Personal and Family Life

The circumstances surrounding William Barlow's birth have been a matter of debate and remain to a degree uncertain. A recent biographical piece asserts he was born in London "by his own testimony". Earlier writers have claimed a birth for him at Barlow Hall in Chorlton-cum-Hardy south of Manchester in Lancashire, an ancient family seat of the Barlows. If not born at Barlow Hall, all seem to agree that he was part of this Barlow family. His mother named Alice was widowed by William's father. Alice then married Thomas Feild who himself died in 1585, leaving Alice a widow for the second time. William Barlow had at least one sister, Katherine. William arrived at Cambridge by 1580 to pursue his university studies. He remained at Cambridge for almost twenty years until church appointments took him to London.

He married before 1604 and with his wife, Joan, had at least two children, daughter Alice, christened at St. Margaret's Westminster in 1604, and Jane, christened at St. Margaret's in 1606. William Barlow mentions his daughters and his wife in his will.

William Barlow's life was one of scholarly excellence and high church service. He was the associate of royalty and benefactor of the poor. He was a friend of the working men and women of London.

At the end of his life he was living in the bishop's palace in Buckden, Cambridgeshire. Here he died on 13 September 1613. He was buried in a tomb beneath the floor of the chancel in the Buckden parish church.

Religiously he tried to walk a middle road maintaining friendships with Puritans while remaining solidly in the conformist ranks of the church establishment.


William Barlow commenced as a student at St. John's College, Cambridge in 1580. He was supported in his education by the renowned lawyer, Richard Cosin "with whom he (Barlow) had lived in his youth." He graduated B.A. in 1584 and proceeded M.A. in 1587. He continued his studies at Trinity Hall proceeding B.D. in 1594 and D.D. in 1599.


In 1590, ten years after arriving in Cambridge, William Barlow was elected as a fellow of Trinity Hall. He served in this position as scholar, teacher and administrator for the next seven years. During this period he published a biography of his patron, Richard Cosin.

He was appointed to a chaplaincy with Archbishop Whitgift (1596) and Queen Elizabeth I (1601). Along with these positions of influence, William was given the additional church positions as rector of St. Dunstan's, Stepney in east London (1597) and Orpington, Kent (1597).

In 1601 he received appointments as a canon at St. Paul's, Canterbury, and Westminster Cathedral. It was his close association with Westminster that led to his two daughters being baptized there. At Westminster he also served as treasurer and sub dean.

William's London responsibilities brought him the opportunity to speak at St. Paul's Cross at least twice within five years. Ironically, his first sermon was in praise of the Earl of Essex's victory at Cadiz and his second, to present an official explanation of the Earl's subsequent rebellion and execution.

By 1604 he was chosen Dean of Chester which helped secure his attendance at the Conference at Hampton Court where the new translation of the Bible was first proposed and agreed to by King James I. Barlow became closely associated with the project.

Within two years of the Hampton Court Conference, William Barlow had been consecrated bishop of Rochester, one of the highest offices his church could bestow, and two years later in 1608, he was elected bishop of Lincoln. He had been loyal in his service to his king and church and was continually looked to as an advocate for both.

After William Barlow's appointment as Bishop of Lincoln, he devoted himself conscientiously to his calling only visiting his residence in London occasionally. He particularly enjoyed the bishop's residence in Buckden, where he primarily lived until his death in 1613.

William Barlow and the Translation

As mentioned, William Barlow was at the Hampton Court Conference, which marked the beginning of the King James Bible. In fact, he became the official chronicler of the conference. His summary of the event was titled The Summe and Substance of the Conference and was published in May 1604. In the summer of 1604 he was selected to be the head of the Second Westminster Company with responsibility for translating the Epistles of the New Testament. His appointment reflects the confidence the king and church leaders had in his scholarship and judgment, for of all scripture, none is more doctrinally sensitive than the Epistles. On this team were many of the pre-eminent scholars of his day, John Spencer, Roger Fenton, Michael Rabbett, Thomas Sanderson, Ralph Hutchinson, William Dakins and Nicholas Felton.

Bio Bits

There is an interesting relationship between William Barlow and the fishmongers of London. Firstly, Alice Barlow, William's mother, when widowed married a London fishmonger by the name of Thomas Feild. When Feild died in 1585, William was remembered in his will. Subsequently, Alice Feild established a fund for the support of the poor of the Society of the Fishmongers in London. In fact, in his will, William Barlow stated:

Item I give and bequeathe unto the Societie of the Fishmongers in London the somme of fower score poundes, to be ymployed in the same and noe other manner then as the legacy which they had of my loveing mother Mrs. Alice Feild is used, for the benefit of fower poore men in theire company…

Additionally he bequeathed to the Company of Fishmongers some of his silver plate. William Barlow's sister Katherine was married to a London fishmonger by the name of Thomas Johnson who was named in William's will. Fishmongers or "fish sellers" founded what came to be known as the "Worshipful Company of Fishmongers" in London in 1272, about three hundred years before the birth of William Barlow. By his time it had become a respected and influential institution and remains so today.