ABOVE: Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke, c.1545

On the 11th October, 1663, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary:

‘At night fell to reading in the Church History of Fuller’s, and particularly Cranmer’s letter to Queen Elizabeth, which pleases me mightily for his zeal, obedience, and boldness in a cause of religion.’

Portrait of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, c.1666

Samuel Pepys was a 17th century diarist and naval administrator. He had contact with many of the most notable people of his day, including Charles II and James II. From 1660 to 1669 he kept a diary, full of rich detail of his day to day life, providing insight into life in the 17th century.

On the face of it, this entry is very exciting – a letter from archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to his god-daughter, Elizabeth! Obviously it could not have been written whilst Elizabeth was queen, as Cranmer had been burned at the stake by Mary I on the 21 March 1556. But perhaps a letter to the young Elizabeth, telling her about her mother, Anne Boleyn, and fulfilling his duties as godfather by instructing her in matters of faith…

Unfortunately, no such letter exists. The book that Pepys was reading is the 17th century text ‘The church-history of Britain from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year M.DC.XLVIII endeavoured by Thomas Fuller.’ Though Cranmer does feature in Fuller’s history, there is no letter like the one described by Pepys. It has been suggested that what Pepys is referring to is a letter from Edmund Grindal, who was Elizabeth’s archbishop of Canterbury from 1575 to 1583. Fuller includes a very passionate letter from the out-of-royal-favour Grindal to Elizabeth, written on the 20th December, 1576. The closing lines of the letter certainly seem to resonate with Pepys’ sentiments:

Portrait of Edmund Grindal, archbishop of Canterbury, attributed to Dirk Vos, c.16th century, probably contemporary.

‘You have done many things well, but unless you persevere to the end, you cannot be blessed; for if you turn from God, then will be turn his mercifull countenance from you, and what remaineth then to be looked for, but only a horrible expectation of Gods judgement, and an heaping up of Gods wrath against the day of wrath… I beseech God our heavenly Father plentifully to pour his principall spirit upon you, and alwayes direct your heart in his holy fear. Amen, Amen’

It is unclear why Pepys identified the author as Cranmer; Fuller’s book does make it clear that it was sent by Grindal. Perhaps he wrote the entry whilst he was tired, and mixed up his archbishops of Canterbury.

The Pelican Portrait of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1565

As interesting at Grindal’s religious exhortation is, it is not quite as exciting as a letter between Thomas Cranmer and Elizabeth would be. In fact, we have no records of any contact or personal interaction between them. There were certainly times when they were both at Henry VIII and Edward VI’s courts, but there is nothing to suggest that they formed any sort of relationship. Given the degree to which Elizabeth later favoured her mother’s kin, it seems in keeping with her character that she would have sought out the man who had been her mother’s chaplain and ally, as well as her own godfather. Elizabeth certainly showed some degree of favour towards Cranmer’s son, granting him the right to collect rent from property Mary had confiscated upon the Archbishop’s death.

We may never know if these two people, poignantly connected in so many ways, had any sort of personal relationship. All we can do is hope that someday a collection of letters emerges from an archive, perhaps illuminating a rich relationship and perhaps even some personal anecdotes about Anne Boleyn.






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  1. Your subject comes across a little short-you are usually quite eloquent in your writing.

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