Latimer, Hugh (DNB00)
LATIMER, HUGH, D.D. (1485?–1555), bishop of Worcester, son of a Leicestershire yeoman-farmer of the same names, was born at Thurcaston. From Foxe's statement that he entered Cambridge at fourteen, it has been inferred that he was only eighteen when he took his bachelor's degree in 1510. The statement of his servant (see below), that he was threescore and seven in Edward VI's time, places his birth more probably between 1480 and 1486. 'My father,' he says in a sermon, 'kept me to school, or else I had not been able to have preached before the King's Majesty [Edward VI] now. He married my sisters with 5l. or twenty nobles apiece; so that he brought them up in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his poor neighbours; and some alms he gave to the poor.' From another sermon we learn that his father taught him archery, and how to 'lay his body in his bow.' In 1497, when his father served Henry VII against the Cornish rebels at Blackheath, Hugh buckled on his armour. In 1506 he was sent to Cambridge, and was elected to a fellowship in Clare Hall in February 1510, just before graduating B.A. In 1514 he proceeded M.A. He took priest's orders at Lincoln, but the date is not known. In 1522 he was one of twelve preachers licensed by his university to preach in any part of England, and he was also appointed to carry the silver cross of the university in processions.
In 1524 he attained the degree of B.D., but, as appears by the proctors' books, did not pay the usual fees, and his right to the degree was afterwards denied. His public oration on that occasion was directed against the teaching of Melanchthon, as he still adhered to the old religion. One of his hearers was Bilney, the future martyr, who became his intimate friend, and influenced his opinions [see Bilney, Thomas]. With Bilney he went about visiting prisoners and sick persons. The first time that he had an interview with Henry VIII (six years later) he obtained the pardon of a woman whom he had seen unjustly imprisoned at Cambridge. On 28 Aug. 1524 he was named trustee in a deed to find a priest to sing mass in Clare Hall chapel for the soul of one John à Bolton; and in October, being at Kimbolton, on his way home to Thurcaston, he wrote the first of his extant letters, applying to Dr. Greene, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge, in behalf of Sir Richard Wingfield, who was desirous to become steward of the university.
In 1525 he preached in Latin in the university church. The diocesan, Bishop West of Ely, came up to hear him unexpectedly, and entered just after he had begun his sermon. Latimer adroitly changed his discourse, and started from Heb. ix. 11 to describe the office of a 'high priest' or bishop. West thanked him for his good admonition, and asked him to preach a sermon against Luther. Latimer wisely answered that he could not refute Luther's doctrines, not having read his works, which had been for some years prohibited. The bishop was not satisfied, and remarked that Latimer 'smelt of the pan,' and would repent. The sole account of this interview hardly does justice to West's undoubted sagacity. He inhibited Latimer from preaching in his diocese, and, to counteract his influence, preached himself in Barnwell Abbey, near Cambridge. But Latimer's friend, Robert Barnes [q.v.], prior of the Austin Friars at Cambridge, being exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, lent him his pulpit on Sunday, 24 Dec., while Barnes himself preached a violent sermon at St. Edward's Church. Barnes was soon afterwards obliged to abjure before Wolsey as legate, and Latimer had to explain himself before the same authority. He disowned Lutheran tendencies, and, being examined by Wolsey's chaplains, Dr. Capon and Dr. Marshall, showed himself better versed in Duns Scotus than his examiners. He also declared what he had said before the Bishop of Ely, and in the end was dismissed by the cardinal with liberty to preach throughout all England.
On 19 Dec. 1529 Latimer again provoked criticism by his two famous sermons 'on the card,' preached in St. Edward's Church, in which he told his hearers allegorically how to win salvation by playing trumps. This gave offence by his depreciation of what he called 'voluntary works,' such as pilgrimages or costly gifts to churches, in comparison with works of mercy. Prior Buckenham [q.v.], of the Black Friars, Cambridge, answered him by preaching from the game of dice, showing his hearers how to throw cinque and quatre to protect themselves against Lutheranism. Some other foolish observations brought upon him a withering rejoinder from Latimer; but some fellows of St. John's College continued the controversy with Latimer.
Latimer incurred additional displeasure because he was known to favour Henry VIII's divorce. In January 1530 the king enjoined silence as to their private dispute both upon him and Buckenham. But in the next month Gardiner came to Cambridge and obtained the appointment of a select committee of divines to report upon the validity of the marriage to Catherine. In the list of the committee which he forwarded to the king, Latimer's name, marked, like others favourable to the king's purpose, with an A, appears in the class of 'masters in theology,' not in that of doctors. Latimer was at once appointed to preach before the king at Windsor on 13 March, to the deep annoyance of his opponents; and the king, highly commending his sermon, remarked significantly to the Duke of Norfolk that it was very unpalatable to the vice-chancellor of Cambridge, who was present during part of it. Latimer received for his sermon the usual gratuity of 20s. paid to a court preacher, and a further sum of 5l. from the privy purse (Cal. Henry VIII, v. 317, 749). His expenses to and from Cambridge were also defrayed through the vice-chancellor (ib. p. 751). About this time royal letters were sent to Cambridge for the appointment of twelve divines, to join a like number from Oxford, in examining books containing objectionable opinions. Latimer was one of those selected for this duty by the vice-chancellor of his own university, and he was present on 24 May, when the report of the commission was presented to the king, and the list of mischievous books and errors contained in them was ordered to be proclaimed by preachers in their sermons.
An animated letter to the king in favour of the free circulation of an English Bible on 1 Dec. 1530 has been erroneously attributed to Latimer by Foxe. Neither of the two manuscript copies of this letter in the Public Record Office bears the date appended to it in Foxe or the name of the writer, who seems to be a layman, and accuses the clergy of tyranny in suppressing 'the Scripture in English,' i.e. Tyndale's Bible, one of the books disapproved by Latimer and his fellow-commissioners.
Latimer was now in high favour, and by the influence of Cromwell and Dr. (afterwards Sir William) Butts [q. v.] was presented to the benefice of West Kington, or West Kineton, in Wiltshire, on the border of Gloucestershire. Although in a remote and solitary district, the living was valued four years later at 17l. 1s. (Valor Ecclesiasticus, ii. 134), then a good clerical stipend. He was instituted 14 Jan. 1531. Soon afterwards a sermon preached by him (probably, as the text indicates, on 30 May 1531) at the neighbouring parish of Marshfield in Gloucestershire provoked a remonstrance from William Sherwood, the rector of Dyrham. He was reported to have said that almost all the clergy, bishops included, instead of being shepherds entering by the door, were thieves, whom there was not hemp enough in England to hang. Sherwood not unnaturally stigmatised it as a 'mad satire.' Latimer, in a long and angry reply, said that he only referred to 'all popes, bishops, and rectors who enter not by the door,' not to all clergy without qualification (Foxe, Martyrs, ed. Townsend, 1838, vii. 478–84).
Meanwhile Latimer's preaching had been censured for other matters in convocation, and articles were drawn up on 3 March against him, Edward Crome [q. v.], and Bilney. Within a year Crome recanted, Bilney suffered at the stake, and Bainham, another martyr, had declared that he knew no one who preached the pure word of God except Latimer and Crome. But Latimer seems to have remained almost a twelvemonth unmolested. He had friends at court, and Sir Edward Baynton, a Wiltshire gentleman in high favour with Henry VIII, wrote to warn him of the complaints made against him. Before he left London he had preached at Abchurch, it was said in defiance of the bishop, but with the consent of the incumbent, at the request of certain merchants, and he said he was not aware of any episcopal inhibition. But the sermon was certainly open to misinterpretation; for he suggested the possibility of St. Paul, had he lived in that day, being accused to the bishop as a heretic, and obliged to bear a fagot at Paul's Cross. His object was to advocate freedom of preaching, the great cure, in Latimer's opinion, for the evils of the time. He told Baynton that the Bishop of London himself would be better employed in preaching than in trying to interrupt him in that duty by a citation.
The citation, however, could only be served on him by Dr. Hilley, chancellor to the Italian bishop of Salisbury, Cardinal Campeggio, and Hilley, as Latimer insisted, could himself correct him if necessary, without compelling him to take a journey up to London in a severe winter. Latimer had declared his mind to the chancellor, in presence of Sir Edward Baynton, upon purgatory and the worship of saints, the chief points on which he was accused of heresy. Hilley, however, thought best to serve him with a citation (10 Jan. 1532) to appear before the Bishop of London at St. Paul's on the 29th. He obeyed, and the bishop brought him before convocation, where, on 11 March, a set of articles, much the same as those subscribed by Crome, were proposed to him. These he refused to sign, and he was committed to custody at Lambeth, but was allowed an opportunity of going to see Archbishop Warham. He was prevented by illness, but wrote complaining of being kept from his flock at the approach of Easter. He declared his preaching to be quite in accordance with the fathers, and said he did not object to images, pilgrimages, praying to saints, or purgatory. He only considered these things not essential, and there were undeniable abuses which he might appear to sanction by a bare subscription. Ultimately he consented to sign two of the articles, and on 10 April he made a complete submission before the assembled bishops; whereupon he was absolved, and warned to appear on 15 April for further process.
Unluckily, he immediately gave new offence by a letter to one Greenwood, in which he denied having confessed to any error of doctrine, but only to indiscretion. For this he was ordered to appear again and make answer on the 19th, when he appealed to the king, whose supremacy over the church convocation had been obliged to acknowledge in the preceding year. Henry, however, remitted the decision of his case to convocation, and on the 22nd Latimer confessed that he had erred not only in discretion but in doctrine. He was then taken back into favour at the king's request, on condition that he did not relapse again (Wilkins, Concilia, iii. 746, 748; Latimer, Remains, p. 356). A few days later he visited, in Newgate, his admirer Bainham, then under sentence as a relapsed heretic, and urged him not to throw away his life without cause, as some at least of the articles he had maintained were doubtful; but he was obliged to leave him to his fate.
Notwithstanding his recantation, Latimer's prosecution had gained sympathy for him in the west, and on returning to his benefice he was invited to preach at Bristol on 9 March 1533. In this sermon he was reported to have revived his old heresies, and also to have declared that our Lady was a sinner. The mayor asked him to preach again at Easter; but the Bristol clergy took alarm, procured an inhibition against any one preaching without the bishop's license, and set up Drs. Hubbardine and Powell to answer Latimer's dangerous doctrines from the pulpit. The matter was reported in convocation, and a copy of Latimer's submission, signed by his own hand, was sent down to Bristol. Anne Boleyn had just been proclaimed queen, and the dean of Bristol had got into trouble for forbidding prayers for her. Latimer's friends, headed by John Hilsey [q.v.], prior of the Black Friars at Bristol, defended him, and Hubbardine and Powell were committed to the Tower, with some of the opposite party as well. A commission was at the same time issued to John Bartholomew, a local collector of customs, as a fit person to investigate the whole question, with the aid of five or six others selected by himself (Calendar Henry VIII, vol. vi. Nos. 796, 799, 873, vol. viii. No. 1001). And although on 4 Oct. following the Bishop of London issued an inhibition against Latimer preaching in his diocese, it was clear that the whole business advanced his favour at court.
Next spring (1534) he was appointed to preach before the king every Wednesday in Lent, and the most famous doctors of Oxford and Cambridge came to hear him. To give an appearance of fair play, Roland Philips, the renowned vicar of Croydon, had liberty to dispute with him, but he was hampered by a threat at least of the Tower. Sir Thomas More, when awaiting his examination at Lambeth, saw Latimer in the garden very merry, 'for he laughed,' says Sir Thomas, 'and took one or twain about the neck so handsomely that if they had been women I would have weened that he had been waxen wanton.' He was made a royal chaplain, and licenses to preach were granted at his request, always with the strict injunction that the preachers should say nothing prejudicial to the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn. He suggested to Cromwell that the commissioners did not push sufficiently the obnoxious oath to the succession (Remains, p. 367). Next year also, shortly before he was made a bishop, he was appointed one of nine commissioners to investigate the case of Thomas Patmer, a heretic.
Yet in February 1535 a strange report got abroad that he had 'turned over the leaf,' and in preaching before the king had defended the pope's authority, the worship of the Virgin and saints, and the use of pilgrimages. His promotion in the summer to the bishopric of Worcester is sufficient evidence against the story. The royal assent having been given to his election, 12 Aug., he went up to London from Bristol in the end of the month, and, after arranging (with some trouble) about his first-fruits and other matters, had his temporalities restored 4 Oct., and returned as bishop to his diocese, probably in November. In the interval he had even (though in Cromwell's name) given Cranmer a sharp reproof for 'looking upon the king's business through his fingers.' His advancement may have been due to Anne Boleyn's influence, to whom on 18 Aug. he gave a bond for 200l. (Cal. Henry VIII, vol. xi. No. 117); but we do not find in his writings any expression of regard for her.
Under Cromwell's visitation some insubordinate monks of the cathedral priory at Worcester had brought charges of treason against their aged prior. The man bore a high character, and his accusers very bad ones; but he had apparently transgressed some statutes and been too indulgent to certain brethren who thought Catherine of Arragon Henry VIII's true wife. A commission was sent down, and in the end he was compelled to resign. Even the king was inclined to continue him in office; but Latimer's advice being asked, he wrote that if 'that great crime' (whatever it may have been) was proved against him, it was enough to have spared his life; but in any case he was too old, and as Cranmer and Dr. Legh (a very bad authority) were agreed as to his incompetence, Latimer subscribed to their opinion.
In March 1536 Latimer was at Lambeth along with Cranmer and Dr. Nicholas Shaxton [q.v.] examining heretics, against one of whom a letter of the time states that he was the most extreme of the three. He also preached at Paul's Cross in his old vein, denouncing in homely language (not very intelligibly reported) the luxury of bishops, abbots, and other 'strong thieves.' Latimer was then in London attending that session of parliament in which the smaller monasteries were suppressed. Latimer said, in preaching before Edward VI, that 'when their enormities were first read in the parliament house, they were so great and abominable that there was nothing but "Down with them."' But he went on to lament that many of the abbots were made bishops to save the charge of their pensions. He was dissatisfied, even at the time, that there was no real reformation, but only plunder. He believed, at least to some extent, in the defamatory reports. Yet in spite of his strong prejudices, he told the king, as he afterwards declared, that it was not well to use as royal stables buildings which had been raised and maintained for the use of the poor (Sermons, p. 93).
On 9 June Latimer preached the opening sermon to convocation, denouncing the degradation of Christ's word by superstitions about purgatory and images. In the afternoon he preached again, and asked the assembled clergy what good they had done to the people during the last seven years. They had burned a dead man and tried to burn a living one (meaning himself); but the real impulse to preach oftener had come from the king. This sermon was delivered in Latin, but an English version of it was published in the following reign. Being addressed exclusively to the clergy it did not correct the rumours, which grew again, that he had recanted his past preaching. But he cleared himself of these imputations completely in a sermon at Paul's Cross on the 17th. Convocation then proceeded to pass acts in accordance with some of his suggestions. It drew up a set of articles of religion and a declaration touching the sacrament of holy orders, both of which Latimer signed with the other divines present, and it abrogated a number of superfluous holidays. It also delivered an opinion, signed by Latimer in like manner, declaring that it lay with sovereign princes and not with the pope to summon general councils. There was no doubt now that he was a great promoter of heresy in the king's councils, and in the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire rebellions at the end of the year the insurgents repeatedly demanded that he and Cranmer should be delivered up to them or banished.
In 1537 he took part in the assembly of divines called by the king to settle points of doctrine; and it was probably at this time that he held a paper discussion with the king himself upon purgatory, and tried to show that the dissolution of the monasteries could only be justified on the theory that purgatory was a delusion. In July the bishops brought their labours to a close in the composition of 'The Institution of a Christian Man,' commonly known as 'The Bishops' Book.' The theological discussions which went to its formation were not to Latimer's mind. He declared that they perplexed him, and that he 'had lever be poor parson of poor Kineton again than to continue thus Bishop of Worcester.' When Darcy was committed to the Tower, Latimer went with Cromwell to visit him there and helped in his examination. He had got home to Hartlebury, Worcestershire, by 11 Aug. Soon afterwards he visited his diocese, and issued injunctions to his clergy, urging each of them to obtain, if possible, a whole Bible, or at least a New Testament, both in Latin and in English, before Christmas. He was called up again to London early in November to preach the funeral sermon of Jane Seymour. He seems to have been very ill, and wrote to excuse himself for not calling on Cromwell beforehand. That duty done, he once more returned to his episcopal residence at Hartlebury, where he was visited by Barnes, probably to discuss the will of Humphrey Monmouth, under which they and two other preachers, Crome and Taylor, were to preach thirty sermons in honour of the deceased (Strype, Eccl. Mem. i. ii. 368).
In February 1538 he was again in London, when the rood of Boxley was exposed and burned; after which he carried in his hand and threw out of St. Paul's a small image which a popular legend had declared eight oxen could not move. Meanwhile in his own diocese, which at that time included Bristol, puritanism had been encouraged by his appointment as bishop. In his own cathedral he had caused an image of the Virgin to be stripped of its jewels and ornaments. He was anxious that 'our great Sibyl,' as he called the image, should burn in Smithfield 'with her old sister of Walsingham, her young sister of Ipswich, with their two other sisters of Doncaster and Penrice.' He was ably supported by Henry Holbeach [q.v.], the new prior of his cathedral.
In April 1538 Cranmer and Latimer were commissioned to examine John Forest [q.v.], who, after acknowledging the royal supremacy, had retracted and been condemned for heresy. Latimer, who wrote to Cromwell that the prisoner was too well treated in Newgate, accepted with singular levity the commission to preach, or to 'play the fool' at his execution. Later in the year many other images were brought to London and burned, the 'Sibyl' among them. The larger monasteries and the houses of friars were now beginning to be suppressed. Latimer used his influence with Cromwell that the houses of Black and Grey Friars in Worcester might be bestowed on the city in relief of its burdens. In October he was at the head of a commission to investigate the nature of the famous 'blood of Hailes,' which was found to be honey or some yellowish gum, long venerated as the blood of Christ.
Latimer depended much on Cromwell's support, and approved many of that minister's unpopular acts; but the terms in which he applauded the sacrifice of Cardinal Pole's innocent family to the vengeance of Henry VIII in the end of 1538 can only excite horror. 'I heard you say once,' he wrote to Cromwell, 'after you had seen that furious invective of Cardinal Pole, that you would make him to eat his own heart, which you now have, I trow, brought to pass; for he must now eat his own heart, and be as heartless as he is graceless.' Latimer excused himself to Cromwell for not giving him a very handsome Christmas present that year by an account of his finances. During the three years that he had been bishop he had received upwards of 4,000l. For first-fruits, repairs, and debts he had paid 1,700l., and at that time he had but 180l. in ready money, out of which he would have to pay immediately 105l. for tenths and 20l. for his New-year's gifts—to the king presumably.
In 1539 he was called to London to attend the parliament which met on 28 April, and convocation, which began at St. Paul's on 2 May. It was important to show, in the face of a papal excommunication, how little England had departed from the old principles of the faith, and Latimer was appointed one of a committee of divines, both of the old school and of the new, who were to draw up articles of uniformity. They failed to agree in ten days, and under pressure from the king the Act of the Six Articles was carried on 16 June. During the next three days Latimer, who had been a regular attendant in parliament, was absent from his place. The act was quite opposed to his convictions, and even he was hardly safe from its extreme severity. It received the royal assent on the 28th, and on 1 July he and Shaxton, bishop of Salisbury, both resigned their bishoprics.
Latimer afterwards declared that he had resigned in consequence of an express intimation from Cromwell that the king wished him to do so. This the king himself subsequently denied. But it is clear his resignation was accepted without the least reluctance, while he, according to Foxe, gave a skip on the floor for joy, on putting off his rochet. A contemporary letter (MS. in Lisle Letters in Public Record Office) says that he escaped to Gravesend and was brought back. He was at once ordered into custody, and remained nearly a year in the keeping of Sampson, bishop of Chichester. His confinement was not rigorous, but for some time he daily expected to be called to execution. From this fate, it would appear by a letter of later date, he was saved by the intervention of some powerful friend (probably Cromwell), who is reported to have said to the king, 'Consider, sir, what a singular man he is, and cast not that away in one hour which nature and art hath been so many years in breeding and perfecting' (State Papers, Ireland, Eliz. vol. x. No. 50). In May 1540, when Bishop Sampson was sent to the Tower, it was at first thought that Latimer would be set free, and even made bishop once more (Correspondance Politique de M M. de Castillon et de Marillac, p. 188). The king, however, ordered that he should still be kept in Sampson's house under guard. In July he was set at liberty by the general pardon; but before the month was out his patron Cromwell had been sent to the block, and his chaplain Garrard and his old friend Barnes had perished at Smithfield. That he attempted to intercede for Barnes at this time (which he was hardly in a position to do) rests only on a misinterpretation of some words of Barnes's own in a misdated letter. On his liberation, Latimer was ordered to remove from London, desist from preaching, and not to visit either of the universities or his own old diocese (Original Letters, p. 215, Parker Soc.). For nearly six years his life becomes an absolute blank, except that we are told by Foxe that soon after he had resigned his bishopric he was crushed almost to death by the fall of a tree.
In 1546, when his friend Crome had got into trouble for his preaching, Latimer and some others were brought before the council, charged with having encouraged him 'in his folly.' When apprehended, his goods and papers in the country were well searched (Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, i. 458). He admitted having had some communication with Crome, but complained of a set of interrogatories administered to him, and desired to speak with the king himself before he made answer. He at length made a reply which the council did not consider satisfactory. But he was released from the Tower next year by the general pardon, on Edward VI's accession, and his eloquence was at once recognised as likely to be serviceable to the new government.
On Sunday, 1 Jan. 1548, after eight years' silence, Latimer preached the first of four sermons delivered at Paul's Cross. He also, it would seem, preached on Wednesday, the 18th, in the covered place called 'the Shrouds,' outside St. Paul's, his famous sermon 'of the Plough,' in which he declaimed against many public evils, especially 'unpreaching prelates,' and declared the devil to be the most assiduous bishop in England. This was published separately in the same year. On Wednesday, 7 March, a pulpit was set up for him in the king's privy garden at Westminster, as the Chapel Royal was too small. Here he preached on the duty of restoring stolen goods with such good effect that a defaulter gave him 20l. 'conscience money' to return into the exchequer. This was followed next Lent by 320l. more, and the Lent following by 180l. 10s. The money came from John Bradford [q.v.], the future martyr, and 50l. of it was awarded to the preacher by the council as a gratuity (Sermons, p. 262; compare Nichols, Lit. Remains of Edward VI, cxxvii). It was doubtless to these Lenten sermons in 1548 that Lord Seymour referred when examined before the council in the next spring. The king, after asking Seymour's advice, sent 20l. for Latimer, and 20l. for his servants (Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 14024, f. 104). In April Latimer was appointed on a commission with Cranmer and others for the trial of heretics, some of whom were induced to abjure. About this very time, if not a few months earlier, both he and Cranmer gave up their belief in transubstantiation (Orig. Letters, Parker Soc., p. 322, and note). On 8 Jan. 1549 the House of Commons petitioned for the restoration of Latimer to his old bishopric of Worcester (Journals of the House of Commons, i. 6); but he was content to remain court preacher merely. The seven sermons which he preached before the king in the following Lent are a curious combination of moral fervour and political partisanship, eloquently denouncing a host of current abuses, and paying the warmest tribute to the government of Somerset. He was indignant at the insinuation that it was the government of a clique, and would not last. When popular sympathy was moved by the execution of Lord Seymour, he not only justified it from the pulpit by a number of scandalous anecdotes, but intimated a strong suspicion that Seymour had gone to everlasting damnation. These passages were wisely suppressed in later editions of the sermons. Not even in Tudor times did they appear creditable to the preacher.
A curious entry in the churchwardens' accounts of St. Margaret's, Westminster, shows the excitement occasioned by his preaching in that church some time in 1549, 1s. 6d. being paid 'for mending of divers pews that were broken when Dr. Latimer did preach' (Nichols, Illustrations of Antient Times, p. 13). In April of that year he joined in passing sentence on Joan Bocher [q.v.], who was burnt in the year following (Burnet, v. 248, ed. Pocock). On 6 Oct. he was named on the commission of thirty-two to reform the canon law, but he was not a member of the more select commission of eight, to whom the work was immediately afterwards entrusted (Strype, Cranmer, p. 388, ed. 1812). In the beginning of 1550 he is said to have been very ill, so that he despaired of recovery, but on 10 March (Demaus, p. 378) he found energy enough to preach a last sermon before King Edward, which, like some of his previous discourses, was in two parts, forming really two sermons, each of considerable length. A renewed offer of a bishopric seems to have been made to him not long before (Original Letters, p. 465, Parker Soc.).
In the autumn of 1550 he went to Lincolnshire, where he had not been since his ordination (Sermons, p. 298), and preached at Stamford on 9 Nov. On 18 Jan. 1551 he was appointed one of a commission of thirty-two to correct anabaptists and persons who showed disrespect to the new prayer-book (Rymer, xv. 250, 1st ed.). It does not appear, however, that he took any active part in these proceedings, and it is doubtful whether he was ever in London during the remaining two years of Edward's reign. Part of that time he was the guest of John Glover at Baxterley Hall in Warwickshire, and during another part of it he was with the Duchess of Suffolk at Grimsthorpe, Lincolnshire. In an undated letter of the duchess to Cecil, written in June 1552, she regrets not having been able to send Latimer a buck for his niece's churching (State Papers, Dom. Edw. VI, vol. xiv. No. 47). Careless copyists have misread 'wife' for 'niece,' but Latimer was apparently a bachelor.
At this time he is described by his attached Swiss servant, Augustine Bernher, as being, although 'a sore bruised man,' over threescore and seven, most assiduous in preaching, generally delivering two sermons each Sunday, and rising every morning, winter and summer, at two o'clock to study (Sermons, p. 320). He fully anticipated, however, that on Mary's accession he should be called to account for his doctrine, especially after Gardiner was released from the Tower. On 4 Sept. 1553 a summons was issued to bring him up to London (Haynes, State Papers, p. 179), but apparently there was every desire to allow him to escape. He had private notice six hours before it was delivered, and the pursuivant was ordered to leave it to himself to obey or fly. Latimer, however, told the man he was a welcome messenger, and said he was quite prepared to go and give an account of his preaching (Sermons, p. 321). On the 13th he appeared before the council, 'and for his seditious demeanour was committed to the Tower' with his attendant, Augustine Bernher (MS. Harl. 643). His imprisonment, though probably not exceptionally severe, was trying to so old a man, and in winter he sent word to the lieutenant that if he was not better looked to he might perhaps deceive him; meaning, as he afterwards explained, that he should perish by cold and not, as expected, by fire. He was, however, comforted by writings sent to him by his fellow-prisoner, Ridley. In fact it would seem that they were allowed to prepare and write out a joint defence on the charge of heresy. Bernher acted as Latimer's secretary, and copied out the writings sent him by Ridley.
In March 1554 Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were sent down to Oxford, to dispute with the best divines of both universities on three articles touching the mass. On 14 April the proceedings were begun in St. Mary's Church by the reading of a commission from convocation to discuss the three questions. The three captives appeared before the commissioners, Latimer 'with a kerchief and two or three caps on his head, his spectacles hanging by a string at his breast, and a staff in his hand.' He was allowed a chair. He protested that owing to age, sickness, want of practice, and lack of books, he was almost as meet to discuss theology as to be captain of Calais; but he would declare his mind plainly. He complained, however, that he had neither pen nor ink, nor any book but the New Testament, which he said he had read over seven times without finding the mass in it, nor yet the marrow-bones or sinews thereof. A discussion was appointed for Wednesday following, the 18th. On that day Latimer, who was very faint and 'durst not drink for fear of vomiting,' handed written replies to the three propositions, defining his own position. Then complaining that he had been silenced by the outcry on his former appearance he explained what he meant by the four marrow-bones of the mass as four superstitious practices and beliefs in which it mainly consisted. A discussion of three hours followed, although he protested that his memory was 'clean gone.' On Friday following all three prisoners were brought up to hear their sentence, after being once more adjured to recant, and were formally excommunicated. Next day mass was again celebrated, with the host carried in procession, which the prisoners were brought to view from three different places. Latimer, who was taken to the bailiff's house, expected his end at once, and desired a quick fire to be made; but when he saw the procession he rushed into a shop to avoid looking at it.
A long delay followed, although the realm was formally reconciled to the church of Rome on 30 Nov. 1554, and the persecution began in February 1554–5. It was not till 28 Sept. 1555 that the cardinal sent three bishops to Oxford to examine the three prisoners further, with power to reconcile them if penitent, or else hand them over to the secular arm. During this interval they were more strictly guarded than they had been before the disputation; each was lodged in a separate place, with a strange man to wait upon him, and pens, ink, and paper were strictly forbidden to them. A liberal diet was, however, allowed them, and the sympathy of friends, and even strangers, found means to send them presents and messages.
Ridley and Latimer appeared before the three bishops in the divinity school on 30 Sept. Latimer complained of having to wait, 'gazing upon the cold walls,' during Ridley's examination, and was assured it was an accident. He then knelt before the bishops, 'holding his hat in his hand, having a kerchief on his head, and upon it a nightcap or two, and a great cap (such as townsmen use, with two broad flaps to button under the chin), wearing an old threadbare Bristol frieze gown girded to his body with a penny leather girdle, at the which hanged by a long string of leather his testament, and his spectacles without case depending about his neck upon his breast.' He made a spirited reply to an exhortation to recant from Whyte, bishop of Lincoln. In the end his answers were taken to five articles, all of which he was held to have confessed. He was remanded till next day.
Accordingly, 1 Oct., both Ridley and Latimer appeared again. Latimer was called, after Ridley had received sentence, the cloth being meanwhile removed from the table at which Ridley had stood, because Latimer, it was said, had never taken the degree of doctor. He complained of the pressure of the multitude on his entering the court, saying he was an old man with 'a very evil back.' He declared that he acknowledged the catholic church, but denied the Romish, and adhered to his previous answers, without admitting the competence of the tribunal which derived its authority from the pope. Sentence was then passed upon him by the Bishop of Lincoln, Latimer in vain inquiring whether it were not lawful for him to appeal 'to the next general council which shall be truly called in God's name.'
On the 16th he and Ridley were brought out to execution by the mayor and bailiffs of Oxford, at 'the ditch over against Balliol College.' Ridley went first, Latimer following as fast as age would permit. When Latimer neared the place Ridley ran back and embraced him. For a few minutes the two conversed together. Then Dr. Richard Smith preached a sermon in the worst spirit of bigotry. Ridley asked Latimer if he would speak in reply, but Latimer desired him to begin, and both kneeled before the vice-chancellor and other commissioners to desire a hearing. No hearing, however, was allowed them unless they would recant, which they steadfastly refused to do. After being stripped of some outer garments they were fastened to the stake by a chain round the middle of both. Ridley's brother brought him a bag of gunpowder, and tied it about his neck; after which, at Ridley's request, he did the same for Latimer. The fagots were then lighted at Ridley's feet. 'Be of good comfort, Master Ridley,' said Latimer; 'we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out.' The old man succumbed first to the flames, and died without much pain.
The seven sermons preached before Edward VI in March–April 1549 were published collectively in that year. Others appeared separately in 1548 and 1550. Twenty-seven of Latimer's sermons were published collectively in 1562, and with 'others not heretofore set forth in print' in 1571. Later collective editions are dated 1575, 1578, 1584, 1596, and 1635. All Latimer's extant writings were edited for the Parker Society in 1844–5.
A portrait by an unknown artist is in the National Portrait Gallery.[Latimer's Remains and Sermons (Parker Soc.); Original Letters (Parker Soc.); Foxe's Acts and Monuments; Calendar of Henry VIII, vols. iv. &c.; State Papers of Henry VIII; Tytler's England under Edward VI and Mary; Strype's Memorials, iii. ii. 288 sq. (ed. 1822); Machyn's Diary and the Chronicle of Queen Jane (Camden Soc.); Stow's Chronicle; Lives by Gilpin, Corrie, and Demaus. The revised edit. (1881) of the last is referred to.]