King Henry's Tree : a possible reason for Cranmer's fall?

Some years after creating the sacred Church of England, Henry was out hunting with a few close friends when they came across a tree of remarkable appearance. The tree was said to have been described by Henry as having bark like "shiny gold" and "branches of a great and noble stature". Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, is also said to have remarked that the tree had "made much of an impression on his Royal Majesty" when they returned to court.

This was evidently the case, because over the next few years Henry would visit the tree with some frequency. He would hold exclusive parties at the tree's location, often involving wrestling matches that took place under the tree's leafy bows. These gatherings would be attended by only a select few of the king's favourite nobles.

Local people came to refer to the tree as "King Henry's Tree" and were proud to have a tree so favoured by the King near their village. They offered Henry gifts of farming produce for his feasts whenever he passed on route to the tree, and would dance merrily through the streets when they saw him.

From diary readings it's now clear that King Henry believed the tree to be a gift from God to him. Apparently he had seen the tree in his dreams. He records how he dreamt of being chased by a huge roasted pig with a chamber pot for a head. In his flight he stumbled across the tree, which he climbed to escape the beast. The tree provided the sleeping King with solace from his nightmare, and he writes that he woke up feeling refreshed and of good heart.

As the years passed Thomas Cranmer grew discontent when it became apparent that the King preferred spending time in the company of the tree instead of with his Archbishop. Cranmer's sources told him that the tree had the King's ear, and that his position as Archbishop of Canterbury might even be under threat. Historians have as yet found no hard evidence that Henry was planning to replace Cranmer with the tree but admit that it would have been be an option open to Henry; provided he made the necessary adjustments to Canterbury Cathedral.

What is recorded is that Cranmer took action; he rode out to the tree alone and under cover of darkness. Upon reaching his destination Cranmer took out a brush, a bucket of paint and daubed the emblem "stuPiD trEE" on the trunk of Henry's great gift from God.

The vandalism was discovered the next day by an old woman gathering firewood; she came running into the village howling that "Henry's Tree had been done a wickedness." When Henry heard the news he was reported to have been badly shaken. We discover from his diary that he thought a demon, or some fell servant of the dark lord himself, had defaced his personal gift from the Almighty. He believed that this was a direct warning from Lucifer to him that Lucifer had marked him out as one of the Lord's chosen and was preparing to move against him.

So taking this into account we should not be surprised by Henry's wrath when Thomas Cranmer, during one of his customary early morning drinking binges, accidentally blurted out that it was he who had vandalised the tree - just as the King was eating his marmalade on toast.

Henry was furious and Cranmer was stripped of his office and sent to the tower. The King decreed that Cranmer was to serve a 20 year sentence before being simultaneously beheaded, burnt at the stake and hanged. And so it was that on the 21 March 1556, a good few years after Henry himself has passed away, the execution finally took place. It is reported that even the bloodthirsty crowds of the time were dismayed by the spectacle of Cranmer waving at them with his free right hand just before the flames took hold.

Historians are divided as to whether Thomas was really waving at the crowd, or desperately trying to untie his bonds.

Henry's tree lived on for a great many years before it was struck by lightning during one of the great storms of 1783.