King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Richard Brett, was the sixth of seven children born to Robert and Elizabeth Brett in All Hallows Parish, Bread Street, London, on 22 June 1567. Robert was a wealthy London tailor whose family was closely related to the Brett's of White Stanton, Somerset. Elizabeth was from the Highgate family from Essex. Richard had four brothers and two sisters. While at Oxford Richard met and married Alice Browne. They became the parents of four daughters all of whom were born in Quainton, Buckinghamshire, where Richard was rector. Except for absences occasioned by his work on the Bible translation, Richard lived out his life in Quainton with Alice. He moved to Quainton when he was twenty-eight years old and resided there until his death forty-two years later at age seventy, on 15 April 1637.
Nothing is known of Richard's early education but, being the son of wealthy parents, it can be assumed he was given the benefit of the fine schooling available in London. He entered Hart Hall (later Hertford College), Oxford when he was fifteen in February 1582, and graduated B.A. while a student there in 1586. He later was associated with Lincoln College, "where by the benefit of a good tutor and by unwearied industry, he became eminent in tongues, divinity, and other learning". He proceeded M.A. in 1589, B.D. in 1597, and D.D. in 1605.
Richard Brett began his academic career at Oxford when he became a fellow of Lincoln College. In 1595 he became rector of Holy Cross and St. Mary, Quainton (1595-1637). As already mentioned, he was famous in his time for his extensive knowledge of ancient languages. He was well versed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldaic (Aramaic), Arabic, and Ethiopian. As a result he was known as an Orientalist. He was the author of many translations from Greek to Latin and wrote Latin tracts on church doctrine. In 1604 he was invited to be one of the King James' Translators, a task to which he devoted at least four years of his life. In 1616 he was appointed as one of the original fellows of Chelsea College, London, along with fellow Translators, John Overall, Miles Smith, John Spenser, John Bois, John Layfield and Francis Burley.
Despite all his learning and scholarly prowess, Richard Brett's career was largely taken up with the responsibilities as minister to his small parish. Anthony á Wood, the noted biographer described Brett's work in this regard: "He was a most vigilant pastor, a diligent preacher of God's Word, a liberal benefactor of the poor, faithful friend and good neighbor."
Richard Brett and the Translation.
Brett was a member of the First Oxford Company with responsibility for translating the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi. The company met regularly in John Rainold's quarters above the archway entrance to Corpus Christi College in Oxford until Rainolds, the originator of the translation project, passed away in 1607. This powerful group of scholars also included Miles Smith, Thomas Holland, Richard Fairclough, Daniel Featley, John Harding, and Richard Kilby. Because Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others of the Prophets, wrote in a poetic style, the translation of their words posed an enormous challenge. It required the Translators to possess a measure of the poetic spirit. That the Translators succeeded in getting it right, is evident in the power those words carry even today. The majesty and grandeur of Handel's Messiah owes as much to the translated words of Isaiah and Malachi as it does to the music. For this, Richard Brett and his colleagues deserve much of the credit.
Alice Browne, Richard Brett's wife, was the daughter of Richard Browne and Margaret Gorton Browne of Oxford. Richard Browne was a baker and Oxford city father, having served three separate terms as Mayor. While so serving on one occasion he welcomed Queen Elizabeth I to the city.
On the wall of St. Mary's, Quainton, where Richard Brett served for forty-two years is a colorful sculptural relief depicting Richard and Alice Brett and their four daughters, Elizabeth, Anne, Margaret, and Mary. The memorial to Richard was placed there by Alice after his death. Below the sculpture, written on the stone are these lines:
Instead of weeping marble, weep for him, All ye his flock, whom he did strive to win, To Christ-to lyfe;- so shall you duly sett The most desired stone for Doctor Brett.
One of the Brett's outstanding teachers and mentors from whom he learned so much at Lincoln College was Richard Kilby, his fellow Translator. It is probably not a coincidence that both were chosen to serve in the same company.