This is a portrait of Thomas Cranmer (1489 – 1556). Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Henry VIII and launched the English Reformation. Few people have played so important a part in shaping the course of English history or had a more profound influence on England’s language and literature than Thomas Cranmer.
At the bottom of the painting Cranmer’s name and title is inscribed. At the centre there is also Cranmer’s coat of arms, the left half is the arms that all archbishops of Canterbury adopt and it has been enjoin to his own family arms that can be seen on the righthand side. It has been noted that Cramer swapped the original stars in his family crests for these pelicans. There was an old belief that pelicans feed their young with their own blood and Cranmer employed the animals to reflect his protestantism and emphasis on atonement by the blood of christ alone.
It is also likely that the books Cranmer holds in his hands are the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ which was written largely by Cranmer himself in 1549.
A similar portrait of Cranmer is currently in the art collection at Lambeth Palace, London.