CRANMER, LATIMER & RIDLEY – THE OXFORD MARTYRS

Never one to sit down in front of the tele at the same time or on the same channel, I have developed the habit of watching a TV series all at once, easily finishing a season’s worth in a day.  I love it!  It was no different when the time came to watch ‘The Tudors’ – my most favourite Royal family!  Of course, I was to get more out of this series than expected – Christchurch and Canterbury have the most interesting ties with the Tudors.

Canterbury is an Anglican settlement; ‘Anglican’ is a very Kiwi term that is used instead of saying the Church of England.  Our two founders, Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Robert Godley were Anglican – as were the rest of the Canterbury Association.  The Association’s surveyors who marked out our streets and squares were also proud Anglicans and this still shows very much today by the names chosen for our first and oldest of streets.  The Anglican pride was so strong that quite a community formed even on-board our first settler ships and when a family proved to have lied about their version of faith just to get the chance to immigrate, they found themselves most unwelcome and cast out.  A small, struggling band of Baptists were pushed into the northern end of Hagley Park (near Carlton Corner) in those early months in 1851 to testify to us now about how the Anglicans preferred those different to be out of sight and out of mind.

I was christened and baptized a Cantabrian Anglican myself in 1976 and with this I am well satisfied – it further strengthens my ties with our first Cantabs to whom I was born to advocate for today.  But these personal ties can go back even further – it ties me to King Henry VIII himself, being born in the spiritual care of the church he invented just because he couldn’t keep his business behind his codpiece – it’s true.

So, it should come as no surprise, with all the Anglican pride flying amongst the ocean of tussock and cabbage trees that the ‘Oxford Martyrs’ should find their honoured place in our Canterbury history.  These three Bishops were the biggest supporters of the Church of England and it cost them their lives.  Their names (and I hope these names ring some bells for you) were Thomas Cranmer (2nd July 1489 – 21st March 1556), Hugh Latimer (1487 – 16th October 1555) and Nicholas Ridley (1500 – 16th October 1555).  Ridley?  We don’t have a Ridley Square!  We actually do but we know it as Cathedral Square. 
So yes, three of Christchurch’s public squares honour these martyred Anglicans and I wonder how many of us have no idea.  Plenty I bet.

There are a lot of politics surrounding these men’s lives and I am not going to pretend to understand it all nor am I willing to go to deep into it.  But I will introduce you to them the best, easiest and clearest way I can.

Thomas Cranmer was certainly the ringleader of this entire tale – his role in the establishment of the Church of England having been larger than the others.  As the Archbishop of Canterbury, he supported Royal Supremacy, established the first doctrinal and liturgical structure and who also with Ridley, wrote the first two editions of the “Book of Common Prayer”.  He also helped to build the case for the annulment of the marriage between Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon – the founding cause behind the birth of the Church of England.

It had been the Boleyn family (Anne being King Henry’s 2nd wife) which helped to secure the Archbishop position for Cranmer that came as a surprise for many at Court.  Although ordained, Cranmer had had very little to do with the religious aspects of England since finishing his education at Cambridge. He had studied classical literature, philosophy and earned a Bachelor of Arts – as did Latimer and Ridley. Once securing the divorce that Henry desired, it was Cranmer who crowned Anne Boleyn Queen and baptized her daughter Elizabeth soon after the birth.  This very action finally excommunicated Cranmer and all those involved from Catholic Rome.

The good times were not to last.  With Henry’s death and the rise of his Catholic first born – ‘Bloody Mary I’ – Cranmer found himself imprisoned at the Tower of London with Latimer and Ridley.  They all faced trial together; first on 13th November 1553 and again on 12th September 1555. All were sentenced to burn at the stake. Latimer and Ridley went quickly to their deaths.  Cranmer was made to watch the execution.  Understandably, Cranmer began to withdraw from his Anglican faith and reconciled himself with the Catholic Church.  This failed to save his life as Queen Mary was determined to make an example of him.  With this, on the day of his death, he declared his true Anglican faith and his willingness to be a martyr for English reform. He was literally pulled from the pulpit and to his death after calling the Pope the Antichrist.

Hugh Latimer was the Bishop of Worcester and the Chaplain of King Edward VI – the very sickly, young son of Henry VIII.  He had been a believer of reformation from the beginning and publicly spoke on the topic despite the grave danger of doing so.  He attended Cambridge University and was their preacher and chaplain while he studied theology and earned a Bachelor of Divinity.

He was first imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1539 for opposing Henry VIII on his Six Articles and as a result, he lost his bishopric.  He was restored to court by Edward VI and became the onsite preacher until 1550.  When Mary became Queen, he was quickly imprisoned again and went to the stake with Nicholas Ridley in 1555.

Nicolas Ridley was the Bishop of London and Westminster. After being at ordained at Cambridge, Ridley moved his life to Paris to continue his education.  In 1537, he was appointed by Cranmer to be one of his chaplains and returned to England.  As one of the King’s Chaplains, he was arrested for heresy in 1543 but was soon released.  This experience didn’t seem to have scared him though.  As the Bishop of Rochester, he had all the altars removed from his churches so that supper tables could be put in their place, thereby encouraging the common man to take his place having Holy Communion. His downfall came with the failed attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne after the death of King Edward VI. During this time preached publicly of Mary and Elizabeth being bastards who had no rights to rule England.

Tragically he is remembered as being the martyr that suffered the most at the stake.  He burned slowly and the gunpowder pouches under his arms failed to explode!

*Image of Thomas Cranmer courtesy of Los Blogs de Religionen Liberted – http://www.religionenlibertad.com*
*Image of Hugh Latimer courtesy of For All The Saints – https://forallsaints.wordpress.com*
*Image of Nicholas Ridley courtesy of Continuing Reformation – https://continuingreformation.wordpress.com*

 

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