Saturday, 8 June 2013

William Tyndale- The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England?

As is seeming to become a trend for me, the other day after 'Waterloo Road', I decided that I may as well give another BBC historical programme a chance. Slightly worried that this was to be a permanent change, I flicked over to BBC 2 to watch 'The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England', assuming of course that the mystery man would be someone like my good mate Henry VIII, or at least someone I'd heard of. But of course, I was to be proved wrong. The most dangerous man in Tudor England is, according to the gentleman on the BBC, William Tyndale. Melvyn Bragg stared out at me from my television and very knowledgeably told me that the reason I had never heard of Tyndale is because he had most probably been 'written out of history', making me feel ever so slightly less ignorant than Katie Price.

So, who is this mysterious William Tyndale I've been banging on about for the last 148 words, I hear you ask. Well, today is your lucky day. Because I'm about to tell you in as little words with as little waffle as humanly possible.

William Tyndale is the man who translated the Bible into English. Doesn't seem like a lot, does it? Not on face value. But Henry VIII was (unsurprisingly) a little but miffed by this. You see, religion, at the time, was the best way to control the population, and as long as only the ruling class know what was said in the Bible,they could make up all manner of things for their benefit and pass it off as the word of God. Sneaky. So that's exactly what Henry and his mates did. Kept the Bible in Latin, and told everybody that if they wished to get into heaven and avoid a life of pain, they must obey the Catholic Hierarchy. Not true. But of course, if you cannot read the Bible to prove this wrong, then you only know to follow the Roman Catholic laws of that time. Tyndale, being a very clever bloke, decided that this wasn't right, and that he was the one to translate the Bible into English and make it accessible for all. Now, in the 16th century, even to attempt a translation of the Bible would result in an early death, and (let's be honest), I don't think anyone would expect Henry VIII to be merciful. Tyndale dreamed as a boy of attempting this extraordinary feat, but his dreams only became something possible during he education at Oxford, in which he learned of a Dutch Scholar, Erasmus, who had translated the Bible into Greek as a result of his belief that to get to the truth of a text, you had to study it in its original language. Tyndale was inspired. He then became aware of a German monk, Luther, who had translated the Bible and proved that the Church was not the only was into heaven, and idea that Henry VII vehemently slated, gaining him the title 'Defender of the Faith'. This title just enlarged his already massive ego, causing him to view himself as the Pope's avenging sword against these new ideas, which wasn't exactly was Tyndale needed.

In was in Tyndale's first post as a chaplain that he began to ruffle some feathers by arguing with clergymen, his determination to translate the Bible into English showing through. Knowing that this would probably come round to bite him, Tyndale left for London to try and find a patron in order to achieve his dreams, and found Cuthbert Tunstalll, bishop of London. Now, I know that Tyndale was a smart bloke, but this was a pretty bad idea. Tunstall hated Luther as much as Henry VIII, and wanted to get rid of heretics as much as Thomas Moore. Not a great idea to go to him. Eventually, Tyndale clocked on to the fact that London probably wasn't the best place to try and achieve his dream, so he left for Germany, Luther's home. It was the last time he would see England.

I don't need to tell you that Tyndale was successful- the Bible is in English all over the place now, and I doubt I need to tell you that Henry VIII wasn't particularly happy about his success. Eventually Tyndale was found and burned at the stake.

So, there's the basic story of William Tyndale. Wasn't that fun? If you want to hear a professional tell the same story, but better I suggest you click on this link. You'll like it, I promise!

(Update) The link above is from the BBC, but the programme is not on iPlayer at the moment. However it is currently available on YouTube here and you may also enjoy this appreciation of Tyndale from The Economist.

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