On this day in 1535 – William Tyndale was arrested

21st May 1535 saw the arrest of William Tyndale, the spiritual leader of the reformation. Tyndale was born in the late 1400’s in Gloucestershire. Tyndale enrolled at Oxford in 1505, and received his Master’s degree in 1515, aged just 21. Tyndale was fluent in eight different languages.

In the early 1520’s Tyndale was employed as a tutor by the family of Sir John Walsh in Little Sodbury, Gloucestershire. During this time he devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures as well as becoming more attached to the reformation movement. His religious views led to him being dismissed from his tutor role and it is here that Tyndale headed to London to seek permission to translate the bible into English, his request was turned down and he turned to lecturing.

In 1524 Tyndale set of for Europe in order to translate the Scriptures into English and it is believed that it was in Wittenberg that Tyndale translated the New Testament, with the help of Martin Luther. In Cologne, 1525, Tyndale’s New Testament was printed as a quarto and its distribution began and it was later smuggled into England and Scotland. In October 1526 Bishop Tunstall condemned the publication urging any bookersellers and individuals who had copies to burn them. Cadinal Wolsey, in 1529, declared Tyndale a heretic.

In the following years Tyndale learnt Hebrew and began translating Pentateuch, the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First Chronicles, and the Book of Jonah. During the time that Tyndale was translating these works he remained hidden from Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII who were at the time keen to stop the spread of Tyndale’s work. The idea of Reformation was still a long way off in England.

In 1530, Tyndale published a paper entitled ‘The Practyse of Prelates’ in which he spoke out about King Henry VIII’s divorce to Katherine of Aragon in favour of a marriage to Anne Boleyn. Tyndale warned that it was a plot by Cardinal Wolsey to get England tied up in the papal courts. Henry was furious at this publication and demanded that the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V extradited Tyndale to England under the Treaty of Cambrai.

The English King finally caught up with Tyndale in 1535 when he was betrayed by a close friend, Henry Phillips. Tyndale was arrested on 21st May and was imprisoned in the castle of Vilvoorden until 6th October 1536 where he was burned at the stake after being tried on the charges of heresy and treason. Thomas Cromwell had tried to intercede on Tyndale’s behalf. Tyndale’s final words at the stake were documented as ‘Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.’ Only four years later Henry approved the distribution four translations of Tyndale’s bible in England.

William Tyndale


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