From the Archives: A Letter From Prison, in Tyndale’s Own Hand

The only known writing in Tyndale’s hand still extant, this correspondence came from Tyndale sometime in the winter of 1535, as he was imprisoned in Vilvoorde Castle. It was addressed to the governor of the castle, that very Marquis of Bergen to whom Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell had already appealed on Tyndale’s behalf. It appears here in Tyndale’s hand, along with a printed transcription of Tyndale’s Latin and an English translation of that Latin. Note Tyndale’s respectful tone and concern for the governor’s spiritual well-being, and the centrality of Tyndale’s request for his Bible-translating books.

The Latin Transcribed

Credo non latere te, vir praestantissime, quid de me statutum sit. Quam ob rem, tuam dominationem rogatum habeo, idque per Dominum Jesum, ut si mihi per hiemem hic manendum sit, solicites apud dominum commissarium, si forte dignari veldt, de rebus meis quas habet, mittere calidiorem birettum; frigus enim patior in capite nimium, oppressus perpetuo catarro qui sub testitudine nonnihil augetur.

Calidiorem quoque tunicam, nam, haec quam habeo admodum tenuis est. Item pannum ad caligas reficiendas. Diplois detrita est; camiseae detritae sunt etiam. Camiseam laneam habet, si mittere velit. Habeo quoque apud eum caligas ex crassiori panno ad superius induendum; nocturna biretta calidiora habet etiam: utque vesper; lucernam habere liceat; tediosum quidem est per tenebras solitarie sedere.

Maxime autem omnium tuam clementiam rogo atque obsecro ut ex animo agere velit apud dominum commissarium quatenus dignari velit mihi concedere Bibliam Hebraicam, Grammaticam Hebraicam, et Vocabularium Hebraicum, ut eo studio tempus conteram. Sic tibi obtingat quod maxime optas modo cum animae tuae salute fiat: Verum si aliud consilium de me ceptum [sic] est, ante hiemem perficiendum, patiens ero, Dei expectans voluntatem, ad gloriam gratiae Domini mei Jesu Christi, Cujus Spiritus tuum semper regat pectus. Amen.

W. Tindalus

The English Translation

I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me [by the Council of Brabant]; therefore I entreat your Lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here [in Vilvoorde] during the winter, you will request the Procurer to be kind enough to send me from my goods, which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in the cell.

A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat has been worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for the putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.

But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But if any other resolutions have been come to concerning me, before the conclusion of the winter, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.

By William Tyndale

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #16 in 1987]

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