How They Brought the Good News to Halifax: Tyndale's Bibles and the Emergence of the English Nation State

Gerald Hammond
University of Manchester

With the fall of the Soviet empire we have emerged, in a way that could scarcely be predicted even ten years ago, into a world dominated by nationalism. While conventional wisdom has it that the nation state is, in its origins, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century phenomenon, some historians, writing under the imperatives of new national consciousnesses emerging all round the world, have gone further back to see its sources in earlier times. One in particular, Liah Greenfeld, in her book Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, has fixed the beginnings of nationalism and the modern world to the England of the first third of the sixteenth century.[1] Nowhere in her book does she mention William Tyndale, but he is undoubtedly the ghost in her machine. Tracing the emergence of national sentiment in early sixteenth-century England, she identifies, early on, 'a factor ...the implications of which for both the development and the nature of English nationalism were enormous. This was the printing of the English Bible.' 'The impact of the translation', she adds, 'was unprecedented in its character and extent, and could not be predicted or even imagined before it was experienced...the printing of the English Bible tied Henry [VIII], or rather England, to "the pack of a tiger".'[2]

William Tyndale it was whose Bible had this effect, making Protestant England a nation of the book and it was surely his influence which helped make England different from all other countries. Liah Greenfeld ruminates on the curiosity of this phenomenon as she points out, England was by no means the first country to have a vernacular Bible:

In France, Italy and Holland ...vernacular translations had appeared much earlier; in Germany, the Scriptures were printed as early as 1466, and fourteen different editions of the Bible in German appeared between this date and 1518. Yet nowhere did the availability of the vernacular Bible have the effect it had in England.

This effect she summarizes thus: 'that the reading of the Bible planted and nurtured among the common people in England a novel sense of human — individual — dignity, : which was instantly to become one of their dearest possessions, to be held dearer than life and jealously protected from infringement.[3] Certainly it was the quality of Tyndale's translation, its clarity and power, that helped nurture this love of the Bible's words among the English people — and he, of course, held these words dearer than his own life — but it was also achieved through the force of his personality, expressed through the Prefaces to his New and Old Testament translations. It is on these Prefaces that I intend to concentrate, with the aim to measure how, through the sixteenth century and into the seventeenth, the love of Tyndale's words took root and helped create the beginnings of the English nation state. To give this study a focus I shall concentrate on one area of England, the Calder valley, in which lies the town of Halifax.

Halifax, situated in the basin of the River Calder, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, not far removed from the county of Lancashire, I take to stand for England in general. Neither a city nor a village — indeed, only just a town, with a population of between 8,000 and 10,000 in the middle of the sixteenth century, it has no traceable connection with William Tyndale: unlike Gloucester and the Cotswolds, where he was nurtured and had his first clashes with authority; or Oxford, where he was educated; or Cambridge, which he probably did not visit, but where his polemical writings and his Bible translation made such an impact in the 1520s and 1530s; or London, where he tried to gain establishment sponsorship for his translation and where his works soon took firm hold, penetrating right into the court itself; or the east coast generally, where lay the ports through which his books were smuggled, and East Anglia in particular, where an existing Lollard tradition seems to have given them their first footholds in the country.[4] Halifax, rather, stands as one of the dark places of the kingdom, not serviced by any major roads, and more a scattered than a centralized community: and by dint of some guesswork and much supposition I want to use it as the base for this attempt to estimate what Tyndale's Bibles, their Prefaces as well as their text, did to England.

I have cheated a little in my choice, because the one thing that Halifax did have even earlier than the sixteenth century was a thriving wool trade, an industry which this area's hard-working inhabitants had developed as a way of making up for the relative paucity of the agricultural land — hilly, and lacking a good climate, Halifax offered little better than subsistence farming, hence the effort to build up a kersey cloth industry.[5] So, we can guess that the first Tyndale Bibles, if and when they got to Halifax, got there through the wool trade. the means by which they entered England generally. The first printed Gospels in English came into England hidden in the cloth bales which landed at east coast ports: and Halifax men would have acquired them directly through the port of Hull, with which the town, because of the cloth trade, had strong connections, or from London, where Halifax men paid regular visits. They held stalls in Blackwell Hall, the London market for out-of-town clothiers, and Halifax chapmen had stalls at the annual Bartholomew Fair.[6]

The wool trade notwithstanding, there are plenty of indications that to Tudor Londoners Halifax was one of the dark places. Indeed, it was proverbial. The Earl of Leicester wrote to Lord Burghley from Amsterdam, complaining at the way he was being censured in England without his own defence having been heard: 'Under correction, my good Lord. I have had Halifax law, to be condemned first and inquired upon after.[7] Halifax law referred, among other things, to the town's infamous gibbet, a kind of guillotine which, since the Middle Ages and right up to 1650, was used to decapitate anyone rash enough to thieve in the district — the vulnerability of wool stocks left lying in the open probably explains the town's ferocious prosecution of felons.[8] Another proverb commonly used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ran: 'From Hell, Hull and Halifax good Lord deliver us.'[9] Certainly, this was explicated as a reference to the gibbet, but there may well be another meaning to it — the positing of a northern triangle, its east-west base running from Hull to Halifax, with Hell at its vertex, may for many Englishmen have represented not just the dark places of the kingdom, but those places where the Reformation had taken strong hold. Hull, as A. G. Dickens has shown, was a focus for early Lutheran ideas, the point where they came into the country and from which they were disseminated; and Halifax, more than other Yorkshire and Lancashire areas, followed suit.[10] Fairly early in Elizabeth's reign, for instance, the northern revolt of 1569 threatened both her rule and the Protestant cause. Archbishop Grindal, an incipient Puritan, reported to her that 'where preaching wanteth, obedience faileth'; and he gave as a good example the parish of Halifax which 'by continual preaching had been better instructed than the rest', with the result that it stood 'ready to bring 3 or 4000 men into the field to serve you against the said rebels.'[11] Whether Halifax men were prepared to fight principally for their monarch or for their reformation I cannot determine, but the tradition continued, and in the civil wars of the 1640s and 1650s Halifax was resolutely on the side of Parliament.[12]

And yet Halifax men and women went on the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 and 1537; and while new style Protestant wills are increasingly found in the immediate post-Reformation period, the majority remain solidly Catholic in their phrasing and sentiments.[13] To present Halifax as a place that committed itself early and wholeheartedly to the Reformation and all that William Tyndale stood for would falsify the record. When, in 1570, Archbishop Grindal reported that the gentry of the diocese were 'not well affected to Godly Religion' and that among the common people there were 'many Remanents of the old', he is likely to have found good examples of both sorts in Halifax, suffering, as he saw it, from three errors: 'Great Ignorance, much Dullness to conceive better Instruction, and great Stiffness to return [to] their wonted errors.'[14] It is clear, to take a major example, that the vicar of the main parish of Halifax from c.1525 to 1556, Robert Haldesworth, a man of great influence in the area, had little sympathy for the Reformation cause.[15] In 1535 he was reported, in a bill of complaint sent to Cromwell, as saying: 'If the king reign any space he will take all from us of the Church, all that ever we have, and therefore I pray God send him a short reign ...'[16] Like most of the clergy, however, he acquiesced in the changes when they came, introducing an English Bible into his church in 1538, and using the first Edward prayer book in April, 1548: but when Mary came to the throne he happily returned to Catholic forms of obedience and worship.[17] That English Bible is the first tangible sign I can find of William Tyndale's words reaching Halifax, and it is ironic that this should be by way of a man who obviously detested every thing Tyndale stood for.

We do not know much of what the people of England thought during the Reformation — what they said and wrote is not necessarily an accurate register of their thoughts — but we can tell, from reading his Prologues, what Tyndale wanted them to think, for these texts were designed, if any were, to stir men's minds.

To read any one of his Prologues is to be thrust into controversy. The first thing a reader of his 1530 Pentateuch would encounter is Tyndale's fierce hostility to the Church authorities in England, from the archbishops all the way down to local clergy like Halifax's Haldesworth: 'Malicious and wily hypocrites', he calls them, which are 'so

hard hearted in their wicked abominations'. Not only do they deny the possibility of reforming anything, but they say 'some of them that it is impossible to translate the scrip- ture in to English', and some say 'that it is not lawful for the lay people to have it in their mother tongue, some, that it would make them heretics'. And these various 'somes' get revised into an 'all' when he goes on to make a political point: 'And some or rather every one say that it would make them rise against the king', with the rider that it is the king 'whom they themselves (unto their damnation) never yet obeyed'.[18]

This is heady stuff and as the Halifax readers moved into the second paragraph so they would encounter a full-blown conspiracy theory about the practices of the Church — and again the some are agglomerated into an all: this they all be agreed, to drive you from the knowledge of the scripture, and that ye shall not have the text thereof in the mother tongue, and to keep the word still in darkness, to thentent that they might sit in the consciences of the people, through vain superstition and false doctrine, to satisfy their filthy lusts, their proud ambition, and unsatiable covetousness, and to exalt their own honour above king and emperor, yea and above God Him Self.

And so the prologue moves on to identify one representative of the conspiracy, Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of London, friend of Erasmus, whose calculated neglect of Tyndale's request of his sponsorship of a translated Bible drove Tyndale on to the Continent, in the belief that not only was there 'no room in my lord of London's palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England'.

Such polarizations and conspiracy theories still exist, for the Reformation branded them into our culture. Compare, for instance, the meticulous scholarship extended upon the Yale edition of Thomas More's works with the almost complete neglect of Tyndale's writings. Here is the man whose Bible translation formed the basis for the book that has had more influence upon our literature and our general culture than any other, and we still lack any kind of scholarly edition of that translation tracing, for instance, the various influences, historical and contemporary, upon Tyndale in the Old and the New Testament, the processes of revision which he himself undertook of his various versions, the extent to which he utilized earlier biblical resources in the English language or reinvented biblical English, or the theological implications of the renderings he chose. We lack, in fact. for a writer whose influence was perhaps as great as Shakespeare's, possibly greater even than Shakespeare's, the expenditure of 0.1 per cent of the scholarly time we spend on Shakespeare. Indeed, until last year we lacked even the most basic modern edition of Tyndale's Bible translation: until David Daniell made the effort Tyndale's translation of the historical books of the Old Testament — about a fifth of his work in translation — had not been reprinted since the sixteenth century.[19]

As with the literary critics so with the historians: what should we make of a book 600 pages long, on the subject of popular religion in England between 1400 and 1580, which mentions Tyndale just twice, giving him less than a quarter of the space it gives to Cuthbert Tunstall? Eamon Duffy's The_Stripping_of_the_Altars has as its subtitle 'Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580', and the point of that 'traditional' is a well-made one, for to look at pre-Reformation England through his eyes, or through those of Thomas More's editors, is to wonder where all the darkness was which Tyndale and his

fellow Reformers inveighed against, for medieval and early Renaissance England was anything but a biblically ignorant culture.[20] Much the opposite, in fact, it was soaked in the Bible. Tyndale might accuse the conspirators of encouraging the people to lose their souls in the reading of tales of Robin Hood, but the evidence points quite elsewhere: in their primers, in their plays, in their seasonal customs, in their commonplace books and their wills, from their birth to the moment of their death, the English people, including naturally the people of Halifax, thought and felt biblically. Echoing Erasmus, Tyndale wanted every ploughboy to sing Scripture as he worked: Duffy offers plenty of evidence to show that the ploughboy was already doing this. He quotes, for example, John Mirk's urging, more than a century before the Reformation, that parish clergy should instruct their parishioners to say their prayers in English: 'hit ys moch more spedfull and meritabull to you to say you Pater Noster yn Englysche then yn suche Lateyn, as ye doth. For when ye speketh Englysche, then ye knowen and understondyn wele what ye sayn.'[21] Of course, not all such prayers were biblical in the way the paternoster was. Indeed, most of them were not, and herein lies one way of looking at these different views of history, for traditional religion, as it developed through the medieval period, had wrapped the Bible in a cocoon of images and practices. Eamon Duffy has a nice way of putting this, towards the end of his study. Looking at the increasing spread of Protestant feeling in much of England in Elizabeth's reign, he writes, of the 1570s: 'New pieties were forming, and something of the old sense of the sacred was transferring itself from the sacramentals to the scriptures.'[22] However, this does not merely mean that the English people were, as Tyndale would doubtless have us believe, moving from superstition to a biblically based faith, for 'sacramentals', whatever the form they take, must be rooted in scripture. Sacramentals are things that figure in the rites and observances of the Church, but even at their most papist, holy water or holy oil for instance, they act as tokens of Scripture, reminders of revelation. Against Tyndale's view of a nation dwelling in darkness we might set the image of a people all of whose lives were founded on biblically based practices and observances. That they were conscious of the biblical roots of what they did and held is borne out by the poems they heard and read, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, and the dramas they acted in and wondered at.

In miracle and mystery plays, as well as Piers Plowman, Cleanness. Patience, and Pearl and the lyric and the ballad, biblical narratives and Psalms and parables and doctrine were ever-present elements. He may or may not have been literate, but a ploughboy or a Halifax trader of the fifteenth century is likely to have had a shrewder idea of who Noah was and what happened to him that today's schoolboy, who struggles to make sense of the imagery of D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow, or the man on the Halifax omnibus.

Go back to the Halifax of five hundred years ago and imagine, as in all likelihood happened, most of the town making an annual trip some thirteen miles to the other side of the Calder valley, to the town of Wakefield, to see the Bible played out in front of their eves — and to hear its very words in English. They saw Cain kill Abel, and Noah and his family prepare for the Flood — I shall quote first from the text of the Wakefield mystery plays and then from Tyndale's translation[23]

    Deus: Caym, where is thi brother Abell?
    [Tyndale: Where is Abel thy brother?]
    Caym: What askys thou me? I trow at hell,
        At hell I trow he be -
    [Tyndale: And he said, I cannot tell]
        Whoso were ther then myght he se-
        Or somwhere fallen on slepyng.
        When was he in my kepyng?
    [Tyndale: am I my brother's keeper]
    Deus: Caym, Caym, thou was wode.
        The voyce of thi brothers blode,
        That thou has slayn on falswise,
        From erth to heven vengance cryse.
    [Tyndale: The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me out of the earth]
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Deus: For he that slays the, young or old,
        It shall be punyshed sevenfold.
    [Tyndale; Whosoever slayeth Cain shall be punished sevenfold]

Of course, as he saw Cain kill Abel and heard God's judgement, so the Halifax spectator also saw the show stolen by Cain's servant, a witty, down-to-earth lad who has no existence in the Bible; and as he knew about Noah, so he also knew about Noah's wife, a woman who figures very little in the Bible but who in the Wakefield plays comes to dominate the narrative with her shrewish obduracy. And in the New Testament he probably knew in detail much of the midrash, to use an anachronistic term, which filled in every interstice of the life of Mary as narrated in the Gospels. In effect, the darkness which Tyndale came to light was not one of ignorance but of too much knowledge. Whether when he was on the Continent Tyndale actually learned Hebrew from Jews, or even consulted them, is difficult to judge. On balance, I doubt it, although it seems pretty clear to me that his English contemporary, Robert Wakefield, the holder of the first Regius chair of Hebrew at Cambridge, did so in the 1520s.[24] But even if he did not, Tyndale certainly did know that they were a people who knew the Bible, or at least their part of it, thoroughly and intimately. And yet such knowledge was in Tyndale's view no help to them at all. As he put it, in the Preface to his 1534 New Testament, describing first the Jews of Christ's day who could not understand the scripture they knew: no matter how much they read or heard it, they were 'locked out'. And he goes on to talk of the Jews of his own day:

...they can understand no sentence of the scripture unto their salvation, though they can rehearse the texts everywhere and dispute thereof as subtly as the papist doctors of dunces dark learning, which with their sophistry, served us, as the Pharisees did the Jews. [25]

This I take to be an important point in understanding what Tyndale saw himself as doing. At one level, and most simply, he was replacing things with words — sacramentals with Scripture. The English were to become a nation driven by the word, a people of readers rather than spectators; but in becoming so they were inevitably going to be polarized. Well before Calvin, and well before Calvin's hold on the England of the seventeenth century, he presents the frightening vision of a people split into those who are saved and

those who are unsavable, Abels and Cain[26] By giving the English the pure, uncluttered word of God, free of pageants, plays, images and things, Tyndale never imagined that, in saving the soul of the nation, he was saving all the souls in the nation. Much the opposite, he saw clearly that he was condemning some, if not many. This he spells out in detail in that 1534 Preface:

This have I said (most dear reader) to warn thee, lest thou shouldst be deceived, and shouldst not only read the scriptures in vain and to no profit, but also unto they greater damnation. For the nature of God's word is, that whosoever read it or hear it reasoned and disputed before him, it will begin immediately to make him every day better and better, till he be grown into a perfect man in the knowledge of Christ and love of the law of God: or else make him worse and worse, till he be hardened that he openly resist the spirit of God...

He follows this with his favourite light in darkness image, to press the point home:

This to be even so, the word of Christ do well confirm. This is condemnation saith he, the light is come into the world, but the men loved darkness more than light for their deeds were evil. Behold, when the light of God's word cometh to a man, whether he read it or hear it preached and testified, and he yet have no love thereto, to fashion his life thereafter, but consenteth still unto his old deeds of ignorance: then beginneth his just damnation immediately, and he is henceforth without excuse: in that he refused mercy offered to him [27]

Here, I think, is a fair point of departure between Catholic and Protestant. The medieval Church presented to the people of England a lovingly paternal care, shielding its children from too direct an experience of the word of God, and dressing up that word with images and practices to make it an ineradicable part of their daily life, not only in their private meditations but in their public entertainments too. Tyndale was certainly as loving — his most dear reader' is sincerely meant, not a mere rhetorical gesture — but 'nurturing' children to use one of his favourite words in his polemical writings, means eventually giving them the freedom and the responsibility to find their own way. In Liah Greenfeld's words 'a novel sense of human — individual — dignity' generated by the reading of the Bible. [28]

Both sides have their contradictions. Defenders of the Church in this country need to plain why this was the only European state to prohibit translation of the Bible into the vernacular. To be sure, the Church's defenders can explain it, along the lines by which they justify Thomas More's opposition to Tyndale. More did not oppose Bible translation itself, they say, but only irresponsible translation. At the right time, done by the right person a vernacular translation would have been permitted. As Eamon Duffy writes:

It seems likely that even had the Reformation not reached England ...this particular ban would have had to go, sooner or later. Without the goad of Reformation, of course, the advent of an English version of the New Testament might well have been absorbed into the devotional mood which dominated English religious reading, without the doctrinal uncertainty and conflict which in fact ensued. [29]

But this is the stuff of might have been, and it plays down the historical fact that when the pressure built up for a vernacular scripture the Church made no other movement than to try to screw the lid down tighter. Only if one assumes that the Reformation was itself a conspiracy foisted upon the nation by a group of politically motivated conspirators, in which the will of the people played little or no part, can such a view be supported.

The will of the people of Halifax was probably, like most of England's, an ambivalent one; to have their cake and eat it too. They continued going to the Wakefield plays well after the Reformation, so for a time they not only read God's word in their English Bibles, but still saw God on the stage speaking to Cain and to Noah. This was too much for the reforming Church of the first generation of Elizabeth's reign and an ecclesiastical commission of 1576, under the direction of Archbishop Grindal, directed the suppression of the plays, complaining that '...there be many thinges used which tende to the derogation of the Majestic and glorie of God, the prophanation of the sacramentes and the maunteynaunce of superstition and idolatrie...'[30] Only with this prohibition can we truly say that for the people of the Calder valley the Bible had finally been translated, from spectacle and midrash, down to the pure words of the text itself — most of those words, of course, being William Tyndale's.

From the start, however, it is not difficult to find contradictions in the reformers' emphasis on the desirability of the pure text of Scripture. The chief of them begins to appear in Tyndale's two Prefaces to his 1534 New Testament, 'W.T. Unto the Reader' and 'William Tyndale, yet once more to the christen reader'. 'W.T. Unto the Reader', just before it moves into controversy, makes the fair enough point that the Word, as offered here in English, is not necessarily the final word: 'If any man find faults either with the translation or ought beside shall be lawful to translate it themselves and to put what they lust thereto.'[31] In 'William Tindale, yet once more...' a somewhat different tune is sung, as Tyndale inveighs against his former helper George Joye's unwarranted interpo- lation of his own renderings into his text. Were Tyndale's complaint only that Joye had foisted upon the world his own revision under Tyndale's name this would be fair enough. But Tyndale goes much further. Joye's chief purpose in making the changes was, it seems, to make the English New Testament carry his own peculiar theology: the change which most alarms Tyndale is from 'resurrection', Tyndale's word, to 'the life after this life': shall understand that George Joye hath had of a long time marvellous imaginations about this word resurrection, that it should be taken for the state of the soul after their departing from their bodies, and hath also...yet sown his doctrine by secret letters on that side of the sea, and caused great division among the brethen...Thereto I have been since informed that no small number through his curiosity, utterly deny the resurrection of the flesh and body, affirming that the soul when she is departed is the spiritual body of the resurrection, and other resurrection shall there none be. And I have talked with some of them my self, so doted in that folly, that it were as good persuade a post, as to pluck that madness out of their brains. And of this all is George Joye's unquiet curiosity the whole occasion...

The message Tyndale draws from this is one which puts him, ultimately, much closer to Thomas More than he might have wished:

If George Joye will say (as I wot well he will) that his change, is the sense and meaning of those scriptures. I answer it is sooner said than proved: howbeit let other men judge. But though it were the very meaning of the scripture: yet if it were lawful after his ensample to every man to play boo pepe with the translations that are before him, and to put out the words of the text at this pleasure and to put in everywhere his meaning: or what he thought the meaning were, that were the next way to stablish all heresies and to destroy the ground wherewith we should improve them. [32]

I do Tyndale a disservice by cutting off the quotation here, for he goes into some detail to argue the point about resurrection, but really this is irrelevant to the principle which he has now expounded. By saying that Joye would have been wrong to have made the change even if it were 'the very meaning of the scripture' he has shown himself to be just as concerned as the Church is not to allow idiosyncratic or individual translation, no mat- ter how verifiable this translation is, for to do so is to work against community. Tyndale calls such translation 'the private interpretation of [a] mans brain' and he is no more willing to endorse it than are his opponents.

To hold this position Tyndale has to believe that his own work is not private interpretation, but belongs to the community. And community, too, needs careful definition. Community is not the sudden agglomeration of people following a new popular leader — George Joye has such a following — and it is certainly not sectarianism: towards the end of the Prologue Tyndale vehemently denies that he has tried 'to be author of any sect, or u> draw disciples' after him. So, in order to demonstrate that he is part of a community hound together by the true faith, he needs to believe that this community is one that has evolved or developed in a line which goes back to the early Church and that it consists of most of the people of England.

It was not easy for Tyndale to maintain such a belief. By 1534 he had been in exile for a good few years and although he had a small community of like-minded Englishmen around him and had regular traffic with English merchants and other visitors, the anger at Joye's intervention demonstrates how anxious he was. Not only could Joye misrepresent him back in England, but Joye himself had spread teachings among the English community that had harmed 'no small number'. The true model for these Prologues is that of Pauline epistle, with Tyndale exhorting a community whom he cannot visit in person a beware the sectarianism that is creeping in this early in the Reformation.

Like Paul, too, Tyndale's strategy is to validate his community's apparently new set of beliefs by asserting its basis in Gospel truth. Not new, but true, in fact. The most obvious way to do this is to deliver to the people the Bible in English but, as we have already seen he acknowledges that the word of God, on its own, even in the transparency of the vernacular, may do as much harm as good. The Jews are one example of this, George Joye is another. The people need nurturing, even, or especially, with the text in front of them and this text itself needs to have been translated in such a way that it does not puzzle or mislead:

Therefore (that I might be found faithful to my father and Lord in distributing unto my brethren and fellows of one faith, their due and necessary foode: so dressing it and seasoning it, that the weak stomach may receive it also, and be the better for it) I thought it my duty (most dear reader) to warn thee before, and to shew the right way in, and to give the true key to open it with all, and to arm thee against false prophets and malicious hypocrites whose perpetual study is to leaven the scripture with glosses, and there to lock it up where it should save the soul, and to make us shoot at a wrong mark, to put our trust in those things that profit their bellies only and slay our souls. [33]

Bound to deny the validity of a priesthood and removed himself from any real first-hand communication with the English people, Tyndale needs his Bibles to speak for themselves. The way in which they do this most forthrightly is in their Prologues; and it is in the Prologues that he develops his main theme, the coherent totality of the Bible. He began translating, according to the story he tells in the Prologue to the Pentateuch, with the aim of giving the English people the New Testament in their own language. He ended by insisting that the people needed the whole Bible, New Testament and Old. Not only this, the people must realize that every word of the Bible, even in the most recondite areas of the Old Testament, was as important as every other one. In this he is absolutely un-Lutheran. He gives no sign at all that he is tempted, for example, to share Luther's views about the dubious canonicity of many parts of the Bible, and he certainly rejects totally Luther's frequently voiced relegation of the Old Testament as something which Christians could easily live without. For Tyndale the only true way to interpret and understand the Bible was through the Bible itself, text explaining text, Old Testament promise enlightening New Testament teaching, and Old Testament law showing the people how to live obediently in a Christian state.

For an ideal example of the triumph of Tyndale's views I can point to the figure of the most influential of the Tudor vicars of Halifax, a man named John Favour.[34] Appointed in 1594, at a time when the Elizabethan church had moved away from the reformism of men like Grindal, Favour none the less ensured that Halifax stayed firmly reformist. His book Antiquitie Triumphing Over Noveltie argued the Tyndale line, that it was the English Church, not the Roman one, which represented the true biblical faith.[35] Rome it was which was new, not true, a fact borne out, as Favour observes, by its determination to hide the Scriptures from laymen. Favour's practice was to explicate the Bible continually by preaching the Word, so much so that Halifax became famous for its monthly 'exercises', still remembered in Civil War times, when Oliver Heywood recalled: '...there was a famous exercise maintained every month at Halifax, whereat not only neighbour ministers preached in their turns, but strangers far and near were sent for to preach it, two sermons a day, being the last Wednesdays in the month, multitudes of hearers'.[36] Perhaps as many, we might guess, as those who went to see the Wakefield plays a generation earlier.

Favour's multitudes are Tyndalian community put into practice, the kind of thing which his Prologues begin to envisage as a substitute for the superstition of the Church in which priests, themselves ignorant of Scripture, encouraged a culture which swamped the word of God in a mass of ritual and mumbo-jumbo. And reading Favour's book, published in 1619, is to see how seventeenth-century Puritan discourse has its origins in Tyndale's Bible Prologues. Nearly a century later Favour is arguing the same point, that above everything else it is the text of the Bible which should guide the people's actions and thoughts, each man and woman having access to that text in the language which they speak, as opposed to Catholic countries where, in Favour's words (though they might easily be Tyndale's), the 'sacred histories of the Bible were immured and lockt up in the dark dungeon of an unknown tongue'. Favour does exactly what Tyndale had done in his Prologues by contrasting the tales of King Arthur and other fictions, which the papists encouraged, with their suppression of Scripture. Writing of the Golden Legend he gives us a sudden view of Halifax in the late fifteenth century. This book of nonsensical legends, he says, was 'commended to curats, read in churches, hearkened by the people in their owne tongue, when the scriptures lay ...motheaten in a few libraries, and were scarce to be found in one Priests studie of an hundred: and were carefully, but most wickedly kept from the an unknown language."[37] And to give his readers an idea of how barbarous those times were, Favour delves into his own family history, describing

the wil of a predecessor of mine, in the Vicaridge of Hallifax, dated anno. Dom. 1477, who giveth no booke in his will, but one ...*I bequeath to Inhn Williamson my brother Robert his sonne, one booke called the legend of Saints, if he be a Priest*. By which we may see, what store of books such a man in those days had; perhaps in all likelihood, he had not a better.'[38]

Favour, the preacher and expounder of the pure word of God to the people of Halifax, is a fine exemplar of Puritanism's basis lying in conscience and Bible reading, a set of con- victions rooted in Tyndale's Bible Prologues.

Now, this insistence upon the pure biblical word was, in some respects, not original to Tyndale: it had been heard in England more than a century before in the teachings of John Wyclif and his Lollard followers. Lollard sermons are remarkable things, often consisting of a few paragraphs of introduction and then many paragraphs literally recounting the Biblical text, this text being, for the most part, the one full English Bible version which pre-existed Tyndale's work, the Wyclif Bible.[39] Here, obviously, is a place where we might reasonably look for continuity between Tyndale's work and what had gone before; but when we do so, we find little. In this respect the story of the men of Steeple Bumpstead seems symbolic. According to a deposition entered in 1528, by John Tyball of that parish, he and a man called Thomas Hilles went to London to visit Robert Barnes, an Augustine monk of Cambridge:

And they found the sayd Freer Barons in his chamber; whereas there was a merchant man, reading in a boke, and ii. and iii. more present. And when they came in, the Frear demawnded them, from when they cam. And they said, from Bumstede; and...they desyred...Freer Barons, that they might be aquaynted with hym; because they had herd that he was a good man; and bycause they wold have his cownsel in the New Testament, which they desyred to have of hym. And he saithe, that the sayd Frear Barons did perseve very well, that Thomas Hilles and this respondent were infected with opinions, bycause they wold have the New Testament. And then farther they shewed the sayd Frear, that one Sir Richard Fox Curate of Bumstede, by ther means, was wel entred in ther learnyng; and sayd, that they thowghte to gett hym hole in shorte space... And then ...Thomas Hilles and this respondent shewyd the Frear Barons of certayne old bookes that they had: as of iiii. Evangelistes, and certayne Epistles of Peter and Poule in Englishe. Which bookes the sayd Frear dyd little regard, and made a twyte of it, and said, A poynt for them, for they be not regarded toward the new printed Testament in Englishe. For it is of more cleyner Englishe. And then ...Frear Barons delyverid to them the sayd New Testament in Englyshe: for which they paid iiis. iid. and desyred them, that they wold kepe yt close ...Frear Barons dyd lyken the New Testament in Latyn to a cymball tynkklyng, and brasse sowndyng...[40]

That last point is an interesting one: Barnes seems to be telling them that their Wyclif translations are rubbish because they are Vulgate based. And the whole tale is revealing about how the good news reached the parishes of England. It demonstrates the networking of the reformers: theirs was a proselytizing mission, as with the curate they hoped to 'get hole in a short space', carried out against the threat of persecution, 'and desyred them that they wold kepe yt close'. Barnes's customers are tradesmen — he is encountered instructing three or four merchant men (possibly one from Halifax?) — and Tyndale's New Testament is sold in best tradesman's manner. For 3s. 2d. they will get a Bible much superior to the one they have — 'it is of more cleyner English' — and one infinitely superior to any Latin version. Wyclif and the Vulgate are last year's model.

If, however, Tyndale's Bibles were breaking so radically free from existing vernacular versions, as well as from the Vulgate, then it remains a vital question to consider just what roots he was tapping into, for without roots he can claim neither continuity nor community. He stands in danger of being perceived instead as a man offering the country merely the 'private interpretation' of his own brain. In suggesting answers to this question Halifax and the surrounding Yorkshire area may give us clues.

One answer is to use the work of that great scholar A. G. Dickens who has done so much to show how the Reformation grew out of existing Lollard practices and instincts, but if I go down this road I stand in danger myself of making Tyndale and the Reformation synonymous, and I do not wish to do this. I would rather present Tyndale as a phenomenon even larger than the Reformation, and stress, instead, how his Bibles, unlike, say, his polemical writings, would have interested all men and women, not only those of a Lollard background or those of a reforming state of mind.

In this context it is worth our returning to the Calder valley in which are situated both Halifax and Wakefield, with, some thirty or so miles to the north, the area of Cover Dale. Miles Coverdale, a follower and possible helper of Tyndale, who himself published the first complete English Bible in 1535, came from that area.[41] Wakefield was the home territory of a man I have already mentioned, Robert Wakefield, the first professor of Hebrew at Cambridge.[42] The second professor was his brother, Thomas Wakefield.[43] Other Yorkshire scholars include Ralph Baines, from Handsforth, the first Englishman to compile a Hebrew grammar: his Prima rudimenta in lingua hebraeum was published in 1550.[44] Coverdale was a reformer, but Robert Wakefield and Ralph Baines were not. Indeed, Wakefield's Oratio shows that he was wholly opposed to any kind of translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Baines, who was made Bishop of Lichfield by Mary, was dropped on Elizabeth's succession because of his refusal to comply with the returned Protestant order.[45] I would suggest that to all three of those men Tyndale's Bibles were interesting, if not necessarily good news. Good, certainly, for a man like Coverdale, but interesting and absorbing for the other two, who would want to see how Tyndale's understanding of the Bible's original languages could aid theirs. Here, then, is one community of interest, in getting hold of the books at least, even at a time of great factionalism.

Tyndale's purpose, of course, was to unite as much of the country as possible behind belief: the religious message is primary. But the scholarship is part of that message, none the less, as the Prologues to his Bibles make clear. In introducing the various books of the Pentateuch, for instance, Tyndale praises the narratives as literal, not allegorical, examples 'written for our learning'. Deuteronomy, that book full of laws, blessings, and curses is, in fact, a 'gospel', teaching us the love of God.[46] And in the preface to the New Testament of 1534 Tyndale offers an extraordinary paragraph, right at the very beginning, in which he instructs his readers in the essentially Hebraic nature of New Testament Greek

...Whose preterperfect tense and present tense is oft both one, and the future tense is the optative mode also, and the future tense is oft the imperative mode in the active voice and in the passive ever. Likewise person for person, number for number, and an interrogation for a conditional, and such like is with the Hebrews a common usage. [47]

We might well wonder what such grammatical detail is doing in the first paragraph of a book designed to be read by ploughboys, but I suspect that it went down rather well, not only in Cambridge, but in Steeple Bumstead and Halifax also. Tyndale is educating his people persuading them to see the old truths which lie behind his seemingly new mesage. The Old Testament is not a slightly embarrassing source for allegories but a guide to life. Its very laws are a Gospel. Its language is the same language as the New Testament and through it we can understand what Christ really taught. So, towards the end of the New Testament prologue, in arguing that repentance is not a thing which you do but a thing which you feel, Tyndale pulls in the Hebrew which underlies the Greek word: '...the very sense and signification both of the Hebrew and also of the Greek word, is, to be converted and to turn to God with all the heart...'[48] And if his readers wanted examples of this Old Testament usage they could find them even in this New Testament volume in 'The Epistles Taken Out of the Old Testament' which he appended to the main text. There they could find in Joel 'Turn to me'; in Ezekiel 'turn from his way'; and in Hosea 'turn Israel ...and turn unto the Lord'.[49] Turning the heart, not doing a penance is the theology of the Reformation, and Tyndale calls in biblical scholarship to support it.

By encouraging such scholarly attention to the very words of the text, Tyndale taught English men and women to live by the word. For a number, for many if we accept the arguments of historians like Eamon Duffy and Christopher Haigh, this was an unwanted conversion of things, images, and spectacles into bare text.[50] For many others, however, in the high culture as well as the tradesmen and ploughboys, it was an exciting conversion. Even at court, we know of Anne Boleyn's treasuring of Tyndale's texts; and through her, perhaps, they found their way to her one-time favourite courtier Thomas Wyatt.[51] From a Yorkshire family, coincidentally, Wyatt shows one of the first attempts to absorb Tyndale's message into poetry in his paraphrase of the seven penitential Psalms. Based on an Italian model, by Pietro Aretino, Wyatt gives these Psalms the same narrative structure, building them into the narrative of David's sorrow for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Wyatt begins by following his Italian model closely, but as the repentance narrative develops so he goes more and more his own way, or, to be more exact, more and more Tyndale's, for between the fifth and sixth Psalm, he shows David acknowledging that his repentance is a matter purely of faith, dependent on God's grace not his own actions:

    But when he weigh'th the fault and recompense,
    He damn'th his deed and findeth plain
    Atween them two no whit equivalence;
    Whereby he takes all outward deed in vain
    To bear the name of rightful penitence.
    Which is alone the heart returned again
    And sore contrite that doth his fault bemoan,
    And outward deed the sign or fruit alone.
    With this he doth defend the sly assault
    Of vain allowance of his void desert,
    And all the glory of his forgiven fault
    To God alone he doth it whole convert.[52]

The emphasis is all on turning — returning and converting. Wyatt's David experiences repentance very much as Tyndale wanted his dear Christian reader to; and Wyatt is writing within five or six years of Tyndale's New Testament appearing in the country.

Like Wyatt and the court, the rest of England turned too; and not least Halifax. The signs are that its movement towards Tyndale's text and his teachings was as fraught there as it was anywhere else, involving the kind of pain which Wyatt's David underwent. I mentioned earlier its vicar at the time of the Reformation, Robert Haldesworth, the man who survived into Mary's reign and who clearly applauded the return to Catholicism. He did not applaud it for long, however, being murdered in a raid on his vicarage in 1556.[53] Some twenty years earlier, as the Reformation was beginning to bite, his vicarage had also been twice raided; and whatever the economic or social pressures which led to such violence, there were probably religious ones also. Robert Farrer, from the Midgely parish in Halifax, complained to Cromwell in 1538 about Haldesworth's lack of preaching. Farrar had been one of those early Cambridge Lutherans, and readers of Tyndale, who had been forced to recant and carry a penitential faggot in 1528.[54] In his submission to Cromwell he complained that 'Rotherham, Doncaster, Pontefract, Wakefield, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and many other towns had not one faithful preacher', although the peo- ple were keen to learn. In the Henrician reaction, in 1540, Farrar was excommunicated after failing to appear before the York Court of Audience to reply to certain articles 'touching the safety of his soul and heretical pravity'.[55] Like his enemy Haldesworth, Farrar too met a violent end, being one of the Marian martyrs, burnt at Carmarthen in March 1555.[56] The deaths of these two Halifax men exemplify what Tyndale predicted in that 1534 Preface: by issuing an English Bible, by translating that Bible from spectacle and ceremony into text, he had forced men and women to choose either to live and die by the word, as in his eyes Farrar would have done, or to live and die against it, like Haldesworth.

That England ultimately choose Tyndale's and Farrar's way may well be because the people came to love Tyndale's words, not least for the scholarship which lay behind them. Here, again, Halifax points the way, for if we look forward one and two genera- tions we find that this ostensibly remote part of England helped contribute two men to the panels which translated the Authorized Version, under James I's direction. One was Henry Savile, born in 1-549 and a member of the major Halifax family, who became the leading Greek scholar of his day, tutor for the Greek tongue to Elizabeth I, and one of the team of eight at Oxford who translated the four gospels, Acts and Revelation.[57] The other was John Bois, the only A.V, translator whose notes have survived, and whose seven- teenth-century biographer Anthony Walker wrote of him: 'His father Mr. William Bois was a great scollar, being learned in the Hebrew and Greek excellently well. Which, considering the manners (that I say not the rudeness) of the times of his education, was almost a miracle.' It may have been a miracle, but we should note that his father was, according to Walker, the son of 'An inhabitant of Hallifax in Yorkshire, I think a clothier. In which town his father William Bois was born, and brought up at school...'[58] William Tyndale it was who lightened the dark places of England, teaching its people to engage with the text of the Bible, taking it right back to its Greek and Hebrew roots; and such 1611 translators as Savile and Bois must have realized how firm a basis he had laid, for, as anyone who makes the study will confirm, the A.V. is, in all of the New Testament And much of the Old, really only a revision of Tyndale's text.

My theme has been that in translating the Bible Tyndale helped create England. If Liah Greenfeld is right in her claim that England discovered 'nation-ness' during the sixteenth century, then Tyndale's Bibles, Prefaces and all, must have played a significant part. We see it fairly early in a play like John Bale's King John, where England herself is a character, ultimately saved, in the coming together of all stations in the land to applaud Henry VIII's spreading of the Word of God in English throughout the land.[59]

This sticks a little in the throat, given Henry's part in Tyndale's persecution; so I prefer to finish with a better poet than Bale. Thomas Wyatt wrote to his friend John Pointz n 1536, celebrating his escape from court life and his satisfaction at being in the English countryside: neither at court, nor in France, nor Spain, nor Flanders,

    Nor I am not where Christ is given in prey
        For money, poison, and treason at Rome -
        A common practice used night and day.
    But here I am in Kent and Christendom...[60]

For Kent, read Halifax; read, in fact. England.


[1]Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard U.P., Cambridge, MA, 1992).
[2]Greenfeld, op. cit., p. 51; the 'tiger' remark is Lawrence Stone's.
[3]Greenfeld, op. cit., pp. 53-54.
[4]For details of Tyndale's life in England, see David Daniell, William_Tyndale_A_Biography (Yale University Press, London, 1994), pp.9-107.
[5]For much of the detail about Halifax's economy and development I have relied on Martha Ellis Francois, 'The Social and Economic Development of Halifax, 1558-1640'. Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society: Literary and Historical Section, 1), part 8 (1966), pp. 220-78.
[6]A.G. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York 1509-1558 (Hambledon Press, London, 2nd edition, 1982), pp. 16-21.
[7]The letter was written in March 1585-86; see T.W. Hanson, 'The Halifax Gibbet Custom'. Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1948), p. 57
[8]Some idea of the remoteness of Halifax from metropolitan society can be gathered from Thomas Deloney's 'novel' Thomas of Reading (1600), in which he describes the setting up of the gibbet in the days of Henry I. Halifax people are presented as speaking in a broad North country dialect which reads more like a Scottish dialect than anything else.
[9]See F. P. Wilson ed., The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 3rd edition, 1970), p. 367. The proverb's first attestation is in 1594.
[10]See A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (Fontana, Glasgow, 1967), pp.58-60.
[11]Quoted by H. Holroyde, in 'Protestantism and Dissent in the Parish of Halifax 1509-1640,' Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1988), p. 38.
[12]Holroyde, op. cit., pp. 32-3.
[13]Ibid., pp. 25-26; Francois, op. cit., p. 27.
[14]John Lister, 'Elizabethan Halifax', Papers, Reports, etc., Read Before the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1924), p. 25.
[15]Haldesworth had been educated at Oxford and Rome; see Holroyde, op. cit., p. 23.
[16]Ibid., p. 23.
[17]See Dickens. op. cit., pp. 148-151.
[18]David Daniell ed., Tyndales_Old_Testament (Yale University Press, London, 1992), p. 3.
[19]Namely the 'Historical Books' (Joshua-2 Chronicles) which appeared post-humously in the 1537 Matthew Bible. We still lack an accessible modern edition of Tyndale's 1526 New Testament.
[20]Eamon Duffy, The_Stripping_of_the_Altars (Yale U.P., London, 1992). Duffy describes his purpose as a double one: 'to explore the character and range of late medieval English Catholicism, indicating something of the richness and complexity of the religious system by which men and women structured their experience of the world', and 'to tell the story of the dismantling and destruction of that symbolic world' (p. 1).
[21]Duffy, op. cit., p. 80.
[22]Ibid.. p. 586.
[23]Tyndale's text is from J. I Mombert ed., William Tyndale's Five Books of Moses Called Pentateuch [1884] (Centaur Press, Fontwell, 1967), p. 24.
[24]See my review of G. Lloyd Jones's edition of Wakefield's Oratio in Moreana, 30 (1993), p. 125.
[25]David Daniell ed., Tyndales_New_Testament (Yale U.P., London, 1989), p. 3.
[26]For an analysis of Calvinist influence upon seventeenth-century English culture, see John Stachniewski, The Persecutory Imagination (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991).
[27]Daniell, Tyndales_New_Testament , p. 5.
[28]Greenfeld, op. cit., p. 54.
[29]Duffy, op. cit., p. 80.
[30]Martial Rose ed., The Wakefield Mystery Plays (Evans Burns, London, 1961), p.16.
[31]Daniell, Tyndales_New_Testament , p. 3.
[32]Ibid., p. 14.
[33]Ibid., pp. 3-4.
[34]For details of Favour's achievements in Halifax, see Francois, op. cit., pp. 271-7.
[35]The fuller title of Favour's books is Antiquitie Triumphing Over Noveltie: whereby it is proved that antiquitie is a true note of the christian catholike church (London, 1619), STC 10716.
[36]Quoted by François, op. cit., p. 273.
[37]Antiquitie Triumphing, p. 328.
[38]Antiquitie Triumphing, p. 330. Favour has already told (p. 2) the story of 'a Doctor in Cambridge, a little before the beginnings of king Edwards days, who finding a new Testament of Erasmus translation in a scholers hand, tooke and reade it a while, and redelivering it to the owner, said, It was a pretty booke, but he had never scene it before.'
[39]See, for example, the sermons transcribed in Pamela Gradon ed., English Wycliffite Sermons, 2 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988) and Anne Hudson ed., English Wyclif fite Sermons, 3 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1990).
  1. Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, I, lI (London, 1822) pp. 54-5.
[41]'...born in 1488, "patria Eboracensis" says his friend and contemporary Bale ...and Whitaker assumes the surname to have been taken from the district of his birth, Coverdale the North Riding' (DNB).
[42]The DNB entry for Wakefield says that he was 'probably born, like his younger brother Thomas .... at Pontefract in Yorkshire'. His Oratio (see note 24 above) was the first printed English books to contain Hebrew and Arabic characters.
[43]According to the DNB Thomas Wakefield was disqualified from his Cambridge professorship because of his adherence to the old religion.
[44]His other publications include a version of Qimhi's Hebrew grammar (1534) published, like the Prima rudimenta, in Paris.
[45]Baines resigned his Cambridgeshire living in 1544 and was appointed professor of Hebrew in Paris, returning to England only at Mary's accession.
[46]'It [Deuteronomy] is easy also and light and a very good gospel,' Daniell, Tyndales_New_Testament, p. 254.
[47]Ibid., p. 3.
[48]Ibid., p. 9.
[49]The Old Testament epistles are given in Daniell, Tyndales_New_Testament, pp. 391-408. See, in particular, the passage from Ezekiel 18, in which we find 'And yet the wicked if he turn from all his sins ...that he should turn from his way ...And when a wicked turneth from his wickedness...' (p. 397).
[50]Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society Under the Tudors (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993).
[51]Anne Boleyn was famously accused by the Imperial ambassador of being 'the principal wet-nurse of heresy'. A sponsor of Reformist writing, 'she commissioned at least one merchant to bring gospels and other religious works back from the continent'. See Joseph S. Block, Factional Politics and the English Reformation 1520-1540 (The Royal Historical Society: Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1993), pp.28-32. Wyatt was caught up in the terror which accompanied Anne's fall and incarcerated.
[52]R.A. Rebholz ed., Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1978), p. 213.
[53]Holroyde, op. cit., p. 20.
[54]Ibid., p. 24.
[55]Ibid., p. 24.
[56]Ibid., p. 24: he is reported to have said at the stake, 'If I stir through the pains of burning, believe not the doctrine I preach.'
[57]For an account of Savile's life see, as well as the DNB, also E. Jacob, The History of the Town and Parish of Halifax (Halifax, 1789), pp. 369-75.
[58]From Anthony Walker's 'Life of John Bois', given in Ward Allen, Translating For King James (Vanderbilt U.P., Kingsport, TN., 1969), pp. 128-31. For an account of the Bois family, see J.Horsfall Turner, Halifax Books and Authors (Bradford, 19061). pp. 41-2.
[59]In Bale's play England leaves the stage disconsolate at the betrayal and defeat of King John; but the final part of the play shows Imperyall Majestye overcoming Sedicyon, and reconciling Cyvyle Order, Nobylyte and Clergy. The Imperyall Majestye passages were added in Elizabeth's reign — the play was first written in Henry's reign — but Henry VIII is clearly the focus of Sedicyon's comment to him that 'Ye gave injunctyons that Gods wurde myghte be taught' (line 2508). See Peter Happe ed., The Complete Plays of John Bale, 1 (D. S. Brewer, Bury St Edmunds, 1985), p. 94.
[60]Wyatt: Complete Poems, pp. 188-9.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional