King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
John Richardson was born in 1564 in the village of Linton Cambridgeshire to a "prosperous yeoman family". His parents were likely Robert and Grace (Constable) Richardson, who were married in Linton in 1563. Linton lies nine miles south east of Cambridge and was, at the time of Richardson's birth, a farming community with a population of under a thousand.
He left home for Cambridge to begin his university studies when he was fourteen years of age. Much of the rest of his life was spent associated with the university and its colleges. He also served as rector in several villages not far distant from Cambridge. John Richardson died on 20 April 1625 at age sixty-one. By his request he was buried in the Trinity College Chapel where he was master.
In his will, Richardson, who never married, remembered with bequests, his two brothers, Phillip and Thomas, his sister, Alice Hales, and his nephew Robert. He left money for the poor of his native Linton, and of Upwell, and Algarkirk, the two villages where he served as rector. He also left a substantial amount for physical improvements to Peterhouse College. Emmanuel and Trinity colleges were also beneficiaries of his estate.
His religious views favored those held by Jacobus Arminius rather than John Calvin, which prompted one of his critics to denounce him from the pulpit of Great St. Mary's, Cambridge, as "a fat bellied Arminian" (see Bio Bits).
John Richardson entered Clare College, Cambridge in 1578. He graduated B.A. in 1582 and proceeded M.A. in 1585, B. D. in 1592 and D.D. in 1597 at age thirty-three.
John Richardson became a fellow of Emmanuel College and afterward was ordained to the priesthood in 1591. In 1595 he was appointed rector of Upwell, Norfolk, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1604 he was selected as one of the Translators of the new Bible. Three years later in 1607 he received the king's appointment as regius professor of divinity at Cambridge University where he served until 1617. Additionally, in 1608 he was appointed rector of Algarkirk, Lincolnshire.
Shortly after assuming his regius professorship, Richardson became master of Peterhouse College. He held this office from 1609 to 1615. He left Peterhouse to become master of Trinity College. Also, for at least one year, he was vice-chancellor of the university.
Active in university affairs, he was center stage in the disputation held in honor of King James I's visit to Cambridge in March of 1615 (see Bio Bits).
In February of 1611, he participated with fellow Translators William Braithwaite, Laurence Chaderton, John Duport, Jeremiah Radcliffe, and Samuel Ward as a court convened to determine guilt and mete out punishment for those involved in riots at the gate of Trinity College. After the trial the guilty were punished according to their station and role in the offenses, with suspensions, whippings, imprisonments, and being set in stocks.
John Richardson and the Translation
John Richardson was a member of the First Cambridge Company. To this group of scholars was assigned the translation of 1st Chronicles through the Song of Solomon. This portion of the Bible includes a great deal of history and miscellaneous writings such as the devotional masterpiece, the Psalms.
Richardson brought to this task a recognized proficiency in Hebrew, the language of many of the foundational manuscripts used in the translation. He joined other remarkable scholars such as Edward Lively, the first director of their company, Robert Spalding, who took Lively's place when he died in 1605, and Laurence Chaderton the grand old master of Emmanuel College.
John Richardson, as a renowned scholar, was chosen to participate in a "disputation" to honor the visit of King James to Cambridge University in March 1615. Disputations were learned debates over an issue, often dealing with religious topics. The topic of the disputation was whether kings could be excommunicated. Sir John Davenant, an eminent theologian, was assigned to argue the negative, i.e., that a king was not subject to such church action. John Richardson was the opposer, arguing the opposite point of view. Naturally, the king was rooting for Davenant. As the disputation proceeded, Richardson cited a precedent for a king being excommunicated, to wit, Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, cutting off Emperor Theodosius from the sacraments of the church. Davenant was unprepared for this example and was floundering when King James, clearly feeling defensive, entered the disputation in his own behalf and said, "Verily, this was a great piece of insolence on the part of Ambrose." To this John Richardson responded, "A truly royal response, and worthy of Alexander! This is cutting our knotty arguments instead of untying them," (comparing the king's response to the legend of Alexander the Great, cutting the Gordian knot rather than untying it). After saying this, Richardson took his seat and refused to be drawn into further argument. In doing so, he demonstrated not only his deference to the king, but his confidence in having won the disputation with Davenant.
John Richardson was variously described as being "a corpulent man" and as being "heavy in his parts". As noted above, sometimes this made him the brunt of insults. Whatever the deficiencies in his appearance, it didn't prevent him from being placed in positions of trust and high visibility. He must have a remarkable man indeed.