Famous Tudor king, Henry VIII, founder of the Anglican Church left his mark on Oxford, taking control of Christ Church from Cardinal Wolsey and abolishing the study of canon law. He instituted University chairs for medicine, civil law, Greek, theology, and Hebrew instead, marking a fundamental shift in emphasis for the University, away from its monastic beginnings.
Queen Mary, the Catholic
By stark contrast, Henry’s daughter Mary was a staunch Catholic and her reign as queen after her father’s death was spent fiercely trying to reverse the tide of Anglican reform her father had started, and which was abhorrent to her. Her actions included burning many prominent Anglican Church leaders and reformers at the stake, none more visibly than Bishops Latimer & Ridley, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.
The Protestant Martyrs
Tried for heresy and condemned to death after refusing to recant their Protestant beliefs – Latimer and Ridley were burned outside Balliol College in Oxford on October 16th, 1555. In fact, scorch marks from the fire can still be seen at the site (on the doors), where there is also a commemorative cross set into the pavement.
Cranmer was also burned outside the college but was held in prison until permission from the Pope for his execution could be obtained, and although, during his incarceration, he recanted his faith, his sentence was still carried out, probably simply because Queen Mary wanted him dead.
He later publicly retracted his recantation and went bravely to his death, where he thrust his hand into the flames (the hand that had signed the recantation in prison), saying, ‘This has offended. Oh! This unworthy hand’.
In addition to the cross in the pavement outside of Balliol College, the recently restored Martyrs’ Memorial stands at one end of St. Giles in Oxford.