Personal and Family Life

James Montagu was born at Boughton, Northamptonshire in 1568. He was the son of Sir Edward and Elizabeth (Harington) Montagu. James, the fifth son in a family of eight boys and four girls, was born to aristocracy. Not only had his father succeeded to knighthood, so also had his maternal grandfather, Sir James Harington. James was likely named for Sir James. His family connections had a profound influence on his life.

James went to Cambridge as a student at Christ's College. While still a young man, he became the first master of the newly founded Sidney Sussex College, the college named for and funded by Francis Sidney Radcliffe, Countess of Sussex and sister to James' maternal grandmother, Lucy (Sidney) Harington.

Not only did James Montagu lead a college as a young man, he also became a member of newly crowned King James I's inner circle as his personal chaplain and dean of his chapel. He attended constantly to the spiritual needs of the king and his family. It has been said of James Montagu that no clergyman had more personal contact with the king, and few had greater personal influence with this monarch.

While his closeness to the king brought further appointments to high church office, James Montagu accepted positions only on condition that he remain as part of the king's official household. His personal service and devotion to the king was life long.

James Montagu never married. On 20 July 1618 at age fifty, he died in Greenwich. His body was entombed in the Bath Cathedral where he served as bishop (see Bio Bits).


James Montagu enrolled as a student at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1688. He graduated B.A., proceeded M.A., and in 1598 he was created a doctor of divinity "by special grace".


When James Montagu's great aunt, Frances Sidney Radcliffe died in 1589, she left money by her will to establish a new college at Cambridge University. The college which would bear her name was Sidney Sussex College. James was chosen to lay the first stone on 20 May 1595, beginning construction. The executors of Radcliffe's estate were James' grandfather, Sir James Harington and Henry Grey who, with the approval of the university heads, designated twenty-eight year old James Montagu as first master of Sidney Sussex. He took office in 1596 and supervised the building of the college to it's completion in 1602.

James served as master of Sidney Sussex from 1596 to 1609. In 1603 as King James VI of Scotland was making his way south to assume the English throne, he encountered James Montagu at his family's estate at Hindsinbroke. It is reported that the king "was so pleased with his conversation as a scholar and his behavior as a gentleman, that he resolved to prefer him". As mentioned earlier the new king appointed James Montagu his chaplain and dean of the Chapel Royal in 1603.

James proved to be an effective administrator of both the college and the Chapel Royal. He served at the college for thirteen years, establishing it as one of Puritan centers at Cambridge. Oliver Cromwell was a Sidney Sussex alumnus.

Though sympathetic to much of Puritanism, Montagu was sufficiently conforming to established church practice that he quickly rose through the ranks of office from dean of Litchfield to dean of Worcester. In 1608 the king appointed him Bishop of Bath and Wells. Eight years later he left this position for the bishopric of Winchester. Through all these appointments he maintained his role as dean of the king's Chapel. Nevertheless, he was very attentive to his responsibilities as bishop. He undertook major renovations at Bath Abbey and at the bishop's palace at Wells. He made the traditional visits to his diocese and was diligent in its administration.

He remained a confidant of the king and helped two of his brothers receive significant royal appointments. He journeyed with the king to Scotland in 1617 and in this same year was chosen to be part of the powerful Privy Council. One of his last projects was the restoration of Winchester House in Southwark London.

James Montagu and the Translation

James Montagu was in attendance at the Hampton Court Conference where the new translation was launched. He attended as the dean of the Chapel Royal. He was unquestionably a sound scholar and must have taken a great interest in the project.

Some lists place him in the Second Oxford Company which had responsibility for translating the Gospels, Acts and Book of Revelation. Richard Edes' death early in the translation may have necessitated the appointment of Montagu.

Whatever his role in the translation, as one of the king's closest advisors, he undoubtedly was involved.

Bio Bits

After James Montagu died in Greenwich, his bowels were buried there while the rest of his body was transported to Bath where, according to his wishes, it was entombed. In his will he set aside £300, a tidy sum in those days, for the construction of a fitting memorial over his grave. A magnificent monument was erected there by William Cure and Nicholas Johnson. It portrays James Montagu reclining in his bishop's attire with a canopy overhead.