Thomas Bilney: ‘simple good soul’?

Korey Maas

It is one of the curiosities of English Reformation scholarship that so little has been written about Thomas Bilney. It is a curiosity because, as Marcus Loane long ago noted, ‘to Bilney must be ascribed the first human impulse in the Reformation movement in the schools of Cambridge’.[1] And even in recent years this assertion has been repeated by John Davis, who writes quite simply that ‘he took the lead in starting the English Reformation’.[2] Davis also goes on to emphasise that he was the ‘leading preacher of the English Reformation’, and that his two trials for heresy can without exaggeration be called ‘the most important of the Reformation’.[3] And the fact that I have very kindly been invited to speak here today suggests that some of you, at least, would agree that Thomas Bilney is indeed a very important figure of the Reformation in England.

But for all of the agreement about his significance, a very simple question remains unanswered. Or, rather, answered in too many incompatible ways. Again, it is John Davis who highlights this fact by stating that ‘Few figures are more variously described in English historiography than Thomas Bylney’.[4] So the question to be asked is simply: Who was Thomas Bilney? One of the most enduring – and certainly most endearing – answers to that question was put forward by Bilney’s convert and companion Hugh Latimer, who referred to him as ‘little Bilney’[5] and ‘Saint Bilney’,[6] and whose frequent eulogies were summarised with his description of that friend as ‘a very simple good soul’.[7]

Latimer’s sketches of Bilney’s life, which make their way into Foxe’s book of martyrs, and thus become a virtually unquestionable orthodoxy among later English Protestants, provide ample testimony in support of Bilney as ‘a very good soul’. We read that he was ‘of a strait and temperate diet’[8] and ‘could abide no swearing’,[9] that he was ‘laborious and painful to the desperates’ [10] and ‘ever visiting prisoners and sick folk’.[11] We also hear of his intercession on behalf of a woman falsely accused of murder;[12] and Latimer will fairly gush with praise when he describes Bilney as so prompt and ready to do every man good after his power, both friend and foe; noisome wittingly to no man, and towards his enemy so charitable, so seeking to reconcile them as he did.[13]

Now, of course, a sceptic would be quick to point out that this is precisely the kind of testimony one might expect from friendly witnesses like Hugh Latimer and John Foxe. Which is why it is all the more significant that even Bilney’s arch-enemy – the man who also did so much to make William Tyndale’s life miserable, Sir Thomas More – could find little room to disagree with this characterisation of Bilney’s life. Even he had to admit that Bilney was ‘onys good, faythfull, & vertuouse’.[14] Even he had to admit that Bilney ‘had lernynge, and had ben accustumed in morall vertues’.[15]

There is little question, then, that Bilney was indeed ‘a very good soul’. But, at the same time, there can be little question that he himself would not have been entirely happy with an inordinate amount of attention being paid to his good deeds. After all, those deeds were not unique to Bilney; they are precisely the sort for which so many mediaeval saints were honoured by the Roman church: the very deeds which Bilney denied had any merit, and the very saints which Bilney insisted should not be honoured. So if we want to answer the question of who Thomas Bilney was, we also have to ask what he believed. What was it that motivated him to the kind of piety to which his friends as well as his enemies testified?

The answer to this question is far from simple, for the reason that Bilney himself, despite Latimer’s description, was not ‘a very simple soul’. To the contrary, Bilney and his beliefs are a complex and complicated issue. It is for this reason that Davis has already told us that ‘Few figures are more variously described’. The late Richard Marius put this down to Bilney himself, calling him ‘a martyr of somewhat confused beliefs’.[16] But confusing is perhaps a better adjective, because Bilney himself seems to have been quite consistent; it is only in the later literature that the inconsistencies and contradictions especially become developed.

A few examples: William Clebsch, in his much used survey of England’s earliest Protestants, describes Bilney as the ‘moving spirit of the Cambridge circle of Lutherans’.[17] And more recently Louis Schuster has concurred, calling him the ‘leader of the Lutheran enthusiasts’.[18] But Davis, whom I have already mentioned several times, insists that ‘Bylney was closer to the Lollards than he was to Luther’.[19] And there are those who also agree with him. Anne Hudson has said ‘it seems certain that Bilney’s views were genuinely only Lollard’.[20] In addition to these positive assertions, we can also find an equal number stated in the negative. Gordon Rupp was quite blunt when he insisted that ‘Bilney was no Lollard’.[21] And Greg Walker is equally blunt in his contradiction: ‘Bilney was . . . no Lutheran’.[22] More confusingly, there appears to be no clear consensus even on the question of whether Bilney was a heretic of any stripe, whether he had indeed passed beyond the fluid boundaries of orthodox mediaeval Catholicism and into either Lollardy or Lutheranism. While there are those who claim he was a ‘Protestant reformer’ who held a ‘Protestant world picture’,[23] others argue that ‘he cannot be called a Protestant although he is often portrayed as one’.[24]

So much for Bilney being a ‘simple soul’.

But what accounts for such confusion? Partly, it is due to the fact that, unlike William Tyndale, Bilney left to posterity no substantial body of written material. In fact, what we do have amounts to not much more than a few letters, the transcripts of his trials, and a too infrequently referenced, but very revealingly annotated Latin Bible, which he had in his possession probably until his first trial in 1527. So the evidence with which to sketch an outline of Bilney’s theology is not overabundant. With that in mind, what I would nevertheless like to do is to look once again at some of this evidence in an attempt to pin down more precisely what he did believe.

The best place to begin then, is right here, in Norfolk, because it was here that Bilney was born and began his education. And if we want to suppose Bilney had particularly Lollard leanings, then his Norfolk background is quite a convenient fact. Norfolk had a long tradition of Lollardy, with suspects being either abjured or burned throughout the whole of the fifteenth century.[25] And when the Norwich bishop Richard Nix complained about the Cambridge college of Gonville Hall, saying that there was ‘no clerk who had lately come out of it but savoureth of the frying pan’, he undoubtedly did so knowing that Gonville Hall – like Bilney’s college, Trinity Hall – was largely populated by Norfolk men.[26]

Of course, setting aside what some psychologists might say, one’s early environment is not an infallible determiner of one’s later views. So we are forced to examine the evidence of Bilney’s own words or, at least what are recorded as Bilney’s own words. If we turn to the evidence of his preaching we can find there some strong indications of Lollard influence. Many of the witnesses against him at his first trial in 1527 were quick to accuse him of standard Lollard fare. Those who had heard his sermons at Willesden, Newington, and Ipswich especially recalled his condemnation of images.[27] And the testimony of those who heard him preach at St Magnus, London, deals almost exclusively with his criticism of the cult of saints.[28] And it is difficult to dismiss his accusers as hostile witnesses, because even those sympathetic to Bilney tell the same story. Thomas Fen and Guy (or Guido) Glazen, both Suffolk shoe-makers, as well as John Pykas, an Essex baker, would later recall that their own opinions concerning saints and images were either prompted by or confirmed by Thomas Bilney.[29] William Tyndale would also say that Bilney did speak against the cult of saints, their images, and pilgrimages to their shrines.[30] John Foxe goes so far as to say this was the ‘whole sum of his preaching and doctrine’.[31]

But even if we accept all of this as incontrovertible, we must also admit that, despite the strong Lollard flavour of such ideas, they were by no means exclusive to Lollardy. We can find the same sentiments not only in the works of such orthodox humanists as Desiderius Erasmus and John Colet, but they are just as strongly expressed in the writings of Luther and his Wittenberg circle.[32] We do have to admit that Bilney’s preaching sounded sufficiently Lollard to attract a strong Lollard following. Thomas More complained that he knew of at least two who would not hesitate to travel twenty miles to hear Bilney deliver a sermon.[33] And his preaching at Ipswich in 1527 did draw a crowd of Lollards all the way from Colchester.[34] But, once again, Bilney is not unique in attracting such an audience. And once again Colet’s name is worth mentioning, since a group of Lollards is also known to have travelled for some miles in order to hear him preach at Paul’s Cross.[35] And, of course, from the earliest date Luther’s books were being received in Lollard circles just as warmly as they were in the universities.

You can see why Bilney’s position has become such a topic of contention. On the basis of his preaching – and it was his preaching for which he was best known – one is led to believe that his constant and consistent theme was the denunciation of such common beliefs and practices as pilgrimages, the veneration of images, and the intercession of saints. But this was a theme shared by orthodox humanists, Lollards, and Lutherans alike. So where did his contemporaries place him in this spectrum of beliefs? The simple fact that he was twice brought to trial and twice convicted is enough to indicate that the authorities, at least, could not consider him orthodox. And the evidence of these two trials, especially the first, sheds interesting light on the position they did believe him to hold.

One of the curiosities of this 1527 trial is that in the register of Bishop Tunstall, who presided over the hearing, there exist two separate sets of interrogatories. The first is a list of thirty-four questions recorded in Latin; the second is a much shorter list, recorded in English.[36] The different languages are themselves telling, but even more so are the contents of each list. The shorter list, which focuses on images, saints, and ceremonies, has not unjustly been called ‘wholly Lollard in character’.[37] The longer list, by contrast, has been defined by the same author as ‘a Lutheran list’.[38] And this is also a fair assessment. The very first question found on this list is whether ‘the assertions of Luther . . . were justly and godly condemned’ and whether ‘Luther, with his adherents, was a wicked and detestable heretic’.[39] What is particularly noteworthy here is the fact that, despite having both sets of interrogatories at hand, that judged to be essentially Lollard in character was simply ignored, and Bilney’s trial proceeded solely on the basis of those articles considered ‘Lutheran’. This needs explaining.

One author has attempted to explain this by suggesting that, in assuming him Lutheran, Bilney’s judges had ‘partially prejudged the issue’.[40] If they did so, this is at least understandable. If Bilney’s Norfolk context might suggest Lollardy, then his Cambridge context could certainly suggest Lutheranism. It is well known that Luther’s books were widely circulating in Cambridge during Bilney’s day. It was only one year after he had become a fellow of Trinity Hall that they fuelled a bonfire in that city. Those who frequented the White Horse Inn, including Bilney, are most often assumed to have done so to discuss the reforming ideas of Luther. And it was Bilney’s convert Robert Barnes who created the first public controversy in Cambridge by preaching a 1525 sermon in which he followed Luther’s postil on the text for the day. It is this kind of evidence that has led Richard Rex to say of Cambridge in the early 1520s that ‘all we see of the Reformation in Cambridge is Luther’.[41]

So, again, it would certainly be understandable if Bilney’s position had been prejudged. But was it in fact? As significant as the articles brought against him are for what they say, they are equally significant for what they do not say. In particular, he was never accused of what had long been a central tenet of Lollard thought: the rejection of Christ’s bodily presence in the sacrament. Rather than prejudging the case, it is quite probable that Bilney’s judges simply found it easier to reconcile his moderate iconophobia with Lutheran ideas than to reconcile his view of the sacrament with those of Lollardy.

What is there, then, to prevent one from saying that Thomas Bilney was indeed a Lutheran, at least insofar as that term can be defined before 1530 and the presentation of the Augsburg Confession? Well, one small matter, it would seem, is decisive. Bilney, standing before his judges, confessed with his own mouth that Luther was indeed ‘a wicked and detestable heretic’ and that he was ‘justly and godly condemned’.[42] Such an unambiguous admission certainly is problematic. Until we read Bilney’s response to the rest of the charges brought against him. He confessed that everything on which he stood accused was indeed heresy. He defended none of the doctrines attributed to him. He simply said he had preached no such thing.[43]_He denied everything.

In the face of the overwhelming evidence concerning Bilney’s preaching – presented by friend and foe alike – this is really quite remarkable. Unbelievable even. And Thomas More, for one, refused to believe it. And he states his reason for distrusting Bilney’s denial. He claims that he had heard on good authority that Bilney told his followers: ‘Let us preche and set forthe our way. And yf we be accused / lett us saye we sayd not so’.[44] More’s conclusion, then, is that Bilney ‘in very dede persevered in perjury’.[45] This is a serious charge, and one which Gordon Rupp, at least, was unwilling to consider. He argued that it was inconceivable that Bilney, otherwise known to be scrupulously honest, would stoop so low as to lie, even in such dire circumstances.[46] But, in fact, we have good reason to believe that he would, and that More’s accusation carries some serious weight.

I mentioned earlier that one of the few illuminating documents still available to us is Bilney’s own annotated Vulgate. Since the thoughts recorded there were private thoughts, not intended for the eyes of the authorities, we can safely assume that they accurately reflect Bilney’s true views. Two of his annotations especially speak to the issue at hand. At one point he speaks of the prophet Jeremiah telling a ‘pious lie’.[47] And in the margin at 1 Samuel 19, where David’s wife Michal lies in order to save his life, he notes, ‘Michal, David’s wife, practises deceit blamelessly.’[48] In Scripture itself, Bilney was able to find justification for sometimes speaking untruthfully. Which forces us to ask: if he would lie about his rejection of saints, images, and pilgrimages – which he almost certainly did – is it not likely that he was also being less than honest when he claimed that Luther was a heretic who had been justly condemned?

If we look once again at Bilney’s preaching, this time not only asking what he preached, but why, we can begin to formulate an answer to that question. Bilney was certainly no rationalist; he was not attacking popular piety because he thought it superstitious nonsense. And it would seem that he was not simply a proponent of crude anti-clericalism, despising the authority such piety granted the clergy, as so many Lollards did. So why did he preach against the intercession of saints? In debate with the conservative friar John Brusierd, who criticised him for a sermon preached at Ipswich, Bilney argued that Christ’s all-sufficient atonement made the role of saints superfluous.[49] Christ alone effects salvation. So why were pilgrimages condemned? Because, Bilney insisted, man ‘can in no wise merit by his own good deeds’.[50] Instead, he explained to Bishop Tunstall, men should only ‘put their confidence in Christ, who was for them crucified’.[51] God’s grace alone, received by faith alone, is sufficient for salvation. And on what basis did Bilney proclaim such radical ideas? He told his hearers at Ipswich: ‘here is the New Testament, and here is the Old. These be the two swords of our saviour Christ which I will preach and show to you, and nothing else.’[52] In other words, Scripture alone carries doctrinal authority. Scripture alone; Christ alone; grace alone; faith alone. Those famous watchwords of the Lutheran reformers were no less the presuppositions of Bilney himself. It will not do to say that only Bilney’s doctrine of faith is Lutheran, while his other opinions are merely Lollard.[53] Even when he is preaching what might sound like simple Lollard tenets, his underlying motivation for doing so goes quite beyond the bare biblical legalism of Lollardy.

But, finally, we have to ask, how far does it go? How far beyond Lollardy, and even mediaeval orthodoxy, does Bilney’s theology extend? The last defence of those who would like to save Bilney from the heresy of Lutheranism can be summarised in the words of A.G. Dickens: ‘To his dying day he remained orthodox on the Papal Supremacy, the authority of the Church, [and] the doctrines of transubstantiation’.[54] Harold Darby wrote nearly the same, saying he was ‘orthodox in acknowledging the sacrifice of the mass, the doctrine of transubstantiation and the authority of the church’.[55] If this truly is the case, then Bilney would be a strange Lutheran indeed, since Luther himself was orthodox on none of the above. It is for this reason that John Davis concludes that Bilney was no proponent of Lutheranism, but of something called Evangelism, which he defines as ‘the espousal of doctrines of faith while remaining in communion with Rome’.[56]

But even on the points raised by Dickens and Darby – and these are points Rome would have considered decisive: sacraments and ecclesiastical authority, especially the authority of the papacy — Bilney’s communion with Rome is difficult to maintain. Bilney did tell his judges in 1527 that he believed the church could not err.[57] But once again he seems to have been less than completely honest, because the annotations in his Bible tell a different story. ‘The church can err’, he wrote.[58] And again, ‘surely one can deduce how vain is that saying which is advanced: that the Catholic Church cannot err’.[59] In Thomas More’s opinion, Bilney’s regard for the visible Roman church was so fundamentally errant that ‘the contempnyng of Crystes catholyke knowen chyrche, and the framynge of a secrete unknowen chyrche . . . was the very poynt that broughte hym unto all hys myschyefe’.[60]

It would seem, then, that Bilney was not orthodox on the authority of the church. Nor does it appear that he was any more orthodox on the subject of papal supremacy. It may be unwise to read too much into Latimer’s statement that Bilney ‘died well against the tyrannical see of Rome’;[61] but Foxe is a bit more specific when he writes that Bilney began in his preaching tour of 1527 ‘to pluck at the authority of the bishop of Rome’.[62] In May of that year he claimed that there had been no good pope in the previous five hundred years, and that they must be preached against because ‘they have foreslaundered the bodie of oure Savyoure Cryste’.[63] When John Brusierd, the conservative friar who heard this sermon, criticised him for such unguarded words, Bilney justified himself by claiming that papal authority was no divine right. When Brusierd pressed the matter, Bilney even went so far as to confirm that the papacy looked uncannily like the description of Antichrist found in St Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.[64] In the light of such comments, perhaps a bit more weight can be given to some rarely mentioned Norwich memoranda which assert that it was for ‘speaking against the Pope’s supremacy’ that Bilney was eventually burned.[65] Taken together, such comments speak quite strongly against any claims that Bilney remained orthodox in the matter of papal primacy.

Claims for his orthodox stance on the sacrament, however, do rest on firmer ground. It has already been noted that, despite the dozens of articles brought against him, Bilney was never questioned on the sacrament.[66] And even with the great mass of information available to him, John Foxe several times regrets to inform his readers that Bilney ‘never differed therein from the most gross catholics’.[67] It is very curious, then, that when Miles Huggarde wrote The assault of the sacrament in 1554, he included ‘olde Bylney’ among those who did indeed assault the sacrament.[68] It is certainly possible that Huggarde, simply for the sake of polemics, found it convenient to tar Bilney with a sacramentarian brush, especially since so many of his contemporaries did break with Rome on the Eucharist. But it is also possible that Foxe was being less than precise when he dismissed Bilney as orthodox. While generically stating that his opinion did not differ from that of the old faith, he nowhere goes so far as Darby and Dickens in stating that he held specifically to transubstantiation or the sacrifice of the Mass.[69]

Without further evidence this point cannot be pressed too far, but it is at least possible that Bilney’s true opinion represented a subtle ‘middle way’, which allowed Protestants to accuse him of Romanism while also allowing Catholics to accuse him of Protestantism. What would such a ‘middle way’ look like? It would look very much like the eucharistic theology of Luther, a theology which insisted on Christ’s bodily presence in the sacrament, yet at the same rejected the process of transubstantiation as a dogmatically binding explanation for that presence. Again, this point cannot be pressed too far, but this sort of confusion is not entirely unheard of. It is found, for instance, in the theology of Thomas Cranmer; and the confused party is Cranmer himself. When he looked back on the sacramental view he had held in the 1530s, Cranmer disparagingly referred to it as nothing other than ‘the papist’s doctrine’. [70] Yet Peter Newman Brooks has convincingly proved that Cranmer’s views at that time were in fact distinctively Lutheran.[71] The confusion arises only because Cranmer, who eventually rejected any notion of corporal presence in the sacrament, came to view the subtle distinction between the positions of Rome and Wittenberg as inconsequential.

At this point, a brief apology is probably in order. I have carried on for so long about Luther that some of you may be thinking you have stumbled into a meeting of the Luther Society rather than the Tyndale Society. But by way of conclusion I would like to suggest that Bilney’s connection with Luther cannot be completely separated from his connection with Tyndale.

In the few statements we have from Bilney himself, Tyndale is never mentioned as someone he had known. Nor do Tyndale’s few references to Bilney indicate any more than a familiarity based on second-hand knowledge. And despite continuing speculation that Tyndale might have been resident in Cambridge during Bilney’s time, there is still no firm evidence to substantiate this. What Bilney certainly did know, however, were Tyndale’s publications. It is with reference to Tyndale that Thomas More states: ‘Another is there also, whom hys unhappy bokes have broght unto the fyre, Tho. Bylney’.[72] It was ‘Tyndals heresye’ of which he accused Bilney;[73] and therefore, he would say, ‘god caused hym to be taken, & Tindals bokes with hym to, & both two burned togyder’.[74] But More is equally insistent in apportioning some of the blame to Luther; ‘the very fundacyon wheruppon all other heresyes are byelded’, More said Bilney had ‘lerned of Luther and Tyndale’.[75] It was, he argued, the result of ‘the false delyght of Luthers and Tyndales bokes’.[76]

Given their early and well-distributed presence in Cambridge, it is very likely that Bilney would have read some of Luther’s works.[77] But the only questionable literature he is ever known to have had in his possession is not Luther’s, but only Tyndale’s. In particular, Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, and his Obedience of the Christian Man, both of which he was found to be delivering at the time of his final arrest.[78] Even these two works, however, bear the unmistakable imprint of Luther. Richard Rex has outlined Tyndale’s debt to Luther in producing the Obedience of the Christian Man.[79] But even more well known is the Lutheran influence on Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament. His translation borrows heavily from the vernacular Bible produced by Luther only a few years previously. Equally telling is the fact that the prefaces found in Tyndale’s Testament are little more than reproductions of those found in Luther’s edition.[80]

And what is true of the New Testament and the Obedience is true of much of Tyndale’s work: ‘No other theologian of the English Reformation translated as much Luther as did William Tyndale’.[81] The result is that, on a great many topics, to read Tyndale is to hear Luther. It is partly for this reason that James McGoldrick felt justified in speaking of Tyndale as ‘Luther’s English Connection’.[82] McGoldrick only describes one other person in this way, the Cambridge reformer Robert Barnes. But on the basis of the evidence presented above, he might have been equally justified in describing Thomas Bilney – Barnes’s associate and Tyndale’s admirer – as another significant link in the ‘English connection’ of Martin Luther.

As noted earlier, there is by no means a unanimous consensus on this. Among recent authors it is not even a majority opinion. But if the interpretation presented here is even partially convincing, it will at least confirm the suspicion that Bilney, though perhaps a ‘good soul’, was by no means a ‘very simple soul’.


[1]Marcus L. Loane, Masters of the English Reformation (London, 1954), 9.
[2]John F. Davis, ‘The Trials of Thomas Bylney and the English Reformation’, The Historical Journal 24 (1981), 775.
[3]John F. Davis, Heresy and Reformation in the South-East of England, 1520-1559 (London, 1983), 46.
[4]Davis, Heresy and Reformation, 30.
[5]Hugh Latimer, Sermons of Hugh Latimer (Parker Society, 1844), 222.
[6]Latimer, Sermons, 334.
[7]Latimer, Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer (Parker Society, 1845), 330.
[8]John Foxe, The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe [hereafter A&M], 8 vols., ed. J. Pratt (London, 1877), IV, 620.
[9]A&M, IV, 621.
[10]A&M, IV, 620.
[11]Latimer, Sermons, 335.
[12]Latimer, Sermons, 335-6.
[13]Latimer, Sermons and Remains, 330.
[14]Thomas More, The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, in The Complete Works of St. Thomas More [hereafter CWM], 15 vols., ed. C.H. Miller, et al. (New Haven, 1963-1997), 8:518.
[15]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:26.
[16]Richard Marius, ‘Thomas More’s View of the Church’, in CWM 8:1344.
[17]William A. Clebsch, England’s Earliest Protestants 1520-1535 (New Haven, 1964), 278.
[18]L.A. Schuster, ‘Thomas More’s Polemical Career’, in CWM 8:1140.
[19]Davis, ‘The Trials’, 777.
[20]Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford, 1988), 500.
[21]E.G. Rupp, ‘The “Recantation” of Thomas Bilney’, London Quarterly and Holborn Review 167 (1942), 185.
[22]Greg Walker, ‘Saint or Schemer? The 1527 Heresy Trial of Thomas Bilney Reconsidered’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 40 (1989), 230. See also D. MacCulloch, Suffolk and the Tudors: Politics and Religion in an English County, 1500-1600 (Oxford, 1986), 150 n.68, who agrees with the view of John Davis that ‘his views were not Lutheran’.
[23]H.C. Porter, Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge, 1958), 59.
[24]Davis, ‘The Trials’, 775.
[25]Elizabeth Gow, ‘Thomas Bilney and his Relations with Sir Thomas More’, Norfolk Archaeology 32 (1958-61), 292.
[26]Quoted in Gow, 293.
[27]For the testimony concerning his preaching at Willesden, Newington, and Ipswich, see A&M, IV, Appendix. For brief commentary, see Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Oxford, 1993), 63.
[28]For the testimony concerning his preaching at St Magnus, London, also see A&M, IV, Appendix. For brief commentary, see Davis, ‘The Trials’, 780.
[29]Davis, ‘The Trials’, 785.
[30]William Tyndale, Tyndale’s Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, ed. H. Walter (Parker Society, 1850), 145-6.
[31]A&M, IV, 649.
[32]Even in the Lutheran movement’s defining document, the Augsburg Confession, the cult of saints is treated with the ‘chief articles of faith’ rather than with the less pressing issues of ecclesiastical abuse. See the Augsburg Confession in The Book of Concord, tr./ed. T.G. Tappert (Philadelphia, 1959), 23-96.
[33]Thomas More, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, in CWM 6:269.
[34]Haigh, 62.
[35]Claire Cross, Church and People, 1450-1660: The Triumph of the Laity in the English Church (London, 1976), 48.
[36]The interrogatories from Tunstall’s register are reprinted in A&M, IV, Appendix. Foxe provides English translations of the Latin interrogatories in the text. See A&M, IV, 624-5.
[37]Davis, ‘The Trials’, 777.
[38]Davis, Heresy and Reformation, 9.
[39]Subsequent questions go on to address the ‘Lutheran’ positions on the relation of faith to works and of divine grace to human free will.
[40]Davis, ‘The Trials’, 777.
[41]Richard Rex, ‘The Early Impact of Reformation Theology at Cambridge University, 1521-1547’, Reformation and Renaissance Review 2 (1999), 42.
[42]A&M, IV, 625.
[43]See, e.g., More, Dialogue, in CWM 6:256: ‘ever byfore hys judges he confessed from the begynnynge that the maters were playn false heresyes / the holders therwith heretyqes. Sayng for him selfe that he never preched them’.
[44]More, Dialogue, in CWM 6:257.
[45]More, Dialogue, in CWM 6:279.
[46]E.G. Rupp, Studies in the Making of the English Protestant Tradition (Cambridge, 1947), 26.
[47]J.Y. Batley, On a Reformer’s Latin Bible: Being an Essay on the Adversaria in the Vulgate of Thomas Bilney (Cambridge, 1940), 48.
[48]Batley, 47.
[49]A&M, IV, 628.
[50]A&M, IV, 627.
[51]A&M, IV, 634.
[52]A&M, IV, Appendix.
[53]See, e.g., Walker, 230.
[54]A.G. Dickens, The English Reformation, (rev. edn.: London, 1967), 118.
[55]Harold S. Darby, ‘Thomas Bilney’, The London Quarterly and Holborn Review 167 (1942), 74.
[56]Davis, Heresy and Reformation, 30. See also p.31 for mention of Eva-Maria Jung, who defines Evangelism similarly, calling it ‘reforming and ecumenical and within the Roman communion but having divergent tendencies’. Davis, ‘The Trials’, 778, assumes that Bilney was speaking honestly when he confessed at his 1527 trial that the church could not err. He also hesitates to give credence to evidence suggesting that Bilney did in fact reject papal supremacy. See his Heresy and Reformation, 66.
[57]A&M, IV, 626.
[58]Batley, 36.
[59]Batley, 36.
[60]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:25.
[61]Latimer, Sermons, 222.
[62]A&M, IV, 621.
[63]A&M, IV, Appendix.
[64]A&M, IV, 630. There is an interesting historical footnote to this debate. When the Protestant John Merbecke compiled A booke of notes and commonplaces later in the century, he included an article titled ‘How the Pope doth sit in the temple of God, as God’, by which he meant to illustrate the antichristian nature of the papacy. Significantly, the sole authority cited under this locus is Thomas Bilney, with special reference made to his conversation with Brusierd. See John Merbecke, A booke of notes and commonplaces. . . (London, 1581), 1079.
[65]See ‘Chronological Memoranda Touching the City of Norwich’, Norfolk Archaeology 1 (1847), 144.
[66]Nor was his like-minded preaching companion Thomas Arthur, who was tried with him in 1527. For Foxe’s error on this point, see Davis, 25.
[67]A&M, IV, 649; cf. 646 (‘he was yet ignorant, and also devout as others then were’), and 648.
[68]Miles Huggarde, The assault of the sacrament of the altar. . . (London, 1554), sig. E2r.
[69]Foxe, A&M, IV, 649, does record one deposition against Bilney which might imply such a position. Thomas Daly claimed that Bilney exhorted his Willesden hearers to forego pilgrimages and instead to ‘keep you at home and worship the sacrament at home’. However, another Willesden deposition on the same point (p.648) says only that he encouraged hearers to stay home, give alms, and ‘offer your hearts, wills, and minds, to the sacrament’. The Willesden articles which make their way into Tunstall’s register include no mention of the sacrament at all; they state only that Bilney preferred his hearers to forego pilgrimages in order to stay home and give alms. See A&M, IV, Appendix.
[70]A&M, VIII, 56; see also D. MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven, 1996), 234.
[71]P.N. Brooks, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of the Eucharist, 2nd edn. (London, 1965); cf. MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, 181-2.
[72]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:22-3.
[73]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:26.
[74]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:359.
[75]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:25.
[76]More, Confutation, in CWM 8:518.
[77]In the 1530s Laurence Staples confessed to having delivered to Bilney some illegal books. See Cross, 59-60. And it was Bilney’s friend Robert Forman, one of those who attempted to intercede on his behalf in 1527, who stood at the centre of English trade in heretical books, first in Cambridge and later in London. See Haigh, 61; Davis, ‘The Trials’, 783.
[78]The books were delivered to a Norwich anchoress, probably Dame Agnes Edrygge. See Rupp, Studies in the Making, 29.
[79]Richard Rex, ‘The Crisis of Obedience: God’s Word and Henry’s Reformation’, The Historical Journal 39 (1996), 866-7.
[80]Luther’s influence and Tyndale’s borrowing are especially unsurprising in the light of Tyndale’s matriculation at Wittenberg only one year before his ‘Cologne fragment’ was printed.
[81]Jeffrey Leininger, ‘How Lutheran was William Tyndale? Justification in an English Reformer’, forthcoming in Lutheran Theological Review. I am grateful to Dr Leininger for allowing me to read a draft of this essay before its publication.
[82]James E. McGoldrick, Luther’s English Connection: The Reformation Thought of Robert Barnes and William Tyndale (Milwaukee, 1979).

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