Thomas Cranmer

A Life

Diarmaid MacCulloch

View Inside Price: $35.00

February 28, 2017
704 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
44 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300226577

Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, was the archbishop of Canterbury who guided England through the early Reformation—and Henry VIII through the minefields of divorce. This is the first major biography of him for more than three decades, and the first for a century to exploit rich new manuscript sources in Britain and elsewhere.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, one of the foremost scholars of the English Reformation, traces Cranmer from his east-Midland roots through his twenty-year career as a conventionally conservative Cambridge don. He shows how Cranmer was recruited to the coterie around Henry VIII that was trying to annul the royal marriage to Catherine, and how new connections led him to embrace the evangelical faith of the European Reformation and, ultimately, to become archbishop of Canterbury. By then a major English statesman, living the life of a medieval prince-bishop, Cranmer guided the church through the king's vacillations and finalized two successive versions of the English prayer book.
MacCulloch skillfully reconstructs the crises Cranmer negotiated, from his compromising association with three of Henry's divorces, the plot by religious conservatives to oust him, and his role in the attempt to establish Lady Jane Grey as queen to the vengeance of the Catholic Mary Tudor. In jail after Mary's accession, Cranmer nearly repudiated his achievements, but he found the courage to turn the day of his death into a dramatic demonstration of his Protestant faith.
From this vivid account Cranmer emerges a more sharply focused figure than before, more conservative early in his career than admirers have allowed, more evangelical than Anglicanism would later find comfortable. A hesitant hero with a tangled life story, his imperishable legacy is his contribution in the prayer book to the shape and structure of English speech and through this to the molding of an international language and the theology it expressed.

Diarmaid MacCulloch is a fellow of St. Cross College and professor of the history of the church, University of Oxford. His many books include A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

A selection of the History Book Club

"MacCulloch presents not only a new examination of Cranmer, but also new evidence which challenges the older hagiographies and prejudices, revealing Cranmer as a highly complex man. . . . MacCulloch shows that if there was one overall controlling factor it was that nothing and no one must derail the evangelical programme. . . .This tale of Cranmer is beautifully told and illustrated . . . and MacCulloch must be congratulated for writing it."—Bryan D. Spinks, Cambridge Review

"MacCulloch's book will serve as the standard work on Cranmer's religious and political career."—Choice

"This biography addresses two basic issues which until now have not been very clear. First, MacCulloch skillfully traces and keeps distinct the religious and political issues with which Cranmer contended. . . . Second, MacCulloch shows Cranmer as a religious leader wrestling with how to achieve his vision under a particular set of circumstances. . . . MacCulloch's ability to depict both the man and his times with such clarity and dynamism marks this as a work of rare quality."—William L. Sachs, Christian Century

"Thomas Cranmer is without question one of the most important figures in British Christianity. . . . This rich and exhaustively researched new study of Cranmer is likely to become a minor classic. There have been many studies of Cranmer published this century; this one, however, overshadows them all. MacCulloch tells the story of Cranmer's life with great sympathy and intelligence. Not only is the biography a superb source of information and insight; it is a rippingly good read. . . . Anyone with a love of history will find themselves enthralled by this work."—Alister McGrath, Christianity

"MacCulloch's considerable achievement is to give us a magnificent biography that is unmistakably sympathetic to Cranmer without being yet another apologia. . . .A major achievement in Tudor historiography."—Richard L. Greaves, Church History

"A good read. . . . MacCulloch wades through the mass of his material with thoroughness and an engaging lightness of touch. . . . MacCulloch gives a sympathetic and balanced picture of the nuancing of Cranmer's liturgy and theological legacy by the 17th-century divines, but he none the less gives a powerful and convincing interpretation . . . of Cranmer's own developing eucharistic thought through its Lutheran phase in the early 1540's to the more definitely memorialist approach from 1547 onwards."—Kenneth Stevenson, Church Times

"[A] massive new study, up-to-date with recent (and not least revisionist scholarship, more detailed than any of its predecessors, using new material and containing new insights, and altogether providing a balanced and sympathetic estimate of its subject. . . . An example of historical scholarship at its best."—Arthur Pollard, Churchman

"The research for this long book has been extensive. . . . The author handles the theological discussions extremely well and always seems to remember that many readers will not be theologians. One doubts that this book will be replaced for many years to come."—Contemporary Review

"Diarmaid MacCulloch's phenomenal familiarity with so much new, as well as all the old, manuscript, and even topographical material, holds one clamped to his 650 pages. One cannot wait to read what really happened next."—Norman Scarfe, Country Life

"This is certainly the most comprehensive work on Cranmer yet undertaken, Dr. MacCulloch puts the whole Reformed Church in debt with his account of the principal architect and martyr of the Church of England. . . . This is a book not to be missed by anyone wanting to understand the English Reformation."—English Churchman

"At last we have the truth about Archbishop Cranmer, the most controversial bigwig in the history of the English Church. . . . The best biography of Cranmer, sympathetic and candid about Cranmer's shortcomings."—A.L. Rowse, Evening Standard

"This is a superb biography. The reader is amazed at MacCulloch's learning and entranced by his literary skill. So many documents have been tracked down. So much that is in dispute has been carefully assessed. The volume is handsome, the price remarkably low. It is splendid."—Expository Times

"Written with consummate skill . . . [this book] is a very scholarly work . . . and is obviously the outcome of a tremendous amount of very detailed and meticulous research. However, it is by no means a book for experts only—though the experts will surely welcome the new light which it throws on some hitherto unresolved problems and queries. But the ordinary reader, too, will find it extremely rewarding. . . . So it is above all an enormously readable book. Indeed, it is perhaps not too much to suggest that it has some of the characteristics o a great novel."—Faith & Freedom

"[An] excellent book. . . . The chief pleasure of this book is its detail. Through it we see the revolution in slow motion."—Adrian Kerry, Irish Times

"MacCulloch's new account of the archbishop who guided England through the earlier stages of its religious reformation in the sixteenth century is the first major biography for over thirty years and is likely to be the definitive one for many years to come. It is meticulously researched, impressive in its control of detail, and is very lucid and readable, despite its great length. . . . In the absence of new evidence, this fine book gives us as deep an insight into the heart of Cranmer's mystery as we are likely to get."—Alistair Fox, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"[A] massive, balanced and without doubt enduring biography of Thomas Cranmer."—Philip Caraman, Literary Review

"MacCulloch's life of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer will long be the definitive biography. This is an impressive, thorough, well documented and impeccably researched work. MacCulloch deals superbly with the myriad of conflicts, paradoxes, intrigues and political maneuvering that characterize English reformism during the early sixteenth century."—Andrew M. McLean, Living Church

"[MacCulloch] gets as much under his subject's skin as it is possible for a biographer to do. . . . A passionate, committed biography."—Gerald Hammond, London Review of Books

"One of the virtues of MacCulloch's biography is that he does not hesitate to present his subject in a less than flattering light. he is an honest biographer. More, he is a biographer of Cranmer's mind as well as his life. Thomas Cranmer's transition form a loyal follower of the Roman Catholic Church to a leader of a distinctive English church was a difficult, even tortuous one which involved much intellectual travail. Explicating theology is not often easy, but MacCulloch has done an outstanding job of presenting the intricate arguments which so involved, even obsessed an entire culture, from kings down to commoners."—Michael Witkoski, Magill's Literary Annual 1997

"MacCulloch has given us an extraordinary biography of Archbishop Cranmer and, with him, of the English Reformation. Impeccably researched, with absolute mastery of an overwhelming body of source material and subsequent scholarship, engagingly written, the book is a remarkable achievement."—Marc M. Arkin, New Criterion

"This lucidly written, deeply researched and surprisingly accessible biography of the man who served Henry VIII as Archbishop of Canterbury . . . ably explores both Cranmer's drive and his persistent doubts."—Allen D. Boyer, New York Times Book Review

"MacCulloch conveys convincingly the spirit and sensibility of a man who lived in an age almost beyond our comprehension. This is a rare gift."—Night & Day

"Anyone interested in Cranmer or the prayer-books will read MacCulloch with fascination and gratitude. . . . [A] prodigiously well-researched book."—Ian Robinson, Prayer Book Society

"This masterly and definitive biography. . . is to be unreservedly recommended to anyone seeking to understand the most important figure of the English Reformation and the one who, by his genius, gave the Church of England that masterpiece we now call the Book of Common Prayer. . . . Diarmaid MacCulloch is to be earnestly thanked and heartily congratulated for so much extending our knowledge and understanding of God's Other Englishman."—Margot Thompson, Prayer Book Society

"This is an exceptional book. Despite the subject being well worked over the past four hundred years, Dr. MacCulloch has made new discoveries in the Polish archives which had shed light on the previously very obscure earlier part of Cranmer's life as a young diplomat. The treatment of the Archbishop is sympathetic without being sycophantic and the book is blessedly free from the ugly condescension which mars so many modern biographies."—Rt Rev & Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, Prayer Book Society

"The first full-scale biography of Cranmer since 1962 and will likely become the standard biography. . . . Not only a magnificent biography, MacCulloch's accessible study is also a fascinating cultural examination of the development of the Church of England."—Publishers Weekly

"Thomas Cranmer: A Life is a wonderful book, lucidly written, dense with scholarship, which provides an exhaustive analysis of what could have been and could not have been Cranmer's role in reforming the English Church."—Rudolph P. Almasy, West Virginia University (from Selected Papers from the West Virginia Shakespeare and Renaissance Association)

"MacCulloch has provided a definitive and exhaustive treatment of his subject. . . . To read MacCulloch's Thomas Cranmer is not only to better understand the man; it is to better understand the nature of the English Reformation."—Ronald Fritze, Sixteenth Century Journal

Winner of the 1996 Whitbread Biography Award, presently known as Costa Book Awards (UK/Ireland).

Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize

Winner of the James Tait Memorial Prize for Biography