The Tyndale Monument

From the Illustrated London News, November 17th 1866

By a public subscription among the inhabitants of Gloucestershire, headed by the clergy, a monument has been erected on Nibley Knoll, near Wotton-under-Edge, to the memory of the martyr Tyndale, one of the first publishers of the Holy Scriptures in English. William Tyndale, or Tindale, otherwise named Hitchins, was born in 1500, on the borders of Wales, but in what county his biographers are unable to mention. In early life he studied grammar, logic and philosophy at St. Mary Magdalen’s Hall, Oxford, where there is still a painting of him, but which is not esteemed a valuable work of art. Here he imbibed the doctrine of Luther, which he privately taught to some of the junior Fellows of Magdalen College and to other scholars. His behaviour was such at the same time, both as regards morals and learning, that he not only gained a high reputation, but was admitted a Canon of Cardinal Wolsey’s new college, now Christ Church. Upon making his opinions public he was compelled to retire to Cambridge, where he took a degree and pursued his studies. After a time he removed to Little Sudbury, Gloucestershire, and took up his abode with Sir John Welch, Knight, who had so great an esteem for him that he appointed him tutor to his children. Here he embraced every opportunity of propagating his new opinions, by preaching frequently in and about Bristol, and engaging in disputations with many abbots and dignified clergymen, whom he met with at Sir John’s table, on the most important points of religion, which he explained in a way to which they had not been accustomed, and by references to the Holy scriptures, which they scarcely dared to touch. Unable to confute him, they complained to the chancellor of the diocese, who dismissed him after a severe reprimand, accompanied with the usual threatenings against heresy. Finding that this situation was no longer convenient, and that his patron could no longer with safety continue his protection, Tyndale went to London, and for some time preached in the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West. Failing in his attempt to become one of the Chaplains to Dr. Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London, and being sensible that his liberty was endangered by living in England and enlightening the minds of the people in the knowledge of true religion, he went abroad, receiving very liberal pecuniary assistance from Mr. Humphrey Monmouth, alderman of London, with whom he had resided for six months. He first proceeded to Saxony, where he had conferences with Luther and his learned friends; then came back into the Netherlands, and settled in Antwerp, where there was a very considerable factory of English merchants, many of whom were zealous adherents of Luther’s doctrine. Here he immediately commenced his translation of the New Testament, in which he had the assistance of John Frith and William Roye, the former of whom was burnt in Smithfield for heresy, July 1532; and the latter suffered that dreadful death in Portugal on the same accusation. It was printed in 1526 in octavo, without the translator’s name. As there were only 1500 printed, all the copies which could possibly be got in England were committed to the flames, this first edition is exceedingly rare. The industrious Mr. Wanley could never procure a sight of it; but there was one in Ames’s collection, which was sold after his death, for fourteen guineas and a half, and which would at the present day realise a fabulous price.

When this translation was imported into England the supporters of popery became very much alarmed; they asserted that there were a thousand heresies in it, and that it ought to be suppressed, and that it would make the laity heretics, and rebels to their King. It is more painful, however, to record that such men as William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of London, issued their orders, to bring in all the New Testaments translated into the vulgar tongue, that they might be burnt. To destroy them more effectually, Tunstall, being at Antwerp, in 1526 or 1527, procured Augustin Packington, an English merchant, to buy up all the copies of the English Testament which remained unsold; these were accordingly brought to England and publicly burnt at Paul’s Cross. But this ill-judged policy only took off many copies which lay dead upon Tyndale’s hands and supplied him with money for another and more correct edition, printed in 1534; while the first edition was in the meanwhile reprinted twice but not by the translator. Of Tunstall’s singular purchase the following fact is related:

Sir Thomas More, being Lord Chancellor, and having several persons accused of heresy, and ready for execution, offered to compound with one of them, named George Constantine, for his life, upon the easy terms of discovering to him who they were in London that maintain Tyndale beyond the sea. After the poor man had got as good a security for his life as the honour and truth of the Chancellor could give him, he told him it was the Bishop of London who maintained Tyndale, by sending him a sum of money to buy up the impressions of his Testaments. The Chancellor smiled, saying that he believed he said true. Thus was this poor confessor's life saved.

But these vigorous measures not producing the intended effect, and burning the Word of God in any shape, being regarded by the people as a shocking profanation, Sir Thomas More was induced to take up the pen. In 1529 he published A Dyaloge, in which he endeavoured to prove that the books burnt were not the New Testaments, but Luther’s or Tyndale’s testaments, and so corrupted and changed from the good and wholesome doctrine of our Saviour to their own devilish heresies as to be quite another thing. In 1530 Tyndale published an answer to this Dialogue, and proceeded in translating the five books of Moses from the Hebrew into English; but, happening to go by sea to Hamburg, to have it printed there the vessel was wrecked and he lost all his money, books, writings and copies, and was obliged to begin anew. At Hamburg he met with Miles Coverdale, who assisted him in translating the Pentateuch, which was printed in 1530, and apparently at several presses. He afterwards made an English version of the prophecy of Jonas, with a large prologue, which was printed in 1531; but he translated no more books of the Scripture, as Hall, Bale, and Tanner have asserted.

From Hamburg he returned to Antwerp, and was there betrayed into the hands of his enemies. Henry VIII, and his council employed one Henry Philips on this disgraceful commission, who first insinuated himself into Tyndale’s acquaintance, and then got the Procurator General of the Emperor’s court at Brussels and other officers to seize him, although the Procurator declared that he was a learned, pious and good man. He was seized and conveyed to the castle of Villefort, where he remained a prisoner about a year and a half. The body of the English merchants procured letters from Secretary Cromwell to the court at Brussels for his release; but by the further treachery of Philips, this was rendered ineffectual, and Tyndale was brought to trial where he pleaded his own cause. None of his arguments, however, being admitted, he was condemned, by virtue of the Emperor’s decree made in the Assembly at Augsburg; and, being brought to execution in 1536 he was first strangled and then burnt. His last words were, ‘Lord open the King of England’s eyes!’

Besides his translations, he wrote various theological and controversial tracts, which were collected together and printed in 1572 in one volume folio, together with John Fryth’s and Barnes’s works. Bale and Wood attribute some other pieces to him, and some translations from Luther.

Of his translations of the Scriptures, Dr. Geddes says that, ‘though it is far from a perfect translation, yet few first translations will be found preferable to it. It is astonishing how little obsolete the language of it is, even at this day; and, in point of perspicuity and noble simplicity, propriety of idiom, and purity of style, no English version has yet surpassed it.’

William Tyndale once resided at a house on Nibley green, which is the scene of the fatal encounter, in 1469, between William, seventh Lord of Berkeley, and Thomas Talbot, Viscount Lisle, in which the latter was killed. The Lawsuit which lead to this ‘trial by battle’ was respecting some property claimed by both the above families, and which had been carried on, with the utmost virulence, for nearly two centuries. The monument to the memory of the dauntless champion of the cross will look, down upon the arena of the combat between two chivalrous but headstrong nobles.

The monument now erected consists of a tower, 26ft 6in square at the base, and 111ft. high. It is entered on the east side, and contains a staircase leading to a gallery, which is to be adorned with pieces of sculpture, illustrating the chief events in the life of Tyndale and the history of the English Reformation. The tower is surmounted by a large cross of enamel mosaic, the work of Dr. A. Salviati, which is at a great height, and being of gold enamel principally, can be seen at a very great distance on account of the reflection of the light. This is a work which demonstrates beyond doubt the adaptability of enamel mosaics to external decoration. The architect of the monument is Mr. S.S. Teulon, of Charing Cross.

The ceremony of opening the tower was performed by the Earl of Ducie, Lord Lieutenant of the county, on Tuesday week, in the presence of a large assembly. The Rev. J.S. Austin, on behalf of the committee, handed the key to his Lordship, who spoke a few minutes and then unlocked the door, The Rev. Canon Eden, Vicar of Wymondham, delivered an address, in the course of which he recited some appropriate verses, Latin and English, composed by him expressly for the occasion. The Rev. A.G. Cornwall, honorary secretary to the committee, the Rev. Dr. Morton Brown, Mr. Curtis Hayward, and other gentlemen took part in the proceedings. The total cost of the monument has been 1550, and there is a debt of 300, which the committee are now anxious to clear off. The Rev. A.G. Cornwall, Wotton-under-Edge, receiving the subscriptions.

Editor’s Note

I am grateful to David Green for drawing my attention to this interesting article. It seemed appropriate to reprint it in the Journal in the year that the appeal and renovation of this 135 year old monument draws to a successful conclusion. Naturally there are facts, statements and inaccuracies which can be challenged in the light of recent research but, nonetheless, it adds to our knowledge of the construction of this imposing monument on Nibley Hill now awaiting its re-opening ceremony.

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