The patrons of the Reformation were the folks behind the Reformers. They don’t always get mentioned, but from a human standpoint they helped make the Reformation happen.
Englishman Humphrey of Monmouth heard William Tyndale preach, and he also was aware of Tyndale’s efforts to bring the Bible into the hands and into the language of the English people. So for six months, Humphrey of Monmouth took Tyndale in, supported him, and provided him room and board. He gave him everything he needed so that Tyndale could simply focus on translating the text. Once Tyndale completed that task, he needed to get his translation into print and available to people.
Tyndale went over to the Continent and used Europe’s printers because he was an outlaw in England. While Tyndale was in Europe, Humphrey of Monmouth again helped and supported him. Humphrey of Monmouth made his wealth through being a cloth merchant. And not only was he a cloth merchant, but he also assembled a fleet of ships. He used those ships to smuggle Christian literature coming in from the Continent, and spread it all over England so that the Reformation could spread. And of course, once Tyndale printed his New Testament, Humphrey of Monmouth put those on his ships. His workers would hide them in bundles of cloth, and they’d be shipped across to England, and then distributed. Tyndale was eventually arrested and martyred for his faith and for his efforts. Monmouth also suffered persecution. He also was imprisoned.
We can move over to Germany for two more patrons. These were the brothers Frederick the Wise and John the Steadfast. Frederick the Wise was the Elector of Saxony. This was the time of Luther posting the Ninety-Five Theses, the Diet of Worms, and the beginnings of the Reformation in Germany. Behind Luther, providing political and financial support, was Frederick the Wise. When Frederick the Wise died in 1525, he had no male heirs, so his younger brother John the Steadfast became the Elector of Saxony. John the Steadfast loved Luther and the theology of the Reformation, and he poured his life into it. In fact, it was in 1529 at the Diet of Speyer that we first hear the word Protestant, and it wasn’t applied to the Reformers. It was actually applied to John the Steadfast and to the German rulers who opposed the laws of Emperor Charles V. They were protesting those laws.
The very next year, John the Steadfast oversaw the theologians who gathered at Augsburg and published the Augsburg Confession of Faith in 1530. The first to sign that confession of faith was the politician John the Steadfast.
Now if we go back to England, we’ll find our last patron of the Reformation, Walter Mildmay. He was born in 1523 and died in 1589. His father made a large fortune when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries across England. Walter, the son, also made a fortune in his own right. He served in Henry’s court, and then he served in Edward VI’s court. He survived through the reign of Mary, despite being an open and well-known Calvinist and champion of the Reformation. Once Mary died and Elizabeth came to the throne, he rose to even further prominence in the court of Elizabeth. He rose to the level of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In 1583 Walter Mildmay purchased a site in Cambridge. It had been home to a Dominican monastery. For the next two years, he razed a few buildings, built a few new ones, and remodeled some of the existing buildings. Then in 1585 he opened the doors to Emmanuel College, Cambridge. When it was founded, Queen Elizabeth chided him for establishing a college on a Puritan foundation. Well, indeed it was a Puritan foundation. In fact, of the first one hundred degree-holding Puritans who migrated to New England, one third of them were Emmanuel College graduates. One of them, John Harvard, would lend his name to Harvard University—all because of Mildmay and his Emmanuel College, Cambridge.