But pardon was impossible; and Cranmer's strangely mingled nature found a power in its very weakness when he was brought into the church of St. Mary at Oxford to repeat his recantation on the way to the stake. "Now," ended his address to the hushed congregation before him, "now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life, and that is the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth; which here I now renounce and refuse as things written by my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death to save my life, if it might be. And, forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, my hand therefore shall be the first punished; for if I come to the fire, it shall be the first burned." " This was the hand that wrote it," he again exclaimed at the stake, "therefore it shall suffer first punishment;" and holding it steadily in the flame " he never stirred nor cried " till life was gone.
It was with the unerring instinct of a popular movement that, among a crowd of far more heroic sufferers, the Protestants fixed, in spite of his recantations, on the martyrdom of Cranmer as the death-blow to Catholicism in England. For one man who felt within him the joy of Rowland Taylor at the prospect of the stake, there were thousands who felt the shuddering dread of Cranmer. The triumphant cry of Latimer could reach only hearts as bold as his own; but the sad pathos of the Primate's humiliation and repentance struck chords of sympathy and pity in the hearts of all. It is from that moment that we may trace the bitter remembrance of the blood shed in the cause of Rome; which, however partial and unjust it must seem to an historic observer, still lies graven deep in the temper of the English people. The overthrow of his projects for the permanent acquisition of England to the House of Austria had disenchanted Philip of his stay in the realm; and on the disappearance of all hope of a child, he had left the country in spite of Mary's passionate entreaties. But the Queen struggled desperately on.
She did what was possible to satisfy the unyielding Pope. In the face of the Parliament's significant reluctance even to restore the first-fruits to the Church, she refounded all she could of the abbeys which had been suppressed; the greatest of these, that of Westminster, was re-established in 1556. Above all, she pressed on the work of persecution. It had spread now from bishops and priests to the people itself. The sufferers were sent in batches to the flames. In a single day thirteen victims, two of them women, were burnt at Stratford-le-Bow. Seventy-three Protestants of Colchester were dragged through the streets of London, tied to a single rope. A new commission for the suppression of heresy was exempted by royal authority from all restrictions of law which fettered its activity. The Universities were visited; and the corpses of foreign teachers who had found a resting place there under Edward were torn from their graves and reduced to ashes. The penalties of martial law were threatened against the possessors of heretical books issued from Geneva; the treasonable contents of which indeed, and their constant exhortations to rebellion and civil war, justly called for stern repression. But the work of terror broke down before the silent revolt of the whole nation.
Open sympathy began to be shown to the sufferers for conscience' sake. In the three and a half years of the persecution nearly three hundred victims had perished at the stake. The people sickened at the work of death. The crowd round the fire at Smithfield shouted " Amen " to the prayer of seven martyrs whom Bonner had condemned, and prayed with them that God would strengthen them. A general discontent was roused when, in spite of the pledges given at her marriage, Mary dragged England into a war to support Philip - who on the Emperor's resignation had succeeded to his dominions of Spain, Flanders, and the New World - in a struggle against France. The war ended in disaster. With characteristic secrecy and energy, the Duke of Guise flung himself upon Calais, and compelled it to surrender before succour could arrive "The chief jewel of the realm," as Mary herself called it, was suddenly reft away; and the surrender of Guisnes, which soon followed, left England without a foot of land on the Continent. Bitterly as the blow was felt, the Council, though passionately pressed by the Queen, could find neither money nor men for any attempt to recover the town. The forced loan to which she resorted came in slowly. The levies mutinied and dispersed.
The death of Mary alone averted a general revolt, and a burst of enthusiastic joy hailed the accession of Elizabeth.