moment in Henry VIII’s quest for a divorce. Warham was the primal English prelate – and getting more and more firmly in Henry’s way.

Basically, with the Pope refusing to annul Henry’s marriage, the creation of the Church of England was the only solution. And the only way to get that done was to have Parliament act and the English Clergy submit – but Warham was opposed to it all.

His opposition started small but grew quickly. When the clergy of Canterbury were asked in the Convocation of 1531 to accept the King as Supreme Head of the Church, Warham managed to limit their assent to “insofar as the Law of Christ allows.” While this considerably diluted the effect of the submission, the King ignored the snub and continued with his plans. Next came the Convocation of 1532, in which the clergy was asked to renounce its authority to make church law without royal license. The King’s position was clear: the longstanding statute of praemuniere made it treason to curtail a monarch’s supremacy, which churchmen did when they looked to the Pope (rather than the King) as an authority on any issue. Enough of the clergy were cowed into acquiescence that the resolution passed over Warham’s objection. He was about to start rabble rousing… but then he died.

The King quickly nominated Thomas Cranmer to take his place. The Pope, figuring this would be a harmless way soften the blow of his refusing Henry’s divorce, agreed to confirm the appointment and send the required bulls. This lent Henry’s new church the final trappings of legitimacy. The consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, the main authority of the Catholic Church in England approved by the Pope himself, was the one who determined that the Church of England would no longer answer to the Pope, a foreign power, but only to the King who was its Supreme Head. Thus freed, the Church of England examined the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and found it to contravene divine law – and examined his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and found it good and valid. All just in time to crown Anne in June so that the child she was due to bear in September would be the legitimate heir to the throne….

For further reading:

As always, Wikipedia is a good go-to resource for a more full biography of William Warham or a  discussion of praemunire. Also, I’ve created a tag called “The King’s Great Matter” to cover the process by which Anne Boleyn (who has her own tag) became Queen of England.

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Book Review: Thomas Cranmer In a Nutshell, by Beth Von Staats

"Thomas Cranmer, In a Nutshell," by Beth Von Staats, is an indispensable reference for Tudor fans. Read the review on www.janetwertman.com

Thomas Cranmer, In a Nutshell

Thomas Cranmer: In a Nutshell is part of MadeGlobal’s “History in a Nutshell Series” – which aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and accessible way. It’s a great idea – a kind of turbo-charged Wikipedia entry that provides you all the key information you need to know about a subject. And in this case, its a central subject: Thomas Cranmer was a fascinating figure, one of the most influential of the Tudor era. He was instrumental in solving Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” (he had the “right sow by the ear”!) and his influence steadily rose during the remainder of Henry’s reign and through Edward’s (that said, he found himself on the wrong side of politics when Mary acceded to the throne…).

The book is well organized around the key eras in Cranmer’s life: A Cambridge Scholar; A Call to Court; Husband and Diplomat; Archbishop of Canterbury; Cautious Reformer; A Man Hunted; Godfather to England’s Josiah; Intrigue and Treason; Prisoner of the Queen; Recantations; and Protestant Martyr for the Ages. These eras are then carefully tied together to create the logical whole.

The author, Beth Von Staats, is known for her mastery of the subject. A life-long history enthusiast, she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth: she is also the owner and administrator of Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers website, QueenAnneBoleyn.com. Von Staats offers wonderful details that draw you into a real appreciation of the man (he was an avid collector of books, for example, written in any of the seven or so languages he spoke). She is also the original proponent of the idea that Cranmer’s recantation stemmed from Stockholm Syndrome – and she makes a compelling case for it here.

In all, a great read and an important addition to any Tudor library.

 

June 15, 1540 – Cranmer’s Letter to Henry VIII Defending Cromwell

 

On June 15, 1540, Thomas Cranmer wrote a heartfelt letter in support of his friend, Thomas Cromwell. "Who shall Your Grace trust hereafter if you may not trust him?" Read it on www.janetwertman.com

Thomas Cranmer, by Gerlach Flicke

The arrest of Thomas Cromwell was a real shock. The idea that Cromwell could be accused of treason – Cromwell, who had done so much to further Henry VIII’s every desire. Henry wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon? Cromwell created the Church of England. Henry was broke? Cromwell formulated a plan for him to access the entire wealth of the Catholic Church in England. Henry wanted to rid himself of Anne Boleyn? Cromwell  put together a legal case that justified her execution.

Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, were friends and allies. When Cromwell was arrested, Cranmer went as far as he could in his defense without endangering himself in the process.  [W]ho shall your Grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? It is a real shame that only a fragment of the actual letter survives (though it is summarized in Letters and Papers, the wonderful British History Online’s file)

I heard yesterday in your Grace’s Council, that he [Cromwell] is a traitor, yet who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your Majesty, he that was so advanced by your Majesty; he whose surety was only by your Majesty; he who loved your Majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forwards whatsoever was your Majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your Majesty; he that was such a servant in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had; he that was so vigilant to preserve your Majesty from all treasons, that few could be so secretly conceived, but he detected the same in the beginning? If the noble princes of memory, King John, Henry the Second, and Richard II had had such a counselor about them, I suppose that they should never have been so traitorously abandoned, and overthrown as those good princes were: …….. I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be; but I chiefly loved him for the love which I thought I saw him bear ever towards your Grace, singularly above all other. But now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your Grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas! I bewail and lament your Grace’s chance herein, I wot not whom your Grace may trust. But I pray God continually night and day, to send such a counselor in his place whom your Grace may trust, and who for all his qualities can and will serve your Grace like to him, and that will have so much solicitude and care to preserve your Grace from all dangers as I ever thought he had…….. 

FOR FURTHER READING

Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature

British History Online – Letters and Papers of Henry VIII 

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May 3, 1536 – Thomas Cranmer Defends Anne Boleyn

On May 3, 1536, Thomas Cranmer weighed in on the news of Anne Boleyn's arrest. - going from From "And 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" to "I am exceedingly sorry that such faults can be proved by the Queen" in only three paragraphs....

Thomas Cranmer, by Gerlach Flicke

On May 3, 1536, Thomas Cranmer weighed in on the news of Anne Boleyn’s arrest. Because of his close ties to the Boleyn family, Cranmer was in an awkward position: he owed her his support, but was also at risk of being brought down with her. You can see that split in the letter, in which he starts out incredulous at the possibility of her guilt but then backs off completely (“I am exceedingly sorry that such faults can be proved by the Queen, as I heard of their relation. But I am, and ever shall be, your faithful subject.”). Still, the man deserves credit as one of the only people around the King to try to defend her.

Pleaseth it your most noble Grace to be advertised, that at your Grace’s commandment by Mr. Secretary’s letters, written in your Grace’s name, I came to Lambeth yesterday, and do there remain to know your Grace’s farther pleasure. And forsomuch as, without your Grace’s commandment, I dare not, contrary to the contents of the said letters, presume to come unto your Grace’s presence; nevertheless, of my most bounden duty, I can do no less than most humbly to desire your Grace, by your great wisdom, and by the assistance of God’s help, somewhat to suppress the deep sorrow of your Grace’s heart, and to take all adversities of God’s hand both patiently and thankfully. I cannot deny but your Grace hath great causes many ways of lamentable heaviness: and also that, in the wrongful estimation of the world, your Grace’s honour of every part is highly touched (whether the things that commonly be spoken of be true or not), that I remember not that ever Almighty God sent unto your Grace any like occasion to try your Grace’s constancy throughout, whether your Highness can be content to take of God’s hand, as well things displeasant as pleasant. And if he find in your most noble heart such an obedience unto his will, that your Grace without murmuration and overmuch heaviness, do accept all adversities, not less thanking him than when all things succeed after your Grace’s will and pleasure, nor less procuring his glory and honour; then I suppose your Grace did never thing more acceptable unto him, since your first governance of this your realm. And moreover, your Grace shall give unto him occasion to multiply and increase his graces and benefits unto your highness, as he did unto his most faithful servant Job; unto whom, after his great calamities and heaviness, for his obedient heart, and willing acceptation of God’s scourge and rod, addidit ei Dominus cuncta duplicia.

And if it be true, that is openly reported of the Queen’s Grace, if men had a right estimation of things, they should not esteem any part of your Grace’s honour to be touched thereby, but her honour only to be clearly disparaged. And 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. And if she be found culpable, considering your Grace’s goodness towards her, and from what condition your Grace of your only mere goodness took her, and set the crown upon her head; I repute him not your Grace’s faithful servant and subject, nor true unto the realm, that would not desire the offence without mercy to be punished, to the example of all other. And as I loved her not a little, for the love which I judged her to bear towards God and his gospel; so, if she be proved culpable, there is not one that loveth God and his gospel that ever will favour her, but must hate her above all other; and the more they favour the gospel, the more they will hate her: for then there was never creature in our time that so much slandered the gospel. And God hath sent her this punishment, for that she feignedly hath professed his gospel in her mouth, and not in heart and deed. And though she have offended so, that she hath deserved never to be reconciled unto your Grace’s favour; yet Almighty God hath manifoldly declared his goodness towards your Grace, and never offended you. But your Grace, I am sure, acknowledgeth that you have offended him. Wherefore, I trust that your Grace will bear no less entire favour unto the truth of the gospel than you did before: forsomuch as your Grace’s favour to the gospel was not led by affection unto her, but by zeal unto the truth. And thus I beseech Almighty God, whose gospel he hath ordained your Grace to be defender of, ever to preserve your Grace from all evil, and give you at the end the promise of his gospel. From Lambeth, the 3d day of May.

After I had written this letter unto your Grace, my Lord Chancellor, my Lord Oxford, my Lord of Sussex, and my Lord Chamberlain of your Grace’s house, sent for me to come unto the Star-Chamber; and there declared unto me such things as your Grace’s pleasure was they should make me privy unto. For the which I am most bounden unto your Grace. And what communication we had together, I doubt not but they will make the true report thereof unto your Grace. I am exceedingly sorry that such faults can be proved by the Queen, as I heard of their relation. But I am, and ever shall be, your faithful subject.

Your Grace’s
Humble subject and chaplain,
T. CANTUARIENSIS.

 

SOURCE:

Luminarium: The Encyclopedia Project

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November 1, 1541- Thomas Cranmer Informs Henry VIII of Catherine Howard’s Past

Catherine Howard - Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein

Catherine Howard – Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein

This was the beginning of the end for Catherine Howard.

Mary Lassells Hall was a woman who was in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at the same time as Catherine. Her brother, John Lassells, suggested that Mary use her old connection to secure a post at court as so many others seemed to be doing. Mary refused. John pushed the matter – after all, this was quite an opportunity, not one to pass up. Mary explained that Catherine was “light, both in living and conditions” and gave some of the details. Lassells, coincidentally, was a noted reformer – he went right to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer, aided by Edward Seymour, interviewed Mary Hall and confirmed that Catherine had sexual relations with two men before her marriage: her music teacher Henry Mannox and the Dowager Duchess’ secretary Francis Dereham. The affair with Dereham was the more serious –it was a clear precontract that invalidated her marriage to the King (indeed, it was more of a precontract than existed to support any of the King’s three previous annulments). Cranmer informed the King of his findings by leaving a letter on his seat in Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal.

This alone would have been enough to bring down Catherine Howard and discredit the conservative party (as the Dowager Duchess put it when she heard what had happened while Catherine had been in her charge, “If there be no offence since the marriage, she cannot die for what was done before”). Unfortunately for Catherine, she had appointed Dereham as her personal secretary, which led to the suspicion that she was planning to resume the affair. This prompted Cranmer to look for signs of adultery – which he found all too quickly.  Rumors of an affair between Catherine and one of the King’s favorite gentlemen, Thomas Culpeper, were confirmed by a letter in Catherine’s own hand. “Come to me when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment” and “Yours as long as life endures” were the quotes that sealed her fate…