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Thomas Bilney
Thomas Bilney.jpg
Illustration from Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Born circa. 1495
Norfolk, England
Died 19 August 1531 (aged c. 36)
Lollards Pit, Norwich
Cause of death
Death by burning
Alma mater Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Occupation Clergyman

Thomas Bilney (c. 1495 – 19 August 1531) was an English Christian martyr.

Early life[edit]

Thomas Bilney was born around 1495 in Norfolk, most likely in Norwich. Nothing is known of his parents except that they outlived him. He entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge at a young age, around the year 1510. During his life he was nicknamed Little Bilney because of his short stature.[1]


At Cambridge, he studied law, graduating LL.B. and taking holy orders in 1519. [2]Finding no satisfaction in the mechanical system of the schoolmen, he turned his attention to the Greek edition of the New Testament published by Erasmus in 1516. During his reading in the Epistles, he was struck by the words of 1 Timothy 1:15, which in English reads, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief." "Immediately", he records, "I felt a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones lept for joy, Psal. 51:8. After this, the Scripture began to be more pleasant unto me than the honey or the honeycomb; wherein I learned that all my labours, my fasting and watching, all the redemption of masses and pardons, being done without truth in Christ, who alone saveth his people from their sins; these I say, I learned to be nothing else but even, as St. Augustine saith, a hasty and swift running out of the right way". The Scriptures now became his chief study, and his influence led other young Cambridge men to think along the same lines. Among his friends were Matthew Parker, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hugh Latimer. Latimer, previously a strenuous conservative, was completely won over, and a warm friendship sprang up between him and Bilney. "By his confession", said Latimer, "I learned more than in twenty years before".

Preaching and imprisonment[edit]

In 1525 Bilney obtained a licence to preach throughout the diocese of Ely. He denounced saint and relic veneration, together with pilgrimages to Walsingham and Canterbury, and refused to accept the mediation 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 Cardinal Wolsey took a different view. In 1526 he appears to have summoned Bilney before him. On his taking an oath that he did not hold and would not disseminate the doctrines of Martin Luther, Bilney was dismissed. But in the following year serious objection was taken to a series of sermons preached by him in and near London, and he was dragged from the pulpit while preaching in St George's chapel, Ipswich, arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. Arraigned before Wolsey, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and several bishops in the chapter-house at Westminster Abbey, he was convicted of heresy, sentence being deferred while efforts were made to induce him to recant, which eventually he did.

Release, re-arrest and execution[edit]

After being kept for more than a year in the Tower, he was released in 1529, and went back to Cambridge. Here he was overcome with remorse for his apostasy, and after two years he was determined to preach again what he had held to be the truth. The churches being no longer open to him, he preached openly in the fields, finally arriving in Norwich, where the bishop, Richard Nix, caused him to be arrested. Articles were drawn up against him by Convocation, he was tried, degraded from his orders and handed over to the civil authorities to be burned. The sentence was carried out at Lollards Pit, Norwich on 19 August 1531. A parliamentary inquiry was threatened into this case, not because Parliament approved of Bilney's doctrine but because it was alleged that Bilney's execution had been obtained by the ecclesiastics without the proper authorisation 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 so many points he was an orthodox Roman Catholic.


  1. ^ "Bilney, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2400.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Bilney, Thomas (BLNY520T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 

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9 news items

Virtue Online
Wed, 19 Mar 2014 09:33:43 -0700

Take for example the experience of Thomas Bilney, who recounted his own conversion in the following words: At the first reading (as I well remember), I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul.): 'It is a ...

The Public Record

The Public Record
Mon, 19 Aug 2013 23:00:46 -0700

Although sources differ, there is general consensus that at least six men were burned alive for heresy during More's short tenure as chancellor: Richard Bayfield, James Bainham, Thomas Bilney, Thomas Dusgate, Thomas Hitton, and John Tewkesbery.
Mon, 01 Oct 2012 14:32:11 -0700

For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make ...
Financial Times
Fri, 14 Sep 2012 13:05:53 -0700

One of the leading lights, Thomas Bilney, declared that on reading Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch Christian humanist, he had “met Jesus for the first time”. One day Bilney would be burnt at the stake for preaching that the veneration of statues was ...

Norwich Evening News

Norwich Evening News
Mon, 22 Jul 2013 02:04:43 -0700

It's where William Kett of Kett's Rebellion and Thomas Bilney, the Protestant martyr would have spent their last few hours before execution. I'm mentioning this because it's clear that Mr Creelman takes real pride in being the city's sheriff and has a ...
Network Norwich
Tue, 24 Jan 2012 04:22:30 -0800

Another important person was Thomas Bilney, one of the foremost fathers of the Reformation came from Norfolk. He was burnt at the stake in Lollards Pit, near the banks of the Wensum, in 1531. After a period of economic decline, the 19th century saw ...
Reformatorisch Dagblad
Wed, 20 Apr 2011 09:15:07 -0700

Thomas Bilney en Hugh Latimer hadden toegang tot St. Edward's Church. Dit kleine kerkje werd het centrum van de protestantse prediking. De preekstoel van Latimer staat er nog. Heel klein en makkelijk door twee man te versjouwen. Het is geen pronkstuk, ...
Mon, 27 Jun 2011 02:37:30 -0700

Dažname straipsnyje pastebima, kad Jėzaus Draugijos įkūrėjo šv. Ignaco Lojolos dvasingumas formavosi Renesanso epochoje (XVI a.), veikiamas humanistinio sąjūdžio. Tačiau kur kas sunkiau glaustai paaiškinti, kas yra dvasingumas. Ar kiekvieną žmogų ...

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