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The Reign of Queen Mary page 12

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Whilst Mary was thus suffering frightfully in person - from a complication of complaints, from dropsy, excessive head-aches, her head often being enormously swelled, and from hysterics - and whilst her reputation was suffering still more from the cruelties practised on her Protestant subjects, her heartless husband was leading a dissolute life, and even attempting to corrupt the maids of honour. Mary probably never knew anything of this, "for sometimes," says Pox, "she laid for weeks without speaking, as one dead, and more than once the rumour went that she had died in childbed."

Gardiner took advantage of the pause in persecution caused by the sermon of Di Castro, to withdraw from his odious office of chief inquisitor. Might lie not have instigated the friar to express his opinion so boldly, for it is obvious that he wanted to be clear of the dreadful work of murdering his fellow-subjects for their faith? He therefore withdrew from the office, and a more sanguinary man took it up. This was Bonner, Bishop of London. He opened his inquisitorial court in the consistory court of St. Paul's, and compelled the lord mayor and aldermen to attend and countenance his proceedings. Bonner condemned men to the flames with unrivalled facility, at the rate of half-a-dozen per day; and in this work he was stimulated to diligence by the Privy Council, who urged him continually forward. Burnet gives a letter written in the name of Philip and Mary exhorting him to increased activity; but from what we have seen of Mary's condition we may safely attribute the spur to Philip. Cardinal Pole did all in his power to put an end to the persecutions, but in vain.

It was now resolved to proceed to extremities with the three eminent prelates, Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer. They had been long in prison, and had now been for the space of a year removed from the Tower to Oxford. They were all, in the eyes of the law, guilty of high treason, for they had all done their best to exclude the present queen from the throne. Cranmer had made the first breach in the Papal power in England by suggesting to Henry VIII. the mode of getting rid of Catherine, and of assuming the supremacy in the Church. Though obliged to conform to Henry's notions during his reign, he had under Edward given a great start to Protestantism, and had cordially concurred with Northumberland in setting aside Mary in the will of Edward. Ridley had openly espoused the cause of Lady Jane Grey, and Latimer had publicly preached, both in Edward's time and at the accession of Mary, against her succession- to the throne on account of her Popery.

But the charge of high treason was dropped, undoubtedly because it was hoped that they might, by the prospect of the flames, be brought as heretics to recantation. On the 15th of April, 1554, they were led from their prisons to St. Mary's Church, where the doctors of the university sat in judgment upon them. They were promised a free and fair discussion of their tenets, and the still more vain assurance was given them that if they could convince their opponents, they should be set free. The so-called disputation continued three days, but it much more truly represented a bear-baiting, than the honest discussion of men in quest of the truth.

On the 16th of April, the day appointed, Cranmer appeared before this disorderly assembly in the divinity school. He was treated with peculiar indignity, for they had a deep hatred of him from the long and conspicuous part which he had enacted in the work of Reformation. It was in vain that he attempted to state his views, for he was interrupted at every moment by half-a-dozen persons at once; and whenever he advanced anything particularly difficult of answer, the doctors denounced him as ignorant and unlearned, and the students hissed and clapped their hands outrageously. The next day Ridley experienced the same treatment, but he was a man of a much more bold and determined character, of profound learning, and ready address, and spite of the most disreputable clamour and riot, he made himself heard above all the storm, and with telling effect. When his adversaries shouted at him five or six at a time, he calmly observed, "I have but one tongue, I cannot answer all at once."

Poor old Latimer was not only oppressed by age, but by sickness, and he was scarcely able to stand. He appealed to his base judges to pity his weakness and give him a fair hearing. "Ha! good master," he said to Weston, the moderator, "I pray ye be good to an old man; ye may be once as old as I am: ye may come to this age and this debility." But he appealed in vain, his judges and hearers were lost to all sense of what is due to truth and religion, of what is due to the age and spirit of a veteran servant of God, whatever may have been his errors or failings. The rude students only laughed, hissed, clapped their hands, and mocked the old man the more. Seeing that all hopes of a hearing were vain, he told the rabble of his judges and spectators, for such they truly were, "that he had spoken before attentive kings for two and three hours at a time, but that he could not declare his mind there for a quarter of an hour for mockings, revilings, checks, rebukes, and taunts, such as he had not felt the like in such an audience all his life long." The three insulted and unheard prisoners wrote to the queen that they had been silenced by the noise, not by the arguments of their opponents, and Cranmer in his letter said, "I never knew nor heard of a more confused disputation in all my life; for albeit there was one appointed to dispute against me, yet every man spake his mind, and brought forth what him liked without order; and such haste was made, that no answer could be suffered to be given."

On the 28th of April, they were all three brought again into St. Mary's Church, and there asked by Weston whether they were willing to conform, and on replying in the negative, were condemned as obstinate heretics, and returned to their prison. There they lay till the October of the following year, when Ridley and Latimer were ordered to prepare for the stake. On the 16th of that month, a stake was erected in the town ditch opposite to Baliol College. Soto, a Spanish priest, had been sent to them in person to try to convert them, but in vain; Latimer would not even listen to him; and now at the stake a Dr. Smith, who had renounced Popery in King Edward's time, and was again a pervert, preached a sermon on the text, "Though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." The two martyrs cheered each other, and exhorted one another to be courageous, Ridley, on approaching the pile, turned to Latimer who was following him, embraced and kissed him, saying, "Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or strengthen us to bear it;" and when Latimer was tied to the stake back to back with his fellow-sufferer, he returned the consolation, exclaiming, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

A lighted fagot was placed at the feet of Ridley, and matches applied to the pile. Bags of gunpowder were hung round their necks to shorten their sufferings, and as the flames ascended, Latimer was very quickly dead, probably through suffocation in the smoke; but Ridley suffered long. His brother-in-law had piled the faggots high about him. to hasten his death, but the flames did not readily find their way amongst them from their closeness, and a spectator hearing him cry out that he could not burn, opened the pile, and an explosion of gunpowder almost instantly terminated his existence.

Cranmer was reserved for a future day. The punctilios of ecclesiastical form were strictly observed, and as he enjoyed the dignity of primate of England, it required higher authority to decide his fate than that which had pronounced judgment on his companions. Latimer and Ridley had been sentenced by the commissioners of the legate, Cranmer must only be doomed by the Pontiff himself. He was, therefore, waited on in his cell by Brooks, Bishop of Gloucester, as Papal sub-delegate, and two Royal commissioners, and there cited to appear before him at Rome within eighty days, and answer for his heresies. As this was impossible, the citation was a mockery and an insult. When the archbishop saw his two friends led forth to their horrible death, his resolution, which never was very great, began to fail, and he now presented a woful image of terror and irresolution, very different to the bravery of his departed friends. He expressed a possibility of conversion to Rome, and desired a conference with Cardinal Pole. But soon he became ashamed of his own weakness, and wrote to the queen defending his own doctrines, which she commissioned the cardinal to answer. When the eighty days had expired, and the Pope had pronounced his sentence, and had appointed Bonner, and Thirlby, Bishop of Ely, to degrade him, and see his sentence executed, he once more trembled with apprehension, and gave out that he was ready to submit to the judgment of the queen; that he believed in the creed of the Catholic Church, and deplored and condemned his past apostacy. He forwarded this submission to the Council, which they found too vague, and required a more full and distinct confession, which he supplied. When the Bishops of London and Ely arrived to degrade him, he appealed from the judgment of the Pope to that of a general Council, but that not being listened to, he sent two other papers to the commissioners before they left Oxford, again fully and explicitly submitting to all the statutes of the realm regarding the supremacy, and professing his faith in all the doctrines and rites of the Romish Church.

It is asserted by the Protestant party that, in order to induce him to recant, he was promised his life on full conversion, but Lingard, on the authority of Strype, asserts that no such expectations were held out to him; that they were distinctly to Latimer and Ridley, but when the question was put whether the same favour should be extended to Cranmer, the Council decided in the negative, on the ground that, independent of his political offences, he was the cause of the schism in the reign of Henry, and of the change of religion in the reign of Edward, and that such offences required that he should suffer for example's sake; that the writ was directed to the mayor or bailiffs of Oxford, the day of execution fixed, and that, still hoping for pardon, he made a fifth recantation, as full as his adversaries could possibly desire, abjuring all his Protestant principles as erroneous doctrines; that he sent this paper to Cardinal Pole, praying a respite of a few days that he might prepare a still more convincing proof of his repentance, and do away, before his death, the scandal given by his past conduct. This prayer, it is said, the queen cheerfully granted; and if the persons in whose hands he was at Oxford held out a prospect of final pardon, this was probably a base and unwarranted deceit on their part, in order to induce the frail prelate to humiliate himself and his cause the more. But we are told that they now removed him from his prison to the house of the Dean of Christchurch, where they treated him luxuriously and did everything to make life sweet, and the prospect of the burning stake awful to him; that he was allowed to walk about at his pleasure, to play at bowls, and that he was assured that the queen loved him and only wished for his conversion; that the Council were rather his friends than his enemies, and would be glad to see him again amongst them in honour and dignity. Whoever authorised these false pretences, whether in high or low station, were guilty of the most infamous conduct. Under these delusions he now penned his sixth confession, acknowledging that he had been a greater persecutor of the Church than Paul, and trusted that, like Paul, he might make ample reparation. What he had thrown down he could not restore; but, like the penitent thief upon the cross, he trusted to obtain mercy through his confession. He declared himself worthy of eternal punishment; that he had blasphemed against the sacrament, had sinned against heaven and his sovereign, and implored pardon from the Pope, the king, and queen.

On the 21st of March, 1556, Cranmer was conducted to St. Mary's Church, where Dr. Cole, provost of Eton College, preached a sermon, in which he stated that notwithstanding Cranmer's full repentance, he had done the Church so much mischief that he must die. That morning Garcina, a Spanish friar, had waited on him before leaving his cell, and presented him with a paper making a complete statement of his recantation and repentance, which he requested him to transcribe and sign. It seems that his enemies calculated that, having so fully committed himself, the fallen primate would not at the last hour depart from his confession; but they were mistaken, Cranmer now saw nothing but death before him, and he most bitterly repented of his weakness and the renunciation of what he felt to be the holy truth. He had, therefore, transcribed once more the paper which had been brought to him, but in place of the latter part of it he wrote in a very different conclusion. Accordingly, when he read his paper at the conclusion of the sermon there was a profound silence till he came to the fifth article of it, which went on to declare that through fear of death, and beguiled by hopes of pardon, he had been led to renounce his genuine faith, but that he now declared that all his recantations were false; that he recalled them every one, rejected the Papal authority, and confirmed the whole doctrine contained in his book. The amazement was intense, the audience became agitated by various passions, there were mingled murmurings and approbation. The Lord Williams of Thame called to him to "remember himself and play the Christian." That was touching a string which woke the response of the hero and the martyr in the primate. He replied that he did remember; that it was now too late to dissemble, and he must now speak the truth.

This was the time which was to atone for all the weakness of nature in Cranmer, for all his shrinkings, his compliances, his concealments, and almost for his persecutions of others. He saw death certain, and its terrors vanished. The mighty and sublime truth which he had always worshipped in his heart, but which he had not always had the strength to testify and maintain, though he had still been permitted to serve it essentially, now assumed its whole place in his soul, and nerved him for one final and glorious victory.

When the first astonishment at this unlooked-for declaration had passed, there was a rush to drag down Cranmer, and hurry him to the stake in the same spot where his friends Ridley and Latimer had suffered. There he was speedily stripped to the shirt and tied to the stake; through it all he was firm and calm. He no longer trembled at his fate; he declared that he had never changed his belief; hope of life only had wrung from him his recantation; and the moment that the flames burst out he thrust his right hand into them saying, "This hath offended." The writers of those times say, that he stood by the stake whilst the fire raged round him, as immovable as the stake itself, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, exclaimed, "Lord, receive my spirit," and very soon expired.

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Pictures for The Reign of Queen Mary page 12

Queen Mary I
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The Crown of England offered to Lady Jane Grey.
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