The Blood of the Tyndales

Mary Clow

I am sure many members have shared my own experience of being buttonholed by proud ‘descendants’ of William Tyndale. On being delicately reminded that as he was a priest such begetting could not be legitimate and, from what we know of his life, must be very unlikely. However nicely put, they go away — not joining the Society.

The following details are garnered from some wonderfully prepared 19th century documents lent to me by a ‘descendant’ who had obviously never studied them.

A few years after the accession of Queen Victoria, a barrister sought to ingratiate himself with his father-in-law by agreeing to draw up a family tree from materials gathered by his wife’s late grandfather, who had died before completing the project. The family name was Tyndale, directly descended through nine generations from Edward, the elder brother of William, translator of the Bible. On the title page of the documents the barrister’s name is written as: B.W. Greenfield (of the Inner Temple) We have no record of his wife’s Christian name or subsequent life story. Greenfield went about his task with rigour, investigating beyond the research notes compiled many years before by George Booth Tyndale - ‘that learned and curious Genealogist’ - who had died prematurely in 1779 at the age of 36. Greenfield goes to great lengths to describe the thoroughness of his own work, meticulously listing the records he traced, legal documents concerning wills, property transfers, lawsuits etc. In his summary he tells us that:

‘upon a minute examination of family papers and from the paucity of notices in some branches of the pedigree, I was led to search for further information from other sources. The authentication of much that is contained in these documents, and the discovery of many events, the sole repositories of which are going to decay, were the fruits of my labors. My object has been not merely to accommodate dates, but to establish them by reference to proofs…’

And he quotes from an unknown source:

‘In work of this kind its credibility must depend on its authorities’.

Greenfield sounds a dry stick. Perhaps he realised this and thought to lighten his tone (while discreetly bragging of his own high motives) with the following truly dreadful poem:

To Posteritie by Ralph Brooks, esquire, Yorke Heraulde
I with much paine, experience of time and cost,
Many heapes of worne Recordes have turn’d and tost,
To make those names alive againe appeare,
Which in oblivion well nigh buried were:
That so your Children may avoid the jarres
Which might arise about their Auncesters;
And that the Living might those Titles see,
With which their Names and Houses honour’d bee.

The result of Greenfield’s labours was privately printed in 1843 at the expense of his father-in-law. The title page (in addition to the poem) carries an impressive crest and the motto Confido non confundar (I trust and will not be confounded). It then sets out the intent of the exercise:

Genealogy Of the Family of Tyndale Together with the Pedigrees of Several Families with whom they have formed Alliances, and shewing the Connection with the Line of Plantagenet. Compiled from public records and other authentic documents, With the authorities annexed.

There follow six foolscap pages of family tree, covering every possible connection of the Tyndales, their descendants, and the families with whom they intermarried. The earliest date is 1312 — the much-vaunted Plantagenet connection: but the earliest Tyndale is Edward (died 1546), ‘our’ William’s elder brother.

Genealogists have estimated that anyone of English descent today can claim common ancestry from a single couple alive in the 14th century. On this basis it is statistically unexceptional that in the 400 years of closely documented descent, Tyndale wives connect with a number of historic names.

An Elizabethan Tyndale went to France in the service of the Count of Anjou (sometime suitor of the Queen), and married a French lady, beautifully named Oriane. This name is still used by her descendant today. Henry VIII wreaked his murderous rage on the de la Pole family of his maternal cousins when Reginald Pole refused, from Rome, to support Henry’s divorce. In brutal recompense, Reginald’s brother and their elderly widowed mother, Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, were both beheaded. Safe in Italy, Reginald was made a Cardinal, and survived to be Mary Tudor’s Archbishop of Canterbury, sagely dying within hours of her death. But his sister, Lady Ursula, was happily untouched, and her daughter, Dorothy Stafford, went on to marry Thomas Tyndale, the great-grandson of Edward.

Later Tyndales linked with the families of Cotton, the great book collector whose library became the basis of the British Library, and with Clive of India. The Gloucestershire/West Country connection persisted for many generations. Edward’s son, Thomas, acquired the manor of Eastwood Park at Thornbury, Gloucestershire, where he, his son and grandson (all named Thomas) are buried. The next Tyndale, William, was born in 1625 at Iron Acton, showing the family still had land in the neighbourhood of the Walshe’s manor at Little Sodbury. A younger brother, John, is shown ‘of Bathford, Somerset’ where the family now moved, and four generations are buried there.

By the 1840’s, when Greenfield’s Family Tree ends, a row of ‘Reverends’ stretches across the page. Maybe at that period an interest in the family’s religious roots revived as one of these Victorian parsons, a descendant through his mother, gave all his multitude of children as a middle name — Tyndale. Greenfield concludes with the statement that his researches are motivated by —

‘ a sense of the perishable nature of records of which there is no duplicate, by the experience of how much knowledge of family history is lost for ever with the death of every aged person and by a conviction that facts of apparently little moment at the present time may become valuable to the family hereafter.’

It is our loss that he did not go further back in time, to confirm and establish beyond question the origins and ancestry of the one true genius of the family, William Tyndale.