Cranmer was archbishop of Canterbury (1533 – 1556) and a leader of the English Reformation who was responsible for establishing the basic structures of the Church of England.
Thomas Cranmer was born on 2 July 1489 in Nottinghamshire. His parents were minor gentry. As his father only had enough land to give his eldest son, Thomas and his younger brother joined the clergy. Cranmer was given a fellowship at Jesus College, Cambridge in 1510, which he lost when he married the daughter of a local tavern-keeper. She died in childbirth, at which point he was re-accepted by the college and devoted himself to study. He took holy orders in 1523.
A plague forced Cranmer to leave Cambridge for Essex. He came to the attention of Henry VIII, who was staying nearby. The king and his councillors found Cranmer a willing advocate for Henry’s desired divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer argued the case as part of the embassy to Rome in 1530, and in 1532 became ambassador to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Cranmer was sent to Germany to learn more about Lutheranism. Here he met Margaret Osiander, the niece of a Lutheran reformer, who he married.
In 1533, Cranmer was chosen to be archbishop of Canterbury and forced (for a time) to hide his married state. Once his appointment was approved by the pope, Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine void, and four months later married him to Anne Boleyn. With Thomas Cromwell, he supported the translation of the bible into English. In 1545, he wrote a litany that is still used in the church. Under the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer was allowed to make the doctrinal changes he thought necessary to the church. In 1549, he helped complete the book of common prayer.
After Edward VI’s death, Cranmer supported Lady Jane Grey as successor. Her nine-day reign was followed by the Roman Catholic Mary I, who tried him for treason. After a long trial and imprisonment, he was forced to proclaim to the public his error in the support of Protestantism, an act designed to discourage followers of the religion. Despite this, Cranmer was sentenced to be burnt to death in Oxford on 21 March 1556. He dramatically stuck his right hand, with which he had signed his recantation, into the fire first.