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Thomas Bilney


BILNEY, THOMAS (c. English martyr, was born at or near Norwich. He was educated at Trinity Hall, Cam bridge, graduating LL.B. and taking holy orders in 1519. Among his friends were Matthew Parker, the future archbishop of Canter bury, and Hugh Latimer. Latimer, previously a strenuous con servative, was completely won over, and a warm friendship sprang up between him and Bilney. "By his confession," said Latimer, "I learned more than in 20 years before." In 1525 Bilney obtained a licence to preach throughout the diocese of Ely. He denounced saint and relic worship, together with pilgrimages to Walsingham and Canterbury, and refused to accept the media tion of the saints. The diocesan authorities raised no objection, for, despite his reforming views in these directions, he was to the last perfectly orthodox on the power of the pope, the sacrifice of the mass, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the authority of the church. But Wolsey summoned Bilney before him in 1526. On his taking an oath that he did not hold and would not dissemi nate the doctrines of Luther, Bilney was dismissed. But in the following year he was arrested and convicted of heresy, sentence being deferred while efforts were made to induce him to recant, which eventually he did. After a year in the Tower, he was re leased in 1529, and went back to Cambridge. Here he was over come with remorse for his apostasy, and preached openly in the fields, finally arriving in Norwich, where the bishop, Richard Nix, caused him to be arrested. He was burned as a relapsed heretic in London on Aug. 9 1531. A parliamentary enquiry into this case was threatened because it was alleged that Bilney's execution had been obtained by the ecclesiastics without the proper authori zation by the State. In 1534 Bishop Nix was condemned on this charge to the confiscation of his property. The significance of Bilney's execution lies in the fact that on essential points he was an orthodox Roman Catholic.


Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. vols. iv.-v.; Bibliography.-See Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. vols. iv.-v.; Foxe's Acts and Monuments; Gairdner's History of the Church; Pollard's Henry VIII.

latimer, church and norwich