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The Independent Culture
From the late 1920s, the National Portrait Gallery invited leading writers to create 70-word biographies, of subjects whose portraits hang in the Gallery, for the backs of postcards. In this 12-week series, we present some of the most exceptional and unexpected of these unknown literary gems

10. Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) on Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

Thomas Cranmer, born of a good Nottinghamshire family, July 2, 1489, a distinguished scholar and Reformer of Cambridge was nominated Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VIII, and consecrated in 1533. He served all the King's Policies, broke with Rome, divorced Queen Katharine and bastardized the Princess Mary. In the next reign he was the principal author of the Book of Common Prayer, joined in the attempt to prevent Mary coming to the Throne, was prosecuted under her Government for Heresy and burnt alive at Oxford on March 21st, 1556, in spite of numerous recantations. He died with great courage. He was an admirable Horseman and perhaps the greatest master of English prose. Hilaire Belloc

There's a bit of an archival puzzle about Belloc's contribution. It's rather long, for a start. This is the original version in Belloc's handwriting, but a slightly shorter typed version also exists in the NPG's files, omitting some of the dates and with minor grammatical emendations. There is no record of Belloc having approved the changes, and the original postcard has not survived, so it is unknown which version was finally used.

Portraits, drawings and letters from the "postcard biography" archives are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.