March 27, 2017
Burning BooksOn this day in 1556 Thomas Cranmer, the Reformation-minded Archbishop of Canterbury, was burned at the stake. As Henry VIII had executed Sir Thomas More for being too Catholic, so his daughter, Queen "Bloody" Mary I, executed Cranmer for being too Protestant -- over 300 such being put to death in her five-year reign. Cranmer's promotion of the English Bible and his authorship of The Book of Common Prayer are his most significant connections to Christian literature, but for fiction readers he is known through his connection to Ray Bradbury's book-burning novel, Fahrenheit 451.
Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester), Nicholas Ridley (Bishop of Rochester) and Cranmer were the "Oxford Martyrs." All three had been arrested by Mary, and imprisoned together at Oxford. Latimer and Ridley had so enthusiastically rejected the idea of recanting their Protestant beliefs that they were burned in October, 1555. As the bigger plum, Cranmer's recantation was more prized, and he was softened up over the next six months -- a process which included being forced to watch the burning of his friends, and which resulted in a handful of recantations and retracted recantations. The last retraction, just moments before going to his death, came with a vow: "I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." Those who watched reported that he made good on the promise, one adding, "His friends sorrowed for love; his enemies for pity; strangers for a common kind of humanity, whereby we are bound one to another."
But the more famous burning was the earlier one of Latimer and Ridley, made so by Latimer's last words as the two were given the mercy of a bag of gunpowder around their necks, and the fire was lit:
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