Thomas Swinnerton

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Thomas Swinnerton (or Swynnerton; died 1554) was an evangelical preacher and author during the English Reformation.

Evangelicalism, evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide, transdenominational movement within Protestant Christianity which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or "born again" experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message. The movement has had a long presence in the Anglosphere before spreading further afield in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries.

English Reformation Separation of the Church of England from the Pope of Rome

The English Reformation was a series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. These events were, in part, associated with the wider process of the European Protestant Reformation, a religious and political movement that affected the practice of Christianity across western and central Europe during this period. Many factors contributed to the process: the decline of feudalism and the rise of nationalism, the rise of the common law, the invention of the printing press and increased circulation of the Bible, and the transmission of new knowledge and ideas among scholars, the upper and middle classes and readers in general. However, the various phases of the English Reformation, which also covered Wales and Ireland, were largely driven by changes in government policy, to which public opinion gradually accommodated itself.

Swinnerton was one of the first Englishmen to study at Wittenberg University when he enrolled there in 1526. Later sources claim that he studied at Oxford or Cambridge, but this is unlikely and his contemporary, Bishop John Longland of Lincoln claimed in 1536 that he never attended an English university. [1] By 1531, Swinnerton was back in England, where he was accused of abducting one Eleanor Wakefield, the servant of a wealthy London merchant. According to his own account, he was merely staying with the girl in the house of her uncle, William Wakefield, in Yorkshire. [2] To avoid prosecution, Swinnerton adopted the alias Thomas Roberts and perhaps also John Roberts, as claimed by Bishop John Bale of Ossory, who claimed he was being persecuted by the Catholic lord chancellor, Thomas More. [1]

Wittenberg University

Wittenberg University is a private four-year liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio, US, serving 2,000 full-time students representing 37 states and approximately 30 foreign countries.

John Longland British bishop

John Longland was the English Dean of Salisbury from 1514 to 1521 and Bishop of Lincoln from 1521 to his death in 1547.

John Bale Anglican bishop in Ireland

John Bale was an English churchman, historian and controversialist, and Bishop of Ossory. He wrote the oldest known historical verse drama in English, and developed and published a very extensive list of the works of British authors down to his own time, just as the monastic libraries were being dispersed. His unhappy disposition and habit of quarrelling earned him the nickname "bilious Bale".

In 1534, in defence of the Act of Supremacy, which broke the English church from Rome, he published two books attacking the Papacy for corruption and for sowing division both within the church and within Europe. [3] Neither was published under his name: A litel treatise ageynste the mutterynge of some papistis in corners was anonymous and A mustre of scismatyke bysshoppes of Rome was released under his alias Thomas Roberts. [4] The former is "dull [and] brief". [1] He defends the Act of Supremacy by crediting King Henry VIII and his counsellors for having discovered Papal corruption and broken with Rome out of concern for the spiritual welfare of the people. He was influenced by William Tyndale's Obedience of a Christian Man (1528), despite Tyndale's scepticism of the king's motives. [5] In labelling Papal discourse as the "mutterings of some papists in corners", Swinnerton discredits all speech or writing that lacks royal approval and takes place, so to speak, "in blind alleys". [6] His Mustre, a "far superior" work to the Litel treatise, is a preface to his translation of the Gesta Romanae ecclesiae contra Hildebrandum of Cardinal Beno of Santi Martino e Silvestro. [1] Beno was one of the cardinals who abandoned Pope Gregory VII in 1084 in favour of the Antipope Clement III. Swinnerton provides a list of antipopes with commentary intended to refute the doctrine of Papal infallibility. [1]

William Tyndale Bible translator and agitator from England

William Tyndale was an English scholar who became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known for his translation of the Bible into English.

Beno or Benno, also known as Bruno, was an imperialist Roman Catholic cardinal and priest of Santi Silvestro e Martino ai Monte during the Investiture Controversy. He was one of the bishops who abandoned Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) in 1084 and consecrated Antipope Clement III, the candidate of Emperor Henry IV, in Rome. He wrote the Gesta Romanae ecclesiae contra Hildebrandum, an account of the alleged misdeeds of Gregory.

Pope Gregory VII Pope from 1073 to 1085

Pope Gregory VII, born Hildebrand of Sovana, was pope from 22 April 1073 to his death in 1085.

In 1535, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, under the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533, granted Swinnerton a licence to preach anywhere in the kingdom, probably in the expectation that he would promote the royal supremacy he had so ardently defended in print. That same year he attempted unsuccessfully to convert the monks of the London Charterhouse to the Reformation. Between 1535 and 1537 he travelled throughout England spreading evangelical teachings and attacking the Papacy. Conservatives within the church of England, who opposed the doctrines of evangelicalism, raised opposition to his mission in Bedfordshire and Rye, and Bishop Longland complained to Thomas Cromwell, the king's principal secretary, but to no avail. [1]

Thomas Cranmer 16th-century English Archbishop of Canterbury and Protestant reformer

Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary I. He helped build the case for the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which was one of the causes of the separation of the English Church from union with the Holy See. Along with Thomas Cromwell, he supported the principle of Royal Supremacy, in which the king was considered sovereign over the Church within his realm.

Act Concerning Peters Pence and Dispensations

The Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533, also known as the Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensations, is an Act of the Parliament of England. It was passed by the English Reformation Parliament in the early part of 1534 and outlawed the payment of Peter's Pence and other payments to Rome. The Act remained partly in force in Great Britain at the end of 2010. It is under section III of this Act, that the Archbishop of Canterbury can award a Lambeth degree as an academic degree.

London Charterhouse historic complex of buildings in Smithfield, London

The London Charterhouse is a historic complex of buildings in Smithfield, London, dating back to the 14th century. It occupies land to the north of Charterhouse Square, and lies within the London Borough of Islington.

Around 1537 Swinnerton composed a work entitled Tropes and figures of scripture and dedicated it to Cromwell. In it he combined Renaissance humanism and rhetoric with an evangelical application of Scripture to topics like purgatory and monasticism. This humanistic Protestantism is reminiscent of that which took shape around Martin Luther at Wittenberg, but in theological specifics there is evidence that he was being influenced by Swiss Protestantism and the Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin, published in 1536. [1] Although intended for publication, Tropes and figures was never printed and survived only in manuscript form until edited by Richard Rex and published in 1999. [7]

Renaissance humanism

Renaissance humanism is the study of classical antiquity, at first in Italy and then spreading across Western Europe in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The term humanism is contemporary to that period, while Renaissance humanism is a retronym used to distinguish it from later humanist developments.

Purgatory intermediate state after death for undergoing purification, pronounced by Christian denominations including the Roman Catholic Church

Purgatory is an intermediate state after physical death for expiatory purification. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that this state exists and that those being purified can be helped by the prayers of the living. In the speculation of theologians and in popular imagination, purgatory is a place where this purification is done by the agency of fire, a notion of purgatory that according to Jacques Le Goff came into existence in Western Europe towards the end of the twelfth century, but which has not been declared official doctrine of the Catholic Church. The Church of England officially denounces what it calls "the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory", but the Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches and elements of the Anglican and Methodist traditions hold that for some there is cleansing after death and pray for the dead. Judaism also believes in the possibility of after-death purification and may even use the word "purgatory" to present its understanding of the meaning of Gehenna.

Monasticism religious way of life

Monasticism or monkhood is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work. Monastic life plays an important role in many Christian churches, especially in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Similar forms of religious life also exist in other faiths, most notably in Buddhism, but also in Hinduism and Jainism, although the expressions differ considerably. By contrast, in other religions monasticism is criticized and not practiced, as in Islam and Zoroastrianism, or plays a marginal role, as in Judaism.

Sometime before 1537 Swinnerton received a curacy in the parish of St Mary Elms in Ipswich. He remained there until 1541, having a distinct evangelical effect on the parish. In 1538, the will of the wealthy local merchant Robert Cutler commissioned him to preach three sermons in place of masses in memory of the deceased. He was at some point accused before Bishop William Rugg of Norwich of having a wife in Colchester, perhaps the Eleanor Wakefield he had allegedly "abducted" or merely "stayed with" in 1531. Summoned before the diocesan consistory to answer the charge, he never appeared, perhaps through the intervention of Cromwell, who appears to have protected him from Bishop Longland a couple years earlier. In 1541 he was transferred to the vicarage of St Clement's in Sandwich as part of the archbishop of Canterbury's effort to evangelise Kent for the Reformation. In St Clement's, he was presented by the archbishop's nephew, Edmund Cranmer. If indeed he was married to Eleanor Wakefield, whose father was the archbishop's chaplain, it would appear that Swinnerton enjoyed the protection of two of the most powerful men in England: Cranmer and Cromwell. [1]

Ipswich Town and Borough in England

Ipswich is a large historical town in Suffolk, England, located in East Anglia about 66 miles (106 km) north east of London. It is also the county town of Suffolk. The town has been continuously occupied since the Saxon period, and its port has been one of England's most important for the whole of its history.

William Rugg was an English Benedictine theologian, and bishop of Norwich from 1536 to 1549.

Colchester town in Essex, United Kingdom

Colchester is a historic market town and the largest settlement within the borough of Colchester in the county of Essex. Colchester was the first Roman-founded city in Britain, and Colchester lays claim to be regarded as Britain's oldest recorded town. It was for a time the capital of Roman Britain, and is a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network.

In 1553, when the Catholic Mary I ascended the throne, he left Kent and went into exile at Emden in Germany. There he died the following year. [1]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Rex, Richard (2008) [2004]. "Swynnerton, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26844.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. This William Wakefield was a clerk who later became chaplain to Thomas Cranmer.
  3. Karl Gunther, Reformation Unbound: Protestant Visions of Reform in England, 1525–1590 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 65–66.
  4. His use of the alias Thomas Roberts is confirmed in certain Suffolk records, cf. Rex (2004).
  5. Brad C. Pardue, Printing, Power, and Piety: Appeals to the Public during the Early Years of the English Reformation (Brill, 2012), pp. 75–76.
  6. Pardue (2012), p. 10n45.
  7. Richard Rex (ed.), A Reformation Rhetoric: Thomas Swynnerton's ‘Tropes and Figures of Scripture’ (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  8. This one is attributed to 1534 by John Bale, cf. Rex (2004).

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