The life of William Tyndale: 1484-1536
Foxe's Book of
Presented by: The Master's table
(See Two of Tyndale's bible leafs at he end of this study)
The Life and Story of the True Servant and Martyr of God, William Tyndale.
We have now to enter into the story of the good martyr of God, William Tyndale; which William Tyndale, as he was a special organ of the Lord appointed, and as God's mattock to shake the inward roots and foundation of the pope's proud prelacy, so the great prince of darkness, with his impious imps, having a special malice against him, left no way unsought how craftily to entrap him, and falsely to betray him, and maliciously to spill his life, as by the process of his story here following may appear.
William Tyndale, the faithful minister of Christ, was born about the borders
of Wales, and brought up from a child in the University of Oxford, where he,
by long continuance, increased as well in the knowledge of tongues, and other
liberal arts, as especially in the knowledge of the Scriptures, whereunto his
mind was singularly addicted; insomuch that he, lying then in Magdalen Hall,
read privily to certain students and fellows of Magdalen College some parcel
of divinity; instructing them in the knowledge and truth of the Scriptures.
His manners and conversation being correspondent to the same, were such that
all they that knew him reputed him to be a man of most virtuous disposition,
and of life unspotted.
Thus he, in the University of Oxford, increasing more and more in learning,
and proceeding in degrees of the schools, spying his time, removed from thence
to the University of Cambridge, where he likewise made his abode a certain space.
Being now further ripened in the knowledge of God's Word, leaving that university,
he resorted to one Master Welch, a knight of Gloucestershire, and was there
schoolmaster to his children, and in good favor with his master. As this gentleman
kept a good ordinary commonly at his table, there resorted to him many times
sundry abbots, deans, archdeacons, with divers other doctors, and great beneficed
men; who there, together with Master Tyndale siting at the same table, did use
many times to enter communication, and talk of learned men, as of Luther and
of Erasmus; also of divers other controversies and questions upon the Scripture.
Then Master Tyndale, as he was learned and well practiced in God's matters,
spared not to show unto them simply and plainly his judgment, and when they
at any time did vary from Tyndale in opinions, he would show them in the Book,
and lay plainly before them the open and manifest places of the Scriptures,
to confute their errors, and confirm his sayings. And thus continued they for
a certain season, reasoning and contending together divers times, until at length
they waxed weary, and bare a secret grudge in their hearts against him.
As this grew on, the priests of the country, clustering together, began to
grudge and storm against Tyndale, railing against him in alehouses and other
places, affirming that his sayings were heresy; and accused him secretly to
the chancellor, and others of the bishop's officers. It followed not long after
this that there was a sitting of the bishop's chancellor appointed, and warning
was given to the priests to appear, amongst whom Master Tyndale was also warned
to be there. And whether he had any misdoubt by their threatenings, or knowledge
given him that they would lay some things to his charge, it is uncertain; but
certain this is (as he himself declared), that he doubted their privy accusations;
so that he by the way, in going thitherwards, cried in his mind heartily to
God, to give him strength fast to stand in the truth of His Word.
When the time came for his appearance before the chancellor, he threatened
him grievously, reviling and rating him as though he had been a dog, and laid
to his charge many things whereof no accuser could be brought forth, notwithstanding
that the priests of the country were there present. Thus Master Tyndale, escaping
out of their hands, departed home, and returned to his master again.
There dwelt not far off a certain doctor, that he been chancellor to a bishop,
who had been of old, familiar acquaintance with Master Tyndale, and favored
him well; unto whom Master Tyndale went and opened his mind upon divers questions
of the Scripture: for to him he durst be bold to disclose his heart. Unto whom
the doctor said, "Do you not know that the pope is very Antichrist, whom
the Scripture speaketh of? But beware what you say; for if you shall be perceived
to be of that opinion, it will cost you your life."
Not long after, Master Tyndale happened to be in the company of a certain divine,
recounted for a learned man, and, in communing and disputing with him, he drove
him to that issue, that the said great doctor burst out into these blasphemous
words, "We were better to be without God's laws than the pope's."
Master Tyndale, hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous
saying, replied, "I defy the pope, and all his laws;" and added, "If
God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough
to know more of the Scripture than he did."
The grudge of the priests increasing still more and more against Tyndale, they
never ceased barking and rating at him, and laid many things sorely to his charge,
saying that he was a heretic. Being so molested and vexed, he was constrained
to leave that country, and to seek another place; and so coming to Master Welch,
he desired him, of his good will, that he might depart from him, saying: "Sir,
I perceive that I shall not be suffered to tarry long here in this country,
neither shall you be able, though you would, to keep me out of the hands of
the spirituality; what displeasure might grow to you by keeping me, God knoweth;
for the which I should be right sorry." So that in fine, Master Tyndale,
with the good will of his master, departed, and eftsoons came up to London,
and there preached a while, as he had done in the country.
Bethinking himself of Cuthbert Tonstal, then bishop of London, and especially
of the great commendation of Erasmus, who, in his annotations, so extolleth
the said Tonstal for his learning, Tyndale thus cast with himself, that if he
might attain unto his service, he were a happy man. Coming to Sir Henry Guilford,
the king's comptroller, and bringing with him an oration of Isocrates, which
he had translated out of Greek into English, he desired him to speak to the
said bishop of London for him; which he also did; and willed him moreover to
write an epistle to the bishop, and to go himself with him. This he did, and
delivered his epistle to a servant of his, named William Hebilthwait, a man
of his old acquaintance. But God, who secretly disposeth the course of things,
saw that was not best for Tyndale's purpose, nor for the profit of His Church,
and therefore gave him to find little favor in the bishop's sight; the answer
of whom was this: his house was full; he had more than he could well find: and
he advised him to seek in London abroad, where, he said, he could lack no service.
Being refused of the bishop he came to Humphrey Mummuth, alderman of London,
and besought him to help him: who the same time took him into his house, where
the said Tyndale lived (as Mummuth said) like a good priest, studying both night
and day. He would eat but sodden meat by his good will, nor drink but small
single beer. He was never seen in the house to wear linen about him, all the
space of his being there. And so remained Master Tyndale in London almost a
year, marking with himself the course of the world, and especially the demeanor
of the preachers, how they boasted themselves, and set up their authority; beholding
also the pomp of the prelates, with other things more, which greatly misliked
him; insomuch that he understood not only that there was no room in the bishop's
house for him to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place
to do it in all England.
Therefore, having by God's providence some aid ministered unto him by Humphrey
Mummuth, and certain other good men, he took his leave of the realm, and departed
into Germany, where the good man, being inflamed with a tender care and zeal
of his country, refused no travail nor diligence, how, by all means possible,
to reduce his brethren and countrymen of England to the same taste and understanding
of God's holy Word and verity, which the Lord had endued him withal. Whereupon,
considering in his mind, and conferring also with John Frith, Tyndale thought
with himself no way more to conduce thereunto, than if the Scripture were turned
into the vulgar speech, that the poor people might read and see the simple plain
Word of God. He perceived that it was not possible to establish the lay people
in any truth, except the Scriptures were so plainly laid before their eyes in
their mother tongue that they might see the meaning of the text; for else, whatsoever
truth should be taught them, the enemies of the truth would quench it, either
with reasons of sophistry, and traditions of their own making, founded without
all ground of Scripture; or else juggling with the text, expounding it in such
a sense as it were impossible to gather of the text, if the right meaning thereof
Master Tyndale considered this only, or most chiefly, to be the cause of all
mischief in the Church, that the Scriptures of God were hidden from the people's
eyes; for so long the abominable doings and idolatries maintained by the pharisaical
clergy could not be espied; and therefore all their labor was with might and
main to keep it down, so that either it should not be read at all, or if it
were, they would darken the right sense with the mist of their sophistry, and
so entangle those who reguked or despised their abominations; wresting the Scripture
unto their own purpose, contrary unto the meaning of the text, they would so
delude the unlearned lay people, that though thou felt in thy heart, and wert
sure that all were false that they said, yet couldst thou not solve their subtle
For these and such other considerations this good man was stirred up of God to translate the Scripture into his mother tongue, for the profit of the simple people of his country; first setting in hand with the New Testament, which came forth in print about A.D. 1525. Cuthbert Tonstal, bishop of London, with Sir Thomas More, being sore aggrieved, despised how to destroy that false erroneous translation, as they called it. It happened that one Augustine Packington, a mercer, was then at Antwerp, where the bishop was.
This man favored Tyndale, but showed the contrary unto the bishop. The bishop,
being desirous to bring his purpose to pass, communed how that he would gladly
buy the New Testaments. Packington hearing him say so, said, "My lord!
I can do more in this matter than most merchants that be here, if it be your
pleasure; for I know the Dutchmen and strangers that have brought them of Tyndale,
and have them here to sell; so that if it be your lordship's pleasure, I must
disburse money to pay for them, or else I cannot have them: and so I will assure
you to have every book of them that is printed and unsold." The bishop,
thinking he had God "by the toe," said, "Do your diligence, gentle
Master Packington! get them for me, and I will pay whatsoever they cost; for
I intend to burn and destroy them all at Paul's Cross." This Augustine
Packington went unto William Tyndale, and declared the whole matter, and so,
upon compact made between them, the bishop of London had the books, Packington
had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money.
After this, Tyndale corrected the same New Testaments again, and caused them
to be newly imprinted, so that they came thick and threefold over into England.
When the bishop perceived that, he sent for Packington, and said to him, "How
cometh this, that there are so many New Testaments abroad? You promised me that
you would buy them all." Then answered Packington, "Surely, I bought
all that were to be had, but I perceive they have printed more since. I see
it will never be better so long as they have letters and stamps: wherefore you
were best to buy the stamps too, and so you shall be sure," at which answer
the bishop smiled, and so the matter ended.
In short space after, it fortuned that George Constantine was apprehended by
Sir Thomas More, who was then chancellor of England, as suspected of certain
heresies. Master More asked of him, saying, "Constantine! I would have
thee be plain with me in one thing that I will ask; and I promise thee I will
show thee favor in all other things whereof thou art accused. There is beyond
the sea, Tyndale, Joye, and a great many of you: I know they cannot live without
help. There are some that succor them with money; and thou, being one of them,
hadst thy part thereof, and therefore knowest whence it came. I pray thee, tell
me, who be they that help them thus?" "My lord," quoth Constantine,
"I will tell you truly: it is the bishop of London that hath holpen us,
for he hath bestowed among us a great deal of money upon New Testaments to burn
them; and that hath been, and yet is, our only succor and comfort." "Now
by my troth," quoth More, "I think even the same; for so much I told
the bishop before he went about it."
After that, Master Tyndale took in hand to translate the Old Testament, finishing
the five books of Moses, with sundry most learned and godly prologues most worthy
to be read and read again by all good Christians. These books being sent over
into England, it cannot be spoken what a door of light they opened to the eyes
of the whole English nation, which before were shut up in darkness. At his first
departing out of the realm he took his journey into Germany, where he had conference
with Luther and other learned men; after he had continued there a certain season
he came down into the Netherlands, and had his most abiding in the town of Antwerp.
The godly books of Tyndale, and especially the New Testament of his translation,
after that they began to come into men's hands, and to spread abroad, wrought
great and singular profit to the godly; but the ungodly (envying and disdaining
that the people should be anything wiser than they and, fearing lest by the
shining beams of truth, their works of darkness should be discerned) began to
sir with no small ado.
At what time Tyndale had translated Deuteronomy, minding to print the same
at Hamburg, he sailed thitherward; upon the coast of Holland he suffered shipwreck,
by which he lost all his books, writings, and copies, his money and his time,
and so was compelled to begin all again. He came in another ship to Hamburg,
where, at his appointment, Master Coverdale tarried for him, and helped him
in the translating of the whole five books of Moses, from Easter until December,
in the house of a worshipful widow, Mistress Margaret Van Emmerson, A.D. 1529;
a great sweating sickness being at the same time in the town. So, having dispatched
his business at Hamburg, he returned to Antwerp.
When God's will was, that the New Testament in the common tongue should come
abroad, Tyndale, the translator thereof, added to the latter end a certain epistle,
wherein he desired them that were learned to amend, if ought were found amiss.
Wherefore if there had been any such default deserving correction, it had been
the part of courtesy and gentleness, for men of knowledge and judgment to have
showed their learning therein, and to have redressed what was to be amended.
But the clergy, not willing to have that book prosper, cried out upon it, that
there were a thousand heresies in it, and that it was not to be corrected, but
utterly to be suppressed. Some said it was not possible to translate the Scriptures
into English; some that it was not lawful for the lay people to have it in their
mother tongue; some, that it would make them all heretics. And to the intent
to induce the temporal rulers unto their purpose, they said it would make the
people to rebel against the king.
All this Tyndale himself, in his prologue before the first book of Moses, declareth; showing further what great pains were taken in examining that translation, and comparing it with their own imaginations, that with less labor, he supposeth, they might have translated a great part of the Bible; showing moreover that they scanned and examined every title and point in such sort, and so narrowly, that there was not one i therein, but if it lacked a prick over his head, they did note it, and numbered it unto the ignorant people for a heresy.
So great were then the froward devices of the English clergy (who should have
been the guides of light unto the people), to drive the people from the knowledge
of the Scripture, which neither they would translate themselves, nor yet abide
it to be translated of others; to the intent (as Tyndale saith) that the world
being kept still in darkness, they might sit in the consciences of the people
through vain superstition and false doctrine, to satisfy their ambition, and
insatiable covetousness, and to exalt their own honor above king and emperor.
The bishops and prelates never rested before they had brought the king to their
consent; by reason whereof, a proclamation in all haste was devised and set
forth under public authority, that the Testament of Tyndale's translation was
inhibited-which was about A.D. 1537. And not content herewith, they proceeded
further, how to entangle him in their nets, and to bereave him of his life;
which how they brought to pass, now it remaineth to be declared. In the registers
of London it appeareth manifest how that the bishops and Sir Thomas More having
before them such as had been at Antwerp, most studiously would search and examine
all things belonging to Tyndale, where and with whom he hosted, whereabouts
stood the house, what was his stature, in what apparel he went, what resort
he had; all which things when they had diligently learned then began they to
work their feats.
William Tyndale, being in the town of Antwerp, had been lodged about one whole
year in the house of Thomas Pointz, an Englishman, who kept a house of English
merchants. Came thither one out of England, whose name was Henry Philips, his
father being customer of Poole, a comely fellow, like as he had been a gentleman
having a servant with him: but wherefore he came, or for what purpose he was
sent thither, no man could tell.
Master Tyndale divers times was desired forth to dinner and support amongst
merchants; by means whereof this Henry Philips became acquainted with him, so
that within short space Master Tyndale had a great confidence in him, and brought
him to his lodging, to the house of Thomas Pointz; and had him also once or
twice with him to dinner and supper, and further entered such friendship with
him, that through his procurement he lay in the same house of the sait Pointz;
to whom he showed moreover his books,a nd other secrets of his study, so little
did Tyndale then mistrust this traitor.
But Pointz, having no great confidence in the fellow, asked Master Tyndale
how he came acquainted with this Philips. Master Tyndale answered, that he was
an honest man, handsomely learned, and very conformable. Pointz, perceiving
that he bare such favor to him, said no more, thinking that he was brought acquainted
with him by some friend of his. The said Philips, being in the town three or
four days, upon a time desired Pointz to walk with him forth of the town to
show him the commodities thereof, and in walking together without the town,
had communication of divers things, and some of the king's affairs; by which
talk Pointz as yet suspected nothing. But after, when the time was past, Pointz
perceived this to be the mind of Philips, to feel whether the said Pointz might,
for lucre of money, help him to his purpose, for he perceived before that Philips
was monied, and would that Pointz should think no less. For he had desired Pointz
before to help him to divers things; and such things as he named, he required
might be of the best, "for," said he, "I have money enough."
Philips went from Antwerp to the court of Brussels, which is from thence twenty-four English miles, whence he brought with him to Antwerp, the procurator-general, who is the emperor's attorney, with certain other officers. Within three or four days, Pointz went forth to the town of Barois, being eighteen English miles from Antwerp, where he had business to do for the space of a month or six weeks; and in the time of his absence Henry Philips came again to Antwerp, to the house of Pointz, and coming in, spake with his wife, asking whether Master Tyndale were within.
Then went he forth again and set the officers whom he had brought with him
from Brussels, in the street, and about the door. About noon he came again,
and went to Master Tyndale, and desired him to lend him forty shillings; "for,"
said he, "I lost my purse this morning, coming over at the passage between
this and Mechlin." So Master Tyndale took him forty shillings, which was
easy to be had of him, if he had it; for in the wily subtleties of this world
he was simple and inexpert. Then said Philips, "Master Tyndale! you shall
be my guest here this day." "No," said Master Tyndale, "I
go forth this day to dinner, and you shall go with me, and be my guest, where
you shall be welcome."
So when it was dinner time, Master Tyndale went forth with Philips, and at the going forth of Pointz's house, was a long narrow entry, so that two could not go in front. Master Tyndale would have put Philips before him, but Philips would in no wise, but put Master Tyndale before, for that he pretended to show great humanity. So Master Tyndale, being a man of no great stature, went before, and Philips, a tall, comely person, followed behind him; who had set officers on either side of the door upon two seats, who might see who came in the entry. Philips pointed with his finger over Master Tyndale's head down to him, that the officers might see that it was he whom they should take. The officers afterwards told Pointz, when they had laid him in prison, that they pitied to see his simplicity.
They brought him to the emperor's attorney, where he dined. Then came the procurator-general
to the house of Pointz, and sent away all that was there of Master Tyndale's,
as well his books as other things; and from thence Tyndale was had to the castle
of Vilvorde, eighteen English miles from Antwerp. Master Tyndale, remaining
in prison, was proffered an advocate and a procurator; the which he refused,
saying that he would make answer for himself. He had so preached to them who
had him in charge, and such as was there conversant with him in the Castle that
they reported of him, that if he were not a good Christian man, they knew not
whom they might take to be one.
At last, after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved
no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor's decree, made in the assembly
at Augsburg. Brought forth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake,
strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of
Vilvorde, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice,
"Lord! open the king of England's eyes."
Such was the power of his doctrine, and the sincerity of his life, that during the time of his imprisonment (which endured a year and a half), he converted, it is said, his keeper, the keeper's daughter, and others of his household. As touching his translation of the New Testament, because his enemies did so much carp at it, pretending it to be full of heresies, he wrote to John Frith, as followeth, "I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God's Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me."
(See our study on The Credibility of the Bible)
See Two of Tyndale's bible leafs below.
This page may be freely reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, in print or electronically, under the one condition that prominent credit must be given to WWW.GREATSITE.COM as the source.