6th August 1504. The Reluctant Cleric.
Matthew Parker arguably the most influential co-founder of a distinctive Anglicanism was born in 1504 Today in Norwich.
Along with Richard Hooker and Thomas Cranmer, Parker was one of the founders of Anglican theological thought, thus paving the way for reform of the church.
Parker’s influence was confirmed when he was appointed chaplain to Anne Boleyn, later executed, but not before she had commended Parker to her daughter Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth did succeed to the throne in 1558, Parker was thus her obvious choice as Archbishop of Canterbury which he reluctantly accepted, owing to ill-health, being consecrated in December 1559.(1)
Parker also wanted to devote his final years to restoring his decaying college, Corpus Christi, Cambridge, which being a monastic foundation he had persuaded Henry VIII to spare from Dissolution.(2)
Parker was luckily aided by his staunchly supportive wife, who he had married in anticipation of Convocation granting permission for clergy to marry, and he certainly needed help. For the problems he confronted were formidable, especially after the troublesome reign of Catholic Mary who superseded her Protestant brother Edward VI.
In less than four years ‘Bloody’ Mary Tudor’s judges had sent two hundred and eighty Protestants to the stake, constituting the most intense religious persecution of its kind anywhere in Europe. It also saw the execution of Cranmer for heresy. (3)
The first problem for the new Archbishop was to find a balance between the old Catholics acceptance of the pope as supreme leader; then those of the Henrician persuasion, who in essence were Catholics, but denying the pope as head; then those extreme Protestants, now feeling secure enough to return from the Continent.
Below is the site of The White Horse Tavern, Cambridge, once the 16thc meeting place for English Protestant reformers where they discussed ideas and reform. Historian, Geoffrey Elton referred to the gatherings as ‘Little Germany’.
Meetings were attended apart from Parker, by Thomas Bilnay, Nicholas Shaxton, John Bale and Robert Balone as well as the Bible translators, Miles Coverdale and William Tyndale.
In 1571 Parliament made adherence to the 39 Articles established at the 1563 Convocation under Matthew Parker, a legal requirement in Statute, but which today no longer remains the basis of Anglican faith.
The Division in the country in the 16th century over religion is analogous to that of the 21st century over Europe, but without, (hopefully) executions.
Religious controversy has lasted until today, one hopes the problems over Europe will not last as long.
(1) He was consecrated Archbishop on 15th December 1559.
(2) Oxbridge Colleges were spared as being educational establishments.
(3) Under ‘Bloody Mary’ the most memorable of executions for heresy took place at Oxford with those of the Protestants Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer in 1555 and Archbishop Cranmer (who had supported Henry VIII in his divorce from Mary’s mother), on 21st March 1556.
Norwich Portrait Collection.
Patrick Comerford Photographs.