Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Thought About Mrs Cranmer

Yesterday was the anniversary and memorial of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, burnt to death in 1556 in Broad Street, down the hill, here in Oxford. His reputation is controversial, as is everyone's in the Tudor period, although no one questions his skill as a liturgist, creating glorious and lasting prayers for us to use nearly five centuries later.

Cranmer was hired for his theological acumen - he was a scholar of both Latin and Greek divines as you can see from his book about the eucharist - by the monstrous King Henry VIII, in his dispute with the Pope about the validity of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, and later, his declaration of his own supremacy over the English Church. Cranmer was one of the very few of Henry's chief advisers - or wives, come to that - to outlive him. When Henry died, Cranmer never shaved again, as a sign of mourning for a man who, despite lifting quite a few palaces and their estates off him, nonetheless did him many favours.

One of these was tolerating his marriage. He had married in Germany when he was a priest but not a bishop, and when he returned to England, he kept his wife and children secret, although it was a secret the King knew, and both of them knew that it was illegal for a priest in England to be married - and remained so for the rest of Henry's reign. When the new king, Edward VI, took over, Cranmer changed the rules to legitimise his own relationship, and the English clergy have never had to be celibate since. He even included it as one of the 39 Articles (no. 32) that priests are free to marry at their "own discretion".

There is a story that when Canterbury Palace was on fire one time, Mrs Cranmer had to be rescued from the building in a trunk, to keep the secret safe. It's probably made up. But there are a great many gay clergy in the church today who can identify with having to keep their Mrs Cranmers in a trunk, or face the consequences of the ire of a monstrous hierarchy if they do not.

Bear in mind, though, that to change the rules, Cranmer broke them first. Compare and contrast with the pusillanimous pointy-hats of our times.

Will the day come when Article XXXII is finally enforced for us, too?


Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
March 2015

1 comment:

  1. Keeping your wife in a trunk seems appropriate.

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