Thomas Bilney

c.1495-1531. Protestant martyr. Born near Norwich, he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge to study law. In 1519 he was ordained to St. Bartholomew's Priory, Smithfield, and the next year he became a fellow of Trinity Hall. After a long period of searching for spiritual peace he read Erasmus's* Latin NT and was converted through reading 1 Timothy 1:15. He became a central figure in the group of theologians who started to meet at the White Horse Inn. Most famous of his converts was Hugh Latimer,* to whom he went to make his confession in 1524 and who was brought to a sense of forgiveness through it. He was arrested in 1527 for heresy and was released only after promising to stop preaching Reformed doctrine. He could not keep himself in check for long and was arrested again that year, and after a trial before Bishop Tunstall* and others he was persuaded by some of his friends to recant. Again Bilney could not hold himself to what he had done under pressure, and early in 1531 he set off on a preaching tour of Norfolk. Later that year he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to die at the stake. A shy and retiring man, he was the first of the early Cambridge Protestants to be martyred.