Whilst living in Bristol in 1520 a petty villain called William Tyndale hit upon an idea that was so heinous in nature that it instantly propelled him from the ranks of minor felons to England’s most wanted criminal. Hitherto his worst misdemeanour was stealing a knight’s outfit and melting it down, for which he served two years for armoured robbery. However, it was in this city of spires that he was inspired to hit the jackpot; elevating him to the status of the nation’s most despised deviant. For he decided to translate the Bible into English from its original Ancient Greek and Hebrew.
Within a week of having translated the Book of Matthew into English, Tyndale’s behaviour changed beyond all recognition. He sought out his old headmaster, for instance, and apologised for having knocked-off school when he was twelve. The headmaster forgave his errant former pupil and said that the school shouldn’t have been situated so close to the edge of a cliff anyway. Tyndale then preached in Bristol and threatened to translate the whole of The Bible into English so that the man pulling the plough would be as conversant with God’s word as the man in his castle. This was considered dangerous for these reasons:
- The man pulling the plough would discover he was being paid the same hourly rate as a plough-puller 1,500 years earlier, despite the rise in inflation.
- Heaven would start to become overpopulated and far less exclusive.
- God would be angry as he would have to take on extra staff to hear the massive increase in prayers.
- Henry VIII’s position as ‘Defender of the Faith’ wouldn’t be so secure as with the increased interest there was bound to be a good young centre-half emerge from the plebs.
This state of affairs could not be allowed to continue and it was no surprise that Tyndale got arrested in Bristol and charged with heresy. At his trial in 1521 he was found guilty and was given the first ever suspended sentence in English judicial history: he was warned that if he translated just one more sentence of The Bible into English he would be hung!
Tyndale realized he would have to continue this nefarious activity in secret. He obtained employment providing religious instruction to the son of a wealthy merchant in Little Sodbury called John Walsh, who provided him with a small flat. Here Tyndale covertly translated more of The Bible and all seemed to be going well for a year or so until Tyndale started getting complacent. When translating the story of Noah’s Ark, for instance, he mysteriously advised Walsh to take out extra insurance against flood damage; and when Mrs Walsh gave birth to another son in 1523, Tyndale suggested that Matthew, Mark, Luke or John would make good names for it.
Walsh informed the authorities regarding his suspicions; and one day, while Tyndale was out, eight special constables raided his flat. An initial search found his English translations of the first six books of the New Testament concealed in his sock drawer – more than enough to have Tyndale arrested on the spot upon his return and executed within the week. The head of the special constables and his seven deputies were fully in favour of adopting this course of action. A more extensive search then turned up more of his translations of books of The Bible under his bed, alongside his translation of the first few pages of The Kama Sutra. The special constables then unanimously decided to put everything back as they had found it so Tyndale wouldn’t suspect anything, get out of there and return in six months or so.
Tyndale became immediately wary upon his return as the wives of the eight constables were banging on the door of the local community centre demanding to know why there weren’t any yoga classes available. Tyndale immediately packed and fled the scene, securing employment in insurance in Swindon.
By now Tyndale was a marked man, this was because he had tattooed Ancient Greek words he was unsure of on his body so he didn’t have to keep consulting a dictionary. Henry VIII and the churches went on the offensive. During Whitsun 1524 all places of worship in England were given special dispensation to put Tyndale’s wanted poster on more prominent display than their effigies of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Furthermore, at least five churches in the Wessex dioceses alone, incorporated Tyndale’s image in newly commissioned stained glass windows along with details of the big reward on offer for shopping him to the authorities. Tyndale knew the game was up, especially as his employers at the insurance firm were becoming suspicious because he was fast becoming the industry’s greatest authority on what constituted An Act of God.
Tyndale exiled himself in Germany, where he was able to continue his translations and exploit the new technology of printing to get his Bibles published. This first came to light in England in 1527 when a group of travelling German pilgrims staying at a hotel in Cleethorpes got so inebriated in the bar the afternoon before they checked-out that they left copies of their Tyndale Bibles in their rooms. An alert was soon issued by the authorities to find a group of Giddy-Huns.
After this numerous attempts were made to smuggle copies into England. One involved disguising Tyndale’s Bible as a Travellers’ Guide to Bristol. This subterfuge only surfaced when a pilgrim from Dumbarton whilst visiting the city consulted his recently purchased guide to locate the best route from Totterdown to Bedminster and ended up instead in the red-light district of Bethlehem. There he felt he had no other alternative but to pay out for a high-class hooker; because according to the guide’s narrative, it seemed the only way he would get a bed for the night.
In his Christmas message to the nation in 1530, Henry VIII ordered anybody who came across Tyndale’s Bible to set it alight ‘so that this abominable book can be consumed for eternity by the flames of Hell and Damnation’. This prompted many of his subjects to ditch their energy suppliers and join their local library instead.
Tyndale moved on to Antwerp where the Mayor was happy for him to reside in his city; partly because he did a deal with Tyndale to organise distribution of his Bibles by mail order. Thus when Henry VIII sent him an official demand for Tyndale’s extradition, the Mayor sent him Tyndale’s extra diction, which was the version Tyndale did of The Bible in play form.
In 1535, Tyndale was on the move again, this time to Brussels, but on this occasion he was arrested and in 1536 found guilty of heresy. The judge sentenced him to be strangled at the stake and then burned for his depravity and wicked disrespect to God’s word. Tyndale was only glad he hadn’t included a few jokes in his translations as it could then have been a whole lot worse for him.
On October 6th, 1536 Tyndale was strangled and then burned. Famously the martyr’s last words were: ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes’. Historians are divided on what he actually meant by this; some have speculated that during Tyndale’s time in insurance he must’ve received a lot of claims from the monarch for bumping into things. Others believe because he was being strangled he was really trying to give this advice to Elijah Ford, the Minister for Health and hygiene: ‘Ford, open Sweeney Todd’s pies’.