This day in Tudor history, 6th October 1536, is the traditional date given for the execution of William Tyndale, reformer, scholar and Bible translator.
One of Tyndale's works had helped King Henry VIII while another incurred the king's wrath and led to Tyndale's execution. Why? What happened?
I explain what led to William Tyndale's sad end in 1536, as well as sharing an account of his execution on that day.
Here is my video on William Tyndale's "The Obedience of a Christian Man" and how it helped Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII:
Also on this day in history:
- 1510 – Birth of John Caius, theological scholar, Royal Physician and founder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, at Norwich. He was the son of Robert Caius and his wife, Alice (née Wode). Caius studied medicine at Padua and was physician to Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
- 1557 – Death of John Capon (also known as John Salcot), former Benedictine monk and Bishop of Salisbury, probably from influenza. He was buried in the choir at Salisbury Cathedral. He appeared to have reformist leanings in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, but became a conservative Catholic again in Mary I's reign, and was involved in the examination of those deemed to be heretics.
Today, the first Sunday in October, is also the day when wakes were held for the end of summer - click here for more details.
It is very curious that William Tyndale was held in prison for over sixteen months before he was tried and executed. Even though trials for heresy took longer than others because they were offered the opportunity to recant and the process had to allow time for this. If they did, then normally their lives were spared. Tyndale, obviously wasn’t going to abandon what he passionately believe in and if the account is true, won over others as well, but the time gave him the chance to complete his work on the New Testament and progress on the Hebrew Bible.
It seems to me that it was partly due to Anne’s influence that he was kept alive and Henry’s protection withdrawn after her execution. After that the authorities in the Empire could do as they pleased with him, although he was an English subject. It is of course possible he may have been executed for heresy at some point in any case had he remained in the Emperor’s lands but it was the work of the King’s agents which led to his betrayal and arrest. This made it very difficult to know whom to trust when someone who showed themselves as a friend and fellow reformers turned out to be the man in the pay of the enemy.
William Tyndale had managed for years to shelter in pro reformed cities or free cities which were friendly to Martin Luther and his cause. Here in Worms, Wittenberg and other cities working with the help of a number of English Friars and the network of merchants to print and smuggled these Bibles and works into England. He had left the safety of those cities to meet with this Phillips who betrayed him. Then, sold to the Imperial Netherlands he was taken to the city of Antwerp and here tried and condemned. The reach of the English King was longer than Tyndale had ever thought possible and in the most heinous of circumstances he was captured and ended his days in a cell which was hardly the most luxurious before being strangled and his body burned.
Maybe Tyndale was too dangerous for King Henry to handle, maybe Henry was vengeful and angry; yet much of the Bible he translated became part of the Authorized King James. It wasn’t even illegal to translate the Bible into English or any other languages; that is the great myth put around because of a misunderstanding: translations already existed elsewhere, in France and in Spain. Various parts of Scripture had been translated since the seventh century. However, what you needed was a license issued by a local Bishop and that was how the problem all started. Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London refused him permission. The main concern wasn’t so much translation as interpretation. It was a big concern that if Scripture was translated without reverence and without proper teaching and explanations by those who were trained, that is priests, religious and school masters. The Church was correct. The Bible was interpreted by anyone and everyone and abused. The other concern was that these reformed Bible translations contained errors that highlighted their own heretical beliefs. The English authorities argued that Tyndale’s New Testament emphasised anti Catholic doctrine, while he argued that the traditional beliefs of the Church were not contained in Scripture. The Church contended that he was wrong. It was for those heretical beliefs, not for translating the Bible into English that he was tried and executed. However, the real reason behind his arrest, betrayal, condemnation and ultimately his execution was that the King of England was annoyed that Tyndale, whose works were influential in Europe and his own realm, had written against his divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon.