In the period of the religious rollercoaster that was England in the 1550s, with alternate swings between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, dependent on the belief of the Monarch at the time. The early death of Edward VI in 1553 brought to the throne Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII by Catherine of Aragon and a staunch Catholic. She set out vigorously to reinstate the Roman Catholic Church and papal authority. A number of prominent Protestant leaders became victims of her determination to stamp out the Protestant Church. Many of the leading Protestants fled to the continent. Some other leading Protestants declined or were unable to leave England. The two most significant were Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London, and Hugh Latimer, bishop of Worcester.
Hugh Latimer was educated at Cambridge and soon became well-known as an outstanding preacher, attacking abuses in the church and social injustice. In recognition of his ability, he became one of only 12 preachers authorised to preach anywhere in England. At first he subscribed to orthodox Roman Catholicism, but in 1525 he came into contact with a group of young Cambridge divines who were influenced by Martin Luther’s new doctrines. This made the authorities suspect him, but when Thomas Cranmer became archbishop of Canterbury he seemed more secure. Henry VIII appointed him bishop of Worcester in 1535. However, he was forced to resign in 1539 when his Protestant sympathies led him to oppose Henry’s Six Articles. He returned to public and court favour with the accession of Edward VI in 1547. He continued to denounce abuses in church and society. Mary Tudor on gaining the throne had him arrested and sent to the Tower. He was challenged on various theological issues, he refused to recant.
Thurcaston, Leicestershire, England
Nicholas Ridley also attended Cambridge University. There he showed more sympathy for reformation ideas from the outset than Latimer. Ridley was a friend and supporter of Cranmer. He became Cranmer’s chaplain in 1537, master of Pembroke College in 1540, and a royal chaplain in 1541. His reforming sympathies led to a trial for heresy in 1543, but he was acquitted. In the reign of Edward VI, Ridley became bishop of Rochester, and then in 1550 bishop of London. As bishop of London he carried through the principles of the Reformation, but was arrested when Mary Tudor became queen. Like Latimer he refused to recant his Protestant doctrines, and was taken to Oxford with Latimer, where he was tried, for heresy.
Tynedale, Northumberland, England
The Death of Latimer and Ridley
DIED: Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, were burned at the stake on 16 October 1555. Latimer’s last words to Ridley at the stake were prophetic: “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.”