Hugh Latimer


Hugh Latimer c1487-1555

English Reformer, Bishop of Worcester


Born the son of tenant farmers, becomes a priest and then a Cambridge lecturer

From Enemy to Evangelical:

Opposes a heretic called Thomas Bilney. He had been converted reading Erasmus’ Greek NT. Latimer had denounced and preached against him. Bilney went to Latimer ‘for confession’ one night and shared the gospel with him. He was converted.

Met at the White Horse Tavern in Cambridge, aka Little Germany


The Fiery Preacher

Preaches in Cambridge- has opposition.

Preaches against pilgrimages, masses for the dead, holy candles, saints.

Forbidden from preaching by the bishop of Ely.

Supports Henry’s annulment of Catherine of Aragon.

Appointed Royal Chaplain- preaches before the King, bravely.


The Country Vicar

Tires of intrigue at the court- asks to become the parson of West Kington near Bristol

Preaches to a couple of hundred souls

Refuses to endorse purgatory and saint worship but bullied for months by theologians and the possibly persuaded by the king- recants and goes back home.

Preaches in Bristol against Catholicism. City divided. Riots ensue. He’s summoned for trial at Westminster Abbey. Banned from preaching.

Thomas Cranmer becomes ABC and Thomas Cromwell Chancellors- he is restored to preaching.


The Bishop of Worcester

Cromwell persuades the king to make him bishop of Worcester in place of an absentee Italian. Useful to the king to have him preach against the old religion. Performed visitation- saw much that was wrong.

Preaches the gospel and removed statues and images.

Disagrees with the Six Articles, and goes to the Tower, resigning his bishopric.


The Nobody

8 years of obscurity

Did he return to West Kington? Sent to prison for a year as a heretic.

Henry died, Edward ascended. He was released, and the bishopric offered to him again, but declined on the ground of health. Lived at Lambeth palace with Cranmer, became court preacher

Went on preaching tours of the midlands and Lincolnshire.


The Accused

Mary becomes queen- Latimer is first to be arrested. He received advance warning but refused to flee.

Imprisoned with Cranmer, Ridley and John Bradford. The three bishops were removed to Oxford's Bocardo prison.

Spent his days praying and reading the Bible- he prayed for Princess Elizabeth

Knowing they’ve made their mind up, he refuses to argue, except to explain his faith.


The Martyr:

John Foxe:

The place appointed for the execution (says Fox) was on the north side of Oxford, in the ditch over against Balliol College. For fear of any tumult that might arise to prevent the burning, Lord Williams and the householders of the city were commanded by the Queen’s letter to be assistant, sufficiently armed; and when all things were in readiness, the prisoners were brought forth together, on the 16th of October, 1555.

Ridley came first, in a furred black gown, such as he was wont to wear as a Bishop, After him came Latimer, in a poor Bristol frieze frock, all worn, with his buttoned cap and handkerchief over his head, and a long new shroud hanging over his hose, down to his feet.

Ridley, looking back, saw Latimer coming after, to whom he said, ‘Oh, are ye there?’ ‘Yea!’ said master Latimer, ‘as fast as I can follow.’ At length they came to the stake one after the other. Ridley first entered the place, and earnestly holding up both his hands, looked towards heaven. Shortly after, seeing Latimer, he ran to him, embraced and kissed him, saying, ‘Be of good cheer, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flames, or else strengthen us to abide it.’ With that he went to the stake, kneeled down by it, kissed it, and prayed; and behind him Latimer kneeled, earnestly calling upon God. After they arose, one talked with another a little while, but what they said Fox could not learn of any man.

Then they were compelled to listen to a sermon preached by a renegade priest, named Smith, upon the text, ‘Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, I am nothing.’ They attempted to answer the false statements of this miserable discourse, but were not allowed. Ridley said, ‘Well, then, I commit our cause to Almighty God, who shall impartially judge all.’ Latimer added his own verse: ‘Well, there is nothing hid but it shall be made manifest;’ and said, ‘He could answer Smith well enough, if he might be suffered.’ Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

They were commanded after this to make ready immediately, and obeyed with all meekness. Ridley gave his clothes and such things as he had about him to those that stood by, and happy was he that could get any rag of him. Latimer gave nothing, but quietly suffered his keeper to pull off his hose and his other apparel, which was very simple. And now being stripped to his shroud, he seemed as comely a person to them that stood by as one could desire to see. And though in his clothes he appeared a withered, crooked old man, he now stood quite upright.

Then the smith took a chain of iron and fastened it about both Ridley’s and Latimer’s middles to one stake. As he was knocking in a staple, Ridley took the chain in his hands, and said to the smith, ‘Good fellow, knock it in hard, for flesh will have its course.’ A bag of gunpowder was tied about the neck of each. Faggots were piled around them, and the horrible preparations were completed.

Then they brought a faggot —kindled with fire, and laid it down at Ridley’s feet, to whom Latimer then spake in this manner: ‘Be of good comfort, brother Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.’

And so the fire being kindled, when Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: Lord, receive my spirit!’ and repeated the latter part often; Latimer, crying as vehemently on the other side of the stake, ‘Father of heaven, receive my soul!’ received the flame as if embracing it. After he had stroked his face with his hands, and as it were bathed them a little in the fire, he soon died, as it appeared, with very little pain:”


On being arrested: “I go as willingly to London at this present, being called by my Prince to render a reckoning of my doctrine, as ever I went to any place in the world. And I do not doubt but that God, as He hath made me worthy to preach His Word to two excellent princes, so He will enable me to witness the same unto the third.”

On the place of heretics’ execution: “Smithfield has long groaned for me.”

On choosing clergy: "Men of activity that have stomachs to do their office not milksops and white-livered knights. They must be wise, hearty and hardy."

A Bristol clergyman on Latimer: “A Lollard whore’s son. I wish he had never been born. I trust to see him burned ere I die’”. HL’s response: We must be content to be despised with Christ hetre in this world that we may be glorified with him in yonder world"

‘He has made more heretics than Luther’- The Spanish ambassador

‘It could not be for the honour of the king to take away the rights of the poor’- on the dissolution of the abbeys.’

‘The drop of rain maketh a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.’

‘The poorest ploughman is in Christ equal with the greatest prince that is. Let them therefore have sufficient to maintain them…’

"And now I would ask a strange question: who is the most diligentest bishop and prelate in all England that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell for I know him who it is; I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all other; he is never out of his diocese; he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will he is ever at home; the diligentest preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough; no lording nor loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you. And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry, to teach all kind of popery. He is ready as he can be wished for to set forth his plough; to devise as many ways as can be to deface and obscure God's glory...O that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel."

‘Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’


Discussion points:

He recanted. Should this concern us?

He preached at the burning of a Welsh friar- was this appropriate?

If we knew we were to be arrested, should we escape?