Hugh Latimer was an early English Protestant leader in the same mould as Thomas Cranmer. Like Cranmer, Latimer was also to be executed for his religious beliefs in the reign of Mary I.
Hugh Latimer is thought to have been born in 1485. From 1506 on he was educated at Cambridge University. He joined the likes of Cranmer at the White Horse Tavern where issues on the Lutheran faith were discussed. In 1524, Latimer announced his support for justification by faith alone. This was a major plank of the Lutheran faith and the logical extension of the belief was that a church could act as an advisor and educator but that an individual did not need a church to get to Heaven. If you had true faith, this would be known by God and would be sufficient to be accepted into Heaven. This belief was clearly a threat to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, which maintained that individuals could only ascend to Heaven via the Catholic Church.
Latimer’s public statements regarding his beliefs resulted in clashes with Church hierarchy in England. However, he got into royal favour when he supported Henry VIII in the king’s desire for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
His support for both the divorce and the marriage to Anne Boleyn, led to Latimer being made Bishop of Worcester in 1535. A supporter of Cranmer, Latimer made enemies among conservatives in the King’s Court. The close relationship between king and Cranmer ensured that Latimer remained untouchable. However, in 1539 he resigned from his see in Worcester when the Act of 6 Articles was passed.
In 1547 Henry died and was succeeded by his son Edward VI. The Protestant faith now developed at pace in England. Latimer used the new strength of the faith to launch into what can only be called a social campaign. Latimer was highly critical of the rich who he believed exploited the poor. He was also critical of absentee clergy who he believed let down their flock.
The death in 1553 of Edward put Latimer in great danger. On September 13th, 1553, he was arrested. Along with Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley, his beliefs were cross-examined by a commission established by Convocation. Latimer was given the opportunity to recant but he refused to do so and was found guilty of heresy in April 1554. He was returned to secular authorities and put on trial in October 1555. At his trial he was also found guilty of heresy and on October 16th, 1555, was burned at the stake in Oxford.
If his public execution was meant to have served as a warning to other Protestants, it had the opposite effect such was the bravery with which he met his death.