Sunday, March 03, 2013

Question from D.J. Loftis - Cranmer's recantation and execution

I'm writing a screenplay about Mary I, and in my research there is something I haven't been able to figure out.

When Thomas Cranmer recanted his Protestantism, under Papal Law, Mary was supposed to spare him, but didn't.

Had Cranmer not taken it back, what would the papal repercussions for this have been for Mary? Would she have been risking excommunication?


  1. If Cranmer wouldn't have recanted Mary would have burnt him just like she did others (eg. Latimer, Ridley etc) but Cranmer did recant and Mary still burnt him. It is uusally believed by historians that Mary had a personal grudge against Cranmer as he was the one who proclaimed her mother's marriage to her father null and void and declared that she was bastard. I have also read..sorry don't remember in which book that Mary harbored a grudge particularly against those who refered her as bastard.

  2. I may be splitting hairs here, but "Mary" (by which I assume you mean the secular law courts acting in Queen Mary's name) had no direct jurisdiction over ecclesiastical (church) matters after the restoration of the English Church to Roman allegiance. In simplest terms, church matters were governed by canon law (“Papal” law is the wrong term) and were tried in ecclesiastic courts at the direction of the Roman papacy. The church did, however, often turn convicted persons over to secular authorities for final punishment, especially if the person had also been convicted of a secular offense. In the specific case of Thomas Cranmer, he had been tried and found guilty of treason in November 1553, and sentenced to death. All of this ... the charges, trial, conviction, and sentence ... were governed by civil law in secular courts under the jurisdiction on Queen Mary as secular monarch of the realm. The secular sentence was stayed, or postponed, however, until the ecclesiastical matters could be resolved. Cranmer was then charged with heresy under canon law and re-tried in an ecclesiastical court by judges governed not by Mary but by Rome and the papacy. Once found guilty under canon law of heresy, Papal authorities ordered that Cranmer be turned over to the secular authorities for punishment of his secular crime of treason. His series of recantations created a canon-law delay of the secular punishment only in that canon law required that a person who recants must be offered a chance for absolution before any secular sentence of death can be carried out. After several delays to allow for Cranmer to confess fully, be absolved, and receive communion, the sentence was carried out. Under secular law, the monarch can (if he/she chooses) alter the manner of execution at will. Examples include Henry VIII allowing Anne Boleyn a French swordsman rather than an English axeman, or those noblemen convicted of treason who were allowed beheading rather than being hung, drawn, and quartered. Mary chose in Cranmer’s case to follow canon law, which specifies burning at the stake for those convicted of heresy. It is a misconception that canon law requires a recanted heretic be spared. It does not. It requires only that the recanter be allowed absolution. Church history is packed with heretics who were burned even after recanting their heresy.

  3. I have always felt that this was revenge on Mary's part. Cranmer had declared KOA and H8 invalid and Mary a bastard, he supported AB, years later agreed to declare Jane Grey as queen. IT WAS ALL REVENGE.

  4. It was revenge because Cranmer declared her parents marriage invalid, and she a bastard.


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