An Error of Dates?

Report by Paul Arblaster

Adapted from an article published in the catalogue of the exhibition entitled Tyndale’s Testament, Antwerp 2002.

Besides Tyndale’ s own prison letter, the State Archive in Brussels contains three official documents relating to his imprisonment and trial. Chronologically the first of these is the deputization, on 5 August 1536, of Ruard Tapper to exercise inquisitorial authority on behalf of Jacques de Lattre, who was indisposed. The next is a record of payment, in accordance with an order of the Council of Finances dated 1 September, of £4 19s 6d for the expenses of the ceremony by which Tyndale was degraded from the priestly state, so that he could be delivered to the lay power for punishment under Charles V’s laws on heresy. This took place shortly after 5 August, and required the presence of a bishop, referred to in the accounts as ‘the suffragan’ (‘den suffragaen’), so it was probably William de Croy, coadjutor bishop of Cambrai. After a priest had been degraded and turned over to the secular authorities execution would normally follow very quickly, but in Tyndale’s case it appears to have been held up for about another month.

The third document from the Comptes des Confiscations 1533-1538 (fo. 9V-10r) indicates that the lieutenant of Vilvoorde castle received £102 for keeping Tyndale in the castle for five hundred and one days. It also details the expenses of those involved in Tyndale’s trial. These were three Doctors in Theology, five jurists, and a number of servants, officers and messengers. The theologians, all from the Leuven faculty, were Ruard Tapper Jacobus Latomus and Jean d’Oye. Their function was to establish that Tyndale’s opinions were heretical and that he refused to renounce them. Four of the jurists, Godevaert de Mayer (d. 1540), Charles t’Seraets (d. 1555), Thibault Cottereau, lord of Glabbeek (resigned 1547) and Jacob Boonen (d. 1580), were all members of the Council of Brabant, the duchy’s highest law court although Boonen was not an ordinary councillor until 1540. They were assisted by master Hendrik Van der Zijpen, not a member of the Council.

This document, giving as it does the length of Tyndale’s imprisonment in Vilvoorde, does raise the question of the date of his arrest and execution. Tyndale was arrested at Antwerp while the English merchants were away at the fair at Bergen op Zoom, which opened at Easter (28 March in 1535) and ran for four weeks. The fair could be extended by a week or sometimes even two, but Tyndale cannot have been arrested any later than 15 May, when Antwerp would have been full to overflowing for the opening of the city’s own Whit Fair. This means that he cannot have been executed in October, as John Foxe thought, and the traditional commemoration of Tyndale’s execution on 6 October has no basis. Two of Foxe’s immediate predecessors as Protestant historians, Edward Hall (c. 1499-1547) and John Bale (1495- 1563), put Tyndale’s execution in September 1535: a year early, but almost certainly the right month. In the early sixteenth century the New Year was dated from Easter in Brabant, and the end of Bergen’s Easter Fair was a customary date for settling accounts. In 1535 this would normally have been 24 April, and there is no evidence that the fair was prolonged that year. It seems likely that 24 April was deemed the most suitable day for Tyndale’s arrest, as anybody trading in Brabant would be absent in Bergen for the end of the fair. This would give an execution on 6 September, Foxe being out by one month quite fortuitously, since he set down Tyndale in his calendar of martyrs simply as the sixth martyr whom he thought had died in the month of October.

Paul Arblaster, Gergely Juhasz, Guido Latré (eds) Tyndale's Testament hardback ISBN 2-503-51411-1 Brepols 2002 (pp 176-177).

Valid XHTML 1.0!