King James Bible Translators
Personal and Family Life
John Aglionby was born 1566 in Carlisle, Cumberland, the son of Edward and Elizabeth (Musgrove) Aglionby. Elizabeth was the daughter of Cuthbert Musgrove from Crookdake, Cumbria. John was one of three children. He had an older brother Edward and a sister Dorothy. The Aglionbys had established themselves in Cumberland through one of William the Conqueror's soldiers, Walter de Aguilon.
As a youth John left home to study at a grammar school in the nearby Lake District. From there he entered into his university studies at Oxford. Having been ordained to the ministry, he embarked on a tour of the Continent which brought him into contact with one of the brilliant minds of his age, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who engaged the young graduate in a religious debate. Despite the disparity in age and experience, Aglionby felt he was able to hold his own. He returned home a more seasoned and confident young man. Upon his return to England he began a career of service to his monarch, university, and church.
He eventually married Katherine, the daughter of Richard and Elizabeth Foxcroft. They had at least four children, sons, George, John, and Thomas, and a daughter, Katherine.
John was an illustrious scholar and church leader. He died at the young age of forty-three in 1610 and was buried near the altar in his parish church of Islip, Oxfordshire. His son John passed shortly thereafter, and was buried near his father.
John Aglionby was first formally educated at the free school in Kendall, Westmoreland. From there at age sixteen, he went to Queen's College, Oxford, where in 1583 he began his university studies. He graduated B.A. in 1587, proceeded M.A. in 1590, B.D. in 1597, and D.D. in 1600.
Several years after arriving at Oxford, John Aglionby was made a fellow of Queen's College with its teaching and administrative responsibilities. His next academic office was as principal of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, which was located next to Queen's and was administratively linked.
His church service began with his ordination to the priesthood. After his trip to the Continent, he was appointed chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I and subsequently, to King James I. In 1597 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn, London, as a divinity lecturer. About the time of his selection to be a Translator he was licensed to preach, a significant step beyond ordination.
His first pastoral office was as rector of Bletchingdon, Oxfordshire (1601), followed by the rectory of Islip in the same county.
Anthony á Wood, the noted 17th century biographer, described Aglionby in these words: "He was a person well accomplished in all kinds of learning, profoundly read in the Fathers, and in school divinity, and exact linguist."
John Aglionby was also a highly skilled debater. In his time debates, or "disputations", as they were called, served as entertainment as well as an educational purpose at the university. When King James I visited Oxford in 1605, a grand disputation was held in his honor. The topic was "Whether Saints or Angels Know the Hearts of Men". Chosen for the debate were two doctors of divinity, Richard Field and John Aglionby. It apparently was a great success and very pleasing to the king. It was also reported that Aglionby was at the king's elbow through the rest of his visit.
John and Katherine Aglionby's son, George, eventually became master of Westminster School and canon of Westminster Cathedral.
John Aglionby and the Translation
John Aglionby was selected to fill the vacant position with the Second Oxford Company occasioned by the death of Richard Edes. Edes died shortly after his appointment, in the fall of 1604. John Aglionby was a natural choice. According to one of his biographers "He was esteemed one of the greatest students of the Greek language of any that lived in that age, and kept correspondence with learned men in every part of the Christian world."
The Second Oxford Company was responsible for translating the Gospels, Acts, and book of Revelation. The ancient manuscripts for these books were primarily in Greek, and John's skill in this language would have stood him in good stead for this assignment. Anthony á Wood, states that John Aglionby had a "considerable hand" in the translation.
His death in February of 1610 deprived him of the satisfaction of seeing his work, the completed Bible, go to press. Doubtless when we read the New Testament in the King James Bible, we are enjoying the efforts of John Aglionby.
As mentioned above, as a young Oxford graduate, John Aglionby undertook a journey to the Continent likely stopping to make the acquaintance of some of the leading men who were dealing with pressing religious and scholarly issues of the day. A highlight of his travel was the encounter he had with the famed Jesuit scholar, and a dominant voice in the Counter-Reformation, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. Bellarmine, an Italian by birth, was, by the time Aglionby met him, the pre-eminent Catholic clergyman advocating against the primacy of monarchs in the church and countering the idea that a reformation was needed at all. His writings were so well reasoned and articulate, and their impact so great, that special university chairs were established in Germany and England to respond to, and counteract Bellarmine. Aglionby recounts that during their visit together Bellarmine showed him a portrait of William Whittaker, an eminent Protestant scholar at Cambridge, which hung in Bellarmine's library. Then, Bellarmine, pointing to the picture, declared to young Aglionby that Whittaker was the most learned "heretic" he had ever met. Further, the learned cardinal tried to convert Aglionby to his position. Needless to say, Aglionby was impressed with this legendary man, but felt he was able to defend his own position. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine was canonized and made a Saint of the Catholic Church in 1930.