Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Hugh Latimer Bishop of Worcester man and martyr

Hugh Latimer was one of the important clergymen who helped to establish the Church of England in the mid-sixteenth century. Together with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, he is remembered as one of the Oxford martyrs. In this blog, I am looking at how he was both a famous martyr and also an ordinary man.
Hugh Latimer. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

Hugh Latimer was born in the village of Thurcaston in Leicestershire in c.1490. His father was a poor farmer. He was an intelligent child and was fortunate to be able to go to Cambridge University. He was elected a Fellow of Clare Hall. In 1514 he gained his Master of Arts and became a preacher, and in 1524 he achieved his Bachelor of Divinity. When Cardinal Wolsey decided to found a new College at Oxford, Latimer was one of a handful of men offered the chance to teach there. All of them were reformers. He later returned to teach at Cambridge. 

A copy of a letter from King Henry VIII to Bishop Latimer still surviving in the cathedral archive. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
He preached before Kings Henry VIII and Edward VI. Latimer believed that the church needed reforming. When he carried out a visitation of Worcester Cathedral priory in 1537 his ideas and hopes were clear. He insisted that a Bible in English be available in either the church or cloister, and that every monk have, at the very least, a New Testament each. He also ordered the monks not to discourage lay people from reading, and that preaching be recognized as important. It was not to be disturbed by singing or ceremonies because preaching is crucial in helping people to understand the Christian religion. He also asked for various other reforms to the cathedral priory.

Hugh Latimer preaching at Westminster before King Edward VI. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

In Edward VI’s reign he was again a very popular preacher. The poor in particular looked on him as someone who stood up to the rich and the nobility- groups who were tempted to ignore the legal rights of the poor. He also was against the giving of bribes, so must have hoped to improve society generally.  
The martyrdom of Latimer and Ridley at Oxford. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Queen Mary seized the throne from Lady Jane Grey in 1553, despite the late Edward VI’s wishes. Mary ordered arrests of those people who did not believe as she did. Latimer was ordered to come from Warwickshire and appear at the Privy Council in London. He was then imprisoned. He drew comfort from his friends Ridley and Cranmer whilst in the Tower by letters, and he read his New Testament carefully, and prepared for his trial. He also helped them with his resolve and sense of humour.

He was finally condemned and was taken to Oxford in 1554. After a 'trial' all three men were excommunicated for disagreeing with the government’s views on the bread and wine at Holy Communion. Latimer believed that the wine and bread were not turned into the blood and body of Christ, but that Christ was present spiritually instead.  He was burnt to death outside Balliol College because of his beliefs. It would be possible to see Hugh Latimer like a main character in a film. However, it is important to remember that he was not just a famous martyr. He was also a man, who was intelligent with ideas, hopes and a quiet sense of humour.   

By Darcie Sutton


William Gilpin, The Life of Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, London 1755
George Elwes Corries, Sermons by Hugh Latimer, Cambridge, 1845

Robert Demaus, Hugh Latimer- A Biography, London 1903.


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