William Tyndale

William Tyndale

William Tyndale was born in Slymbridge in about 1496. After being educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, he became a chaplain. While studying at Oxford he became very interested in the ideas of John Wycliffe and the Lollards. Tyndale became convinced that the church had become corrupt and selfish.

Like Wycliffe, Tyndale thought it was important that people had the opportunity to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Tyndale wanted to translate the Bible into English but at that time Henry VIII and the English church were very much against the idea.

In 1524 Tyndale went to Hamburg where he met Martin Luther and the following year moved to Cologne where he managed to arrange for his translation of the Bible to be printed in English. He argued: "All the prophets wrote in the mother tongue... Why then might they (the scriptures) not be written in the mother tongue... They say, the scripture is so hard, that thou could never understand it... They will say it cannot be translated into our tongue... they are false liars." The translation owed much to the work of Desiderius Erasmus. During the next few years 18,000 copies of this bible were printed and smuggled into England.

In 1530 Henry VIII gave orders that all English Bibles were to be destroyed. People caught distributing the Tyndale Bible in England were burnt at the stake. This attempt to destroy Tyndale's Bible was very successful as only two copies have survived.

In 1535 William Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Phillips and arrested in Antwerp and imprisoned in a castle near Brussels. He was found guilty of heresy and on 6th October, 1536, he was strangled and burnt at the stake.

The death of William Tyndale (1563)
The death of William Tyndale (1563)

Tyndale did not die in vain. Two years later Henry VIII gave permission for the publication of the English Bible. However, people were not allowed to read it aloud to another person; nor were people below the rank of gentleman allowed to own a copy of the English Bible.

Primary Sources

(1) William Tyndale, Obedience of a Christian Man (1528)

All the prophets wrote in the mother tongue... Why then might they (the scriptures) not be written in the mother tongue... They say, the scripture is so hard, that thou could never understand it... They will say it cannot be translated into our tongue... they are false liars.

(2) H. Arnold-Forster, History of England (1898)

In 1526... William Tyndale translated the New Testament into English, and had it printed abroad. Some copies were brought over to England, but they were burnt by order of the bishops. For years later Tyndale translated a great part of the Old Testament, but he was not allowed to finish his work, for he was thrown into prison, and was there put to death by the Emperor Charles V.