Monday, August 02, 2010

Question from Jacque - Tyndale's English New Testament

About what year did copies of Tyndale's English New Testament start circulating in England? Also, a somewhat related question: if someone was found in possession of an English New Testament, what exactly would happen to them? What was the procedure for dealing with heretics? Would they be imprisoned (where?), tried (by whom?) and then burned at the stake?


Foose said...

Regarding your question on the procedure for heretics, a good source is the author Jasper Ridley, who has written several books relating to the Tudors and their age.

He has a lot to say on heresy trials, and his interest appears to be driven by the fact that he is a relation (direct or collateral) of one of the "Oxford Martyrs": Nicholas Ridley, the bishop burnt for heresy in 1555 along with fellow bishops Hooper and Latimer ("Play the man, master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out").

In his book, Bloody Mary's Martyrs, he describes the typical procedure for relatively low-level heretics:

"When a person was accused of heresy … [h]e was arrested and brought before the court of the bishop of his diocese. Here he was tried either by the bishop or by the bishop’s Ordinary, a judicial officer who was a qualified lawyer trained in the canon law of the Church. The accused heretic was given every encouragement to recant his heresy and was put under great psychological pressure to do so. If he refused to recant he was sentenced to be burned and was handed over to the sheriff of the country, the JPs [Justices of the Peace] and their officers, who carried out the sentence in public at the appointed time; but if he recanted he was sentenced to a lesser punishment – imprisonment for some months or years in a prison or monastery [after Henry dissolved the monasteries, the prison was more likely] and forced to wear a badge showing he was a heretic. He was also forced to take part in a ceremony known as ‘carrying his faggot.’ The heretic was taken to the place of execution carrying a faggot of wood on his shoulder, and when the fire was lit he threw his faggot into the fire … "

If the heretic "relapsed" -- came before the court again for heresy and was convicted -- he was doomed to burn.

Foose said...

Oops, sorry, I doublechecked; Ridley and Latimer were burned together, but Hooper was burned subsequently, and in Gloucester, not Oxford. (Cranmer is the other Oxford Martyr, but he was burned in 1556.)

Ridley's A Brief History of the Tudor Age has an excellent chapter on "Heretics and Traitors," which offers detailed explanations of heresy procedures, including what happens at a burning; how long the heretic can expect to suffer in the burning; how the sheriff arranged for the burning (with an eye to keeping costs down, of course), etc.

Foose said...

In Derek Wilson's The People and the Book: The Revolutionary Impact of the English Bible 1380-1611, the author indicates that Tyndale's work was "pre-ordered" in massive quantities, so that by the time it was ready (the printing completed in Worms "by the spring of 1526") there were already buyers in England lined up.

"There was a large and eager market waiting for the new books. Tyndale's financiers had confidently ordered a first printing of six thousand copies ... the books were sold in batches to English dealers and arrangements were made for their secret despatch to ports on the other side of the Channel...

"In England the reaction was intense and immediate. The Christian Brethren [the network facilitating the transportation and dissemination of proscribed religious books] had handled well their pre-publication advertising and everywhere men were waiting eagerly for the forbidden books ..."

Tyndale's New Testament was considered a "forbidden book" in that the 1407 constitutions of Oxford "had forbidden, on pain of excommunication, the making and reading of any Bible translation 'until that translation shall be recognised and approved by the diocesan of the place.'" (Wilson) The book was printed in Germany because Tyndale could find no English bishop willing to provide the necessary license. An English person caught with the book would face at the very least a severe questioning that could lead to trial for heresy. Whether or not the offender was burnt, the book would definitely be consigned to the flames.