King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Francis Dillingham was born on 15 August 1568 to Walter and Alice (Roulte) Dillingham, a prosperous couple in Deane, Bedfordshire. Deane is a beautiful village where the parish church of All Saints dominates the landscape. Francis had at least five siblings, a brother, Thomas and four sisters.
He enrolled as a student at Cambridge when he was fifteen years old and stayed there for the next eighteen years. Thomas Fuller, a near contemporary biographer, calls Dillingham "an excellent linguist and subtle disputant". He was also described as one of the ablest advocates of his time.
When he was in his early thirties, he left Cambridge to spend the rest of his life as a country parson. He died at Wilden February 1625, and was buried in the parish church on the twenty-fourth of the month. Because his will mentions neither wife nor children, it has been assumed he was not married.
Nothing is known of Francis Dillingham's early education. Because his family was wealthy, it is likely he either had tutors, or was a student at the best available grammar school such as the nearby Bedford School which had been founded in 1552. He became a student at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1583. His brother, Thomas, followed him to Cambridge two years later. He graduated B.A. in 1587, proceeded M.A. in 1590 and B.D. in 1599.
Francis was elected a fellow of Christ's College in 1594, and later was dean there from 1595 to 1598. Dillingham was the Wentworth lecturer in Hebrew at the university from 1599 to 1601. He held this teaching and administrative post for seven years, resigning in 1601. In 1599 he wrote a defense of Protestant points of view. He continued writing for publication for nearly twenty years. His subject matter ranged from how to implement the Christian faith to compiling excerpts of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine's writings supporting Protestant positions. Bellarmine was the chief Catholic advocate for his church against the growing Protestant movement.
Not only was Francis Dillingham an able writer but he became a legendary disputant. Disputations, or debates, served educational as well as entertainment purposes. Thomas Fuller's father described a disputation between Francis Dillingham and scholar, William Alabaster. It was conducted entirely in Greek and was so noteworthy that scholars for some period thereafter used the debate as a reference point to mark the beginning of an era.
Dillingham was not only an excellent Greek scholar he was an outstanding Hebraist as well.
Francis Dillingham undertook at least two parish offices, one at his birthplace of Deane (now upper Deane), and subsequently at Wilden, also in Bedfordshire, in 1600-1601. He served there for twenty-five years until his death in 1625.
Francis Dillingham and the Translation
Francis Dillingham was a member of the First Cambridge Company with responsibility for a significant portion of the Old Testament, 1st Chronicles through the Song of Solomon. Included were Psalms, Proverbs and important historical books. Francis' selection to serve with men such as Laurence Chaderton and John Richardson speaks to the respect his fellow scholars, Richard Bancroft, the Translation overseer, and King James had for him. He was able to use his knowledge of Hebrew to advantage, since the underlying texts he translated from were primarily in Hebrew. It is interesting to note that during the time of the Translation Francis did not have any publications, indicating his preoccupation with his company's work.
One of Francis Dillingham's publications was entitled: A Golden Keye, Opening the Locke to Eternal Happiness – Containing Seven Most Sweete and Comfortable Directions to a Christian Life. In it he discourses on the state of marriage, which he recommended for churchmen like himself. He also is liberal in his advice to married men. All of this may have a touch of irony if he was, as some have concluded, a lifelong bachelor.
Upper Dean, Bedfordshire was home to the Dillingham's for at least three hundred fifty years. A home they occupied is still standing in the village.
Francis Dillingham was instituted rector of St. Nicholas, Wilden through the patronage of his uncle, John Roulte. Though he was minister there for a quarter century and was buried in the church, no memorial remains to mark his grave.