King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family History
Unlike many of the Translators, a great deal is known about Henry Savile. Henry Savile was born on 30 November 1549 at Bradley Hall in what is now Holywell Green near Stainland, West Yorkshire. He was one of the eight children of Henry and Elizabeth (Ramsden) Savile. Henry's two brothers became notable in their own right, his brother John as a jurist, and his brother Thomas as a scholar and translator. Henry Savile Sr. studied law at Oxford and was a prosperous landowner who valued greatly learning and education. In 1561 Henry, like his father and brothers, enrolled at Oxford University. An exceptional student and teacher, he stayed at Oxford for seventeen years. He left Oxford for Europe in 1578, and stayed abroad for seven years.
Henry married Margaret Dacres in 1592. Henry and Margaret had two children, Henry Jr., who died as a young man, and Elizabeth, who married Sir John Sedley. In 1595 the Saviles moved to Eton, and thereafter, it became their main residence despite continuing responsibilities in Oxford. He continued to devote a great deal of time to his scholarly pursuits.
At some point his wife complained about his preoccupation with his studies, stating she wished she were a book, that her husband might devote more time to her. Savile was considered an extraordinarily handsome man, and it was said, that no lady had a finer complexion. He was brilliant and had some hard edges to his personality.
Henry Savile died on 19 February 1622 at age seventy-two, and was buried in the Eton College Chapel, where his tomb is marked by a simple stone. A large monument was erected in his honor in the Merton College Chapel, Oxford.
As mentioned, Henry's father was devoted to education. As a result, he provided tutors for his sons in preparation for their university studies. Henry enrolled in Brasenose College, Oxford in 1561 at age twelve. He excelled in mathematics, the sciences, Greek, English, and early church history, and theology. He soon migrated to Merton College where he graduated B.A. in 1566 and proceeded M.A. in 1570.
He began his career at Oxford with his election as a fellow of Merton College in 1565. He subsequently served Merton as second dean, postmaster, bursar, and proctor. After proceeding M.A. he was named as a university lecturer in astronomy. While lecturing in astronomy he continued to study mathematics and geometry. He found geometry so interesting he would so immerse himself in study that he would forget to eat or sleep.
When he turned his attention to ancient texts on geometry he found the translations inadequate and began translating the texts himself. This led to a survey of the history of science and mathematics. His lectures on mathematics and astronomy dealt with the theoretical instead of applied aspects of the subjects. He became an advocate for the study of the sciences at Oxford and was an opponent of astrology, which he considered pseudo science. He spoke against it before Queen Elizabeth I on her visit to Oxford.
History notes that the course of his lectures was interrupted by outbreaks of the plague. In addition to his mathematical and scientific studies he became famous for his learning in the Greek tongue. He was not just learned, but was a dynamic teacher and lecturer.
While at Merton he became friendly to Thomas Bodley and followed Bodley to the Continent in 1578. His travels, lasting seven years, took him to many countries, including Poland and Italy. He spent his time in Europe pursuing his scholarly interests by visiting the eminent men in his fields of interest, and exploring the great libraries.
He returned to Oxford in 1585 and with the support of Queen Elizabeth was appointed warden of Merton College. While at Merton he oversaw major improvements to the college including expanding the library and installing modern stacks with which to store and display the books. He built new lodging for college fellows that still look out onto Christ Church Meadow today. With Thomas Bodley he worked to design and build the library that ultimately took on his friend's name, the Bodleian.
By 1595 Savile had been appointed provost of Eton College, again with the help of the queen. He proceeded to make improvements as he had done at Merton and increased the size of the student body and faculty.
Henry Savile's scholarly pursuits continued throughout his life. In addition to translating early scientific and mathematical manuscripts, he undertook the translation of historical and religious material. His translation of the Roman historian Tacitus became a best seller. Another important achievement was his eight volume edition of the writings of the early Church Father, Chrysostom.
A further contribution of significance was Savile's establishment of two professorships at Oxford, one in geometry and the other in astronomy. By creating these positions he went a long way to advance the study of these disciplines. He also provided that the professors were to be researchers as well as teachers.
Of course, his crowning achievement was his work on the King James Bible.
In 1604 Henry Savile was knighted by King James I when the king visited Eton.
Henry Savile and the Translation
Henry Savile was a member of the Second Oxford Company having responsibility for translating the Gospels, Acts, and book of Revelation. While Thomas Ravis was the company's head until his passing in 1609, Henry Savile took a leading role in the translation. The Translators met in Savile's quarters at Merton College.
Since many of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament were in Greek, Henry Savile's mastery of Greek was invaluable to the project. His work on John Crysostom was in Greek. (It was said Chrysostom, among the early Church Fathers, carried "the sweet spirit of the apostles".) This would have helped fit Savile for the work of Bible translation.
Henry Savile was the only Translator who was not a clergyman. Though a devout believer like the other Translators, he was able to bring a secular perspective to the effort.
Sir Henry Savile, while a brilliant man himself, was not impressed with "wits", preferring the slower hardworking pupil. Once when a young scholar was recommended to him as a "wit", Savile retorted "Out upon him, give me the plodding student. If I would look for wits, I would go to Newgate; there be wits". (Newgate was the famous London prison.)
One of the few existing structures that can be associated as a residence of a Translator is Bradley Hall where Henry Savile was born. The Hall eventually passed from the Savile family and today has been preserved as part of the clubhouse of the Bradley Hall Golf Club in Holywell Green near Stainland and Halifax in West Yorkshire.