John Frith

This early English reformer was born in Westerham around 1503. No picture of him is known to exist. He was an exceptional scholar, invited by Cardinal Wolsey to join his Oxford College and was introduced to Henry VIII. However, he became increasingly unhappy with some of the Church’s doctrines and his teachings soon had him marked out as a heretic.

He fled to his friend and fellow reformer, William Tyndale, in Antwerp. Tyndale was immersed in a life-long task of translating the Bible into English – a dangerous occupation as the established church did not approve of the general public having direct access to the word of God. Following the Reformation, Tyndale’s Bible‚ went on to heavily influence all the major English translations that followed.

Frith believed in religious toleration and he challenged church thinking on issues such as the existence of purgatory. He wrote a series of counter-arguments to the works of Sir Thomas More which soon made this powerful man his enemy.

Frith eventually returned to England but was imprisoned as a heretic. Thomas Cromwell, however, thought he might prove useful in the thorny problem of the Henry VIII’s ‘need’ to be rid of Catherine of Aragon and produce a male heir. Frith was protected in the hope that he could somehow find a credible interpretation of the scriptures that would mean that the King’s 24 year marriage could be declared null and void. When that and other efforts failed, Henry decided to break with the Roman Catholic Church and Frith was committed to trial. Convicted of heresy, and declining every opportunity to recant, he was burnt at the stake in 1533 and became one of the very first English reformers to be martyred.

St Mary’s contains the font in which he was baptised and a memorial window to him by Edward Burne-Jones, There is a meeting room which is dedicated to his name.