King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
Francis Burley was born in London about 1552. Nothing is known of his parents or his early family circumstance. He enrolled in Cambridge University in 1579 and remained there until at least 1590, when he began his church service.
As a married man, Francis settled in Thorley, Hertfordshire where he and his wife raised their family, which consisted of at least three sons and two daughters.
He was known as an outstanding Hebrew scholar and collaborated on work with the noted orientalist and fellow Translator, William Bedwell. Burley passed away on 3 May 1619.
Francis Burley began his university studies at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge. He migrated to Queen's College in 1581 and finally to Pembroke. He graduated B.A. in 1583, proceeded M.A. in 1587 and B.D. in 1594. He eventually became doctor of divinity in 1607 shortly after he had commenced his work on the translation.
Francis Burley stayed in Cambridge for over ten years where, in addition to his studies, he likely was a teacher. His time at Cambridge and at Pembroke College over-lapped that of fellow Translator, Lancelot Andrewes. He must have made a favorable impression on Andrewes during their time together, since it was Andrewes who helped Burley obtain the rectory at Bishops Stortford in 1590. Undoubtedly, Lancelot Andrewes was responsible for Burley being a part of his First Westminster Company of Translators.
Also in 1590 Francis Burley served as a curate at St. Michael's Church, Bassishaw, and at churches throughout London. He became rector of Thorley in 1594, ministering, and raising his family there until his death in 1619. He also, for a period, was rector of St. Benet, Paul's Wharf, London (1604-1612). In 1610 Francis Burley was chosen to be one of the founding fellows of Chelsea College also in London.
Francis Burley and the Translation
Francis Burley was a member of Lancelot Andrewes' First Westminster Company. He was one of those scholars who helped translate the creation narrative of Genesis and many of the Old Testament stories. Burley's selection as a member of this company was, in itself a great honor, and reflected the confidence that Lancelot Andrewes had in his scholarly ability. Because little is known of the approach each company took to its task, it is not now possible to know the role Francis Burley played in the translation. Was he specially assigned to one of the twelve books for which his company was responsible, or perhaps to a portion of each?
What is known is that the members of each company reviewed each others work, and also that of all the other companies. In this sense each member of each company was a translator of the whole.
Chelsea College, London of which Francis Burley was a founding fellow was the creation in 1609 of Mathew Sutcliffe, dean of Exeter. Sutcliffe became its first provost, and its fellows were nominated by King James I. It is therefore not surprising that many of the original fellows were Translators of the King James Bible. In addition to Burley, John Overall, Miles Smith, John Bois, John Spenser, John Layfield and Richard Brett were all fellows. Chelsea was not a college as were the colleges of Cambridge and Oxford. It had no student body per se. Rather, it was established as an institution to produce writings and lend scholarly support for the Reformation. Ultimately the college was dissolved in 1653, having served its purpose.