King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Andrew Downes was born in 1553 in Moreton Corbet, Shropshire, a hamlet, associated with the seat of the Corbet family going back to the twelfth century. His father was a yeoman and Andrew had the benefit of a superb early education. He went on to his university studies at Cambridge when he was just fourteen and spent the balance of his life there as a scholar and professor. He was a bachelor until he was fifty-five years old when he married Ann Delves of Sedelscombe, Sussex. They were married in the University Church of Great St. Mary's, Cambridge in 1608.
His life was devoted to scholarship, especially Greek, and he was described as "the ablest Grecian of Christendom".
Symonds D'Eves, one of his pupils, told of an encounter with the venerable professor Downes in these words from his diary:
When I came to his house near the public Schools, he sent for me up into a chamber, where I found him sitting in a chair with his legs upon a table that stood by him. He neither stirred his hat nor body, but only took me by the hand, and instantly fell into discourse (after a word or two of course, had passed between us) touching matters of learning and criticism. He was of personage big and tall, long-faced and ruddy-coloured, and his eyes very lively, although I took him to be at that time at least seventy years old. (Autobiography, 139)
Andrew Downes died on 2 February 1628 in the village of Coton where he and his wife had their residence. He left the bulk of his estate to his wife, Ann, it appearing they were childless. A memorial was erected in his honor in Coton's St. Peter's church where it can still be seen.
Andrew Downes became a student at Shrewsbury School only a few miles from his home at Moreton Corbet. Shrewsbury School was headed by Thomas Ashton, an outstanding teacher who created what was described as "the best filled school in all England". It drew students from as far as Buckinghamshire. Ashton, who had been ordained to the priesthood, spent much of his life in education and later in the diplomatic service of the queen.
Ashton's influence on young Andrew was so profound that Downes said, next to God and his parents, he owed the most to Ashton. He said further:
Among all the letters of his life, this one happiness had come to him, and he could have had none greater – that his father placed him when a boy under the care of that most excellent man.
He entered St. John's College, Cambridge in 1567 having received the Lady Margaret Beufort Scholarship. He graduated B.A. in 1571, proceeded M.A. in 1574, and B.D. in 1582.
Andrew Downes' career was almost entirely taken up with scholarship and teaching. He was elected a fellow of his college, St. John's in 1571 and was admitted as a senior fellow there in 1580, having previously been ordained to the priesthood.
In 1585 at age thirty-two, he was elected regius professor of Greek at Cambridge. This appointment and his service as a Translator were the defining events of his life. He held the regius professorship for thirty-nine years, until shortly before his death.
His scholastic reputation grew with his advancing years, and his influence on rising generations of scholars was great. John Bois, Downes' protégé and fellow Translator, said he was "much bound to bless God for him". Another Translator, James Montegu called him a "walking library".
Of ecclesiastical office, only a prebendary associated with the cathedrals at Bath and Wells is listed. Following his work on the translation of the King James Bible (hereinafter KJB), Downes and John Bois assisted Sir Henry Savile, a fellow Translator, on his edition of The Works of John Chrysostom, an early Christian Father. Andrew Downes held on to his teaching position until 1625 when he retired to his residence in Coton.
Andrew Downes and the Translation
Andrew Downes was a member of the Second Cambridge Company responsible for translating the Apochrypha. Additionally, he was a member of the Committee of Revisers, six or twelve in number, from each of the companies that spent nine months at Stationer's Hall in London reviewing the proposed Bible text.
It is reported the committee read aloud from the draft translation to ensure the language was not only linguistically correct, but had spoken power and beauty. Only the names of three members of this committee are known for sure, Andrew Downes, John Bois and John Harmer. To have been selected as one of the last reviewers from among so many who were qualified is an indication of stature which Andrew Downes had among his fellows.
The profound influence of early teachers has been noted in the lives of many of the Translators. Thomas Ashton, Andrew Downes headmaster and teacher at Shrewsbury School, was such an instance. Without Ashton, Andrew Downes may not have developed into the scholar he became, and without Downes the same could be said of John Bois. In this way these teachers were a vital link in the chain that brought forth the KJB