“… we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.”
Hugh Latimer (circa 1487 – 1555) was an English Protestant bishop burned at the stake by Queen Mary during her campaign to restore England to Roman Catholicism. King Henry VIII had taken England out of the Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him a divorce from Mary’s mother, and established the Church of England, appointing himself its head. However, he kept many doctrines and practices of Catholicism.
Hugh Latimer had graduated from Cambridge University, was elected a fellow of its Clare College in 1510, and became a Catholic priest in 1515, but switched to Protestantism in 1524, and became a zealous advocate and defender of his new faith. He gained renown as a Protestant preacher and was appointed a bishop by Henry VIII in his newly formed Church of England. However, Latimer resigned in protest when the king refused to adopt Protestant reforms.
Henry was succeeded by his underage son, Edward VI, who was more staunchly Protestant, and during the son’s reign, England became decidedly more Protestant, and Latimer regained royal favor, was appointed court preacher, and became the young king’s chaplain. However, Edward died young and without issue, and was succeeded by his sister Mary, a staunch Catholic who viewed Protestantism as a heresy, and was determined to restore England to Catholicism.
Mary ordered that prominent Protestants such as Latimer be imprisoned and tried for heresy. Latimer, along with fellow bishop Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was tried for heresy in Oxford in 1555. Refusing to renounce his faith, he was convicted of heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake.
Latimer was chained to the stake alongside Ridley. When the flames were lit, Ridley cried out in anguish, but Latimer sought to comfort him even as he himself was being consumed by fire, telling his colleague: “be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.”
It could be argued that the candle still burns. Queen Mary’s efforts to restore Catholicism failed. When she died in 1558, she was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, and England has been Protestant ever since.