FRITH (FRYTH), JOHN: English Reformer; b. at Westerham (19 m. s.e. of London) 1503; d. at London July 4, 1533. He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge , (B.A., 1525), but immediately after taking his degree he became a junior canon of Cardinal College (now Christ Church), Oxford, his patron being Cardinal Wolsey. In the same year he met Tyndale in London, and aided him in his translation of the New Testament. With several friends he was imprisoned in his college for teaching the doctrines of the Reformers. He was released, however, at the instance of Wolsey, on condition that he should remain within ten miles of Oxford, but he went to Germany, spending the most of his time at Marburg. After living on the Continent about four years, during which time he married, he returned to England and went to Reading. There he was set in the stocks as a vagrant, but was released at the request of the schoolmaster of the town and went to London, where Sir Thomas More, the lord chancellor, issued a warrant for his arrest as a heretic. Frith sought concealment, but was seized at Milton Shore, Essex, as he was attempting to escape to Holland, and was committed to the Tower. His imprisonment was not rigid, however, and became still milder when Sir Thomas Audley became chancellor in 1533. Meanwhile Frith had formulated his views on the sacrament, holding the following four points: The doctrine of the sacrament is not an article of faith to be held under pain of damnation; the natural body of Christ had the same qualities as those of all men, except that it was free from sin, and it is therefore not ubiquitous; it is neither right nor necessary to take the word of Christ literally, for it should be construed according to the analogy of the Bible; the sacrament should be received according to the institution of Christ, and not according to the order in use. A tailor named William Holt obtained a statement of these views from Frith by pretending to be his friend, and gave a copy to More, who prepared a reply, of which the prisoner managed to secure a written copy. He immediately wrote a refutation, but was attacked by one of the royal chaplains in a sermon before the king. Henry VIII. ordered him to be examined, and he was accordingly tried, refusing a proffered opportunity to escape. He again appeared before the bishops of London, Winchester, and Chichester on June 20, 1533, but as he persisted in his denial of transubstantiation and purgatory, Bishop Stokesley of London condemned him to die at the stake as an obstinate heretic. Frith was therefore delivered to the secular arm and was confined in Newgate until he was taken to Smithfield for execution.
John Frith was a prolific writer, his chief works being Fruitful Gatherings of Scripture (n.p., 1529 [?]; a translation of the Loci of Patrick Hamilton); A Pistle to the Christen Reader; the Revelation of Anti-Christ (Marburg, 1529; one of the first English attacks on Roman Catholicism); A Disputation of Purgatory (Marburg [?] 1531 [?]); A Letter unto faithful Followers of Christ's Gospel (n.p., 1532 [?]); A Mirror or Glass to Know thyself (1532 [?]); A Mirror or Looking Glass wherein you may behold the Sacrament of Baptism described (London, 1533); and The Articles wherefore John Frith he died (1548). Frith's complete works were edited, together with those of Tyndale and Barnes, by John Foxe at London in 1573. To him are also ascribed the Vox Piscis (3 parts, London, 1626-27), containing three brief treatises, including the Mirror or Glass to Know thyself, all said to have been found in a codfish in Cambridge market in 1626; An Admonition or Warning that the faithful Christians in London &c. may avoid God's Vengeance (Wittenberg, 1554) and the Testament of Master W. Tracie, Esquire (Antwerp, 1535), Tyndale being a collaborator in the latter work.