John Fryth (1503-33)

John Fryth was born at Westerham in 1503. Whilst he was still a child his parents moved to Sevenoaks where his father became an innkeeper. John was sent to Eton and then on to King’s College Cambridge where he took his BA degree in 1525.

From Cambridge, John Fryth was invited to become a junior canon at Cardinal College Oxford (Christ Church). This invitation came from Cardinal Wolsey who had been attracted by his learning and great abilities.

Fryth met William Tyndale in London and assisted him in translating the New Testament into English. His success in putting forward the views of the reformers resulted in the college authorities locking him in the College fish cellar. He was released in 1528 on condition that he did not travel more than 10 miles from Oxford. However, he proceeded to go abroad - spending much of the time at the newly founded University of Marburg. He stayed abroad for about six years. Whilst abroad he married and had children.

There is evidence that whilst he was in Marburg, Henry VIII sent an envoy promising that he would provide for John Fryth and his family on condition that he would renounce his opinions. Despite the fact that he was in considerable financial difficulties he refused and proceeded to write an article against the doctrine of purgatory.

In mid-1532, John Fryth returned to England on behalf of Tyndale. He went to see the Prior of Reading but on his arrival was promptly put in the stocks as a ‘rogue and vagabond’. He was released after the intercession of the local schoolmaster.

On his release, John Fryth went to London. A warrant for his arrest on a charge of heresy as issued by Sir Thomas More. Although he tried to escape, Fryth was caught and imprisoned in the Tower.

He so gained the confidence of the Prison Keeper that he was occasionally allowed to leave the Tower at night to ‘consult with godly men’.

Whilst in the Tower he did his greatest work. He formulated the doctrine of the sacrament of Holy Communion which was later adopted as the official doctrine of the Church of England.

John Fryth was examined by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Cranmer) and also given the opportunity to escape to Holland. He refused. He was tried before the Bishops of London, Chichester and Winchester on the charge of heresy. He refused to recant of his views and was sentenced to be burnt at the stake as an ‘obstinate heretic’.

For the last days of his life he was loaded with chains so that he could neither lie down nor stand upright ... and still he continued to write.

John Fryth died at Smithfield on 4th July 1533 still affirming his beliefs.

‘All contemporary writers agree as to his extraordinary abilities, his great learning, his unaffected piety, and his simple life.’

May God give us grace to follow his saints in faith, and hope and love ...

Andrew J Reid

A letter referring to the above:

My son brought in a copy of the enclosed pamphlet about John Fryth which he picked up inside another in Westerham Parish Church.

I therefore made a trip there today but took in a copy of the Tyndale promotion and the list of events which happened to arrive this morning. One of the vergers promised to pass on these items to the Rev. Andrew Reid, the author of the Fryth pamphlet who occasionally preaches there.

My purpose in letting you know is to suggest that perhaps it would be a good idea to extend items in the Journal to all the associates of Tyndale such as John Fryth. Perhaps one or two a year?

Yours sincerely,

Sheila Donaldson

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