HUGH LATIMER

 

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LATIMER, HUGH, one of the most distinguished of the English reformers, was born at Thurcaston, in Leicestershire, in the year 1490 or 1491. He was educated at Cambridge, and after a brief period of zealous devotion to the papacy (' I was as obstinate a papist,'he says, 'as any in England'), he became attached to the new learning and divinity which had begun to establish themselves there. He very soon became a zealous preacher of the reformed doctrines. The consequence of this new-born zeal was, that many of the adherents of the old faith were strongly excited against him, and he was embroiled in many controversies.

The dispute about Henry VIII.'s marriage with Catharine of Aragon brought L. more into notice. He was one of the divines appointed by the university of Cambridge to examine as to its lawfulness, and he declared on the king's side. This secured Henry's favour, and he was appointed one of his chaplains, and received a living in Wiltshire. In 1535, he was appointed Bishop of Worcester; and at the opening of convocation on the 9th of June 1536, he preached two very powerful and impressive sermons, urging the necessity of reform. After a while, the work of reform rather retrograded than advanced, and L. found himself with his bold opinions in little favour at court. Ho retired to his diocese, and laboured there in a continual round of ' teaching, preaching, exhorting, writing, correcting, and reforming, either as his ability would serve, or the time would bear.' This was his true function. He was an eminently practical reformer. During the close of Henry's reign, and when the reactionary party, headed by Gardiner and Bonner, were in the ascendant, L. lived in great privacy. He was looked upon with jealousy, and closely watched, and finally, on coming up to London for medical advice, he was brought before the Privy Council, and cast into the Tower.

On the accession of Edward VI., he again appeared in public. He declined, however, to resume his episcopal functions, although his old bishopric was offered to him at the instance of the House of Commons. He devoted himself to preaching and practical works of benevolence. The pulpit was his great power, and by his stirring and homely sermons, he did much to rouse a spirit of religious earnestness throughout the country. At length, with the lamented death of Edward, he and other reformers were arrested in their career of activity. L. was put in prison, and examined at Oxford in 1554. After his examination, he was transferred to the common jail there, where he lay for more than a year, feeble, sickly, and worn out with his hardships. Death would not have long spared the old man, but his enemies would not wait for the natural termination of his life. In September 1555, he was summoned before certain commissioners, appointed to sit in judgment upon him and Ridley; and after an ignominious trial, he was condemned to be burned. He suffered along with Ridley 'without Bocardo Gate,' opposite Baliol College, on the 16th of October 1555, exclaiming to his companion: 'Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.'

L.'s character presents a combination of many noble and disinterested qualities. He was brave, honest, devoted, and energetic, homely and popular, yet free from all violence; a martyr and hero, yet a plain, simple-hearted, and unpretending man. Humour and cheerfulness, manly sense and direct evangelical fervour, distinguish his sermons and his life, and make them alike interesting and admirable.

L.'s sermons were reprinted at London, 2 vols., 1825. The latest edition is by Rev. G. Corrie, 4 vols., 1845. - See Tulloch's Leaders of the Reformation (1859); and Latimer, a biography, by Demaus (1869).

 

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UPDATED: 18 April 2014

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