A reconsideration of early Cranmer, to wit, he may well have been in the thick-of-it-early-on-with-the Lutheran tangoes at Cambridge. I have been hesitant to put him in the White Horse Inn. That is being reconsidered.
Elton makes this claim:
“From about 1520 he belonged to a group of scholars who met regularly to discuss the theological problems raised by Martin Luther’s revolt; known to be inclined to the new way of thinking, they were dubbed `Little Germany.' Among the group that was to lead the English Reformation were William Tyndale, Robert Barnes, Thomas Bilney, and, above all, Cranmer, who by 1525 included among his prayers one for the abolition of papal power in England.” (Elton, http://www.britannica.com/EBche…/topic/141839/Thomas-Cranmer.)
Fair enough, but the evidence? (The LORD only knows how many have followed Elton here.)
However, a reconsidered point in Elton's direction, circumstantially:
1511. After re-election to Jesus in 1511 and after Joan Black died in child-birth, he began to lecture in theology. Age: 23, fall semester, 1511. He lectures in theology for 11 more years, including the space of time Erasmus was in Cambridge, 1511-1513. His library grows seriously.
By 1523, he took holy orders, acted as a University Preacher, and, in 1523, proceeded to the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Age 34, fall semester, 1523. Hence, Cranmer is a long way down the road and into early adulthood.
PV—Cranmer "had to have known" of Barnes’ development (cf. Clebsch’s treatment of the Christmas Eve sermon, 1524, which set off a University-wide quasi-inquisition with writs, search warrants, Sherriffs, room-searches and more thanks to Fisher, More and others).
Furthermore, by 1523, Cranmer also “became an examiner in the divinity faculty, being distinguished by an insistence that candidates should show a first-hand acquaintance with the Bible.” In other words, Cranmer was a known-entity and a tough Bible-examiner. He also was disliked for this, but in later years, the ordinands were thankful for the insistence on direct Bible study (he himself had taken 3 years to study the Bible alone).
By fall, 1524, age 35, his reputation was solid and he was offered a canonry at the newly established Cardinal’s College at Oxford.
Conclusion: it is most likely, most probable, "perhaps even certain" that Cranmer was well--well--aware of Robert Barnes' somewhat vociferous yet charming advances of Lutheran thought in public spaces in 1524/in and about Cambridge. Barnes was not alone either.
By 1524, Cranmer, 35 years of age, in "doctoral studies," a divinity lecturer, an examiner of postulants, must have been following the Lutheran developments.
He may have been quiet and in the background, but he was surely there. Barnes was the "elected" spokesman for the White Horse Inn crowd. More convivial, good table companion, and more voluble, while Cranmer was more quiet, slower, perhaps more tedious, but disciplined in reading and note-taking.
Cranmer might not have been in the "circle" at the White Horse Inn, but he was abreast of the Lutheran issues roiling Cambridge.
If so, this rearranges the thinking of 1520-1524, long before he is hired by Henry VIII in Nov 1529.
On this end, this is huge. The dykes had been breached.
Foxe, VIII, 5.