Welcoming Beth von Staats, author of Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell!

MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell Series aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and accessible way. In Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell, Beth von Staats discusses the fascinating life of Thomas Cranmer, from his early education, through his appointment to Archbishop of Canterbury, his growth in confidence as a reformer, the writing of two versions of the English Book of Common Prayer and eventually to his imprisonment, recantations and execution. Beth von Staats, creator of the popular “QueenAnneBoleyn” website brings together what is known about Thomas Cranmer and clearly explains his role in English history. I’ve read the book (it’s novella length, like all the nutshell series) and it is really good; lots of info packed into it and well-written to boot.

Beth is a friend of mine, and a history writer of both fiction and non-fiction short works. A life-long history enthusiast, Beth holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Beth’s interest in British History grew through the profound influence of her Welsh grandparents, both of whom desired she learn of her family cultural heritage. Her most pronounced interest lies with the men and women who drove the course of events and/or who were most poignantly impacted by the English Henrician and Protestant Reformations, as well as the Tudor Dynasty of English and Welsh History in general.

The good news is that if you leave a comment below before midnight tomorrow then you’ll have a chance to win a copy of Beth’s book!

Without further ado, here’s Beth’s guest post!


Four Fun Facts About Thomas Cranmer


by Beth von Staats

If you ever play a game of “Trivial Pursuit” with a group of Anglicans, religious scholars or English Tudor Era history lovers, you can impress them all with these four little known fun facts about Thomas Cranmer, England’s first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thomas Cranmer, “Spy Master”

When English Tudor history lovers think of spymasters, people most commonly and rightfully think of Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s Principal Secretary and Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex. Did you know that His Grace sometimes also got in on the act?

In 1530, at King Henry VIII’s command, Thomas Cranmer traveled to Italy with Edward Lee and Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Ormond and Whiltshire. Their mission was to meet with Pope Clement while the both the Bishop of Rome and King Charles V were in Bologna for the Imperial Coronation. Their mission? The men were to to seek an audience with Pope Clement VII, because to all concerned, “the matter of the divorce should be disputed and ventilated.”Although the Bishop of Rome was not like-minded, he was obviously impressed with His Grace just the same, naming him Grand Penitentiary of England. Though His Grace was unable to sway the Pope towards resolving the King’s Great Matter, he successfully placed one of his Italian “servants” into the home of Jerome Ghinucci, a permanent watchdog of England’s interests. What was Ghinucci’s new servant’s essential job functions? For the next several years he worked as a long-term spy for His Grace, feeding essential information regarding the activities of those men Thomas Cranmer termed the antichrist, the Popes of the Roman Catholic faith and their inner circles.

Prior to his appointment as Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, then Archdeacon of Taunton, was appointed by Henry VIII Conciliarius Regius et ad Caesarem Orator, in other words, sole ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor, King Charles V. Given the Holy Roman Empire was at war with the Ottoman Empire, it was very dangerous times to be following King Charles V as he made his way from battle to battle, but His Grace did just that. In his role as ambassador, His Grace , “a la Eustace Chapuys” sent his king regular correspondences detailing the goings-on of King Charles V’s court and the horrors he witnessed while on his travels. His Grace could be quite cheeky and sneaky about it, too. If what he wanted to communicate to King Henry VIII was “classified and confidential”, he wrote in cypher. Yes, Thomas Cranmer, like any good spy, wrote in cypher.

Thomas Cranmer, “Obsessed Librarian”

Most Tudor Enthusiasts know that Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury was a religious scholar and theologean. What most people do not know, however, is that His Grace not only read and studied academic and religious works, he was an obsessive collector of any piece of literature, scholarly tract, scriptural thesis, biography, philosophical work – basically anything written in English, Welsh, Latin, New Greek, Old Greek, French, Spanish or German that he could lay his hands on, what point of view it held irrelevant. Luther stood beside Erasmus. Erasmus stood beside Tyndale. Tyndale stood beside More. More stood beside Cranmer. Cranmer stood beside Pole. Pole stood beside Knox. By the time of King Edward VI’s reign, His Grace’s library rivaled the those of Oxford and Cambridge.

Although most of His Grace’s contemporaries knew of his extensive library, those who ventured within to research for their own purposes likely sometimes became a tad frustrated. Why? Well there was never a work that His Grace owned and read that was not written upon, the margins filled with primarily memory aides, but also sometimes debating commentary with the author or statements of affirmation. In some cases, His Grace would study a work years after he originally had done so, marginalia illustrating his changed and emerging views through the years. Consequently, works that survive from Cranmer’s vast library are true gifts to historians. Sadly, much of his library was dispersed upon his arrest, those works saved primarily those acceptable to the Marian regime.

Thomas Cranmer, “Ostler”

During the Tudor Era reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, Roman Catholics enjoyed telling stories passed from one generation to the next about Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. One common story involved his marriage to his first wife, Joan, last name noted to be Brown or Black at his heresy hearing in 1555. As the story goes, His Grace hooked up with his first wife while he was a Master’s student at Cambridge. A loose woman, she was quickly pregnant, forcing a rushed marriage. Given the boot from Cambridge, His Grace was left to work as an ostler (care taker of horses) at the tavern and inn her family operated. Thus His Grace shoveled horse manure, and his first wife, who tragically died in child-bed, was a whore known to all as “Black Joan of the Dolphin”.

Now as we explore in the next fun fact also, much Roman Catholic story telling contained a kernel of truth. The fact of the matter was this. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury was a lover of horses. Though we all are taught that His Grace was a scholar of theology, evangelical reformer, religious leader, craftsman of the Church of England’s liturgy, and primary author of The Book of Common Prayer, what we are rarely taught is this. His Grace was an outstanding horsemen, a fact little know now, but commonly known as truth by his contemporaries. Step aside Sir Nicholas Carew and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. His Grace is the real “Master of the Horse” of Tudor England.

Thomas Cranmer, “Smuggler of the Lutheran Nobsey”

Exactly when Thomas Cranmer’s second wife Margarete stepped on English soil is not known, but all indications are that she arrived after her husband’s return from Europe to accept his appointment as archbishop. Where did she live? A closely guarded secret successfully kept, her location was and still is unknown. Margarete certainly was not either at Lambeth Palace, where a German woman’s presence would elicit curiosity — nor as humorously and commonly believed, hidden in a large wooden box.

In December 1543, Thomas Cranmer endured the personal tragedy of his palace at Canterbury being destroyed by fire. One of his brothers-in-law and several of his faithful servants were killed. Saved from the fire was a precious box owned by the archbishop, the contents within unknown. This in turn evolved into a story commonly enjoyed and told repeatedly by Roman Catholics during the reigns of Queens Mary and Elizabeth Tudor. Margarete was hiding in that box. Well, of course she was!

Shortly after Thomas Cranmer’s martyrdom, detractors published a widely distributed and humorous story weaving a plot where during the reign of King Henry VIII, Cranmer traveled throughout England with his wife, carefully hidden in a large crate with breathing holes. Later versions of the story portray His Grace anxiously praying for the safe retrieval of a precious wooden crate during the Canterbury Palace fire, the box of course containing“this pretty nobsey”.Unfortunately, this is our only hint of Margarete Cranmer’s appearance.

In reality, a complete silence enveloped Margarete Cranmer during her stay in England throughout the 1530’s. For all intents and purposes, she was invisible. For the politically naive Thomas Cranmer, this was an outstanding accomplishment. In fact, the feat was “astonishing”, claims historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. With conservative detractors seeking any way possible to upend him for good, His Grace’s ability to keep his wife and later also his daughter safe speaks to his steadfast commitment to his family and his remarkable resourcefulness.

Unfortunately, even with Thomas Cranmer’s great caution, by 1539 it became too dangerous for his wife Margarete and their young daughter Margaret to remain in England. The passage of the The Six Articles of 1539 through Parliament, which included a mandate of strict adherence to clerical celibacy, imposed all married clergy put away their wives. The risk to his family now untenable, he arranged for their exile in Europe.

Thus, His Grace was separated from his family for the remaining eight long years of King Henry VIII’s reign.

7 thoughts on “Welcoming Beth von Staats, author of Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell!

  1. I wouldn’t have guessed that Cranmer was into spying! Interesting facts.

  2. Sounds to me like Cranmer might have been happier if he could be a married professor of theology at a university, rather than Henry VIII’s archbishop. Great post, Beth and thank you to Kyra for hosting it.

  3. Its nice to read that people had passions for things and wanted to learn.

  4. Interesting, how people are able to work around the law in order not to violate their consciences!

  5. I didn’t know, that he was a spymaster. I guess for the times, it would be something if one wasn’t a spy.What a terrible end for a brilliant man!

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