The Oxford Martyrs

... were three Protestant bishops of the Anglican church, who were burnt at the stake in Oxford during the reign of Queen Mary I.

Their trials began in 1553 or 1554 at University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the official church of Oxford University. They were imprisoned at the Bocardo Prison (near the north gate of the city walls), and burnt at the stake nearby, just outside the city walls: Latimer and Ridley on 16 October 1555, and Cranmer on 21 March 1556. The site of their execution stands today just outside the front of Balliol College, and is marked by a granite cross in the road.

Hugh Latimer was a former Bishop of Worcester; Nicholas Ridley was a former Bishop of London and Westminster (the only priest ever to carry this exact title). They were both removed from these offices in 1553 when Mary came to the throne.

Thomas Cranmer was appointed in 1533 as the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury; he wrote and compiled the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer. He also annulled Henry VIII's first two marriages (to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn), and divorced him from Anne of Cleves. Imprisoned for over two years and under pressure from Church authorities, he made several recantations and apparently reconciled himself with the Roman Catholic Church. This would normally have absolved him, but Mary wanted him executed. On the day of his execution he withdrew his recantations, to die a heretic to Roman Catholics and (in the words of a memorial window) "a martyr for the principles of the English Reformation".

A stone memorial, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, was erected in the 1840s near the site of the executions. It's known as the Martyrs' Memorial.

© Haydn Thompson 2020