Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishops and Martyrs, 1555

Nicholas Ridley was born around 1500 at Willemotewicke, Northumberland, and received his education at Pembroke College, Cambridge, with which he was connected for many years. After studying at Cambridge, he furthered his studies at the Sorbonne and at Louvain, returning to become a Fellow of Pembroke Hall around 1530. A close friend of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and a supporter of the archbishop’s reforming views, Ridley became Cranmer’s chaplain in 1537, and vicar of Herne, Kent, in 1538. He was chosen Master of Pembroke Hall in 1540 and chaplain to King Henry the Eighth and Canon of Canterbury in 1541.

A member of the circle of Cambridge academics attracted to the Continental Reformation, from around 1535 he had definite leanings towards the teachings of the Reformers, partly through a study of Ratramnus’ book on the Eucharist.

Early in the reign of King Edward the Sixth, Ridley was made Bishop of Rochester and a member of the commission that prepared the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). In 1550 he was transferred to the See of London, where he showed himself a diligent advocate and thorough administrator of the principles of the Reformation. Like fellow reforming bishop Hugh Latimer, he preached against the social injustices of his age. In 1553 he supported the claims of Lady Jane Grey to the Crown, and on Queen Mary’s accession he was deprived of his see and imprisoned. With Cranmer and Latimer, he participated in 1554 in the Oxford disputations against a group of Roman Catholic theologians and would not recant his reformed theology, leading to his excommuncation. He was sentenced to death and burned at the stake with Latimer at Oxford on October 16, 1555.

Born the son of a yeoman farmer around 1485 at Thucaston, Leicestershire, Hugh Latimer was graduated from Clare College, Cambridge, and became a Fellow of the college in 1510. After ordination to the priesthood, in 1522 his eloquence and zeal in reforming abuses and defending social justice led the University to license him as one of the twelves preachers commissioned to preach anywhere in England. Though of a conservative bent, from around 1523 his opinions began to become suspect to the ecclesiastical authorities, and according to his own account, he was dramatically converted to the doctrines of the Reformers by Thomas Bilney, a Cambridge scholar who was later burned at the stake (in 1531) as a heretic. When in 1525 Ridley declined the request of his bishop, West of Ely, to preach a sermon against Martin Luther, he was forbidden to preach anywhere in the diocese. After skillfully defending himself before Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, he was again allowed to preach throughout England. Latimer’s directness of method, his understanding of human character, his homely style and ready wit won his sermons greater influence, and a sermon preached before King Henry the Eighth in Lent of 1530 won him royal favor. This same homiletical character, his passionate devotion to the reform of Church and society, and his zeal for the moral life of Christian clergy and people made him one of the outstanding preachers of the English Reformation.

After Cranmer’s appointment to the See of Canterbury in 1533, Latimer’s position further improved, and when, in 1534, Henry formally broke with Rome, Latimer was appointed a royal chaplain. Appointment to the See of Worcester followed in 1535, and in his sermons as bishop he continued to denounce social injustices and other contemporary corruptions, attacking also Catholic teaching on purgatory, images, and other points. He supported the King in the dissolution of the monasteries. But in 1539, when in accordance with his Protestant beliefs he opposed the Act of the Six Articles (Henry’s statement of conservative Catholic doctrine), he resigned his see on hearing that this was the King’s wish. Taken into custody, he was freed in 1540, but was ordered to leave London and was forbidden to preach. Little is known of the intervening years, but in 1546 he was confined to the Tower of London, to be released the following year on the accession of Edward the Sixth. He became very popular as a court preacher, continuing to denounce abuses in Church and society. On Queen Mary’s accession he was arrested and imprisoned, refusing to flee the country. After the Oxford disputations, he was excommunicated. Refusing to recant, he was condemned as a heretic to be burned at the stake with Nicholas Ridley at Oxford on October 16, 1555. His last words to Ridley are famous: “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.”

from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, Bishops and Archbishop, are published at the Lectionary Page website. This sanctoral calendar, in keeping with that of the Church of England, commemorates Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, on March 21.

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