This is part 11 of a 15 part series examining the historical antecedents of the Anglican Communion.
The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
Matthew 13: 41-42
Edward VI, King of England, died on July 6, 1553, at the age of 15. He had two older half-sisters, the Catholic Mary, who was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and the Protestant Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Edward, or his council of regency, or both were fearful that Mary would undo the Protestant reforms that had been implemented under Edward’s rule. They planned to exclude Mary from the line of succession. Since Mary was the elder of Edward’s sisters, however, it would probably be necessary to exclude both his sisters. The grounds for exclusion were that Parliament had declared them both illegitimate. This was contradicted by the will of Henry VIII, who had restored them to the line of succession, but the reasoning was that the current king could undo the declarations of a former king. Guided by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and President of the Council of Regency, both sisters were excluded in Edward’s will and he declared that the throne should be inherited by his cousin Lady Jane Grey, who just happened to be married to Northumberland’s son, Guilford Dudley.
Lady Jane Grey was crowned Queen on July 10. On July 19, Edward’s older sister, Mary, who had gathered an army and who enjoyed tremendous popular support, rode into London. Lady Jane voluntarily ceded the crown to Mary. Because she had cooperated, and because Mary probably understood that her cousin had been heavily pressured by her family to take the throne, she was not immediately executed. John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, was not so fortunate. He was beheaded on August 22.
On October 1, 1553 Mary was crowned Queen of England. She was 37, and she believed that needed a husband to maintain control of the throne and, perhaps more importantly, to produce a Catholic heir to the throne. Mary was the granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and at the time she acceded to the throne her first cousin, Charles V, was Holy Roman Emperor. Charles suggested that Mary be wedded to his son, Prince Philip of Spain (who would later become king of Spain). Mary agreed. Philip and Mary met for the first time on July 23, 1554, and two days alter were married at Winchester Cathedral. It was not a popular marriage for the English people, who feared that their country would come under the control of Spain. Under the terms of the marriage treaty, Philip was named King of England. Armed rebellions followed, and, in their wake, Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guilford Dudley were convicted of high treason and executed. Mary’s sister Elizabeth was imprisoned.
Mary was desperate to become pregnant and announced that she was in fact with child in November. , This was a phantom pregnancy, and she would have another later during her reign. She in fact never had children, and her husband, who seemed to view their marriage as a political alliance rather than a carnal union, was rarely in England to share her bed.
Mary’s Parliament soon repealed all Protestant legal reforms. The English prayer book was abolished and English translations of the Bible were banned from churches. Heresy laws were reinstituted. Bishops were given authority to send heretics to death by burning at the stake. Among those executed in this manner were the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who initially recanted his Protestant views, and then, when he learned he would be executed anyway, recanted his recantation. Here is an excerpt from a contemporary account of his execution:
When praying was done, he stood up, and, having leave to speak, said . . . “And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand, contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand since my degradation: wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished: for if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.” And here, being admonished of his recantation and dissembling, he said, “Alas, my lord, I have been a man that all my life loved plainness, and never dissembled till now against the truth; which I am most sorry for it.”
Coming to the stake with a cheerful countenance and willing mind, he put off his garments with haste, and stood upright in his shirt. . . . Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice,”’This hand hath offended.” As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.
Besides Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley also went to the fires. Approximately 300 Protestants, most of them commoners, suffered this form of execution during Mary’s five-year reign.
Mary died at age 42 in November 1558. She was England’s last Catholic monarch. History calls her Bloody Mary.
Father in Heaven, we have sinned against you and against heaven. We have murdered. We have tortured. We have refused others the right to follow their own consciences. We have done all of this in your name, as if you endorse our sinful ctions.
Father, may we come face to face with our sin where it exists, and may we repent of our sin. Forgive us, Father. Forgive our ancestors.
Have mercy, Father. Use the blood shed by Jesus on the cross to cleanse the sins of our ancestors and our own sins. Wipe clean this stain on our history. Restore us. Break the cycle of repeated sins. Free us from bondage to this history. Begin a new creation in which you are our God and we are your people.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and true King.