The martyrs of the
Protestant Reformation at the hand of persecuting Rome, under the Tudor Bloody
Mary, were not at all well constructed and special heroes because of any
natural strength and ability which they possessed.
They were men and women of
like passions as all of us are, and their weaknesses surfaced from rime to
The martyrs were what
they were, not by human nerves of steel, but by the enablement and power of
This was illustrated never
so openly and forcibly as in the behaviour of Cranmer himself. We would do
well to note the following narratives.
With his fellow Bishops in
their inquisitional examination, Cranmer stood firm He was consequently
condemned, degraded and sentenced to be burnt to death.
The historian Strype pays
this eloquent description of Cranmer.
name of this most reverend prelate deserves to stand upon eternal record;
having been the first Protestant archbishop of this kingdom, and the greatest
instrument, under God, of the happy Reformation of this Church of England: in
whose piety, learning, wisdom, conduct, and blood, the foundation of it was
laid. And therefore it will be no unworthy work to revive his memory now,
though after an hundred and thirty years and upwards. I pretend not to rite a
complete narrative of his life and death, that being scarce
possible at such a distance of time, and in the want of full intelligence and
information of the various matters that passed through his hands, and the
events that befell him. All that I attempt by this present undertaking is, to
retrieve and bring to light as many historical passages as I can, concerning
this holy prelate; by a careful and long search, not only into printed books of
history, but the best archives, and many most precious and inestimable
manuscripts that have fallen into my hands.’
It has been rightly said that if the secret of the sixteenth
century Reformation in Europe is to be learned, we must first learn what took
place in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The fourteenth century threw
across the darkness of Europe some flashes of penetrating light which were
harbingers of greater light to come.
While Mohammedanism gained
here and there, there was a promise of a more real emcipation in the future.
Learning somewhat revived, and John Wycliffe’s voice
was heard, and his poor preachers with the Holy Bible sowed the precious seed
and much of it fell on good ground.
Wycliffe was a bold preacher. He sent forth droves of
ininerant preachers and the circulation of the Holy Scripture had an effect
which no human calculation can estimate. His followers were called Lollards.
It was claimed every other man in England was converted to Lollardrey.
The English King and Parliament had started to
withstand the dictatorship of Rome. All appeals to the Pope and Rome were outlawed, which ‘touched the King, his crown and realm.’ It was the beginning
of a ‘No Popery’ crusade which would eventually bring about the liberty of
The arrogance of Pope Urban II to command Edward III
to recognise him as the supreme monarch of England and pay his feudal tribute
to Rome lit a fire of resistance which Rome could not put out.
Stirred by Wycliffe the nation declared ‘England belongs not to the Pope: the Pope is a man subject to sin but Christ is the Lord of
Lords, and this Kingdom is held directly and solely of Christ alone.’
The conqueror of Crecy taught the Pope a salutary
The Fifteenth Century
The fifteenth century was marked by further progress
to religious liberty, and the breaking of the papal chains. The power of the
Pope in the nation was diminished even more.
The burning of John Huss stoked the fire already
burning against Rome as did also the martyrdom of his contemporary and
colleague Jerome of Prague. The condemnation of Wycliffe by the same Council of
Constance was climactic.
The fall of Constantinople and the scattering of the
books of learning across Europe added to the momentum. The invention of
printing greatly speeded the spread of the ‘new learning.’
In England there was religious as well as political
change. The monastic friars became a challenge to the secular clergy. The
bitter hostility between them smoothed the way in the next century to the
suppression of monasteries by Henry VIII.
Of the printing of the Mazarin Bible, Hallam
‘We may in imagination see this venerable and splendid
volume leading up the
crowded myriads of its followers and imploring as it were a blessing on new art
by dedication of its firstfruits to the service of Heaven.’
Rebellion against the dogmas of Rome increased.
Claydon of London was imprisoned for four years in the Fleet Prison for having
a book which stated that the Pope was the Antichrist. Eventually he was burned
Learning spread. Three new colleges were added to Cambridge and three to Oxford. Eton College was founded and a new Divinity School and Public Library were opened in Oxford.
much for the preparation of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The Sixteenth Century
Then came the sixteenth century. Rome claimed it was
marked by the Grand Schism. We know it was firebranded by the Great
Froude, the historian, describes the change of the
sixteenth century with great eloquence and pathos:
‘A change was coming over the world, the meaning and
direction of which even
still is hidden from us, a change from era to era. The paths trodden by the
footsteps of ages were broken up; old things were passing away, and the faith
and the life of ten centuries were dissolving like a dream.
‘Chivalry was dying; the abbey and the castle were
soon together to crumble into ruins; and all the forms, desires, beliefs, and
convictions, of the Old World were passing away, never to return.
A new continent had risen up beyond the Western Sea. The floor of heaven, inlaid with stars, had sunk back to an infinite abyss
of immeasurable space; and the firm earth itself, unfixed from its foundations,
was seen to be but a small atom in the awful vastness of the universe. In the fabric of habit in
which they had so laboriously built for themselves, mankind were to remain no
‘And now it is all gone ‑ like an unsubstantial
pageant faded; and between us and the old English there lies a gulf which the
prose of the historian will never adequately bridge. They cannot come to us,
and our imagination can but feebly penetrate to them. Only among the aisles of
the Cathedrals, only as we gaze upon their silent figures sleeping on their
tombs, some faint conceptions float before us of what those men were when they
were alive; and, perhaps, in the sound of church bells, that peculiar creation
of the mediaeval age which falls upon the ear like the echo of a vanished
The purifying river of truth began to run deeply all
through society. Social life was changed. Family life was changed. Teaching
life was changed. School life was changed. Country life was changed. Town
life was changed. City life was changed. Government life was changed. Palace
life was changed. Throne life was changed. Religious life was changed.
Industrial life was changed. Moral life was changed.
In fact, as the Reformation came closer the clergy
sank lower and lower, and a marked change for the better became perceptible
among the laity.
The people were soon demanding different standards
from the clergy.
The Consistory Courts, established in the middle ages with
the lofty aim of suppressing sin as well as crime, had become deeply corrupt
and grossly oppressive. Tireannous they were in the hands of ecclesiastics, but
they were rendered odious by the distinctions in punishment inflicted on lay
and spiritual offenders.
The grossest moral profligacy in a priest was passed
over with indifference and so far from exacting obedience to a higher standard
than she required of ordinary persons, the Church extended her limits under
fictitious pretexts as a sanctuary to lettered villainy.
Wolsey, whose own immorality was deeply reprehensible,
told the Pope that ‘Priests, both secular and regular, were in the habit of
committing atrocious crimes, for which, if not in orders, they would have been
Brothels were kept in London for the especial use of
priests. Froude quotes an instance in which the Consistory Court punished an
offence against itself by excommunication, and yet the same Court dismissed the
confessed incest of a priest with the fine of a few shillings. Perhaps a
stronger proof could not be given of the evil character of the mass of the
clergy than in the fact that men besought their executors in their wills to try
to find priests of virtuous character to sing masses for them, begging that if
their own priests were not virtuous others might be obtained.
This deep corruption of the professed teachers of
morals and religion must be ranked as one of the most powerful provocations of
So little had the Romish faith inculcated Christian
practice that the statutes of the realm at this period give evidence of
national dishonesty in general dealings, in quality, measure, and weight. Sir
Thomas More says, that in the reign of Henry VII ‘thieves were hanged so fast that there were
sometimes twenty on a gibbet, and one could not wonder enough how it came to
pass that since so few escaped, there were yet so many thieves left robbing in all
places; Hollingshed says that 72,000 thieves were hanged in Henry VIII’s
In the Sixteenth century London was only the size of
two country towns and yet that Roman Catholic London swarming with priests and
intolerance of heresy was less moral than the whole of London today.
‘One of the priests of history Michelet said, “History
never releases her slaves. He who has once drunk of that sharp strong wine
goes on drinking it, even to the end.”
History does have her priests who minister in her temples
and convey her messages to the world. She has also her slaves who do her
humbler work ‑ temple sweepers as Ephesus of old was to the great goddess
Diana. They do it willingly ‑ ay and very often they do it because they
help it. An impulse they cannot resist drives them
on” - Alcock.
No English Reformer has been more attacked than
Cranmer the First Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. His work helped to
establish Bible Protestants in the Church of England and his Papish enemies
whilst he lived and since he died have done everything to undermine his
integrity impeach his sincerity, slander his treachery and revile his person.
- continued next time