BEGINNING OF DANGER FOR THE QUEEN AND FOR TYNDALE. (1534 TO AUGUST 1535.)
TWO persons were at this time specially dreaded by the Roman party: one was at the summit of the grandeurs of the world, the other at the summit of the grandeurs of faith — the queen and Tyndale. The hour of trial was approaching for both of them.
There existed another reformation than that of which the sheriffs were to be the agents; there were other reformers than Henry VIII. One man, desirous of reviving the Church of Christ in England, had made the translation of the Holy Scriptures the work of his life. Tyndale had been forced to leave his country; but he had left it only to prepare a seed which, borne on the wings of the wind, was to change the wildernesses of Great Britain into a fruitful garden.
The retired teacher from the vale of the Severn had settled in 1534 as near as possible to England — at Antwerp, whence ships departed frequently for British harbors. The English merchants, of whom there were many in that city, welcomed him with fraternal cordiality. Among them was a friend of the Gospel, Mr. Thomas Poyntz, whose brother filled an office in the king’s household. This warm-hearted Christian had received Tyndale into his house, and the latter was unremittingly occupied in translating the Old Testament, when an English ship brought the news of the martyrdom of Fryth, his faithful colleague. Tyndale shed many tears, and could not make up his mind to continue his work alone. But the reflection that Fryth hood glorified Jesus Christ in his prison, aroused him: he felt it his duty to glorify God in his exile. The loss of his friend made his Savior still more precious to him, and in Jesus he found comfort for his mind. ‘I have lost my brother,’ he said, ‘but in Christ, all Christians and even all the angels are father and mother, sister and brother, and God himself takes care of me. O Christ, my Redeemer and my shield! thy blood, thy death, all that Thou art and all that Thou hast done — Thou thyself art mine!’ Tyndale, strengthened by faith, redoubled his zeal in his Master’s service.
That indefatigable man was not content to study the Scriptures with eagerness: he desired to combine with learning the charity that worketh.
The English merchants of Antwerp, having given him a considerable sum of money, he consecrated it to the poor; but he was not content with mere giving. Besides Sunday he reserved two days in the week, which he called his ‘days of recreation.’ On Monday he visited the most out of the way streets of Antwerp, hunting in garrets for the poor English refugees who had been driven from their country on account of the Gospel; he taught them to bear Christ’s burden, and carefully tended their sick. On Saturday, he went out of the city, visiting the villages and solitary houses, and ‘seeking out every hole and corner.’ Should he happen to meet some hard-working father burdened with children, or some aged or infirm man, he hastened to share his substance with the poor creatures. ‘We ought to be for our neighbor,’ he said, ‘what Christ has been for us.’ This is what Tyndale called his ‘pastime.’ On Sunday morning he went to a merchant’s house where a large room had been prepared for evangelical worship, and read and explained the Scriptures with so much sweetness and unction and in such a practical spirit that the congregation (it was said) fancied they were listening to John the Evangelist. During the remainder of the week the laborious doctor gave himself entirely to his translation. He was not one of those who remain idle in the hope that grace may abound. ‘If we are justified by faith,’ he said, ‘it is in order that we may do Christian works.’
There came good news from London to console him for the death of Fryth.
In every direction people were asking for the New Testament; several Flemish printers began to reprint it, saying: ‘If Tyndale should print copies, and we as many, they would be few enough for all England.’ Four new editions of the sacred book issued from the Antwerp presses in 1534.
There was at that trine living in the city a man little fitted to be Tyndale’s associate. George Joye, a fellow of Cambridge, was one of those active but superficial persons, with little learning and less judgment, who are never afraid to launch out into works beyond their powers. Joye, who had left England in 1527, noticing the consideration which Tyndale’s labors brought to their author, and being also desirous of acquiring glory for himself, began, though he knew neither Hebrew nor Greek, to correct Tyndale’s New Testament according to the Vulgate and his own imagination. One day when Tyndale had refused, to adopt one of his extravagant corrections, Joye was touched to the quick: ‘I am not afraid to cope with him in this matter,’ he said, ‘for all his high learning in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.’ Tyndale knew more than these. ‘He is master of seven languages,’ said Busche, Reuchlin’s disciple: ‘Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, French, and so thoroughly, that whichever he is speaking one might believe it to be his mother tongue.’ In the month of August Joye’s translation appeared at Antwerp: he had advertised it as ‘clearer and more faithful.’ Tyndale glanced over the leaves of the work that had been so praised by its author, and was vexed to find himself so unskilfully ‘corrected.’ He pointed out some of Joye’s errors, and made this touching and solemn declaration: ‘I protest in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, and before the whole assembly of believers, that I have never written anything through envy, to circulate any error, or to attract followers to me. I have never had any other desire than to lead my brethren to the knowledge of Christ. And if in what I have written or translated there should be anything opposed to God’s word, I beg all men to reject it as I reject it myself, before Christ and his assembly.’
It was in November 1534 that Tyndale made this noble protest.
While Joye was waging this petty war against Tyndale, every ship that came from London to Antwerp brought the cheering news that the great war seemed to be dying out in England, and that the king and those around him were drawing towards protestantism. A change had been worked in Anne’s mind analogous to that which had been wrought in her position.
She had been ambitious and worldly, but from the moment she ascended the throne, her character had expanded; she had become quench, she wished to be the mother of her people, especially of those who trod in the paths of Holy Scripture. In the first transports of his affection, Henry had desired to share all the honors of sovereignty with her, and she had taken this high position more seriously than Henry had intended. When he saw her whom he had placed by his side imagine that she had any power, the selfish and jealous monarch knit his brows: this was the beginning of the storm that drove Anne Boleyn from the throne to the scaffold. She ventured to order Cromwell to indemnify the merchants who had suffered loss for having introduced the New Testament into England. ‘If a day passes,’ people said, ‘without her having an opportunity of doing a service to a friend of the Gospel, she is accustomed to say with Titus, “I have lost a day.”’ Harman, a merchant of Antwerp and a man of courage, who had helped Tyndale to publish the Gospel in English, had been kept seven months in prison by Wolsey and Hacket. Although set at liberty, he was still deprived of his privileges and compelled to suspend business. He came over to England, but instead of applying either to the lord chancellor or to Cromwell for the restoration of his rights, he went straight to the queen. Anne, who was then at Greenwich palace, was touched by his piety and sufferings, and probably without taking council of the king, she dictated the following message to the prime minister, which we think worth quoting aft full.
BY THE QUEEN. Anne the Queen. — Trusty and right well-beloved, we greet you well. And whereas we be credibly informed that the bearer hereof, Richard Harman, merchant and citizen of Antwerp in Brabant, was in the time of the late lord cardinal put and expelled from his freedom and fellowship of and in the English house there, for nothing else, as he affirmeth like a good Christian man, but only for that, that he did, both with his goods and policy to his great hurt and hindrance in this world, help to the setting forth of the New Testament in English. We therefore desire and instantly pray you, that with all speed and favor convenient, you will cause this good and honest merchant, being my Lord’s true, faithful, and loving subject, to be restored to his pristine freedom, liberty, and fellowship aforesaid. And the sooner at this our request: and at your good pleasure to hear him in such things as he hath to make further relation unto you in this behalf.
Given under our signet at my Lord’s manor of Greenwich, the 14:day of May.
To our trusty and well-beloved Thomas Cromwell, principal secretary to his Majesty, the king my lord.
This intervention of the queen in favor of a persecuted evangelical was much talked about. Some ascribed her conduct to the interests of her own cause, others to humanity: most of the friends of the Reformation regarded it as a proof that Anne was gained over to their convictions, and Tyndale manifested his gratitude to the queen by presenting her with a handsome copy of his New Testament.
What gave such joy to Tyndale annoyed the king greatly. Such a private order as this coming from the queen singularly displeased a monarch whose will it was that no business should be discussed except in his council. There was also in this order, at least in Henry’s eyes, a still greater evil. The evangelical reformation, which Henry had so stoutly combated and which he detested to the last, was making great progress in England. On the 4th of July, 1533, Fryth, the friend of Harman and Tyndale, was burnt at Smithfield, as being one of its followers; and ten months later, on the 14th of May, 1534, Harman, the friend of Tyndale and Fryth, had been declared ‘a good Christian’ by the queen. Anne dared profess herself the friend of those whom the king hated. Did she design to make a revolution — to oppose the opinions of her lord the king? That letter did not remain without effect: it was reported that the friends of the Word of God, taking advantage of these favorable dispositions, were printing at Antwerp six separate editions of the New Testament, and were introducing them into England.
It was not only the king who was irritated, the anger of the Romish party was greater still; but as they dared not strike the queen, they looked about for another victim. Neither Bishop Fisher, Sir Thomas More, nor Henry VIII. appear to have had any part in this new crime. Gardiner, now bishop of Winchester, gave a force to the episcopal body of which it had long been deprived; and several prelates, ‘incensed and inflamed in their minds,’ says a document, called to remembrance that the best means of drying up the waters of a river is to cut off its springs. It was from Tyndale that all those writings proceeded — those Gospels which, in their opinion, were leading England astray. The moment seemed favorable for getting rid of him: he was actually in the states of Charles V., that great enemy of the Reformation. Gardiner and his allies determined to send into the Low Countries two persons with instructions to keep an eye upon the reformer, to take him unawares, and have him put to death. For this purpose they selected a very clever monk of Stratford Abbey and a zealous young papist, who had the look of a gentleman, and who (they hoped) would soon gain Tyndale’s heart by his amiability.
It was about the end of the year 1534, while the reformer was still living at Antwerp in the house of Thomas Poyntz, when one day, dining with another merchant, he observed among the guests a tall young man of good appearance whom he did not know. ‘He is a fellow-countryman,’ said the master of the house, ‘Mr. Harry Philips, a person of very agreeable manners.’ Tyndale drew near the stranger and was charmed with his conversation. After dinner, just as they were about to separate, he observed another person near Philips, whose countenance from being less open pleaded little in his favor. It was ‘Gabriel, his servant,’ he was told.
Tyndale invited Philips to come and see him: the young layman accepted the invitation, and the candid reformer was so taken with him, that he could not pass a day without him inviting him at one time to dinner, at another to supper. At length Philips became so necessary to him that he prevailed upon him, with Poyntz’s consent, to come and live in the same house with him. For some time they had lost sight of Gabriel, and on Tyndale’s asking what had become of him, he was informed that he had gone to Louvain, the center of Roman clericalism in Belgium. When Tyndale and Philips were once lodged beneath the same roof, their intimacy increased: Tyndale had no secrets from his fellow-countryman.
The latter spent hours in the library of the hellenist, who showed him his books and manuscripts, and conversed with him about his past and future labors, and the means that he possessed for circulating the New Testament throughout England. The translator of the Bible, all candor and simplicity, supposing no evil, thinking nothing but good of his neighbor, unbosomed himself to him like a child.
Philips, less of a gentleman than he appeared, was the son of a tax-gatherer in Devonshire; and the pretended domestic, a disguised monk, was that crafty and vicious churchman, who had been brought from Stratford and given to the so-called gentleman, apparently as a servant, but really as his counsellor and master. Neither Wolsey, More, nor Hacket had succeeded in getting hold of Tyndale; but Gardiner, a man of innate malice and indirect measures, familiar with all holes and corners, all circumstances and persons, knew how to go to work without noise, to watch his prey in silence, and fail upon it at the very moment when he was least expected.
Two things were required in order to catch Tyndale: a bait to attract him, and a bird of prey to seize him. Philips was the bait, and the monk Gabriel Dunne the bird of prey. The noble-hearted Poyntz, a man of greater experience than the reformer, had been for some time watching with inquisitive eye the new guest introduced into his house. It was of no use for Philips to try to be agreeable, there was something in him which displeased the worthy merchant. ‘Master Tyndale,’ he said one day to the reformer, ‘when did you make that person’s acquaintance?’ — ‘Oh! he’s a very worthy fellow,’ replied the doctor, ‘well-educated and a thorough gentleman.’ Poyntz said no more.
Meanwhile the monk had returned from Louvain, where he had gone to consult with some leaders of the ultramontane party. If he and his companion could gain Mr. Poyntz, it would be easy to lay hold of Tyndale. They thought it would be sufficient to show the merchant that they had money, imagining that every man was to be bought One day Philips said to Poyntz: ‘I am a stranger here, and should feel much obliged if you would show me Antwerp.’ They went out together. Philips thought the moment had come to let Poyntz know that he was well supplied with gold, and even had some to give to others. ‘I want to make several purchases,’ he said, ‘and you would greatly oblige me by directing me. I want the best goods. I have plenty of money,’ he added. He then took a step farther, and sounded his man to try whether he would aid him in his designs. As Poyntz did not seem to understand him, Philips went no farther.
As stratagem did not succeed, it was necessary to resort to force. Philips by Gabriel’s advice set out for Brussels in order to prepare the blow that was to strike Tyndale. The emperor and his.ministers had never been so irritated against England and the Reformation. The troops of Charles V. were in motion, and people expected to hear every moment that war had broken out between the emperor and the king. On arriving at Brussels the young Englishman appeared at court and waited on the government: he declared that he was a Roman catholic disgusted with the religious reforms in England and devoted to the cause of Catherine. He explained to the ministers of Charles V. that they had in the Low Countries the man who was poisoning the kingdom; and that if they put Tyndale to death, they would save the papacy in England. The emperor’s ministers, delighted to see Englishmen making common cause with them against Henry VIII., conceded to Gardiner’s delegate all that he asked. Philips, sparing no expense to attain his end, returned to Antwerp, accompanied by the imperial prosecutor and other officers of the emperor.
It was important to arrest Tyndale without having recourse to the city authorities, and even without their knowledge. Had not the hanseatic judges the strange audacity to declare, in Harman’s case, that they could not condemn a man without positive proof? The monk who probably had not gone to Brussels, undertook to reconnoitre the ground. One day, when Poyntz was sitting at his door, Gabriel went up to him and said: ‘Is Master Tyndale at home? My master desires to call upon him.’ They entered into conversation. Everything seemed to favor the monk’s designs: he learnt that in three or four days Poyntz would be going to Bar-le-Duc, where he would remain about six weeks It was just what Gabriel wanted, for he dreaded the piercing eye of the English merchant.
Shortly after this, Philips arrived in Antwerp with the prosecutor and his officers. The former went immediately to Poyntz’s house, where he found only the wife at home. ‘Does Master Tyndale dine at home to-day?’ he said. ‘I have a great desire to dine with him. Have you anything good to give us?’ ‘What we can get in the market,’ she replied laconically, ‘Good, good,’ said the perfidious papist as he turned away.
The new Judas hurried to meet the officers, and agreed with them upon the course to be adopted. When the dinner-hour drew near, he said: ‘Come along I will deliver him to you.’ The imperial prosecutor and his followers, with Philips and the monk, proceeded towards Poyntz’s house, carefully noting everything and taking the necessary measures not to attract observation. The entrance to the house was by a long narrow passage.
Philips placed some of the agents a little way down the street; others, near the entrance of the alley. ‘I shall come out with Tyndale,’ he told the agents; ‘and the man I point out with my finger, is the one you will seize.’
With these words Philips entered the house; it was about noon.
The creature was exceedingly fond of money; he had received a great deal from the priests in England for the payment of his mission; but he thought it would be only right to plunder his victim, before giving him up to death.
Finding Tyndale at home, he said to him, after a few compliments: ‘I must tell you my misfortune. This morning I lost my purse between here and Mechlin, and I am penniless. Could you lend me some money?’
Tyndale, simple and inexperienced in the tricks of the world, went to fetch the required sum, which was equivalent to thirty pounds sterling.
The delighted Philips put the gold carefully in his pocket, and then thought only of betraying his kind-hearted friend. ‘Well, Master Tyndale,’ he said, ‘we are going to dine together.’ ‘No,’ replied the doctor, ‘I am going to dine out to-day; come along with me, I will answer for it that you will be welcome.’ Philips joyfully consented; promptitude of execution was one element of success in his business. The two friends prepared to start. The alley by which they had to go out was (as we have said) so narrow that two persons could not walk abreast. Tyndale, wishing to do the honors to Philips, desired him to go first. ‘I will never consent,’ replied the latter, pretending to be very polite. ‘I know the respect due to you it is for you to lead the way.’ Then taking the doctor respectfully by the hand, he led him into the passage. Tyndale, who was of middle height, went first, while Philips, who was very tall, came behind him. He had placed two agents at the entrance, who were sitting at each side of the alley. Hearing footsteps they looked up and saw the innocent Tyndale approaching them without suspicion, and over his shoulders the head of Philips. He was a lamb led to slaughter by the man who was about to sell him. The officers of justice, frequently so hardhearted, experienced a feeling of compassion at the sight. But the traitor, raising himself behind the reformer, who was about to enter the street, placed his forefinger over Tyndale’s head, according to the signal which had been agreed upon, and gave the men a significant look, as if to say to them, ‘This is he!’ The men at once laid hands upon Tyndale who, in his holy simplicity, did not at first understand what they intended doing. He soon found it out; for they ordered him to move on, the officers following him, and he was thus taken before the imperial prosecutor. The latter who was at dinner invited Tyndale to sit down with him. Then ordering his servants to watch him carefully, the magistrate set off for Poyntz’s house. He seized the papers, books, and all that had belonged to the reformer; and returning home, placed him with the booty in a carriage, and departed. The night came on, and after a drive of about three hours they arrived in front of the strong castle of Vilvorde, built in 1375 by duke Wenceslaus, situated two or three leagues from Brussels on the banks of the Senne, surrounded on all sides by water and flanked by seven towers. The drawbridge was lowered, and Tyndale was delivered into the hands of the governor, who put him into a safe place. The reformer of England was not to leave Vilvorde, as Luther left the Wartburg. This occurred, as it would appear, in August 1535. The object of his mission once attained, Philips, fearing the indignation of the English merchants, escaped to Louvain. Sitting in taverns or at the tables of monks, professors, and prelates — sometimes even at the court of Brussels, he would boast of his exploit, and desiring to win the favor of the imperialists would call Henry VIII. a tyrant and a robber of the State. The English merchants of Antwerp, being reasonably offended, immediately called upon the governor of the English factory to take measures in favor of their countryman; but the governor refused. Tyndale, deprived of all hope, sought consolation in God. ‘Oh! what a happy thing it is to suffer for righteousness’ sake,’ he said. ‘If I am afflicted on earth with Christ, I have joy in the hope that I shall be glorified with Him in heaven. Trials are a most wholesome medicine, and I will endure them with patience. My enemies destine me for the stake, but I am as innocent as a new-born child of the crimes of which they accuse me. My God will not forsake me. O Christ, thy blood saves me, as if it had been mine own that was shed upon the cross. God, as great as He is, is mine with all that He hath.’ Tyndale in his prison at Vilvorde was happier than Philips at court. If we carefully study the history of the reformers, we recognize at once that they were not simply masters of a pure doctrine, but also men of lofty souls, Christians of great morality and exalted spirituality. We cannot say as much of their adversaries; what a contrast here between the traitor and his victim! The calumnies and insults Of the enemies of protestantism will deceive nobody. If it is sufficient to read the Bible with a sincere heart in order to believe it; it is sufficient also to know the lives of the reformers in order to honor them.