BILNEY (BYLNEY), THOMAS: Early English Protestant; b. of a Norfolk family about 1495; burned at the stake at Norwich Aug. 19, 1531. He studied at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and gave up law for theology and was ordained priest in 1519. He adopted the belief in justification by faith alone and was a leader in a company of Cambridge men who were inclined to the views of the Reformation; Hugh Latimer was added to the number by Bilney's influence and became his lifelong friend. Concerning the mass, transubstantiation, and the powers of the pope and the Church, Bilney remained orthodox; but he preached unremittingly in Cambridge, London, and neighboring counties, denouncing the invocation of saints and relic-worship, pilgrimages and fastings, at the same time leading a most austere life and devoted to deeds of charity. He was arrested and confined in the Tower Nov. 25, 1527; brought to trial, he denied having wittingly taught the doctrines of Luther, but was finally persuaded to abjure his alleged heresies and as penance was kept imprisoned for more than a year. Released in 1529, he went back to Cambridge, suffered much from remorse for his abjuration, and in 1531 resumed preaching, but was immediately arrested, and was executed as a relapsed heretic.
Bibliography: The sources for a life are in Letters and Papers . . . of the Reign of Henry VIII., vol. v, ed. James Gairdner, in Record Publications, London, 1863-80. Consult also C. H. Cooper, Athenæ Cantabrigienses, i, 42, ib. 1858; DNB, v, 40-43.