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Over the past few months I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

The last entry explained the political and ecclesiastical turmoil going on during Edward VI’s reign. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s first Prayer Book, which was approved for lawful use in the Church of England in January 1549, pleased neither some congregants nor some clergy, especially Reformers from the Continent who had settled in England. Among the Reformers were Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr.

As Dearmer noted of June 1549 (emphases mine below):

June 10th. Armed rebellions against the Act begin, especially in the West of England. The insurgents demand the old ceremonies— Holy water, Images, Ashes, Palms, etc., and the service in Latin. They are suppressed by foreign mercenaries.

Churchgoers thought the Prayer Book too Protestant. Continental Reformers thought it was too Catholic.

Another aspect which made the Church of England’s foray into Protestantism contentious was the fact that Edward VI was a boy king. He died at the age of 15. That meant there were powerful men behind him trying to further their own agendas.

First Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’

In Chapter 6 of his book, Dearmer wrote that Cranmer’s First Prayer Book was ‘too fair-minded’ for such a violent era. Interestingly, subsequent revisions after the Second Prayer Book of 1552 incorporated more of the First Prayer Book of 1549 (pictured at left, courtesy of Wikipedia).

Dearmer describes what made the First Prayer Book so exceptional for public worship and administration of the sacraments. Indeed, it exemplifies the best characteristics of the English people:

It is indeed throughout an examplar of what we proudly claim as one of the best elements in the English character: alike in ritual, that is, in the wording of the services, and in ceremonial, it endeavours to avoid the extremes of bigots and fanatics, seeking to establish what is true and right without regard to prejudices, reactions, and the cruel generalizations so characteristic of the period. Catholic conservatism there is, but it is the conservatism which is not afraid of new ideas ; Protestantism there is, but it is the Protestantism that will not throw away the gold with the dross compromise there is, but it is the compromise which honestly accepts truth from both sides. It is positive, constructive, practical ;

The Second Prayer Book was nothing like it, which later generations of clergy recognised, as they returned to the First for subsequent revisions:

and we may safely say that, ever since it was so roughly altered at the end of Edward VI’s reign, the opinion of the whole Anglican Communion has been steadily coming back to the principles of the First Prayer Book, and that every subsequent revision has restored something which the Second Book took away. In fact, as is stated in the very Act which substituted the Second Book for it, the First Prayer Book was “a very godly order for common prayer and administration of the sacraments, . . . agreeable to the word of God and the primitive Church”; but there had “arisen in the use and exercise . . . divers doubts for the fashion and manner of the ministration of same, rather by curiosity of the minister, and mistakers, than of any other worthy cause.”

Ultimately:

The First Prayer Book was indeed too fair-minded for the violent and bitter spirit of the age.

Wikipedia explains that the tumult surrounding the First Prayer Book and the call for a Second Prayer Book were influenced by Reformers, both Continental and British, who wanted no semblance of Catholicism in the services, particularly that for Holy Communion:

The new changes were also a response to criticism from such reformers as John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, and the Scot John Knox, who was employed as a minister in Newcastle upon Tyne under the Duke of Northumberland and whose preaching at court prompted the king to oppose kneeling at communion.[132] Cranmer was also influenced by the views of the continental reformer Martin Bucer, who died in England in 1551, by Peter Martyr, who was teaching at Oxford, and by other foreign theologians.[133] The progress of the Reformation was further speeded by the consecration of more reformers as bishops.[134] In the winter of 1551–52, Cranmer rewrote the Book of Common Prayer in less ambiguous reformist terms, revised canon law, and prepared a doctrinal statement, the Forty-two Articles, to clarify the practice of the reformed religion, particularly in the divisive matter of the communion service.[135] Cranmer’s formulation of the reformed religion, finally divesting the communion service of any notion of the real presence of God in the bread and the wine, effectively abolished the mass.[136] According to Elton, the publication of Cranmer’s revised prayer book in 1552, supported by a second Act of Uniformity, “marked the arrival of the English Church at protestantism”.[137] The prayer book of 1552 remains the foundation of the Church of England’s services.[138] However, Cranmer was unable to implement all these reforms once it became clear in spring 1553 that King Edward, upon whom the whole Reformation in England depended, was dying.[139]

I disagree that the Prayer Book of 1552 remains the foundation of Church of England services, as Dearmer, closer to the matter, says there was a return to the First Prayer Book. Furthermore, we have only Thirty-Nine, not Forty-Two, Articles of Religion. We also kneel for Communion and many parts of the later 1662 service, still in occasional use today. Therefore, the 1552 Second Prayer Book did not have much staying power.

Note that Edward VI was dying in 1553. Succession was controversial. Edward was firmly committed to the Protestant religion. He did not want his Catholic half-sister Mary to succeed him. Nor did his advisers want that.

Edward considered Mary and his other half-sister Elizabeth to be illegitimate daughters of their father Henry VIII, and as Edward had no children of his own, he designated that his first cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey, succeed him.

Edward was very ill for the first six months of 1553. He had a severe fever in January and, as the months progressed, coughed up blood and sputum. By the end, his legs had swollen to such an extent that he could only feel comfortable lying down. Even today, no one is sure exactly what ailed Edward, as his symptoms were so diverse. He died on July 6 but was not buried until August 8. Archbishop Cranmer performed the burial rite.

At the time, conspiracy theories abounded as to the real cause of his death. Some people thought the unpopular Duke of Northumberland had the young king poisoned. Others suspected Mary had him poisoned so that she could restore the Catholic religion to England.

Lady Jane Grey became Queen of England on July 10, 1553. She, too, was only an adolescent, two or three years Edward’s senior. Her last day as queen was July 19. She was executed in the Tower of London on February 12, 1554, on charges of treason for usurping the throne.

During Jane’s brief reign, Mary started her trip from Hunsdon in Hertfordshire and travelled to East Anglia where she gathered her supporters as reinforcements in case of battle. The Duke of Northumberland set out from London with troops for the same reason. In Northumberland’s absence, the privy council shifted their allegiance from Jane to Mary.

The privy council proclaimed Mary queen on July 19, but she did not make a public appearance in London until August 3. She had the Duke of Northumberland executed on August 22, 1553.

Of course, a Catholic queen was bad news for the Reformers — and for Archbishop Cranmer (pictured at left, courtesy of Wikipedia). On the day of Edward VI’s funeral, he told his friends from the Continent, including Peter Martyr, to return home. A few weeks later, on September 14, 1553, he was sent to the Tower of London along with his fellow English theologians, Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley on charges of treason. Martyr was still in England. Cranmer and he bade each other farewell that day. Martyr left for Strasbourg.

On March 8, 1554, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were also charged with heresy. They were sent to Bocardo Prison in Oxford to await trial. Latimer and Ridley were burnt at the stake on October 15, 1555. Cranmer was forced to watch from a nearby tower.

In December 1555, Cranmer was transferred out of prison to the house of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. There, a Dominican friar, Juan de Villagarcia, and perhaps other clergy persuaded Cranmer to recant the Protestant religion. By February 1556, he had done so, but it meant being defrocked and returned to Bocardo Prison to await execution.

According to Canon Law, Cranmer should have been spared execution because he recanted. However, Queen Mary wanted to make ‘an example’ out of him.

Cranmer was buried at the stake on March 21, 1556, in the same spot as Latimer and Ridley met their deaths. Interestingly, he was given the final opportunity to make a further public recantation of the Protestant religion. He did no such thing. In the end, he recanted his recantations and declared the pope to be ‘Christ’s enemy and Antichrist‘.

John Foxe wrote about the three in his 1563 volume Book of Martyrs. Since then, Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley have been known as the Oxford Martyrs.

I got ahead of myself here, however, this is to further illustrate what a tumultuous and violent period in history this was.

Next time, with the aid of Percy Dearmer’s text, I would like to return to Edward VI’s reign and demonstrate that, possibly without his knowledge, it was even more destructive than his father Henry VIII’s ransacking of the monasteries.

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