During Cranmer's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England. Under Henry's rule, Cranmer did not make many radical changes in the Church, due to power struggles between religious conservatives and reformers. However, he succeeded in publishing the first officially authorised vernacular service, the Exhortation and Litany.
When Edward came to the throne, Cranmer was able to promote major reforms. He wrote and compiled the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, a complete liturgy for the English Church. With the assistance of several Continental reformers to whom he gave refuge, he changed doctrine in areas such as the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, the role of images in places of worship, and the veneration of saints. Cranmer promulgated the new doctrines through the Prayer Book, the Homilies and other publications.
After the accession of the Roman Catholic Mary I, Cranmer was put on trial for treason and heresy. Imprisoned for over two years and under pressure from Church authorities, he made several recantations and apparently reconciled himself with the Roman Catholic Church. However, on the day of his execution, he withdrew his recantations, to die a heretic to Roman Catholics and a martyr for the principles of the English Reformation. Cranmer's death was immortalised in Foxe's Book of Martyrs and his legacy lives on within the Church of England through the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles, an Anglican statement of faith derived from his work.
Cranmer's paternal canting arms: Argent, a chevron between three cranes azure, which were altered by King Henry VIII to: Argent, on a chevron azure between three pelicans sable vulning themselves proper as many cinquefoils or, as "those birds should signify unto him, that he ought to be ready, as the pelican is, to shed his blood for his young ones, brought up in the faith of Christ"
Cranmer was born in 1489 at Aslockton in Nottinghamshire, England. He was a younger son of Thomas Cranmer by his wife Agnes Hatfield. Thomas Cranmer was of modest wealth but was from a well-established armigerous gentry family which took its name from the manor of Cranmer in Lincolnshire. Thomas was lord of the manor of Whatton, which had come to his great grandfather Edmund Cranmer by marriage with the heiress of the Aslactons, who held in from the reign of Henry II. It later passed by an heiress of Cranmer, to Sir John Molyneux, Baronet, who sold it to the Marquis of Dorchester, and in 1792 was owned by the representative of the Duke of Kingston. A ledger stone to one of his relatives in Whatton Church, near Aslockton is inscribed as follows: Hic jacet Thomas Cranmer, Armiger, qui obiit vicesimo septimo die mensis Maii, anno d(omi)ni. MD centesimo primo, cui(us) a(n)i(ma)e p(ro)p(i)cietur Deus Amen ("here lies Thomas Cranmer, Esquire, who died on the 27th day of May in the year of our lord 1601, on whose soul may God look upon with mercy"). The arms on it are: A chevron between three cranes (Cranmer) and Argent, five fusils in fesse gules each charged with an escallop or (Aslacton). The figure is that of a man in flowing hair and gown, and a purse at his right side. Their oldest son, John Cranmer, inherited the family estate, whereas Thomas and his younger brother Edmund were placed on the path to a clerical career.