Hugh Latimer

The English Protestant bishop Hugh Latimer (ca. 1492-1555) was an influential preacher of the first generation of English reformers. For a time bishop of Worcester, he was martyred as an arch-heretic.

Hugh Latimer was born at Thurscaston in Leicestershire, the son of a prosperous farmer. Educated at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, and elected a fellow there before obtaining his master of arts degree in 1514, Latimer was ordained priest in July 1515. He remained active in the university and received the degree of bachelor of divinity in 1524.

Latimer, until 1524, had been a vigorous opponent of the young Lutheran scholars at Cambridge. However, he gradually came under their influence. Notable elements in his conversion were the rejection of the works of the Fathers and the Schoolmen, an acceptance of the Bible as the solely sufficient authority in matters of faith, and the agreement with Martin Luther's principle that men are justified by faith alone. By 1529 his campaign for an English Bible brought him an examination and a caution from Cardinal Thomas Wolsey himself. Undeterred, however, Latimer continued to preach at Cambridge, and fierce controversies arose over his assertions. In addition, Latimer worked hard and successfully to get a majority of opinion at the university to support the annulment of King Henry VIII's marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Royal favor followed in the shape of an invitation to preach before the King and of an appointment to the parish of West Kington in Wiltshire as rector. It culminated in his nomination to the bishopric of Worcester in 1535.

By 1539, however, the King was dissatisfied with the rapid development of reforming views and approved the conservative Act of Six Articles as fundamental expressions of Church doctrine; in consequence Thomas Cromwell prompted Latimer's resignation, the cessation of his preaching, and the restricting of his liberty.

During the subsequent reign of King Edward VI, who acceded to the throne in January 1547, Protestantism rose in favor. Latimer became the most famous preacher of the day, speaking not merely on theological subjects but also on social and economic reforms. His humorous and homely style ensured wide appreciation, and Latimer did much to spread the idea of the Reformation.

The accession of Mary I in 1553 reinstated Catholicism, and Latimer was discredited and arrested immediately. Throughout his imprisonment and heresy trial in 1554, the aged preacher stoutly maintained his Protestant convictions, even when he was about to be burned alive. Hugh Latimer died on Oct. 16, 1555, a martyr to his beliefs.

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Further Reading on Hugh Latimer

George E. Corrie edited The Works of Hugh Latimer (2 vols., 1844-1845). An attractive introduction to the work of the reforming bishop is provided in Allan G. Chester's edition of Selected Sermons of Hugh Latimer (1960). Two recent biographies are Harold S. Darby, Hugh Latimer (1953), and Allan G. Chester, Hugh Latimer: Apostle to the English (1954).

Additional Biography Sources

Chester, Allan Griffith, Hugh Latimer, apostle to the English, New York: Octagon Books, 1978, 1954.

Stuart, Clara H., Latimer, apostle to the English, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Books, 1986.

Wood, Douglas C., Such a candle: the story of Hugh Latimer, Welwyn: Evangelical Press, 1980.