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Christianity's top 11 most controversial figures | Thomas Cranmer

Cranmer's 'sexed-up' case for Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon provided the cover neede

Cranmer rose from modest beginnings in rural Nottinghamshire to become a respected advisor to Henry VIII. His divorce dossier, Sufficiently Abundant Collections, made the case that the king had supreme jurisdiction over the church within his territory and so could marry then divorce then kill whom he liked. For his pains he was made Archbishop of Canterbury, a position sewn up for him by the family of decapitee-to-be Anne Boleyn and paid for by his royal patron.

Hurried by news of Anne Boleyn's pregnancy and subsequent secret marriage, Cranmer delivered his legal opinion on 23 May 1533: Catherine of Aragon's marriage to the king was (who's have thunk it) against the law of God. Aragon was out, Boleyn was in, and the Act of Supremacy of 1534 made the whole thing legal.

Cranmer and fellow upstart Thomas Cromwell served as Henry's wheeler-dealers in Protestant Europe, matchmakers, and anullers. Cromwell's recommendation of the plain and stupid Anne of Cleves fell flat: even Henry would not touch her, and this sealed Cromwell's fate. Cranmer's game was up with the ascension of Mary I, who had him burned at the stake for treason. A Nicodemite to the last, Cranmer renounced the reformation strenuously to his accusers he but when it became clear this would not spare him, took it back.

Cranmer wasn't all bad. He was a long admirer of the humanism of Erasmus, which motivated him to make the power of the liturgy intelligible to the masses with English-language services and The Book of Common Prayer. He was the only member of court with the balls to tell Henry Catherine Howard was doing the dirty on him. But mostly he was the clinging, craven legitimator-in-chief of an impossibly randy and capricious tyrant.


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