King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Richard Bancroft was born in the village of Farnworth, Widnes, Cheshire on 12 September 1544. At the time Farnworth was in the county of Lancashire. Richard was the second son of John and Mary (Curwen) Bancroft. John was considered a member of the upper class, and his wife, Mary was the niece of the archbishop of Dublin, Hugh Curwen. Richard didn't begin his university education until 1563 when he was nineteen years old.
At Cambridge Bancroft was known as much for his ability in sports (boxing, wrestling, and quarterstaff) as for his scholarship. Certainly a high point of his experience at the university was being chosen as one of the students to meet Queen Elizabeth I on her visit there. A low point was the violence he suffered at the hands of a mob in a Town and Gown riot. Richard might have been killed had it not been for the intervention of his friend and fellow student, Laurence Chaderton, who received a serious injury in the rescue. Chaderton became the longest lived Translator.
Bancroft spent over a decade at Cambridge immersed in scholarship before he left to pursue his career as a defender of the institution of the Church of England, and as a prelate of the church. Though he likely did not appreciate it at the time, his most lasting contribution was the King James Bible (hereinafter KJB) translation.
Richard Bancroft was not personally ambitious but achieved the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a tireless advocate for conformity to the Anglican orthodoxy of his time, yet he counted among those he admired, Puritans like his friend Chaderton. He imposed censure and discipline when required but it was often administered with mildness and charity. On one occasion when a clergyman was ready to step down from his office because of his unwillingness for conscience sake to conform to church practice, he despaired and told Bancroft he would have to beg for a living. In response Bancroft told him "no you shall not have to do that; but come to me, and I will take order for your maintenance". One said he seemed "a father rather than judge".
He died having never married, on 2 November 1610 and was buried in the parish church at Lambeth with a simple stone slab marking the spot. He was exceptionally learned, and left a library of over 6,000 volumes.
Richard Bancroft's early education was at the free grammar school at Farnworth where schoolmaster John Lister had a reputation for severity. Richard was initially enrolled at Christ's College, Cambridge but he removed to Jesus College, apparently to escape from the ardent Puritanism at Christ's. He was a student at Jesus when he graduated B.A. in 1567 and proceeded M.A. in 1570.
He was made doctor of divinity in 1585 following a series of church appointments and considerable publications.
Richard Bancroft was never a fellow of his college, Jesus, but rather was a tutor there. As such he was involved in teaching and scholarship.
He was ordained a priest in the diocese of Ely by its bishop, Richard Cox, at age thirty in 1574. His first pastoral appointment came in 1576 as rector of Teversham which was near Cambridge. He was also licensed as one of the twelve preachers in the university.
Richard became chaplain to Bishop Cox and later to Sir Christopher Hatton. As chaplain he was a spiritual advisor to these men and member of their households.
Increasingly, in the 1580's, Bancroft worked behind the scenes assisting church leaders in their campaign against Puritan tendencies among the clergy. He did this through writings such as the Survay of Pretended Holy Discipline, sermonizing, and the enforcing of discipline. By 1586 he was rector of Cottingham, Northhamptonshire, treasurer of St. Paul's Cathedral, and parson of St. Andrew's, Holborn, London. A year later he was installed as canon of Westminster Cathedral. In 1597 he became a household chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, at Lambeth and in 1597 bishop of London, one of the most important positions of leadership in the church. He was fifty-three years old.
He labored for conformity to the established order of the church in all the offices he filled. While he had some mis-steps in his career, he was highly regarded by his king and fellow churchmen. He often opposed manifestations of Puritanism, but he was nonetheless an ardent Protestant.
1603 saw the ascension of King James VI of Scotland to the English throne as King James I. The Puritan faction of the church was hoping the new king would bring with him the Presbyterian views of the Scots. They pressed for an audience with the king which resulted in the Hampton Court Conference of January 1604. Despite the presence of Archbishop Whitgift at the conference, it was Bishop Bancroft who was the voice of the church hierarchy. He was the primary responder to the requests of John Rainolds and his fellow Puritans. His arguments carried the day with the king with one important exception, the new translation. Richard Bancroft's involvement with the translation will be discussed below.
Archbishop Whitgift died on 29 February 1604, shortly after the Hampton Court Conference. Richard Bancroft was the natural choice as his successor and was confirmed Archbishop of Canterbury on 10 December 1604. His service lasted only six years and was a continuation of the themes of conformity in doctrine and practice, and loyalty to church and king that had marked his career from the beginning. He continued as an able administrator and formidable advocate until the end when in 1610 he died.
Richard Bancroft and the Translation
Richard Bancroft has been described as the supervisor and overseer of the KJB translation project and its chief director. These descriptions are all accurate but he was more. He didn't originate the idea of a new translation, and in fact was initially skeptical. When it was suggested to King James at Hampton Court Bancroft countered, "If every man's humor should be followed there would be no end to translating". In the end, however, he became the person perhaps more than any other responsible for its success.
Once the king resolved to undertake a new translation, Richard Bancroft became the manager of the project. The organizational structure of having six companies based two each in Westminster, Oxford and Cambridge, allowed the ablest scholars in England to participate. He undoubtedly was responsible for selecting, or at least approving all of the Translators. They represented a very broad spectrum of religious belief and background. There were Puritans and high churchmen, young and old, academics and parsons, rich and poor, urban sophisticates and country folk, world travelers and those who barely strayed from where they were born. They were a diverse lot, tied together by outstanding academic credentials, an appreciation of the importance of the work to which they had been called, and a commitment to give it their best efforts. As far as can be determined they were all believers who approached the work with a humble sense of being entrusted not only by their earthly sovereign, but by a heavenly one as well.
Bancroft set up fifteen rules to guide the Translators in their work which insured each company and each Translator had ownership of the final product. The rules invited the broadest inquiry, while encouraging the Translators to build on the work of Tyndale, Wycliffe, Coverdale, Rogers, and others. He made sure the Translators were supported financially, and that they had the necessary time to "hammer out on the anvil", to borrow a phrase from the Translators, every issue that arose.
Had he wanted to, Bancroft could have scuttled the enterprise in a myriad of ways. He didn't, rather he acted as facilitator and cheer leader throughout the entire project.
He had to deal with men, all of whom were highly competent and "who were greater in other men's eyes than their own", as Miles Smith observed. Bancroft helped keep them working harmoniously together as they pressed towards their goal. This is a tribute not only to the men themselves but to their leaders, Richard Bancroft, being the chief.
In the end it was Richard Bancroft who had the last read and edit of the new translation. He changed but fourteen verses of over thirty thousand.
The KJB has stood for hundreds of years as the accepted English text for religious groups as diverse as high and low church Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Mormons. This is as much a tribute to the vision and devotion of Richard Bancroft as anyone.