John Fryth (1532)

John Fryth was the son of an inn-keeper in Westerham, Kent. He read mathematics at Kings College, Cambridge. He was there at the same time as William Tyndale and Thomas Bilney and it was through Tyndale's teaching that he came to love the Lord. The three of them declared no religious rite could give you remission of sins, that forgiveness comes from faith alone and that faith purifies the heart.

In 1523 Fryth joined Tyndale in London and helped him translate chapter after chapter of the Greek New Testament into English until Tyndale was driven abroad. Fryth declared, "I will consecrate my life wholly to the church of Jesus Christ." Around 1525 Fryth moved to Oxford University and in 1528 he and about forty others were cast into the deep cellar under Christ Church, where the fish was stored. This was the work of Cardinal Wolsey who was threatened by the spread of Tyndale's Bible. These men were some of the brightest minds in the whole country. All except two were tried and forced to walk, carrying a faggot, to a great fire that was lit in the middle of Oxford. They were then forced to throw into the fire all the heretical books that were found in their rooms. In August four of the men died and on hearing the news Wolsey gave orders that the others should be released, but they were not allowed to go more than ten miles outside Oxford. Fryth left soon afterwards for Flanders to join Tyndale again.

In 1531 Henry VIII recognised the talent of John Fryth and asked his Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, to seek reconciliation with him, as he thought he was not as extreme as Tyndale and his intellect could be used for the benefit of the crown. Fryth was in Holland, he had just got married and he was helping to print Tyndale?s works. The reconciliation failed. Fryth had a strong desire to return to England to circulate the Gospels. He returned to Reading in August 1532, looking more like a pauper than the brilliant mind who the King wanted at his side. He was thought to be a vagrant and so the authorities questioned him, but he would not give them his name and he was put in the stocks to try to loosen his tongue. He asked to see a school-master whose name he knew, and on the man arriving he spoke to him in Latin and Greek. The man was greatly taken with Fryth and went to the mayor to speak on his behalf, obtaining his release.

Fryth went to London and joined the group who met in Bow Lane. One day someone asked him to write down his teaching on the Lords Supper so that he could study it, but this got into the wrong hands, was copied and given to Sir Thomas More. He had failed to remain unknown, so he left London and travelled through several counties, teaching congregations as he went. Tyndale felt that Fryth was the great hope for the Church, and he was very concerned for his safety. This was well founded as More had his agents searching the whole country for him. Fryth was aware of his danger and in October he went to Milton Shone to board a ship for the continent. However, he was betrayed and arrested while boarding.

He was put into the Tower of London, was chained and deprived of ink and paper. However, friends of his smuggled in everything he needed to write and although afraid at being discovered, Fryth wrote letters and papers that would be circulated around London. At the beginning of 1533, possibly through the influence of the new Queen, Anne Boleyn, Fryth had his chains taken off and he was even allowed out of the Tower on parole. The bishops wanted Fryth's death and they worked on the King until he ordered a trial. His examiners were the top spiritual and temporal lords of the nation, which shows the importance of his trial to the King.

Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury loved and admired Fryth and resolved to try to save him. He knew that if he came before the tribunal all would be lost, so he made a plan. He declared that he would have a conference with Fryth to try to persuade him out of his beliefs, and said that it would be more prudent to have this conference outside of London in case of unrest amongst the people. This was a contrivance by Cranmer, and it was agreed that the conference should take place in Croydon.

On the 10th June Cranmer sent a gentleman and the Lambeth porter to escort Fryth from the Tower to Croydon. They took a boat to Lambeth Palace and the gentleman tried to persuade the godly man to recant, but he got nowhere. On arrival at Lambeth they had a meal and started on the ten mile journey to Croydon. Understanding that Fryth would not recant the gentleman formulated a new action, persuading the porter to let this holy man escape into the woods. He would never have set about this without the agreement of Cranmer. The gentleman excitedly told Fryth of the escape plan, but he was shocked when Fryth rejected it. He told him that if he were left on his own he would walk on his own to Croydon. He believed that God's will was in his capture, and he had to defend the doctrines that he had been writing about. Cranmer did everything he could to save him, but to no avail and on the 17th June Fryth returned to the Tower.

On the 20th June, he was tried before three bishops, including his former teacher Gardiner, at St Paul's. He was excommunicated and handed over for execution. He was taken to Newgate prison, which was close by Smithfield and chained to the wall of his cell. Twenty-four year old, tailors apprentice, Andrew Hewet, was put in his cell. He was asked by the bishops what he thought of the Sacrament and he had responded, "I think as Fryth does." He was told he would die if he did not recant, his response was; "Very well, I am content". On the 4th July they were tied to a post at Smithfield and burned.

Many were influenced by Fryth's writings; he contributed powerfully to the Reformation in England. Later the chaplain to Cranmer said of Fryth, "he did not only love the Gospel he lived it also."

This account has been taken from 'The Reformation in England' by Merle d'Aubigne.

The following comes from Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

In the year 1533, John Frith, a noted martyr, died for the truth. When brought to the stake in Smithfield, he embraced the fagots, and exhorted a young man named Andrew Hewit, who suffered with him, to trust his soul to that God who had redeemed it. Both these sufferers endured much torment, for the wind blew the flames away from them, so that they were above two hours in agony before they expired.

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