"In the age of Tyndale, there was very little that was laughable. It was a rather humorless age." (p. xv)
For those who do not know, William Tyndale was a Bible translator. He produced the first English Bible from the Greek (John Wycliffe had earlier produced an English Bible from the Latin Vulgate, but it was not widespread).
At the time (the Protestant Reformation, 1517 and on), this was considered an evil and rebellious act. In England, the Bible was in Latin (even though the people - and often the parish priests - knew no Latin). In 1519, a family of six was burned at the stake (in Coventry) for teaching and reciting the Lord's Prayer in English (p. 264).
Tyndale was initially a priest (as most educated people were). When Erasmus' Greek New Testament was published (and things started to boil), he asked for permission to produce an English translation. This was refused, but we see the beginnings of the drive that Tyndale had to see God's word made available to everyone. Shortly after, Tyndale fled England, never to return. Teems wonderfully documents his trials and tribulations as an exile.
Teems handles this weighty subject with aplomb. You would have to have a heart of stone not to weep at times, but that is the nature of the matter. Teems avoids sentimentality, or polemic. He maintains objective distance, while letting the people of the time speak for themselves. I came to feel that Tyndale was a brother I would have gotten along with very well.
There are also humorous moments, which Teems is eager to bring forth. This is not a sad and dreary tale, I was eager to finish it - eager to get back to it when life kept me away.
I'd like to read bios of Erasmus and (Sir Thomas) More now, for comparison.