King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
John Layfield was likely born in Fulham, a suburb of London, in 1563. His father, Edward Layfield, was at the time, rector at Fulham. His mother was named Elizabeth. John received his university training at Cambridge. He spent over twenty years in Cambridge before leaving for church appointments which ultimately took him back to London. He married later in life to a widow named Bridget (Robinson) Bricket. Bridget had been married to John Bricket, a London merchant. She was also a close relative to William Laud, future archbishop of Canterbury. They were married on 22 January 1603. John and Bridget had two sons, Edward and Thomas, and a daughter Denny. Bridget, brought at least one child into the marriage, a daughter Anne.
John was the most extensively traveled among the Translators (see Bio Bits).
John Layfield died in 1617 and is buried in St. Clement Danes, London. He left property in Old Cleeve, Somerset to his wife and heirs. This property remained in the Layfield family for generations.
John Layfield commenced as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge in the early spring of 1578. He graduated B.A. in 1582, proceeded M.A. in 1585, B.D. in 1592, and eventually D.D. in 1603.
While still a student, John became a fellow of his college, Trinity, with all the teaching and administrative responsibility this position carried. He also was appointed as a university lecturer in Greek (1593) and later as an examiner in grammar. His first church office was as rector of St. Peter's Church, Aldwinckle, Northhamptonshire, where he served from 1598 until 1602. Also, in 1598 he became chaplain to George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland (see Bio Bits). He then accepted the position as rector of St. Clement Danes, London, serving there until his death in 1617. Concurrently he was rector at Graveley, Hertfordshire 1605-1613. This appointment coincided with his work as a Translator. Additionally, he was admitted to the Inner Temple (1606), and became one of the first fellows of Chelsea College (1610), both in London.
John Layfield and the Translation
John Layfield was selected to serve with Lancelot Andrewes and other renowned scholars in the First Westminster Company. Their responsibility was to translate the first twelve books of the Old Testament. Included is the book of Genesis with its accounts of the creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the Exodus, and Joseph. The well known stories of Joshua, David and Goliath, and many others are within these books.
By the beginning of the translation John was serving at the church of St. Clement Danes in London, making it convenient to attend to the company meetings at Westminster. He undoubtedly was an excellent scholar in ancient languages. His academic achievements and university appointment are proof of the depth of his scholarship and the confidence of his peers. Lancelot Andrewes, the company director, either nominated John Layfield to be a translator in his company or would have approved his appointment. Such approval was an endorsement indeed.
John Layfield brought to the translation not only skill in languages, but expertise in biblical architecture. An early commentator on the King James translation, Jeremy Collier, speaking of John Layfield states: "Being skilled in architecture, his judgment was much relied on for the fabric of the Tabernacle and Temple".
John Layfield, as mentioned above, was chaplain to George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland in 1598 when Cumberland embarked on an ambitious expedition to the New World. It was Layfield's good fortune to accompany Clifford on the journey making him the only one of the Translators to cross the Atlantic and set foot in the Western Hemisphere. The Earl of Cumberland was a colorful figure known as the "Rogue" among those at Elizabeth I's court. For many years he acted as a privateer, intercepting and plundering Spanish ships. His expedition to the West Indies of which Layfield was a part, consisted of twenty ships, one thousand sailors and seven hundred soldiers. They succeeded in capturing the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico and visited other islands in the Caribbean. John Layfield served as a chronicler of the expedition and produced an account entitled A Large Relation of the Porto Ricco Voiage Very Much Albreviated. The following is his description of encountering the natives on the island of Dominica:
By two in the afternoone wee were come so neere aboard the shoare, that wee were met with many Canoes, manned with men wholly naked, saving that they had chaines and bracelets and some bodkins in their eares, or some strap in their nostrils or lips; the cause of their coming was to exchange their Tabacco, Pinos, Plantins, Potatoes, and Pepper with any trifle if it were gawdie. They were at the first suspicious that wee were Spaniards or Frenchmen, but being assured that wee were English they came willingly aboard. They are men of good proportion, strong, and straight limmed, but few of them tall, their wits able to direct them to things bodily profitable. Their Canoes are of one Tree commonly in breadth, but containing one man, yet in some are seene two yonkers sit shoulder to shoulder. They are of divers length: some of three or foure men that sit in reasonable distance, and in some of them eight of nine persons a rowe. Besides their Merchandise for exchange, every one hath commonly his Bowe and Arrowes; they speake some Spanish words: they have Wickers platted something like a broad shield to defend the raine, they that want these, use a very broad leafe to that purpose, they provide shelter against the raine because it washeth of their red painting, laid so on that if you touch it, you shall finde it on your fingers.
Layfield's work was an important source for later biographies of the Earl, and the expedition.
John Layfield's oldest son Edward, named after John's father and grandfather, was an important figure in his own right. Educated at the Merchant Taylors' School, London and at St. John's College, Oxford, he served his church with distinction in numerous positions. At the commencement of the English Civil War, not being a Puritan, he came under criticism and in 1642, was arrested by order of Parliament. Dragged out of his church as he was administering communion, set on a horse in his clerical robes and the Common Prayer Book tied around his neck, he was paraded through the streets of London to the jeers of a raucous crowd. He was then thrown into prison and all of his property seized. On one occasion, Edward was placed in chains aboard a ship and threatened to be sold into slavery on a foreign plantation. He was aboard the ship under deplorable conditions for a year. His persecutions and imprisonments lasted twenty years. With the restoration of the monarchy, his lands were returned and his church offices restored. He finished his life in comfortable circumstances, dying in 1680, the father of nine children. Edward Layfield is buried in the chancel of All Hallows church by the Tower of London.