A student at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, he was stimulated early on by both an interest in scientific investigation and a love of the evangelical gospel. In the latter, he was influenced by his friends Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.
In 1537, he published A Comparsion Between the Old Learning & the New (the old learning being the pure gospel and doctrine of God's Word, the new learning being the corrupt Romish doctrine). In 1538, he published Libellus de re herbaria. In 1543, he published a satirical attack on the Papal Church called The Huntying and Fynding Out of the Romish Fox. It opens with a quote from Horace, Sat. l.1. 26.: "Why may not Truth be uttered with a smile?" He followed up this work with another in 1545, The Rescuying of the Romishe Foxe, which etymologically may be the first published instance of the proverbial phrase "Birds of a feather flock together" -- Turner wrote: "Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together." As an orinthologist, he knew about birds:
In 1544, Turner [had] published Avium praecipuarum, quarum apud Plinium et Aristotelem mentio est, brevis et succincta historia [read the English translation, Turner on Birds, online here] which not only discussed the principal birds and bird names mentioned by Aristole and Pliny the Elder but also added accurate descriptions and life histories of birds from his own extensive ornithological knowledge. This is the first printed book devoted entirely to birds.
In 1548, he published The Names of Herbes. His ground-breaking A New Herball was published in three parts (1551, 1562 and 1568). Preview part one here and parts two and three here. This work was a landmark in the study of botany and herbalism.
He was one of the Marian Exiles when "Bloody Mary" was on the throne, but returned to England after she died. Throughout his life he wrote on divinity and his scientific studies (concerning herbs, birds and medicine), paving the way both as a religious dissenter and as a scientist until his death in 1568.
He was famous for his opposition to the ceremonial use of vestments in the Church of England. It is reported that he taught his dog to steal corner caps from the heads of visiting bishops.
Anecdotes of the Puritans (1849), pp. 18-20:
THE FIRST DISSENTER IN ENGLAND.
WILLIAM TURNER was the first, or one of the first, who, after the Church of England was settled, opposed both its Episcopal government and its rites and ceremonies. He was educated at the University of Cambridge, where he was distinguished, for his literary attainments, and for his attachment to the doctrines of the Reformation. As he could not, with a good conscience, submit to the ceremonies required in the ordination of ministers, he went through the towns and villages preaching the gospel, without being ordained. For this he was arrested and cast into prison, and afterwards banished from the country.
When Edward the Sixth became king, Turner returned to England, was licensed to preach, and became chaplain to the Duke of Somerset, the lord protector, and was made dean of Wells. In the persecuting times of Mary, he fled to Switzerland. Upon the accession of Elisabeth, he again returned to England, and was restored to his deanery. He continued to enjoy a high reputation for his knowledge, both of medicine and divinity, and for his writings. He was very decided in his rejection of Episcopacy, and refused to conform to the ceremonies enjoined by the prayer-book, and to wear the clerical vestment. For so doing he was at length sequestered and deprived of his living, together with nearly forty other London ministers. He died, full of years, in 1568.