William Tyndale’s early life is somewhat of a mystery. Born in Gloucestershire sometime between 1491 and 1494, the exact date and location of his birth is unknown. There are no documents relating to him, until he received his Bachelor’s Degree at Magdalen Hall at Oxford University in 1512, when he would have been in his late teens. In the Oxford registers he uses the surname of Hychyns, which has lead historians to believe his family may have branched into two, either side of the Severn river, one side taking the Tyndale surname, the other Hychyns or Hutchins. In 1515 he was ordained as a priest in London, and he received his Master of Arts Degree from Oxford.
Tyndale spent two years in the employment of Sir John Walsh, a landowner in Gloucestershire, from 1522 to 1524, probably as a tutor to one or more of Sir John’s many children. During these years the country, and the rest of Europe was whipped into a religious frenzy by “Heretical” writers such as the German Augustinian friar Martin Luther, who had been publically berated by the King of England himself, Henry VIII, earning the monarch the title of Defender of the Faith from Rome. During the next decades the country’s religion would be forever altered by that very same King. However it is unclear when Tyndale’s thoughts began to move away from the traditional views of the Catholic Church, but we do know many documents such as churchwarden’s accounts and wills were being written in English at Oxford when Tyndale was attending the university, as well as poetry and English translations of other foreign writings. It is very possible that the idea of the scriptures being available to English people in their own language had been in his mind when he’d been working for Sir Walsh. At this time, The Bible was in Latin, and held little meaning to the average worshipper without the presence of a priest to read it for them.
However, in Gloucestershire Tyndale found resistance from churchmen, which initiated his move to London, where he met Humphrey Monmouth, a London Merchant, who had been impressed with his sermons. Monmouth offered Tyndale a place in his household in which to continue his studies, which William accepted and spent the next six months assessing whether he was likely to find the support he needed for his project in England. In 1524 Tyndale decided to leave the country and work on his project in Europe. He spent the next ten years travelling around, possibly even spending some time with Martin Luther in Wittenburg. In 1525 he was in Cologne supervising the secret printing of his finished translation. When word of his presence got out in the mainly Catholic town, William was forced to flee to Worms, taking the small portion of his work that had been printed with him. Those pages became known as the ‘Cologne Fragment’.
Tyndale’s entire translation was printed in its entirety in 1526 in Worms. It was the first New Testament in English to be mass produced on the printing press instead of handwritten. In order to carry out his translation Tyndale had learned Greek so he could translate from the original language. He was also learning Hebrew in order to translate the Old Testament, and complete the entire Bible in English. It is not known where exactly he was living over this period; he spent some time in Antwerp, however his translations had now started to enter England, and he was no longer the unknown scholar, he was seen as a real threat to religious order, and the authorities wanted to locate him and persuade him to return to England. William would have been well aware of the dangers he would face if he was to return to the country of his birth. Men who had distributed his translation were being burned at the stake, and copies of his book were burned at St Pauls Cross, just like Luther’s had been a few years previously. Even the merchant Humphrey Monmouth had fallen under suspicion and been arrested and questioned.
In 1529 Tyndale was in Antwerp where the first part of his Old Testament translation was completed and had started to enter England. By 1534, the Reformation was under way in England, and Tyndale was living in the household of Thomas Poyntz, an English Merchant living in Antwerp, working on a revised version of his New Testament translation. He completed this in November of 1534. It was at some point around this time he made the acquaintance of a Henry Phillips, a young man who he had probably met with Poyntz when socialising with other merchant families. Unfortunately Phillips was working for an agent, possibly John Stokesley, a hater of reformers, who took pride in the amount of heretics he’d killed. Whoever Phillips was working for he managed to gain the confidence and trust of Tyndale as spent much time with him and Poyntz. On May 21st 1535, Phillips arranged an ambush which would result in Tyndale being captured and taken to Vilvoorde Castle, six miles north of Brussels.
Eighteen months after his arrest William Tyndale was brought to trial. In August 1536 he was condemned as a heretic, and then returned to his prison for another two months. In October 1536 Tyndale was led out to be executed just outside Vilvoorde, he was strangled to death whilst tied to a stake, and then burned. His final words were said to have been “Lord, Open the King of England’s eyes!”
In 1538 King Henry VIII authorised the first English edition of The Great Bible to be read in the churches throughout England. It was mostly based on Tyndale’s translations.